A Zimbabwean-based company Nezox Brands, has come to the aid of hundreds of small-scale banana farmers by turning the raw fruit into flour.
Nezox Brands, which operates in the scenic rural Honde Valley in Mutasa, Manicaland province mills mature unripe green bananas into a fine flour.
The bananas are purchased by the company from local farmers who in the past used throw-away tonnes and tonnes of rotten bananas as they failed to find a readily available market for mostly in urban areas, or for export.
“I realised that between 25 and 30% of smallholder banana farmers’ produce was lost due to high post-harvest losses, so we started Nezox Brands as a way to reduce this,” Bright Nezomba, the founder and chief executive of Nezox Brands said.
Nezomba, who holds a diploma in commercial farming, said post-harvest losses for banana farmers remained a huge challenge in Honde Valley.
“We are there to create value for Honde Valley small-holder banana farmers by reducing high post-harvest losses, and creating high-value products using a farm-to-table approach,” He added.
At least 80% of bananas consumed in Zimbabwe are from Manicaland province and are grown by small-scale and subsistence farmers.
At the popular Mbare Musika in Harare, the biggest wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Zimbabwe, in terms of revenue creation, the bananas come only second to potatoes.
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Besides processing bananas into flour, Nezox Brands also runs a 2-hectare banana plantation in Honde Valley.
“Some of the issues which arise due to poor agronomic conditions include, bruising, late transportation, over ripening, pest damage, and sunburns,” Nezomba said.
“Farmers are then not able to market 100% of their produce regardless of grades and sizes. Before the reduction of high post-harvest losses in the area, farmers were throwing away significant amounts of their produce and little was consumed.”
He said setting up a food processing industry in a rural area was expensive, but he is working on expanding the current operation from six to 30 staff members.
In the shops, banana flour was expensive compared with normal flour, and a kilogramme costs double the normal price of a packet of wheat flour.
Nezox Brands’ target is urban farmers, according to Nezomba he plans to target the South African and the United Kingdom export markets.
His main hope is that the product will be readily accepted in the two countries because it’s sugar-free, and has a shelf-life of six months.
However, according to Nezomba, banana flour offers good value as it is rich in starch, and one uses smaller volumes of the banana flour.
Nezox Brands is working on bringing down the price as it increases production.
The slicing process is labor intensive because we are using manual slicing. We also outsource the milling to local millers meaning that there is a challenge of mixing with maize meal residue at times.
We get a lot of questions on how the flour is produced, and people are always curious to taste it. All who have tasted it have loved it so far and are requesting for more.
Nezox is also working on creating livestock feed from bananas and further minimise the reduction of throwing away bad fruits.