Women entrepreneurs have stood the test of times with myriad of challenges to drive successful businesses. One such enterprise is Exotic EPZ Limited which is owned by three iconic women who have purposed to leave their foot print in the export market that is largely dominated by men. The three, Charity Ndegwa, Jane Maigua and Loise Maina came together in 2017 to drive their vision in macadamia processing and they have grown in leaps and bounds.
Having acquired a warehouse with macadamia processing machinery, they embarked on a journey in August 2017 to actualize their dream. Five months later, the first 11 tonne container of macadamia nuts was shipped to Europe. The company is working with slightly over 2,500 farmers spread over Embu, Meru, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Kiambu and Murang’a counties who supply them with macadamia nuts.
“Once the nuts get to the processing plant, they are dried, sorted, graded then packaged for the export market,” notes Jane. With five driers with a drying capacity of 20 tonnes each, the drying takes five days and the plant has a capacity to dry 300 tonnes a month which is equivalent to two containers.
An in shell separator is used to separate the shells from the kernels. The shells are used to fire the boiler for drying of the nuts. Hot air is blown into the silo bins for three days after which hot steam is blown for an additional seven days. Cracking then follows where the cracking machine is able to crack eight tonnes a day.
The sorting is done manually by women who are employed as casuals. Once the sorting is complete, grading is done according to sizes. The bigger the nut the better. The nuts are graded in seven styles, from style 0-7. Style zero is the largest which is the whole kernel while style 7 are the smallest chips.
Macadamia nuts are best known to be gluten protein free, a rich source of energy, vitamin A, C & E, calcium, magnesium, zinc, oleic and palmitoleic acids, carbohydrates and fiber.
Charity notes that the journey has not been easy. They put their resources together and mobilized more start up capital to get the business running. The company requires capital to purchase two key machines; a colour sorter as currently its done manually and is time consuming and a shell separator. Once this is mechanized, the company will the able to process more nuts thus an increase in profits. Jane notes that the company also needs Food Safety Standards Certification in order to be able to penetrate the US market.
Jane adds, “We need a generator to supplement power supply which has become unstable with the recent outages. This slows our processing as most machines are powered by electricity.”
So far the business has received support from KCIC under the incubation programme. The advisory services they received helped in reviewing their financial model. KCIC also supported them with the acquisition of an export and processing licence.
“In the near future, we also want to reach out to farmers and assist them through training to graft macadamia seedlings. We also want to train women farmers to graft their own seedlings which will be much cheaper than buying,” notes Charity. Currently, grafted seedlings go between KSh.250-KSh.300 a seedling which is expensive for most farmers.
In future, the company also intends to delve into oil processing to expand its product line. The target is to process a container a month of either sesame or macadamia oil.
By Mercy Mumo