For many years, pumpkins were regarded as one of the less important crops in Kenya. To change this mindset, Pegotty Mutai with her three friends, Esther, Lilian, and Wangeci got into a partnership for extensive research on pumpkins processing to discover how much value could be added to the product beyond making soup – which is basically what most people use pumpkin for in the country.
Their research led to discovering the value addition of pumpkins into pumpkin seed oil (from pumpkin seeds) and pumpkin flour (from the pumpkin flesh). The result of their partnership is Tasher Botanicals, a pumpkin processing company that makes pumpkin flour and pumpkin seed oil, founded in November 2019.
Mutai and her friends wanted to change the poor health habits of most Kenyans and reduce their dependence on a few seasonal crops. They knew they knew that while many pumpkins were grown in the community, the crop only fetched low prices and is often considered “women’s food”. The thought to process pumkins was ideal.
Curious about what value could be added to the pumpkins, Mutai and her friends began researching the crop and discovered its nutritional values. Pumpkins are rich in dietary fibers, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and they do not increase cholesterol levels.
“We thought of how pumpkins could be processed into flour for pastries, how they could help farmers and provide jobs to the unemployed while generating profit for us,” Mutai recalls.
Tasher Botanicals went big on the impact on the community. The four friends intended to use their business to solve social issues like youth unemployment, rural farmers’ development, food supply shortage, and a healthy food alternative. Apart from creating employment, the enterprise offers pumpkin farmers a ready market for their produce at better prices.
“Running a business is not an easy task. It requires one to work harder and think deeper,” says Mutai. “When we started, we did not have any knowledge on processing. We had to attend several pieces of training and learn the type of equipment we required and how to use them. Finding an appropriate location for the company to meet the Kenya Standards Board’s requirements and convincing people of the product’s health benefits were other challenges the business faced in its first months.”
Despite these challenges, Mutai says their business has achieved tremendous progress in its elementary months. Her wish is to mechanize their value addition processes and set up a production facility for pumpkins’ processing and value addition. Currently, the company has developed a prototype of both pumpkin flour and pumpkin seed oil.
“We are also happy to partner with Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC), who have supported us in the development of a business plan with marketing strategies and a project implementation plan. KCIC has also enabled us access information on any funding opportunities available as well as mentorship with deeper analysis of value addition project execution.”
Mutai attributes its success in the market to perseverance, hard work, and the openness to learn from other entrepreneurs. She is confident that Tasher Botanicals will offer health and nutrition-conscious individuals or people with special needs and dry food consumers a better and healthy alternative flour and oil.
To do this, they plan to set up a processing plant, improve the quality of their products and contract farmers for the supply of other pumpkins to meet the demand of the final products