Mobile Solar Food Processing Improves Fruit Value Chains in Kenya

Solar panels at the top of Miyonga’s mobile factory

Milling is a crucial step when processing agricultural products. In areas where electricity is not available, too unreliable, or expensive, mills powered by solar energy can be a viable alternative. Miyonga Fresh Greens harnesses the power of solar technology to fight food loss by processing food  right at the farm gate. The company produces fruit powders from mangos, banana and pineapples for the national and international markets, adding value to lower quality fruits and income to farmers’ pockets.

The sun is shining bright in Eldoro, a little village in Southern Kenya. The lush green landscape surrounding Taita-Taveta County, where the village is situated, hosts the numerous banana plantations. The sun and readily-available groundwater resources ensure optimal growing conditions for farmers’ banana trees. Also in this region, is the aggregation site for Miyonga, a food processing company and a partner of the WE4F East Africa Regional Innovation Hub (RIH), where farmers can bring their banana harvests rather than using a milling service provider in Nairobi.

Setup of the solar-powered mill

In Sub-Saharan Africa, grains and cassava play an important role in food security. Many of these crops are processed into flours, like maize, sorghum, millet, soybean, or cassava. The mills used for processing are often powered by diesel fuel, especially in areas without access to the electrical grid or a reliable supply. Diesel mills are well established in the market, require a relatively low initial investment, and have a well-developed supply chain for repair and maintenance, but they consume a significant amount of fuel, which makes their operation costly, noisy, and polluting. Miyonga provides an alternative milling  approach that is less polluting, quiter, and only relies on nature’s energy source – the sun. To scale up production and allow processing at the farm level, Miyonga, with support from WE4F, recently installed a solar-powered mill at its Taita-Taveta aggregation site.

After a day and a half of assembly, the technicians were finally ready to flip the switch. Miyonga installed a solar 1.8 kW generator of on top of their 40-foot mobile factory, which holds a solar dryer, ambulant ventilators, and processing equipment. Also, attached is a battery bank, ensuring climate-friendly food processing even on cloudy days or after sunset. The 1.3 kW mill comes from the Kenyan company, Agsol, a manufacturer specialized in producing solar-powered mills. The solar mill and the dryer work hand-in-hand and form an integral part of the mobile food processing factory.

Banana Powder for shakes or cooking/Photo Credit: Miyonga

The purpose of the drying process is to reduce the moisture content in mangos, bananas, and pineapples – Miyonga’s best-selling products. For milling, the moisture content needs to be even lower. To ensure the reduced moisture levels are reached, Miyonga’s staff has been trained to operate the mill. In the first test runs, they produced banana powder purely with solar power.

Not all crops meet wholesale buyers’ beauty standards, which means they cannot be sold to grocery stores as fresh fruit. Processing second-grade (or “ugly”) fruit into dried snacks and powders is crucial for reducing post-harvest losses and increasing farmers’ incomes. While  the crops didn’t meet market expectations, they do meet consumers’ tastes  as delicious dried snacks and powders.

Steven Masamo in his banana plantation

Beneficiaries of the Miyonga and WE4F partnership are farmers like Steven Masamo. On several acres he grows bananas – a profitable business once demand is met. He is also a member of the Taita Taveta Banana Farmers Co-operative Society (TATABA), which sells most of the bananas in the Mombasa markets, where demand is usually high. However, the cost of getting the product to consumers reduces his revenue. Having a local off-taker, like Miyonga, is a big advantage for the TATABA. Miyonga provides trainings on good agricultural practices and conservation farming for TATABA members as well. It’s a win-win for both sites: Miyonga can trace the origin and quality of products, while farmers receive training for better production and have a reliable buyer, even for second-grade fruit.

Inside the mobile factory: processing spaces with the battery bank and storage for the mill leading to the drying chamber

Testing the mill