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Sweet wine, jam and yoghurt from the troublesome cactus plant.

figure By IRENE MUGO When Joseph Lentunyoi returned to his ancestral home in Laikipia North three years ago, he had one mission to try and help the community make money from the notorious cacti (opuntia).The plant has ravaged the expansive plains of Laikipia affecting livestock production.

Earning from the plant would help the pastoralists sustain their livelihoods and see the invasive crop as a friend, not an enemy, Lentunyoi figured out.Previously, residents have been encouraged to cut the cactus plants and bury them deep in the soil.

However, this has never helped, as according to Lentunyoi, the plant germinated soon after making it impossible to completely wipe out the plantations.The entrepreneur is currently harnessing the nutritional value of cactus by making wines, yoghurt, jam, honey, oils, concentrates and juices.

He has contracted 300 Maasai women to supply him with cacti fruits that he uses to make the products."We have women harvesting the fruits in the North and selling them to us for value addition.

That way they are able to keep their livelihoods as well as manage the cacti," he says.Lentunyoi, a permaculture consultant, buys a 20kg crate of the opuntia fruits at Sh1,000."A cacti fruit can be eaten raw as the seeds contain unsaturated fats.

They can also be dried and crushed into powder with the flour used in baking cakes when blended with wheat flour and for animal feeds," explains Lentunyoi.To make wine, he starts with washing the fruits thoroughly, then putting them in a blender which separates the pulp from the seeds.

He then puts the pulp paste into 20-litre jerrycans for fermentation that takes about three weeks to end up with sweet wine.To make yoghurt, fresh milk is preheated to 50 degrees Celsius to allow the mixing of ingredients such as sugar.

ACCEPTED CONCENTRATION OF ACIDITYIt is then pasteurised to 90 degrees Celsius for between 25 to 30 minutes before it is cooled to 43 degrees Celsius and then starter culture is added.The product is incubated for six hours as acidity level is monitored.

The acceptable concentration of acidity in the milk should be between 0.13 to 0.

16 per cent.The yoghurt is then cooled further to below 15 degrees Celsius and flavours and colours added.

"While making yoghurt, rather than add vanilla and strawberry flavours and other additives that are synthetic, we use cacti."The plant is rich in vitamins C and A and is an antioxidant that helps prevent cancers and other lifestyle diseases as it is high in minerals such as magnesium, calcium and iron.

Lentunyoi works with an extension officer who sensitises the women on the best ways to utilise the crop.He has established a demo site where he exhibits different ways of how the invasive cactus plant can be used to make various items.

"We train women on how to make soaps and oils from the plant to improve their livelihoods," says Francis Leyiangere, the extension officer.Lentunyoi sells his products under the brand name Nishamu.

A 700ml bottle of wine for Sh500 while a litre at Sh1,000. Half a litre of juice goes for Sh250 and S00 for a 500ml bottle of jam, with the products having been certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards.Since he began in 2015, he has partnered with the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to set a permaculture centre in Laikipia.

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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Oct 26, 2018
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