Before the first light hits, the women of Imani Group Kilifi County rise early in order to begin their daily hustle. They wake to bake.
The small village of Msumarini, off the Kenyan Coast is where the Imani Women Group bakes their cakes with only a wooden box and solar energy.
“Imani” stands for ‘Faith’ in Swahili, and the twenty-two group members have adapted an eco-friendly business that supports their community whilst preserving the environment.
It is an initiative started in 2014 and boosted by the German development group Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevolkerung that supports women entrepreneurs. The cakes are baked in a wooden box constructed out of foil, leather and timber. It traps the heat from the sun, turning the box into a mobile oven that can bake the cakes in two hours.
The group reached out to a local carpenter to build the oven, which cost Ksh 15,000. The box has a top layer of foil and is about the size of a large suitcase. It is lined with black leather. Sunlight is reflected to the foil into the box, and the thick leather inside absorbs the heat. An airtight seal produced by a glass cover traps heat.
The women move the box as they bake to make sure it is towards the sun. They can manufacture up to one hundred and fifty cupcakes on a good day, which they sell for Ksh10 apiece, and thirty larger cakes, which they sell for Ksh200 each. Each group member can make up to Ksh300 on a sunny day; many have utilized this money to launch other companies.
Hadija Betinga, the Imani group’s chairperson, calls the bakery eco-friendly, economical, and practical. “The situation would have been different if we had been baking with firewood or charcoal, since operational expenses would have been significant,” she remarked. “We would also be damaging the environment. Initially our husbands would never let us go to the group meetings, dismissing them as a chance to gossip. But they have now seen the benefits and remind us daily not to be late for the meetings.”
Most of the group’s members are able to offer their girls what most of them never had: an education—and assist their husbands sustain their families with the money from their enterprises. “Most school girls around here get pregnant and drop out, but with the little income we get we are able to keep our children in school,” said Anzanzi Kifwete.
The organization also utilizes its solar oven to manufacture natural coconut oil, which it sells for Ksh500 per half liter, taking advantage of the luxuriant coconut plants in Msumarini village. The box is filled with a mixture of shredded coconut and water, which is then given two days to melt. Water and a layer of floating oil separate out of the mixture, and the ladies skim this off to package and sell (Thomson Reuters Foundation).
Kilifi is one of Kenya’s most beautiful hidden gems, filled with scenic beaches and diverse vegetation. A multicultural county encompassed with picturesque shores and a rich history. Yet, the county suffers major setbacks both economically and environmentally.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) 2022, out of the forty-seven counties, Kilifi is the tenth poorest. It is heavily reliant on agriculture and tourism.
The Mijikenda tribe has inhabited this area for centuries. It is also culturally famous for having a heroine Mekatilili Wa Menza. A freedom fighter and a revolutionary, she is an ancestral pillar of the community. Known for her fierce spirit and fight against colonial invasion, her descendants now face a much different battle.
Unlike the women in Msumarini who solely work within their communities, others face a huge challenge in keeping their business afloat throughout the year. The struggle most SMEs that are reliant on tourism face comes with the high and low seasons.
A few kilometers away from Msumarini resides Hafsa Salim founder of “Kilifi Bake house.” She too wakes to bake, but in a much more cosmopolitan setting.
She brings my order of chocolate ganache cupcakes, coated with chocolate mousse (an important element for my culinary research and sweet tooth).
We meet at Kicoco café in Kilifi town where she also supplies them with her famous cinnamon rolls. Her catalogue also includes black forest, red velvet, brownies, donuts, and chocolate chip cookies.
A mother of three, she runs a self-funded bakery from her home. She uses an electrical cooker, and bakes the “old fashioned” way. She works by order, and has her personal ‘Bodaboda’ (local transportation via motorbike) who delivers the packages to her clients.
“Cooking is my passion and I started my company back in 2018 as a hobby. Slowly word got around about my pastries and I began to get more orders. I found a gap in Kilifi because there were very few pastry shops in town. During the lockdown, I still managed to keep my business running as I already work from home.”
With the help of her family and friends, her company grew to supplying cakes and pastries for events and as well as local cafes.
“The greatest challenge has been the lack of purchasing power and lack of variety of ingredients. I am yet to open a shop for myself as I am a stay-at-home mum. I often have my hands full, but it is certainly something that I hope to do in the future.”
She possesses an ease and grace in expressing her passion; this is quite evident in the detail she gives in not only her baking but also her packaging.
“The best part of my business is doing what I love. As my clientele grew so has my culinary expertise. When I began to get more orders I opened a social media page in order to male it easier to access my service-@kilifibakehouse.”
With the rise of foreign investors within the county, the gap between the extremely wealthy and poor increases each year leaving the local community in limbo of desolation, hope and resilience.
|Obi, Leopold. “ With a solar oven, Kenyan women bake their way to a better life.” Reuters. 19 November 2015. https://www.reuters.com/article/kenya-solar-women-idUSL8N13457320151119|
Thomas Reuters Foundation. https://allafrica.com/stories/201511191321.html
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