The reddish juice from hibiscus is as tasty as it is healthy. At his Excel Hort Consult Incubation Centre in Kashari, Mbarara, about 10km from the city centre, Dr Alex Ariho does not only grow hibiscus, but also processes into juice and wine. The centre is also used to train or incubate farmers and agriculture value chain actors in value addition.
“I can say this is a high value crop that farmers should take up. It is very healthy and because of this many people who desire healthy lives are taking it,” Ariho says.
Ariho says if a farmer invested in just a quarter-of-an-acre, they would earn at least sh4.5m per season with just an investment of sh500,000. Ariho grows about an acre here, but he has also established outgrowers around Ankole. His product, now on the market is called Exelas juice/wine.
The demand is high, especially due to its curative attributes. The fruit contains vitamin c, thiamine, riverflobin, natural salts, calcium and zinc and is good in stabilising blood pressure and the neural system, stabilises diabetes among others.
It can be consumed as a beverage in tea or warm water or processed into wines and juices. The wine can range from sweet, medium, white to red dry, premium.
Hibiscus wine is also an anti-acidic, an appetiser, induces sleep and helps in the digestive system. For children, it can be given in form of juice or jam.
“From an acre, even if a farmer does not add value to the crop, they can harvest at least 500kg,” Ariho says. Of course, those who grow the crop using fertilisers harvest as many as 1500kg, but for an average farmer, who simply plants and lets the crop grow naturally, 500kg per acre is the average seasonal harvest.
“At sh15,000 per kilogramme, that is sh7.5m earned as gross,” he says. If a farmer processes wine, the earnings go up.
A kilogramme of seeds costs sh200,000. “You need 3-4kg for an acre,” Ariho says. This comes to about sh600,000-sh800,000.
Farm preparation is similar to that for beans. Ariho says soils should be black/loam. They can be fertilised using either organic or inorganic fertilisers. However, organic practices produce less contaminated juice and wine. Organic fertilisers can be animal waste for example.
“You plant two (2) seeds per hole, with a distance of 1ft x 1ft between rows,” he says. The seeds take 4-5 days to germinate. After a few weeks, they have to be pruned because if they are left crowded, it will affect the flowering and subsequent fruiting.
It will take 2-3 months for the ‘flowers’ to open to maturity. It is recommended that you pick them as soon as the flowers have dropped.
Process of making wine
When the hibiscus is harvested, it is dried using a solar drier. It is weighed and then tested for purity, colour and moisture content since hygiene is key in food processing. The processing is done in a clean cottage that has a boiler plus several air-tight wine storage drums.
“Here, we use a solar drier to dry it to the required standards,” Ariho says. The drying is done using eucalyptus poles and strong polythene. It cost about sh800,000.
The boiler for the wine preparation is sterilised to ensure germ-free processing.
When it has been ascertained that the boiler is clean, the contents are then put in and allowed to boil to a maximum of 95 degrees centigrade. They are allowed to cool, before being transferred in the maturation stainless steel tank, which is also sterilised.
The tanks are cleaned after every production process, then a small amount of water is put in and then tested from the laboratory to ascertain there is no harm. During maturation period, several tests are carried on a day-to-day basis in the laboratory, which includes purity, alcohol content, wine taste, sugar levels and chemical levels.
A kilogramme of hibiscus can process at least 15 litres of juice, while the same amount can make about 20 litres of wine. Juice is packed in 500ml up to 20-litre jerrycans.
“I sell a 500ml bottle of juice at sh2,000 and a 5-litre jerrycan at sh20,000,” Ariho says. A litre of wine goes for sh20,000. Ariho says he has got customers in many hotels and supermarkets around Mbarara.
Sarah Asingwire, who works as the director natural resources at the incubation centre, says the entire process, right from planting, harvesting and marketing of hibiscus is done organically in order to maintain the natural traits of the crop.
“I buy the juice when I want to detoxicate my body. It eliminates all waste from the body,” Moses Muganga says.