One Kenyan produce company, Twiga Foods, is working to improve the lives of small-scale farmers and vendors through innovative technology, education, and connecting 13,000 farmers to retail vendors across 20 of Kenya’s 47 counties.
The country’s small-scale farmers—who produce 80 percent of Kenya’s fruits and vegetables—face many agricultural challenges. Climate change is causing increasingly erratic weather patterns, poor infrastructure (just 6 percent of the roads are paved) makes it difficult to bring produce to market, exploitative brokers take advantage of uneducated farmers, food safety practices are poor, proper storage and warehousing are lacking, and distribution methods can be unreliable. And according to Kikonde Mwatela, Chief Operating Officer of Twiga Foods, older farmers largely dominate agricultural production and are slow to adopt new technologies and farming practices.
Twiga Foods is on a mission to help small-scale farmers and vendors by building the foundation of a transparent and reliable marketplace to buy, sell, and trade produce in Africa. It links small-scale fruit and vegetable farmers to vendors by picking up produce from the farmer and delivering it to the vendors’ doorstep. This provides vendors with fresh, high-quality produce for consumers. Mwatela tells Food Tank, “there is a growing demand for agricultural produce in urban areas, but many small-scale farmers struggle to get their produce to the markets that help them earn enough to support their families.”
Twiga Foods, established in 2014, is the largest domestic food produce company in the east-African nation and handles an average of 130 tons of produce daily. It sources fruits and vegetables from 13,000 small-scale farms in 20 counties and distributes it via 100 routes to 7,000 retail vendors in Nairobi and neighboring counties.
Cutting edge technology plays a key role in the company’s success. Predictive analytics factor in weather patterns, as well as consumer demand, providing farmers insight that helps them determine what and how much to plant to reduce post-harvest loss. Twiga Foods also implemented a mobile-based payment platform that pays farmers immediately at the time of pick-up. Small-scale farmers can now track revenue and build a credit rating from their transaction history.
Twiga Foods believes the investment in technology is necessary to attract young farmers. Mwatela tells Food Tank, “the energy and drive of youthful entrepreneurs are key in the labor-intensive agriculture sector. The continued adoption of technology by younger demographic farmers means more farmers will be more productive and profitable.”
Twiga Foods also invests in key infrastructure initiatives at strategic geographic locations that include cold-food storage, warehouses, and pick-up and distribution points to reduce post-harvest losses and improve food safety handling. In addition, the company provides agronomy training and advice to small-scale farmers to help them avoid the efforts of exploitative brokers, improve safe handling of food, and determine which fruits and vegetables to plant and how much.
Twiga Foods is helping to create an efficient, transparent, and formal marketplace. Mwatela tells Food Tank, “by guaranteeing ready, consistent, all-year-round markets for farmers, offering good prices, as well as training and agronomy advice, Twiga Foods cuts out the exploitative brokers and empowers farmers to earn more from their produce and farm more, thus allowing them to reinvest in their farm. The efficiency in logistics between the farm and the vendor translates into prices that are up 10 percent, which puts more money in the pockets of the farmers.”
Fruit and vegetable vendors also benefit greatly from Twiga’s initiatives. Mwatela tells Food Tank, “vendors now get free and direct delivery of high-quality produce with assured safety and traceability. This has resulted in vendors receiving fair prices for what they sell. We are helping to raise up all parts of the produce market in Kenya.”
Twiga Foods plans to expand operations across African cities with new distribution networks, increased investment in technology, expanded sourcing and storage facilities, and improved supply chain efficiency. The company partners with government departments, institutional and multilateral investors, academic and research organizations, and private companies. Organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Finance Corporation, and TLcom Capital LLP partner with Twiga Foods.
“The support of these partners is largely due to the opportunity to transform agricultural production and contribute to the success of the small-scale farmers in Kenya. We all know the potential is phenomenal. We are proving farmers can make a good living if they have the necessary infrastructure, technology, and knowledge,” Mwatela tells Food Tank.