A simple guide to the challenges in the fruit and vegetable chain in Kenya

Did you know that nearly 50% of harvested fruits and vegetables in Kenya are lost before they reach the customer? The smallholder food value chain sees multiple challenges that seem hard to solve. Diving into this issue, and opportunity, has shaped our vision to reduce food loss by 80% in 2030. In this article, we will show you an overview of the  issues in the current system, why they are so hard to change, and what we’re doing about it.

Reducing food loss is low hanging fruit to improve food security and farmer resilience

In Kenya, 36,5% of the population is food insecure and 35% of the children under the age of 5 are malnourished. Fruits and vegetables see high loss rates of  between 40-50%. This means half of the food produced is sold and eaten,  and as a result farmers struggle to make a living. Moreover, the problem is  growing. As the African population is expected to double towards 2050, food production needs to increase by a staggering 60%. Reducing food loss is therefore a crucial, and  logical first step, towards making sure enough food reaches the market.

The problem starts at the market level

The wholesale market, where small vegetable sellers buy their produce, is in the open air without cooling or hygienic standards. This shortens the shelf life and decreases quality of produce. Moreover, there is no planning of demand and supply; traders simply line up at the parking place of the market with truckloads of produce, sometimes waiting multiple days before they are able to sell it to buyers reselling on the market.

Transport contributes significantly to the loss of fruits and veg

Getting produce from a farm to the nearest big city includes many actors that all play their part. Currently it can take up to  5-7 trades along the chain before produce reaches the market. Farmers are not connected to the market or other buyers, and are therefore dependent on brokers for sales and transport. This means vulnerable crops, like mangoes and avocados are repeatedly loaded and offloaded onto different means of transport (think motorcycles, vans, bigger trucks). This causes damage and takes place in the open air with no cooling, drastically shortening the goods shelf life. Finally, the handling of fresh produce is done without care; mangoes and avocados are generally collected in enormous bags holding over 50 kgs of produce. So, before it even reaches the market a fair share is already rotten.

The key bottleneck of post-harvest loss is the point of aggregation and sales at farmgate.

There is no supply and demand information available, which results in mismatches between farmer and buyer. This takes the form of  buyers trucks going empty when there is no harvest, or oversupply/losses at the farm when there is no buyer when produce is ripe for harvest. If brokers do arrive at harvest time, the unplanned aggregation of the produce of multiple smallholder farmers in the area is long and costly. Aggregation happens in the hot sun or uncooled sheds, often taking as long as 2-3 days before being ready for transport. These practices and consequent losses account for a staggering 37% of all losses in the chain.

Changing the system is hard due to the small, unorganised players in the chain

It is widely understood that food security is one of the challenges of our time, and much effort has been made to solve the issue. So, why does this problem remain unsolved? Making solutions in this chain financially sustainable is costly; all stakeholders in the chain are small, unorganised, without means of investment, without information and for the bigger part without smartphones. Consequently any venture, whether they are providing a processing solution or a cooling solution, should also include a financial product and a market linkage component in their offering to make the business model work effectively. Moreover, offering a very affordable product/service to small customers means you need very large volumes, and because the farmers are for the large part unorganized and outreach cannot be done online, there is still a need for a relatively expensive, high-touch model. 

We are proving it can be done

Enviu’s FoodFlow  takes a holistic, value chain approach, in order to build a showcase circular value chain. The first three solutions we are building into the chain of mangoes and avocados are a cold storage as as a service solution ‘SokoFresh’ (for aggregation), an online market linkage platform, ‘SokoLink’ (for sales), and a venture that buys from farmers and directly sells to retail shops ‘Taimba’ (to shorten the chain). We are working towards the ambitious goal of reducing post-harvest losses along the chain to 0%, to do this we are working to scale our existing portfolio of ventures and looking for opportunities to build additional solutions along the chain.