Agricultural Livelihoods Employment & Entrepreneurship

Building robust local supply chains in Kenya

Female vegetable seller proudly displays her fresh produce.
Esther is a mama mboga, a local food seller in Kenya, making sure her customers get fresh local produce. Photo Credits: Enviu

Nearly 50% of harvested fruit and vegetables in Kenya is lost before it even reaches the customer, due to fragmented and uninformed supply chains. That means for every avocado you eat, one has been lost. At the same time, a large portion of the population suffers from malnutrition and food insecurity.

Our new partnership with Enviu supports their FoodFlow programme, which has the ambitious goal of making sure that no food gets wasted in the supply chain. FoodFlow is building local companies to radically improve efficiency across the local fruit and vegetable supply chain to ensure zero food waste. And with the effects of the COVID-19 crisis being felt through the entire food chain, this partnership is more valuable than ever.

One of the companies that FoodFlow is growing, with support from the DOEN Foundation, is called Taimba. On average, it takes six transactions for produce to get from farmer to consumer. Taimba takes a fresh approach to the supply chain, directly connecting farmers to sellers to create more predictable demand.

Delivering produce on time


Brian takes to the road to make sure his customers get the produce they need to stay open.
Photo credits: Enviu

Brian Ruto, part of the Taimba team, delivers produce to Esther, one of the local food sellers known as a mama mboga. They share what impact COVID-19 is having on their daily work and lives.

“I source all my fruits and vegetables from Taimba,” Esther says confidently. “You can confirm with Ruto, I always buy from him. Si ndio Ruto (Is it true Ruto)?”

Brian Ruto confirms with a smile. “I am a sales representative with Taimba in charge of the Kiambu Route, of which Esther Njeri is one of my good customers.”

“I buy from Taimba because they are fairly priced and bring to us produce that is of good quality,” Esther continues. “The most important thing is that they deliver on time. I no longer have to worry about waking up early in the wee hours of the morning to go the market myself to make direct purchases and that time is now better-used bonding with my family.”

Impact of COVID-19


Esther makes sure her customers have food, even if they can’t pay for it.
Photo Credits: Enviu

However, the COVID-19 crisis is affecting many people like Esther and Brian who work in food businesses.

“I have been in business for 12 years, but the last two months have been very difficult for my business and our family,” Esther says. “The situation in Kenya during these COVID times is very difficult for small scale traders like me.

“Most of my customers, about 80% of them, are now purchasing from me on credit and I am not sure if they will be able to pay me in good time to purchase new stocks. But these are customers I have known for such a long time and I cannot deny them food. Life has become very difficult for me because we are now digging into our savings to support the business. I am not sure how long we will be able to survive.”

As a start-up directly supplying to small scale vendors like Esther, Taimba in turn feels the effects of the decline in sales. Brian says: “A lot of our mama mbogas have closed shop because of the prevailing circumstances. For example, I used to sell a total of 12 sacks of potatoes per day, but currently I am struggling to even sell three. Taimba is coping by diversifying its sales channels. I see opportunities to grow our online business segment, as well as a steady increase with our home delivery business.”

Hopes for the future


Brian is grateful to have work in these difficult times.
Photo Credits: Enviu

“I am grateful for health and a job at Taimba at a time when things are difficult for many people across Kenya, and that is why I continue to serve with a smile even when business is not very forthcoming,” says Brian. “My hope for the future is that this pandemic unites us as a people across the globe. I hope that it makes us see that we are all one no matter our race, profession or country.”

Esther is also very hopeful for the future: “This current situation is not permanent and I believe it shall pass. My ambition is that if my business goes back to normal, I can start saving again and enable my children to go to a better school. My husband and I are also working towards purchasing a plot so that we can eventually settle in our own home.”

The IKEA Foundation is partnering with Enviu to help social entrepreneurs in India and Africa create thriving local markets based on jobs that reduce waste and improve the environment, while enabling low-income families to afford a better life.

FoodFlow is a business-intervention program of Enviu, an impact-driven venture building studio active since 2004.