The United Nations (UN) Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that Africa loses at least 4 billion dollars worth of its total food production to post harvest losses. Yet the solution would be as simple as getting farmers to process their produce, value addition, before sending it to the market. That is what one local government in Kenya is doing with mango’s, changing fortunes for farmers.
It is a familiar scene on major highways in Africa, the race to put food on the table. Like everywhere else, the fittest takes home the money. It is mango season in Kenya and in Murang’a County, in the Central part of the country, farmers are enjoying a bumper harvest, evident not just in the trees sagging under the weight of juicy mango’s but also by the number of farmers who have set up stalls along the busy highway to sell their produce.
But times are hard, that’s according to a Kenyan trader Sarah Njeri.
“The market is so bad, take for example yesterday, I did not sell anything, I had nothing to buy my baby milk.”
Their other marketing options are selling in bulk to bigger markets but they say that puts them at the mercy of middlemen who undercut them making their profit margins unsustainable.
So when the sun goes down, they begin to count their losses, the cycle repeats itself until the next season.
“The challenge that we have is that we planted these trees, tend for plants, but we don’t have a market, sometimes we leave here without selling anything, we have a lot of problems,” says another Kenyan trader Florence Wairimu.
The Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), estimates that every year mango farmers in the country suffer between 40-45% post-harvest losses due to lack of markets, denying farmers their much deserved earnings. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, in Africa, at least 30% of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted along the supply chain every year.
“Some people made some calculations they are estimating the value of post-harvest losses to be the value of almost 4 billion us dollars. Per year and this is more than the food that we get from our other partners including the developing partners, so imagine if we are able to contain post-harvest losses we could really add to our food security and nutrition,” explains Agriculture Head of Markets in Kenya Dr Ones Karuho.
Several kilometres from Murang’a county in Eastern Kenya, in Makueni county, the Kalamba fruit processing plant, an initiative of the local government, known in Kenya as the county government.
Governor Kivutha Kibwana says the plant, which started in 2017, could not have come at a better time.
“When we didn’t have the factory, one of the things that happened and hurt farmers was the fact that the prices were very low, especially when the mango’s are just about to get very ripe, you are told that the price is one shilling per mango therefore three shillings per kilo take it or leave it, if you refuse, then you will have to throw the mango’s away or feed them to dogs.”
The county is Kenya’s top mango producer, with a yearly harvest of 184,000 Metric tonnes, the mangoes have the potential to earn the county $500M.
The plant, according to Kibwana, cuts the middlemen and earns the farmers a decent living.
“The reason to introduce this plant was to be able to buy mango’s and to process them and to sell the pure and eventually the juice and this made the prices to go up, when a lose because of the fruitfully we began to have a problem of reaching the overseas markets.”
Currently, the plant only produces pulp but the county is also among the country’s top producers of tomatoes. It’s in the process of adding a line that will make tomato paste, as well as ready to make juices and bottled water.
Plans are at advanced stage to begin marketing in the European Union countries, following an ongoing campaign to eliminate fruit flies.
“When we began we were just thinking mangoes but over time, it is starting to tell us we have so much potential to deal with tomato, orange and bananas,” says Agriculture Minister in Makueni County Bob Kisyula.
Experts say, is crucial in spurring growth of grassroot economies in Africa, while at the same time ensuring food and nutrition security.
“When farmers or other agribusinesses add value to the commodities they are harvesting it creates other opportunities in the economy all of a sudden they impact other sectors like manufacturing, those who produce technology to process raw materials into finished products, it can also impact even the service industry, the packaging and everyone who is involved in that sector,” says Dr Ones Karuho.
Kibwana worries that agriculture will not be helping the people as much if marketing is not properly done.
“If you do not get marketing right and of course value addition marketing right, then it means that agriculture is not helping your people as much as it should and the rural populations continues to experience significant poverty,” says Kibwana.
Indeed, the success of the processing plant has seen the county open a milk processing plant, and the agriculture minister says work is on to add value to traditional crops. Challenges are, however, abound.
“We now have 4,000 drums of 200 kgs each of puree, well explaining that the fact last year was a really depressing year because of covid, many markets closed or shrunk, but we need a good market locally and internationally for the puree but also for the fresh fruit,” says Agriculture Minister from Makueni Bob Kisyula.
To get the fruits to the factory, the county government works with farmers organized in cooperatives.
“We are trying to teach our people that when you aggregate whatever you produce and then you sell it together, you are more competitive, you can negotiate better,” says Kibwana.
One of the marked differences we notice in this area, the smallholder farmers no longer line the highway in their numbers seeking a market for their produce and the few who are still selling to traders from other regions now earn up to tenfold what they previously earned.
Back at the factory, the machines continue to roll as the workers quicken their pace to meet the demand, while along the Nairobi- Nyeri highway the race to make ends meet continues, with the hope that a value addition intervention will save them this daily struggle.