Kenyan agripreneur Yvonne Otieno has developed a small Kenyan family farm into a vegetables and fruit company that exports exporting directly to Europe. With a network of 5,000 Kenyan small-holder farmers, Yvonne has built startup Miyonga Fresh Greens into a business that is ready to leave the startup status behind. Otieno is looking to find partners and investors to further grow capacity for export, while dealing with food waste and surplus food in Kenya.
Thanks to Yvonne Otieno, CEO and co-founder of Miyonga Fresh Greens (in Lukenya, Machakos County), even small holder fruit and vegetable farmers in Kenya can access global markets. In the past three years, she managed to export products from her own farm and that of her growing network of small-holder farmers in Kenya to the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Ireland and South Africa. The business has expanded from two to six product lines and from trading just in raw agricultural products like fresh vegetables and fruits to dried fruits and fruit powder for export.
Yvonne Otieno: “Our mission is to provide fresh, quality and wholesome produce that meets international food quality standards. We are currently growing vegetables and fruits such as haricot verts, sugar snaps, garden peas, baby carrot, okra, , dudhi, aubergine, avocado, yellow and purple passion fruits, and mangoes. With GLOBAL GAP certified contracted farmers we also export a variety of herbs including chives, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage and marjoram.”
What are the main hurdles you had to overcome?
“One of the biggest challenges we had to overcome in our business is meeting the strict and multiple international standards for food. These standards are usually costly to apply for small businesses and often become a barrier to entry. However, we learnt that once you meet the standards and consistently deliver to client expectations, the market demand is higher.”
“It is not only food safety we need to consider. There are also strict cosmetic requirements where buyers require the “perfect fruit”. The perfect fruit and the ugly fruit have the same nutritional value. Having begun as farmers who had experienced rejects for cosmetic reasons, we began seeking a solution to reduce this form of rejects. In Kenya, for instance, produce is often classed as sub-standard and sent back to the farmer – or thrown straight away as rubbish – even before it is exported. According to a 2015 field study by the environmental organization ‘Feedback Global’, this problem affects around half of the different fruit and vegetable varieties produced in Kenya. The devastating thing for the farmers or middlemen is that they end up sitting on the surplus goods, which forces some of them into financial ruin.”
What is the solution you found?
“Surplus fruit is often a result of growing unsuitable varieties by farmers, lack of proper certification and unrealistic cosmetic standards set by the market. The highest waste happens at the farm gate level where farmers are left with fruits considered as ugly fruit. This waste translates to loss of income by the farmers and more seriously a waste of the natural resources used in production. To address this challenge of food waste we received support from the German Development Cooperation Program Lab of Tomorrow. Our research and development has lead to farm gate valorization of surplus fruits and vegetables into dried fruits and fruit powder as healthy food snacks.”
How does that work?
“Initially, we faced a lack of technology, the investment capital and the know-how to process the rejected vegetables and fruits. We had to do a lot of research and business modelling to see how best to address this challenge. This gave birth to a project we call Wheeling Fruits: processing surplus fruits at farm gate level via a mobile processing unit. The mobile processing facility is fitted onto a trailer and can move between farming areas or placed at predetermined aggregation centres.”
What is the bottom line for farmers?
“The valorization of the surplus or rejected fruits and vegetables means that farmers can now earn 25% more income from selling dried fruits and fruit powder as compared to selling the raw commodities. The first grade of fruits considered as perfect is sold as is while the second grade that would have been rejected is processed into dried fruits slices and fruit powder. The fruit slices can be eaten as snacks or added into breakfast cereals while the powder can be used for making instant smoothies, cocktails, baking, ice-cream flavors, sauces and locally for fortifying porridge flour. Both products have the natural sweetness, additives and sourced directly from farmers.”
What comes next?
“Miyonga next steps is setting up a digital traceability system for the fruits produced at farm gate level and obtaining Organic and Fairtrade status for our farmers. This will open up access to customers who have shown great interest in our products but sell exclusively organic products.”
How are you grow from a startup to a scale-up?
“We currently have orders worth 10 containers of both fresh and dried fruits per week, but we are only able to produce and deliver two containers. To meet this deficit in supply, Miyonga needs to invest in equipment and a processing factory that would increase our capacity for production to seven containers weekly. For this we need an investment of USD 750,000. We welcome any inquiries for partnership or equity investments.”