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What Mangoes in Kenya Can Teach Us About Food Loss

Olivia Karanja - Former Program Associate, Africa Region
Photo credit: The Rockefeller Foundation

Today, 40 percent of all food produced is never eaten, which is the equivalent of throwing nearly $1 trillion right in the trash—lost labor, water, energy, profits to small farmers, and so much more. The goal of our YieldWise Initiative is to make a sizeable dent in food loss in places where it matters most—in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania to start—where up to half of all food grown is lost. Fruits, vegetables, and staple crops are the most vulnerable to loss. In the end, we hope to reduce post-harvest losses and improve millions of rural lives.

Kenyan farmers grow a lot of delicious mangoes. In some regions, mangoes contribute 40 percent of the household income. But mango farmers also experience enormous volumes of post-harvest loss season after season because the crop matures all at the same time and they lack proper storage to sustain the fruit. To these farmers, our YieldWise Initiative provides solutions by integrating market demand, farmer training, and aggregation, access to technologies and financial tools.

As far as the mango regions in Kenya traverse, YieldWise brings together farmers to gain a critical mass that will provide the necessary shift in post-harvest management practices. In collaboration with the University of Nairobi, YieldWise set out to demonstrate to farmers that there are cost-effective methods to increase the shelf life of their produce, either through storage or through agro-processing. To that end, YieldWise has supported aggregation centers which link farmers with buyers. Through aggregation, farmers deliver their mangoes to be graded, and each grade of fruit has a purpose for a different market—hence, the seller and buyer are joined more efficiently and the fruit is saved.

We have enough data to understand that YieldWise is measurably reducing losses within the mango value chain in Kenya.

Let’s tour some of these interventions in Kenya.

In mid-April, we visited Makueni, Machakos and Embu counties to initiate discussions with collaborators who have embraced the YieldWise model. They will play a key role in its demonstration, replication, and sustainability. At the beginning of the year, the engines at the Makueni Fruit Processing Plant had roared to life after the county government had built the structure. Governor of Makueni, H.E. Kivutha Kibwana, and his agricultural team hope the plant will serve as a model in the region. The plant, with the capacity to tap into an annual production of 20,000 metric tons of mangoes, can churn out 3,000 liters of mango puree per hour, with a liter fetching between 1 to 2 dollars.

Through our support to TechnoServe—a non-profit in 29 countries including Kenya that harnesses the power of the private sector to help people lift themselves out of poverty—farmers in the Makueni region, among others, have received extensive training on good agricultural and post-harvest management practices. Farmers welcomed the investment, saying it equipped them with the requisite knowledge and created an assured market for their mangoes.

We then traveled to Masii, where the YieldWise initiative has worked with the Masii Farmers Horticultural Cooperative Society, a group of 90 farmers, to demonstrate affordable methods of increasing the shelf life of mangoes. This, in turn, buys the farmers more time to negotiate with different market channels and get better prices. We set up two different types of evaporative coolers: a charcoal cooler and the Zero Energy Cooling Brick Chamber and saw that it increased the shelf life of the fruit by approximately 2 weeks.

Zero Energy Brick Cooling Chamber & crated mangoes in a charcoal cooler. Photo credit: Serah Thiga, TechnoServe.

We moved on to Karurumo town in Embu where they too store their produce in the charcoal and zero energy coolers. There, we set up a more elaborate aggregation center that enables farmers to store as well as process both wet and dry fruits. This center is under the able custodianship of Karurumo Horticulture Self Help Group, who process mango into puree for fresh, ready to drink juice. The facility also has the capacity to dry mangoes for high-end markets and sell them when the fruit is out of season.

The Chairman of the group, Mr. Aloys Mbogo, spoke of the investment as a game-changer for the region. When the center opened, the Governor of Embu, H.E. Martin Wambora, congratulated the farmers and committed his support to help them achieve their ambitions.

After a few growing seasons, we have enough data to understand that YieldWise is measurably reducing losses within the mango value chain in Kenya. Working with 20,000 smallholder farmers, TechnoServe and other partners have equipped them with knowledge and connected them with technologies that were once out of reach. Our goal is to reach 35,000 farmers in Kenya with these interventions—just 15,000 more. Why 35,000? Well, we see that figure as catalytic—to create a systemic shift, to commercialize the value chain, to stimulate trade, and to make Kenya competitive in the global market with diverse products. Already, we see what’s happening in Kenya as a fitting model for the horticultural sector that could be applied in any value chain to reduce food loss and improve millions of rural lives.

We recognize that the YieldWise investments are catalytic, and systemic change in the mango value chain will require partnership with national and county governments that can replicate and scale the Rockefeller Foundation’s investments. This is beginning to happen, and the government is recognizing its role as a key partner in sustaining and growing these gains.

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