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Partnerships Help Reduce Food Loss, Increase Profits for Kenyan Mango Farmers

Olivia Karanja - Former Program Associate, Africa Region

The mango value chain in Kenya is a clear demonstration of harnessing the power of collaborative partnerships for business opportunity and development impact.

In 2015, The Rockefeller Foundation supported TechnoServe (TNS) to kick-start a demonstration of loss reduction in the mango value chain, building on their expertise developed under Project Nurture. More recently and with the Foundation’s launch of YieldWise, these activities have gained momentum and are rolling out full-throttle to reduce post-harvest losses and improve millions of rural lives.

In February this year, along with the TechnoServe team, we visited farmers in Makueni, in the Eastern region of Kenya to experience first-hand the on-the-ground activities in the mango value chain. In this region, mangoes contribute to 40 percent of the household incomes, to an extent that the county director of agriculture told us that the local government has prioritized efforts to help ensure that it continues providing multiple benefits to people and profits. Yet, even with the planned construction of a mango processing plant for their habitual bumper harvest, they’re still recording losses of up to 30 percent due to market inefficiencies.

At a nearby mango orchard, we saw a specialized harvesting tool—a long, slender pole with a netted basket and a small blade affixed at the tip, enabling the farmers to easily reach the fruits high atop the trees. Previously, farmers would harvest mangoes by shaking the trees to drop the fruit, compromising the quality due to bruising as they were caught or, worse, fell to the ground. Locally fabricated, this tool will soon be more readily accessible following some modifications to increase its efficiency.

We were also joined by a team from Apeel Sciences who demonstrated to farmers how to treat their mangoes with an organic solution that shields crops with an ultra-thin barrier against biotic and abiotic stresses, thus increasing their post-harvest shelf life. This liquid is invisible, tasteless, edible, and made from 100 percent plant matter. It felt cool to the touch and left my fingers shining, very much like a skin moisturizer. Apeel is currently conducting a series of tests and trials, after which they’ll provide more information on the availability, pricing, and efficiency of their preservation solution.

Mangoes treated with Edipeel, an organic solution that shields crops with an ultra-thin barrier against biotic and abiotic stresses.
Mangoes treated with Edipeel, an organic solution that shields crops with an ultra-thin barrier against biotic and abiotic stresses.

The team then traveled to the launch of the GSI solar powered cooling unit, situated within a farmer’s compound and can drop atmospheric temperatures from 35 degrees centigrade to a low of 17. Lower temperatures slow the ripening of the mangoes and can preserve them for up to seven days longer than ambient conditions, giving buyers additional time to source fruit for use in domestic or international markets. This was the first time the farmers experienced a refrigeration unit tailored to their needs and they were visibly thrilled as they walked in and out of the cooling unit, openly exclaiming and marveling at the ingenuity of the technology!

We then viewed one of the solar-powered Wakati units which—through the reduction of ethylene production—create a self-sterilizing microclimate that increases crop shelf life. The TNS team collects data each day on the status of produce within the units to track their efficiency.

Our interactions that day also emphasized the importance of farmer aggregation into groups because some buyers who had previously committed to purchase failed to do so. But with support from TNS, the farmers identified different buyers from different markets and this has helped reduce loss levels. Having previously worked at TechnoServe myself, visiting and interacting with the farmers was particularly exciting and emotive for me. Listening to their success stories is the confirmation of the importance of our YieldWise initiative.

As a systems integrator, the Foundation has provided an opportunity for all of these businesses—local and international—to come together under the mango value chain to test and demonstrate the efficiency of these technologies for both farmers, buyers, and other actors in the system. As YieldWise evolves, we’re exploring how these technologies could be produced and distributed locally and affordably to lead to increased adoption.

In the spirit of an integrated approach to reducing food loss where market demand, farmer aggregation, new technologies, and access to finance collide, we’re well on our way to halving post-harvest loss.

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