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Reducing food loss in the mango value chain in Kenya: A good investment opportunity

Isaiah Kirema — Program Manager, YieldWise
Olivia Karanja - Former Program Associate, Africa Region
Rafael Flor — Former Director, YieldWise

There is consistent high demand for mangos in Kenya, with numerous buyers and relatively stable prices. Like many fruits and vegetables, mangoes are considered an auxiliary crop (and not a staple), and despite buyer interest and the additional income it could bring, farmers battling pests have struggled to have ample quality supply.

Patrick Sila, the chairman of Kambiti Producers Association in Eastern Kenya, affirms this. “We had a problem of diseases in our farms. Training sessions from TechnoServe were vital for showing us how to care for our mango trees, how to prune them, how to harvest them, and how to use fly traps to control insects.  Fly traps actually catch all of the white flies that otherwise spoil mangoes. Now, we have very few flies and many more mangoes!”

Farmers like Patrick are part of a larger effort to demonstrate that with the right partnerships, food loss can be reduced. Building on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Project Nurture, thousands of smallholder mango producers, TechnoServe, the Coca Cola Company and The Rockefeller Foundation came together to demonstrate this. This is also in line with the Sustainable Development Goals target 12.3 to halve post-harvest loss by 2030.

Our journey set to test an initial hypothesis: a more efficient farm-to-market path is needed to cut post-harvest losses. Targeted and coordinated investments could improve the paths from farm to markets, as well as mechanisms to bring farmers together for training, and for joint sales of their crops for greater income.

It all starts with the market! Smallholder mango farmers actively look for markets as the harvest approaches. To better understand this, a UNWomen study conducted on farmer behavior found that that mango growers get in touch with local buyers (i.e. restaurants and hotels) and traders to secure buying agreements and negotiate prices. Without an agreement, they are unlikely to harvest their fruit. Most of the produce is absorbed by local markets (55 percent), followed by the processors   (42 percent) and then exporters (3 percent).

“It all starts with the market!”

Second, traders are critical because they drive the demand for mangoes. Mango market channels are fragmented, with traders dominating 60 percent of purchasing in areas farmers are receiving support through The Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise initiative. Traders provide orders in advance to secure sourcing; identify different market outlets for the produce based on quality; pay cash to the farmer upon collection of the produce; manage the transport and logistics; and are able to secure financing for their operations.

Traders are engaged end-to-end, with an elaborate network that runs from the market to the village level. In their collaboration with YieldWise, traders receive technical support to expand their businesses and optimize their operations. They also see value in establishing a network that enables them to coordinate efforts on the ground, and liaise with the county governments to address any concerns that they have as once voice.

Third, new modes of support are needed to help mango farmers. Available farmer extension and advisory services are lengthy, expensive, and do not provide enough touch points to result in sustained behavior change. Innovations are being tested that piggyback on high cellphone penetration and farmers’ interest in short digital videos, radio, and text message reminders. We are also working with other private sector partners to strengthen service centers for other crops, to increase the services offered, bring even more farmers together, with more combined harvests of multiple crops, and so build greater sustainability.

Forth, entrepreneurial opportunities abound for new business models in transport and logistics – think “Uber for agriculture.” Mangoes are transported from fields along Kenya’s Coastal region in Tana River to processing plants in Mombasa (~170 miles) without proper management, using trucks designed for other purposes and in sub-standard conditions. This involves old remote roads at night, for example, and all this to avoid paying tariffs. In most cases, poor handling of mangoes during transit leads to losses, yet half of the market value of produce spent on transport and logistics. Suppliers pay $0.03 for a mango at the farm gate and deliver it to a processor at $0.06. A business model that provides better logistics services has a real chance to both profit and attract a large market share.

Finally, stimulating demand and supply of post-harvest loss-reducing technologies is needed. In the case of simple and effective technologies; demonstrations, peer-to-peer trainings, and promotions are effective in increasing demand and adoption—by up to 50 percent. We have seen a high uptake (84 percent of all participating farmers) of simple loss reduction technologies such as fruit fly traps and tarpaulins. Farmers are also using locally accessible material to fabricate some of these technologies and applying them for alternative crops.

As we continue to work in this area, we will place additional emphasis on developing sustainable distribution channels for quality products. With additional market demand, inexpensive versions of these technologies are being developed by local suppliers, and we will continue to work with the regulatory bodies to ensure that they meet quality.

We have tested other more sophisticated technologies such as solar-powered cold storage units. They have shown effectiveness in preserving the fruit, however they require a payback period of close to 15 years. This technology requires a business model that serves more than one commodity.

We are encouraged by some preliminary results. The tailored support model being used  has led to, on average, a reduction of post-harvest loss at the farm level of 16 percent, an increase in mango production by 11 percent, higher prices (by 73 percent) for produce marketed through service centers, and higher training attendance rates (69 percent).

“I have now realized that mango farming can be a business.”

More so, the impact of this investment goes beyond these metrics, it is influencing the perception of mango producers. “I have now realized that mango farming can be a business. It can be a source of income for me to take care of my needs,” says Annaziatta, a mango farmer in Makueni, also in Eastern Kenya. A more structured and diverse market, together with income from mango farming, is allowing farmers to re-invest some of the gains in production technologies such as irrigation and value addition.

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