There is a great paradox in the Kenyan food system. Many people suffer from malnutrition, while a lot of crop yields are lost before they reach the end consumer. To tackle this issue thoroughly, governments, companies and social organizations will have to come up with new solutions for the food chain together. With the help of a Dutch innovation, the company NatureLock, in partnership with Farm to Feed, contributes to solving this paradox. 1.4 million people in Kenya suffer from hunger (as of April 2021). An inefficient food chain and an irregular rainy season are driving up food prices. In the major cities, many people have been hit hard in their incomes by the lockdowns due to corona and the economic stagnation. To avoid hunger, they cut expensive fruits and vegetables from their diet in favor of cheap carbohydrates. As a result, growing children, in particular, miss out on essential nutrients. 26% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition. This has a devastating and irreversible impact on the cognitive and physical development of these children.
Large food losses
At the same time, Kenya is experiencing major food losses. It is estimated that up to 50% of harvested fruit and vegetables perish before reaching the end consumer. In the mango sector, for example, about 390,000 tons are lost. That is 26,000 trucks full of mangoes. The main reasons for these huge losses are inappropriate harvesting methods, unpredictable rainfall patterns, poor storage and transportation, and lack of infrastructure. Market information is also lacking.
To tackle these problems effectively, companies, governments and NGOs need to work differently. The Kenyan company NatureLock – founded by Dutch entrepreneur Wilco Vermeer and his Kenyan co-founder Tei Mukunya Oundo – shows that companies can contribute to solving the paradox of food loss and insecurity in the Kenyan food system.
NatureLock has a patent on a drying method that preserves the taste, aroma, color and micronutrients of fruit, vegetables and fish exceptionally well through a mild preservation process. This results in affordable, 100% natural, tasty and healthy food. The process was discovered in the Netherlands, positively assessed by researchers at Wageningen UR and has now been perfected for the Kenyan market.
NatureLock’s brand-new Nairobi production facility.
NatureLock works together with Farm to Feed, a company founded by the Dutch Claire van Enk during the first corona lockdown. Farm to Feed focuses on combating food waste and loss in Kenya. By buying up surplus and misshapen fruit and vegetables from small farmers, they make healthy food affordable, improve access to a healthy diet and give farmers a price for products that would otherwise go to waste. Over the past year, the company has established a network of supply hubs for surplus vegetables.
Focus on low-income consumers
NatureLock and Farm to Feed want to combat food loss while at the same time making healthy food products accessible to a wide range of Kenyan consumers, especially the poorest. The needs of Kenya’s growing urban population are changing rapidly. The corona pandemic has made many people more aware of the importance of healthy eating. The many commuters and young people with sometimes multiple jobs find ease of use even more important. Food products that cover these two needs and are affordable are therefore promising.
For that reason, NatureLock launched an instant variant of mung bean stews (‘Ndengu’) in May 2021, which are eaten all over Kenya, but are very time-consuming to prepare. The company is creating a new product category that is similar in price and convenience to the best-selling IndoMie noodles, but full of fresh vegetables made from crops that would otherwise go to waste.
New drying technology changes logistics chain
Since the infrastructure for cold chains in many sub-Saharan countries hardly exists, there is room for better solutions. The aim of these chains is to preserve as much nutritional value as possible, but it requires huge investments in storage, refrigerated trucks and roads to move harvested products. In addition, the cold chain causes a large CO2 footprint and makes products more expensive for the consumer.
From misshapen carrots and unsellable tomatoes to a delicious Kenyan mung bean stew: StewsDay Ndengu.
Until now there were no alternatives; in existing drying methods, for example, the products lose flavour, vitamins and other nutrients. The drying process of NatureLock, on the other hand, preserves the nutritional value of fruit and vegetables for two years. The dried products are dehydrated and thus have 70% less weight. This results in significant cost savings in transport and storage. This also leads to a reduction of the climate footprint.
Of course, the demand for fresh products continues to exist, and refrigeration is extremely important for this. However, Europe’s lead in cold chains cannot be transferred one-to-one to a country like Kenya. With innovation such as NatureLock’s, the limitations of the current long distribution chains and the associated food losses can be solved.
Processing as close to production as possible
NatureLock currently produces its products for the Kenyan market at a location near Nairobi. That already prevents a lot of food loss. However, the aim of the company is to have processing take place close to small farming communities, using the Farm to Feed network, so that harvest surpluses can be processed immediately and maintain a fixed market value. At present, these surpluses contribute to a large extent to post-harvest losses. In addition to creating value for communities, their income also increases immediately, and food loss is prevented from the beginning of the chain.
Farmers can sell fresh but unsaleable vegetables like this cabbage at Farm to Feed’s supply hubs.
The focus of NatureLock and Farm to Feed on smallholders also provides opportunities to generate positive effects for the climate, soil quality and biodiversity through additional knowledge transfer on agroecology, combination crops and, for example, agroforestry. These interventions lead to more employment, higher agricultural yields and are by definition small-scale, so very suitable for many regions in Africa. There are opportunities for companies and knowledge institutions to find the right link between this small scale and scalable modular units.
Agricultural team at embassy
The agricultural team at the Dutch embassy in Nairobi supports smart innovations that simultaneously contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. This is done, among other things, by bringing companies, such as NatureLock, who want to establish themselves in Kenya, into contact with relevant stakeholders. In addition, the agricultural team informs companies about RVO financial instruments that they can use.
“We are happy to work with companies that want to contribute to a transformation of the Kenyan food system: a scenario in which small scale, decentralized local networks and light, scalable technology can reduce current food losses”, says Ingrid Korving, agricultural council in Kenya and Tanzania.
This article is part of the Dutch Agrospecial Global approach in preventing food losses at