Yvonne Otieno has an ambitious agenda for her seven-year-old Kenyan fruit-drying startup: boost employment and income for the country’s fruit farmers, slash the endemic problem of agricultural waste in sub-Saharan Africa, pioneer uses of solar technology, break into Western markets with her products—and validate the entrepreneurial impulse that started it all.
Otieno is a former journalist turned agricultural aid developer turned businesswoman who launched a company called Miyonga Fresh Greens that is reducing waste on Kenyan fruit farms with mobile drying operations while creating consumer demand for the company’s mangos, bananas, apples, pineapples, and other produce in Europe.
“We’ve proven the concept does work,” Otieno says. “So now the challenge, the opportunity, is to work with farming authorities and corporations that own factories to become part of the supply chain, so that they meet quality specifications and no longer are selling raw fruit but value-added, processed fruit. Farmers can get about seven times more income from that than what they’re getting.”
Otieno’s motivation was to help farmers earn more money between harvest and the next growing season and to reduce the massive waste of crops that is a huge lost economic opportunity for the entire region. “I wanted to make sure this business was successful enough so women could have employment every single day of the week and invest in the future education of their children,” she says.
Processing fruits into dried or powdered products, she realized, would give value to surplus and second-grade fruits that are perfectly nutritious but wouldn’t make it to national or international markets. And coming up with a drying unit that was mobile would allow her to go to farmers’ crop aggregation sites in the countryside instead of requiring them to transport all of their fruit to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
Miyonga also could move from region to region within Kenya as fruits were harvested. “In the eco- zones in Kenya, mangos are in season in one part of the country and bananas somewhere else,” Otieno says. “Then when apples are in season, everyone has them. So the solution is to dry these fruits to extend their shelf life up to 12 months. We can also reduce waste in terms of the water resources used to grow the crop.”
Otieno leveraged support from international programs such as Sinapis, a global community that provides faith-based business training, as well as the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute and the Kenya Climate Innovation Center. A regional government outfit called the East Africa Regional Innovation Hub (RIH) forged a public-private partnership with Miyonga for training farmers to adapt to the effects of climate change and to apply for organic certification.
Each mobile unit costs about $100,000, with an additional requirement of about $70,000 for training and other costs. Initially, Miyonga powered the drying units with local electricity but then developed a rooftop solar array that freed the company to deploy these units practically anywhere.
With the success of selling its dried fruits to European companies for uses in baking, yogurts, and other applications, Miyonga expanded to its own Miyonga Fresh Foods brand in Europe, and Otieno now is trying to get it registered for use in the United States.
Miyonga and RIH also have piloted a mobile solar-powered mill, which will enable them to process flours from common crops such as cassava and sorghum, as well as turn fruits into valuable powder forms. And the company is working on solar-powered mobile cold-storage units for preserving produce and further cutting farm waste.
“Our goal is to have 20 or so units across the country,” Otieno says. “We have interest from countries in West and Central Africa, too, and we’ve already begun discussions on how to expand into franchised cooperation with them.”