Miranda Grizio

Benteter, an entrepreneur.

Benteter, an entrepreneur. Photo courtesy of Bountifield International

Benteter, an entrepreneur.

Benteter, an entrepreneur. Photo courtesy of Bountifield International

Kenya’s population is growing fast, but inefficient postharvest processing is making it hard for the food industry to keep up. Small farmers still rely on traditional methods like hand threshing and shelling, which are notoriously slow and lead to high food losses. Through a pilot program called Mavuno Bora (“better harvest” in Swahili), local entrepreneurs are bringing small-scale processing equipment out to farms to efficiently process crops for a fee.

In Kenya, agriculture is vitally important to the economy, contributing 33% of the country’s GDP and employing more than 40% of the population (FAO 2022). Most farmers are smallholders, with 87% operating on less than 2 hectares of land and growing staple and other traditional crops, such as maize, rice, wheat, sorghum, millet, sweet potatoes, cassava, and legumes (Muthoni and Nyamongo 2010).

Many of these crops require initial processing on the farm before farmers can sell them. Farmers’ limited access to finance for purchasing equipment, along with a lack of agricultural extension services in Kenya to advance modern technologies, has made the use of manual postharvest processing commonplace. In 2020, U.S. nonprofit Bountifield International launched a pilot program in Kenya that allows farmers access to postharvest processing equipment without having to buy it.

With funding from the van Lengerich family and the Seeding The Future Foundation, Bountifield identified and evaluated the most suitable processing equipment, which included a maize sheller, a solar dryer for cassava, and a multi-crop thresher for sorghum, millet, cowpeas, and green grams (mung beans).

Bountifield also reached out to local individuals and small business owners who might be interested in becoming postharvest service providers in their areas. The applicants selected for the pilot received training and loans to cover equipment costs—with 50% contributed by Bountifield and the other 50% provided by partner organizations, ranging from microfinance institutions to local commodity buyers.

Bountifield provided these entrepreneurs with comprehensive business and technical support that covered the key aspects of running a microenterprise and managing the equipment. This allowed the entrepreneurs to quickly develop their microenterprises, which included identifying potential customers, scheduling appointments, and bringing the processing equipment to the farms, often by motorcycle.

By March 2021, 17 Mavuno Bora microenterprises had provided threshing, shelling, and drying services to 4,369 farmers in Kenya (a 1:257 service ratio) and processed nearly 546.3 tons of crops (Bountifield International 2021). As a result, participating farmers saved a total of 36,319 hours of labor, thereby increasing productivity in the sector and freeing up farmers’ time for other business activities.

Bountifield calculated the potential increased net returns for farmers to be between 28% and 61%, depending on the crops they grow (Bountifield International 2021). Besides higher incomes from reduced labor costs and food losses, some farmers were able to fetch higher prices for their crops due to less breakage.

The Mavuno Bora pilot’s one-to-many approach offers a promising solution to the postharvest processing challenges hampering the expansion and development of Kenya’s food industry. It may also make farming more economically attractive to the next generation, which can further strengthen Kenya’s food system while helping to reduce rural poverty.

What Is FSRD?

Food Science for Relief and Development (FSRD) is the application of food science and technology to enhance food security, health, and economic prosperity for global humanitarian and development purposes. IFT’s volunteer-led FSRD Program under the International Division uses outreach, collaboration, and case studies to encourage the incorporation of food science and technology into food security initiatives. Learn more at info.ift.org/en/fsrd-21.

About the Author

Miranda Grizio, MS, is a member of IFT and a case study writer for IFT’s Food Science for Relief and Development Program ([email protected]).