Enterprise

German food fair set stage for my chili export venture

macefoods

Mace Foods employees sorting indigenous African vegetables at the factory in Eldoret. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • The enterprise has established commercial chili and local vegetable producer groups, certified Mace Food processes, offered technical support to farmers, adopted climate smart practices and established extension systems.
  • Mace Foods has also set up produce collection points, installed processing infrastructure and instituted seed certification and approval process for farmer groups.

Margaret Komen was attending a food fair in Germany in 2001 when she learnt of a huge chili market in Europe that she could tap.

At the fair dubbed Allgemeine Nahrungs- und Genussmittel-Ausstellung (Anuga), held in Berlin, Ms Komen realised she could venture into agribusiness after completing her studies.

“After attending Anuga Food Fair in October 2001, I got information from the Kenyan exhibition booth through the Kenyan Trade Consular in Berlin-Germany then that chilies had a very good market in Europe,” she says.

After completing her post graduate diploma in food science at the Karlsruhe University in Germany, she founded Mace Foods in 2002, a company that produces dehydrated spices and deals in indigenous vegetables as well as herbs for export.

“I came back home after my studies and embarked on research on the chili business and eventually developed some samples. I sent them to potential clients I had interacted with in the trade fair and I got my first export order in 2003,” Ms Komen says.

Her enterprise has now grown to be a major exporter of spices and vegetables. It produces, processes and markets five varieties of dried hot chilies both for pharmaceutical and food industry, targeting domestic and export markets.

Some of her products include long cayenne chilli, red demon and fresno as well as African birds eye chili.

The firm also deals in African vegetables such as managu, saga, and kunde

The produce undergoes dehydration to guarantee a two-year shelf life.

Ms Komen says they are currently working with 1, 810 smallholder farmers in 14 counties across the country with the focus being Western Kenya, which is popular for indigenous vegetables.

“Initially, we started with no farmers as we were the first company to commercialise production of chilies in Kenya,” Ms Komen notes.

Gradually she built her farmers’ base into thousands of growers.

“The number of farmers has, however, fluctuated over the years with an average 1,500 farmers per year in the last 10 years,”

She says in order to reach volumes demanded in the domestic and export markets, they need to reach more than 4,000 farmers in the next year.

The entrepreneur injected Sh70,000 capital when starting the business. She has however kept investing in the company, and so far she has pumped over Sh30 million.

“We have managed to raise over Sh54.41 million ($500,000) debt through Kenya Climate Ventures this year,” she says.

The enterprise has established commercial chili and local vegetable producer groups, certified Mace Food processes, offered technical support to farmers, adopted climate smart practices and established extension systems.

Mace Foods has also set up produce collection points, installed processing infrastructure and instituted seed certification and approval process for farmer groups.

She says local growers have benefitted from the project through increased commercialisation of chili farming as well as guaranteed markets.

The firm, which has seven employees, exports to Germany, Spain, Italy, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Despite breaking into the world stage, Mace Food faces a number of challenges including limited supply of raw materials and lack of capacity for extension support to farmers.

“Others are the lack of relevant certification and process systems and skilled labour,” she says.

This comes at a time when Kenya’s horticultural produce is continually facing setbacks in the world market because of health requirements. Kenya’s avocado has been given stringent rules to adhere to before it gets access to the lucrative Chinese market in order to tame the spread of fruit flies. Kephis is still trying to come up with the remedy for controlling the moth, which is now posing a serious threat to the sector.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) statistics shows the United Kingdom has overtaken the Netherlands and the US to become the third biggest buyer of Kenyan goods. Earnings from exports to the UK increased 12.22 percent in the first quarter of the year to Sh13.29 billion compared to a similar period in 2019.