Didas Mzirai was distressed to see mango farmers count losses while growing up in Taita Taveta County.
He witnessed this problem firsthand when he was compelled to do menial jobs in the local markets after his parents left him with his grandmother.
“I saw how middlemen would exploit smallholder mango farmers by degrading their produce so as not to meet international market threshold,” he says, adding that this meant mangoes flooding the market, precipitating a sharp drop in prices.
Mr Mzirai, 37, was determined to find a solution to this problem. So, in 2015, armed with Sh33,000 capital, he founded Mucho Mangoes, a company that markets and add value to mangoes.
‘‘I started the company with an aim to empower rural smallholder farmers by enabling them to produce better quality produce, add value and market them to local and international food distributors and retailers at very competitive prices,’’ he says.
His firm aggregates small-scale farmers and provide them with training on horticultural crops, pre- and post- harvest handling skills, pests and diseases control and general agronomy.
“We also support farmers throughout the production process and link them to inclusive and affordable agricultural finance and organic farm inputs,” says Mzirai who is a fellow of the 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow and the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the brainchild of former US President Barack Obama.
After buying the produce from farmers, his company adds value through solar drying, packaging and marketing them in the local and International markets.
“Mucho Mangoes has so far impacted at least 576 farmers, and has contracts with both individual farmers, as well as the Taveta Horticultural Farmers Association, a farmer’s organisation whose members benefit from my firm’s activities,” adds Mr Mzirai who holds a diploma in International Business and Trade from Cambridge International College, a certificate in civic leadership from Rutgers (the State University of New Jersey).
Their products include fresh mangoes, solar dried mangoes, gluten free MAKAFI banana flour, and Bambino, a healthy porridge mix full of iron and vitamin A and is good for children and lactating women. The firm plans to expand to other counties such as Makueni, Machakos, Kitui, Kilifi, Embu, Tana River and Garissa.
“Mucho Mangoes has benefited local farmers through provision of free training, and production support that is aimed at improving the quality of farmers’ produce, including providing pheromone insect trappers and organic pesticides to help them eliminate fruit fly and other pests and diseases,” he says.
The startup, he notes, has enabled farmers to increase their yield, improve quality of their produce, avoid middlemen and access ready market.
“Through value addition activities, Mucho Mangoes is also cushioning farmers from losses they would have incurred due to brokers rejecting their produce. Previously, the farmers were losing an average of 50 percent of their produce to post-harvest losses, and this is what Mucho Mangoes is addressing,” he adds.
He buys fruits for as high as Sh10 unlike brokers who buy at Sh3. He says the lowest amount that the company has ever offered to farmers is Sh7, a price he plans to increase as he penetrates international market.
Mr Mzirai has also travelled as he seeks to boost his business skills.
“Through the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) support, last year I visited Sharjah and Dubai to participate in the STEELFAB Expo, where I engaged with interested buyers,” he says, adding that he is thrilled that he has created employment for local youth and women engaged in fruit processing.
The enterprise has also adopted modern technology through Digital Farmer Program, a mobile ICT centre that provides agricultural and skills to rural farmers.
“The training enables rural farmers to learn how to use Internet-enabled phones and computers. This helps them to access key agricultural and other information, interact with online market platforms, and learn online,” he adds.
Some of the venture’s biggest financiers include the Micro Enterprise Program Support Trust (MESPT), the SDG Ambassador Program by ActionAid, International Kenya and YGAP.
Last week, the company was named in this year’s Ashden Awards that recognise innovators in climate and clean energy. The award, which began in 2001, fetes outstanding work across Africa in electrifying rural areas, sustainable urban transport and improved refugees and farmworkers lives.
Some of the continent’s companies that featured in the awards include Cross-boundary Energy Access in Tanzania, Togolese Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy, Enventure in Uganda and Ampersand in Rwanda. Others are Gaia Clean Energy in Ethiopia, Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, Qhubeka in Ethiopia and EConsult in Egypt.
Mucho Mangoes has won major awards that include the 2016 Green Enterprise Challenge by MESPT, SDG Ambassador Challenge by ActionAid and Ashoka Kenya Business Award, 2019 Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) of the Year.
The enterprise’s vision, Mr Mzirai says is to increase production capacity and expand operations across all mango producing counties in Kenya before venturing into East Africa. “We plan to set up solar-powered cold storage hubs across Eastern Africa, targeting farmers and small scale market traders, to cushion farmers from post-harvest losses of fresh farm produce in the local markets,” he adds.