Dutch entrepreneurs are investing in organic farming in Kenya

Production of organic food in Kenya is still relatively little but increasing fast. Over 182,000 hectares of land are under organic management, which accounts for 0.69% of the total agricultural area in Kenya. Globally organic markets are growing. Consumers are more and more interested in healthy and sustainably produced food and expenditures on organic food are rising faster than on non-organic food. These trends are common for the export market, and also for the local market. There is an increase in local organic farmer markets as well as designated organic sections within super markets. Many consider organic agriculture an interesting option for smallholder farmers in Africa because it offers a unique combination of low inputs, environmental conservation and it provides access to premium price markets.  

The rising demand for healthy food

The growing demand for organic produce in the EU has led to a rising number of Dutch entrepreneurs that start a business in organic agriculture in Kenya. We spoke with three businesses involved in organic farming to get more insight in the trends, benefits, opportunities and challenges related to organic farming in Kenya. Live Love Well, established in 2017, distributes superfood products worldwide. Mlango Farm, an organic farm in Limuru started in 2007, sells their horticulture produce locally.  Finally, Bert-Jan Ottens, who has worked on and off in Kenya since the 1990s, started first ProFound and later Green Rhino, a compliance company that assists in creating new business models to develop safe foods and organic farming in Kenya, with its partner platform www.healthygreenchoice.com.

Beeld: ©Green Rhino
The local demand for safe and healthy foods is rising

Mr. Bert-Jan Ottens realized that real progress in optimizing the growth potential of organic agriculture in Kenya was still missing. He identified several challenges that local markets are facing, concerning safe and traceable food and decided to take action. From the moment Green Rhino was established many stakeholders expressed a serious interest to join him in his effort to professionalize organic agriculture in Kenya. Green Rhino is expanding its impact by collaborating with organizations like SNV on tomatoes, mango and leafy vegetables. They also signed a Letter of Intent with Kirinyaga County, which wants to develop a blueprint for becoming an organic county. Moreover, sourcing managers of supermarkets and restaurant chains are increasingly requesting Green Rhino to help them with the development of compliance trajectories.

Mr. Bert-Jan Ottens emphasizes the interest by customers in Kenya in organic food: “Besides surveys at produce and retail level, our consumer survey clearly shows that consumers are willing to pay higher prices if they can be sure that the food is safe and the higher price will benefit the farmers. There is a for instance particular interest in Kenyan leafy vegetables.”

Mlango farm
Beeld: ©Mlango farm
Mlango farm owner gives a tour of the farm explaining more about horticultural produce

Mrs. Els Breet of Mlango Farm notices that individual consumers in Kenya have a stronger desire to know where their food comes from. One way of achieving this is by increasing traceability of produce.   At Mlango farm they invite people to come to the farm. “This allows consumers to see the products in the fields of our farm. Next to that we also see a growing trend for groups to come here as an outing and experience farm live.”

Beeld: ©Live Love Well / www.livelovewell.org
A proud farmer with his Moringa harvest

Mrs. Talitha Hogebrug, Co-founder of Live Love Well, sees an increasing global demand for superfoods, such as Moringa and Baobab products. Moringa, a natural source of nutrition, grows very well in Kenya.  Live Love Well grows its Moringa on the ‘Green Moringa Gold Coast’, which offers optimum growth conditions on coconut and macadamia farms. Besides building a profitable business through efficient supply chains the company also wanted to produce with a positive impact on the environment and increases employment in areas where currently little production is happening.

Beeld: ©Green Rhino
Working together with local farmers in changing current practices to get the best out of produce

Working together

Live Love Well utilizes existing producer organizations and out-growers to create a stable income for farmers in rural areas of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Through the Live Love Well’s out-grower program in Kenya, more than 25.000 smallholder producers have the potential to double their income by growing superfoods. Although finding partners, who have transparent and reliable ways of working, may be challenging, investing in them really helps you to do business in Kenya in the long run. Building a good network including partners that have undergone similar process and have gone for more innovative approaches can be very insightful. Moreover, this is also the network that will connect you with possible new partners or clients.  

“The lack of deeper involvement of all stakeholders in the value chain prevents changing the cycle of ‘business as usual’, which often comes quicker and easier, but may lead to less success in the long run.”

‘No man or woman stands alone’ explains Mrs. Els Breet of Mlango Farm, especially in organic farming. We have to work together with local farmers in changing current practices to get the best out of our produce because this will benefit them. Not only financially, but also in terms of changing and improving livelihoods in the communities to which they belong.

Beeld: www.livelovewell.org
Shipping full container loads to Europe, Japan and USA

Opportunities for organic farming in Kenya

Companies entering the Kenyan market need to be willing to invest a lot of time and energy. Especially Dutch entrepreneurs need to be aware that a very straight to the point approach does not always work in Kenya.  Just sending an email or a phone call will usually not lead to any results. Networking by visits and meetings and then coming to an agreement, is the advice of all three companies. Green Rhino sees opportunities for companies to work together in public-private partnerships in various counties in Kenya. Currently they are working together with several partners, including knowledge institutes in the Netherlands, private sector initiatives and agricultural training centres on county level, on a concept of ‘Living Labs’ which will act as Incubation Hubs for youth and women.  

Despite the fact that there is a global demand for superfoods, there are not sufficient organic farmers in Kenya. For Live, Love, Well this is one of the main challenges, how to find organically certified out-growers in Kenya who can meet the demands from their clients. At this moment, the demand is significantly higher than the supply.  Training organic farmers is therefore an interesting investment while creating deeper impact. Finally, the growing awareness in Kenya for healthy and safe food may even generate opportunities in other agricultural subsectors.  

women training
Beeld: ©Live Love well / www.livelovewell.org
Women groups get information about income opportunities from baobab seeds in Kwale County

Making Impact

Superfoods such as Moringa can offer a sustainable solution for millions of farmers. Planting superfoods in rural areas can improve soil fertility and reverse deforestation. Besides Moringa, Live Love Well also creates products from Baobab fruits. Baobab is a wild grown fruit and collected by women and youth groups. Collecting Baobab therefore creates an income opportunity for people without land or other sources of income.

At Mlango farm awareness is raised about the common responsibility to take care of our planet. The planet we all share and which is the home for our future generations. From a farmers perspective that means: “Eating locally grown products, means working together on a sustainable future”.

For questions for Live, Love Well you can get in touch with Talitha Hogebrug tho@livelovewell.org, for Mlango Farm send an email to Els Breet at info@mlango.org and for contact with Green Rhino send an email to Bert-Jan Ottens at bj.ottens@greenrhino.co.ke. Questions for the agriculture department of the Embassy can be addressed directly to nai-lnv@minbuza.nl. For the latest updates, follow us on twitter on @NLAgiKenya and the Netherlands Embassy on @NLinKenya and Facebook.