Innovative drying method prevents food loss in Kenya

There is a great paradox in the Kenyan food system. Many people are starving, and at the same time a lot of crop yield is lost before it reaches the end consumer. To tackle this thoroughly, governments, companies and social organizations will have to come up with new solutions for the food chain together. With the help of Dutch innovation, the company NatureLock, in partnership with Farm to Feed, contributes to solving this paradox.

For the Dutch article go here

In Kenya, 1.4 million people still suffer from hunger (as of April 2021). An inefficient food chain and an irregular rainy season are pushing up food prices. In the major cities, the income of many people has been hit hard due to the corona-related lockdowns and economic stagnation. To avoid hunger, they cut expensive fruits and vegetables from their diet in favor of cheaper carbohydrates. As a result, children in particular miss essential nutrients in their diet. 26% of the children in Kenya suffera from chronic malnutrition. This has a devastating and irreversible impact on the cognitive and physical development of these children.

Tei Mukunya Oundo en Wilco Vermeer van NatureLock
Tei Mukunya Oundo and Wilco Vermeer from Naturelock

Large food losses

At the same time, Kenya is experiencing major food losses. It is estimated that up to 50% of harvested fruit and vegetables does not reach the end consumer due to food loss. In the mango sector, for example, about 390,000 tonnes are lost, which is equal to about 26,000 trucks full of mangoes. The main reasons for these huge losses are inappropriate harvesting methods, unpredictable rainfall patterns, poor storage and transportation, and lack of infrastructure. Market information is also lacking.

Dutch entrepreneurs

To tackle these problems effectively, companies, governments and NGOs need to use a different approach. The Kenyan company NatureLock – founded by Dutch entrepreneur Wilco Vermeer and his Kenyan co-founder Tei Mukunya Oundo – shows that companies can contribute to solving the paradox of food loss and insecurity in the Kenyan food system.

NatureLock has a patent on a drying method that preserves the taste, aroma, color and micronutrients of fruits, vegetables and fish exceptionally well by using a mild conservation process. The result is affordable, 100% natural, tasty and healthy food. The process was discovered in the Netherlands and assessed positively by researchers from Wageningen University & Research (WUR), it was then perfected for the Kenyan market.

NatureLock works together with Farm to Feed, a company founded by the Dutch entrepreneur Claire van Enk, during the first corona lockdown. Farm to Feed focuses on combating food waste and -loss in Kenya. By buying the surplus as well as misshapen fruits and vegetables from small farmers, they make healthy food affordable, improve access to a healthy diet and give farmers an income on products that would otherwise go to waste. Over the past year, the company has established a network of supply hubs for surplus vegetables.

´The drying process preserves the nutritional value for two years´

Focus on low-income consumers

NatureLock and Farm to Feed want to combat food loss whilst making healthy food products accessible to a wide range of Kenyan consumers, especially the poorest. The needs of Kenya's growing urban population are changing rapidly. COVID-19 has increased awareness with many people on the importance of healthy food. The many commuters and young people with sometimes multiple jobs find convenience more important now than ever. Affordable food products that are both healthy and convenient therefore have a lot of market potential.

For that reason, NatureLock launched in May 2021 a convenient instant variant of the popular lentil stews (Ndengu), which are at the moment eaten all over in Kenya but very time consuming to prepare. The company is creating a new product category, similar in price and convenience to the best-selling IndoMie noodles, but diverging in the sense that they are full of fresh vegetables made from crops that would otherwise go to waste.

New drying technology to turn around the logistical chain

In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa the infrastructure for cold chains hardly exists, this paves the way for better solutions. The aim of these chains is to preserve as much nutritional value as possible, but this requires huge investments in storage, refrigerated trucks and roads to move harvested products. In addition, the cold chain causes a large CO2 footprint and makes products more expensive for the consumer.

Until now there were no alternatives; in existing drying methods, for example, the products lose flavour, vitamins and other nutrients. The drying process of NatureLock preserves the nutritional value of fruit and vegetables for two years. The dried products are dehydrated and thus have 70% less weight. This results in significant cost savings in transport and storage. It also leads to a reduction of the climate footprint.

Of course, the demand for fresh products will always remain and refrigeration is extremely important for this. However, Europe's lead in the field of cold chains cannot be transferred one-on-one to a country like Kenya. With an innovation such as NatureLock's, the limitations of the current long distribution chains and the associated food losses can be solved.

Processing and production as near as possible

NatureLock currently produces its products for the Kenyan market at a location nearby Nairobi. This already prevents a lot of food loss. However, the aim of the company, with the help of the Farm to Feed network, is to move production as close as possible to small farming communities, so that harvest surpluses can be processed immediately and maintain a fixed market value. Now, these surpluses contribute for a large extent to the post-harvest losses. In addition to creating value for these communities, their income also increases immediately, and food loss is prevented from the start of the chain.

The focus of NatureLock and Farm to Feed on smallholders also provides opportunities to generate positive effects for the climate, soil quality and biodiversity through additional knowledge transfer on agro-ecology, combination of crops and, for example, agroforestry. These interventions lead to more employment, higher agricultural yields and are by definition small-scale, so very suitable for many regions in Africa. Opportunities exist for companies and knowledge institutions to find the right link between this small scale and scalable modular units.

Boeren kunnen verse maar onverkoopbare groente zoals deze kool verkopen bij de supply-hubs van Farm to Feed.
Farmers can sell their fresh but misshapen vegetables, like this spinach to the supply-hubs of Farm to Feed

Agricultural team at embassy

The agricultural team at the Netherlands Embassy in Nairobi supports smart innovations that simultaneously contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. This is done, among other things, by bringing companies, such as NatureLock, who want to establish themselves in Kenya, into contact with relevant stakeholders. In addition, the agricultural team informs companies about financial instruments from RVO that they can use.

“We like to work with companies that want to contribute to a transformation of the Kenyan food system: a scenario in which small scale, decentralized local networks and scalable technology can reduce current food losses,” says Mrs. Ingrid Korving, Agricultural Counselor for Kenya and Tanzania.

For more information about NatureLock or Farm to Feed, please contact Michael Vermeer or Claire van Enk. For questions for the Agricultural Counsellor feel free to contact us via For the latest updates follow us on twitter @NLAgriKenya or register for our newsletter by sending an email.

This article is part of the Dutch Agrospecial Global approach in preventing food losses. Click the link to read more articles (in Dutch) on this theme.