Caroline Mbogo is one of the Climate LaunchPad 2018 finalists. When describing her company during the boot camp training, she had her product in hand; solar-dried fruits that convert what would be agricultural waste into delicious and nutritious snacks. Mbogo passed around the snacks for everyone in the room to try, and they were a big hit.
Mbogo’s background is actually not in agribusiness- it’s in fashion design. She had no plans for venturing into this sector until she decided to take an agribusiness training course. The training, held by the Ministry of Agriculture on value addition engineering, appealed so much to Mbogo and her partner that they decided to start a business in the field.
The company they formed, Kikai Foods, dries fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away or wasted in the agricultural chain and converts them into healthy snacks. The produce is dried via a natural solar method that does not damage it, take away nutrients, or emit greenhouse gases. In addition to using renewable energy, Kikai Foods addresses two serious problems in Kenya through its products: food waste and malnutrition.
According to a study by Feedback Global, Kenyan food exporters report that nearly 50% of produce is rejected before being exported. This is primarily due to strict cosmetic specifications- mostly imposed by European retailers- as well as unfair trading practices like cancelations and last minute forecast adjustments on the part of clients. As a result, fruit and vegetables that are perfectly fine to eat end up getting wasted.
As for malnutrition, USAID reports that a whopping 26% of Kenyan children under 5 suffer from stunting, or an abnormally low height for age. They also warn that from 2010–2030 undernutrition will cost Kenya approximately US$38.3 billion in GDP due to losses in workforce productivity. By creating nutritious snacks that last longer, Mbogo seeks to tackle this issue by providing healthy options for Kenyan consumers.
In addition to confronting these challenges, Kikai Foods has been able to help the community in an economic way. The company has contracted 50 farmers who are paid monthly for providing them with produce. Furthermore, Mbogo has created employment by hiring 2 permanent workers and 4 casual ones.
Kikai Foods became a client of KCIC about 3 months ago. During this time, Mbogo has begun a mentorship program, created space to hire new staff, and participated in the aforementioned Climate Launchpad competition.
When speaking on that experience, Mbogo states that it was eye-opening; she says, “It made me think about how we needed to adjust our business model.” Furthermore, Mbogo will receive 6 coaching sessions with KCIC staff to prepare for the Climate Launchpad finals to happen in the next coming months.
As for future prospects, Mbogo hopes to expand capacity as well as produce gluten-free products. It’s not always easy to be a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated field like agribusiness. Mbogo claims that despite this, however, women are beginning to venture into the business and should not see the gender imbalance as a barrier of entry. Rather, she maintains that what matters most is having focus and determination, knowing how to keep improving and offering better products to clients, and having the right people to work with.
When asked what she would tell to young girls who are interested in agribusiness and/or founding companies one day, Mbogo says, “My advice to young girls is that, they should not be afraid to start small- the potential is huge and the surface has not been scratched yet.”
With her innovative business idea and personal tenacity, Mbogo is an inspiration to women and girls who want to become entrepreneurs and work in agribusiness.
By Alise Brillault