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App allows firm to get quality chili for export

Malindi town is associated with tourism thanks to its weather and beautiful beaches. But interestingly, there are some investors making great strides in agribusiness.

Equator Kenya Ltd is using the same weather for farming and processing African Bird Eye Chilies for export.

Almut van Casteren, Equator Kenya Ltd chief executive says before embarking on the business, Equator Kenya Ltd did due diligence to have a clear idea on the challenges ahead and how to tackle them.

After understanding the market, the company assured their customers of quality produce and they agreed to buy tonnes of chili from the company.

Casteren says they settled on processing African Bird Eye Chili because of its high demand.

“Bird’s Eye Chili is a very simple crop, not easily affected by pests and diseases. If well taken care of, it performs well throughout the year. It is also loved,” Casteren says. 

To ensure steady supply to their customers, the company contracted farmers for sole production of the chilies. So far, they have contracted more than 8,000 farmers and the company pays them Sh60 for a kilogramme.

For efficiency and to minimise transport costs for farmers, the company has fixed collection routes and centres in Malindi.

To guarantee premium quality chilies that meet international standards, it uses eProd, a supply chain management system that allows them to have a fully traceable system from the seeds used, to the field, the farmer’s details, and date of collection. 

Worked with local farmers

To manage farmers’ information, a field officer fills in farmers’ data into the eProd mobile app, and once the produce gets to the pack house, quality grading follows.

The fresh produce is then loaded and placed on the dryer, after which it is offloaded and details updated in the system. Sorting according to the client’s specification follows. 

The company sells its products in Europe and Asia, with their clients being specialised spice traders and food processors.

With guaranteed high quality produce, marketing became even easier as clients now approach them from referrals.

To have a competitive edge, the company provides premium quality centrally processed chilies in a modern dryer while their competitors buy the chilies sundried by their farmers.

Strategically, the company also invested in farmer mobilisation and training to ensure quality produce.

“In this business, quality is everything. There are many different chili varieties with different uses, and the key features are pungency, colour and size. We try to maintain our quality for the client’s liking,” Casteren says.

The company brands its product as Kenyan Bird’s Eye Chilies to distinguish them from competition and to make tracing easier for companies looking for the premium quality.

Though a success today, the company has learnt to never pay farmers late, and to always embrace transparency, making sure that farmers have access to safe inputs.

The company has also learnt to ensure proper communication through SMS as to create a bond with farmers.

The company has had a fair share of challenges. They have had to struggle at some point in keeping track of the input distribution. Inputs like seed and fertiliser would get lost in the process costing the company a lot of money.

Luckily, eProd app has solved that problem. With the Covid–19 pandemic, the company has learnt the importance of digitisation as this opens doors for climate smart agriculture which allows sharing of weather forecast information with farmers.

“One can still work with farmers from a distance. Traceability is key, especially now that the government is implementing the Kenyan Standard KS1758, which is derived from GlobalGap standards,” Casteren says.

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