How graduates got mango export deal
Every year, thousands of university graduates enter the job market full of hope of landing a promising white-collar job. The reality of tarmacking for years or doing dirty jobs rarely crosses their mind.
Faith Mumo, 25, who graduated with a Bachelors in Fisheries and Aquaculture graduate from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology can relate to this harsh reality. When she cleared her studies in 2019, her eyes were set on the corporate world. But despite the many applications, she never landed an offer. That is why she opted to serve as a graduate trainee at Kamuthanga Fish Farm in Machakos County for some years.
Few years later, the offer ended and she was jobless again. Luckily by then, she was mature, skilled and ready to venture on her own. That is when the idea to start Iviani Fruit Processing Plant in West Gosini, Makueni came about.
“The idea of starting this business came as we were brainstorming with fellow youth on the best business venture. I realised that fruits like mangoes were plenty in Makueni County, and although we have a fruit processing plant at Kalamba not all mangoes end up in the factory and so I thought of ways of setting up an alternative place to offer a solution to post-harvest losses,” recalls Mumo.
One year on, she is now addressing post-harvest losses by salvaging surplus mangoes from going to waste, doing value addition as well as increasing farmers’ profitability through exporting already processed and packaged fruit products to US markets.
Challenge accessing financing
To actualise the idea, she teamed up with a friend aged 29 years to rollout the vision. Mumo and her business partner pooled their resources for the startup capital which they used to get the processing machinery.
She recalls that acquiring the machines was a big challenge since they needed more than Sh2 million.
“My business partner and I approached several companies but none could meet our needs. Luckily, Village Industrial Power (VIP) agreed to loan us the machines and deduct the money from the profits accrued every month. The area is also not well served with electricity and has poor transport network. So the deal was a plus,” Mumo recalls.
Together with her co-director, she had one headache of ensuring the fruits they will be packaging are transformed into value-added crops.
But they lacked a connection to grid power and hot water systems-but VIP, stepped in again.
Fruit flies control
“VIP offered us a loan of Sh4 million, set up the machines and they have been assisting in mechanical operations as they recover their startup capital they loaned us,” she says.
VIP helped Iviani Fruit Processing Plant acquire two speedy-dry food dehydrating machines and a steam-producing plant that dry crops such as mango and bananas. The machines can dry a variety of crops and when mango is on off-season they dry bananas and pineapples, the proprietor says. The firm plans to start night shift operations as the US market continues to expand and new opportunities emerge locally.
“We are doing 800kgs of fresh mangoes per day and export on every Thursday,” she says.
“We have started approaching local supermarkets to display our dried fruit products. Because of the workload ahead, we have employed 12 workers from the area,” Mumo says.
So far so good. They buy a kilo of mango at Sh20 and after processing and packaging it, they sell it in the US market ten times more per kilo. Some 70 farmers supply mangoes to the firm every season. To cut electricity costs, the startup has installed solar system. One of the big challenges they faced earlier in mango production was fruit flies menace.
Following aggressive pest control measures like use of traps, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) has declared most parts of Makueni pest free zones. Kalamba and Kibwezi regions which supply most of the mangoes to the farm were last year certified as fruit flies free zones.
To support farmers and for traceability Mumo says they have undertaken a number of steps.
Quality control during harvest
“We have a youth group with technical know-how who ensure they record all the farmers’ details so that we know the source of mango and how farming is done on the farm. We also offer technical support to farmers and advise them on, pruning and general plant management and agrochemicals to use on mangoes for better production.”
During the harvesting period, they ensure thorough supervision so that the mangoes don’t get dents in the process or are harvested when they are too ripe.
“We inspect the mangoes at the farms before we collect them and its only us who pick the mangoes from the trees to ensure quality control,” Mumo says.
Mumo explains that the VIP agents are the ones who linked them to the US market, after they got quality certifications from Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), Kephis and National Environment Management Authority.
Eunice Keya a food technologist from VIP, explains how they are offering agricultural solutions to farmers in rural areas.
Technologies in agriculture
Keya says VIP is a rural areas social enterprise start-up that focuses on developing energy and agricultural technologies for Africa to industries being set in remote villages.
“The carbon-neutral generator erected in this dry village is fuel flexible. It uses mango pits among other wastes to supply thermal, electrical, and mechanical power,” Keya explains.
Keya says other than that plant in Makueni county, they also have plants elsewhere.
“We have a plant in Sotik where the VIP equipment supplies power and all information can be found by visiting our website that is village industrial power.com,” she says.
Though young, the startup has made an impact in the village in Makueni.
Employees expressed their joy saying such youth-led agri projects have potential to change livelihoods, create jobs and spur economic growth.
“I have built a house and I can take care of my physically challenged child with money from this job,” says Margaret Mutua, a beneficiary of the project. The casual workers are paid Sh500 per day.
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