How Njoro Canning and Unilever Are Cultivating Sustainable Development in Kenya

Edward Kivindu, Njoro Canning contracted farmer

Njoro Canning Factory (K) Ltd, a stalwart in Kenya’s agricultural sector, has flourished for over 45 years, driven by a mission to minimize post-harvest losses and empower smallholder farmers. This mission has been significantly bolstered by a 23-year partnership with Unilever, focusing on the Royco brand. This collaboration exemplifies how strategic partnerships can drive sustainable development and local economic empowerment.

Unilever Kenya's localization strategy is pivotal to its sustainability agenda. Luck Ochieng, CEO of Unilever Kenya, explains, "Localization is translating Kenya’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development within the local context and challenges, defining, implementing, and monitoring local actions and strategies that contribute to the global achievement of the SDGs. Our partnership with local sustainable sources strives to have a positive impact on local communities through job creation and empowering the local economy."

This strategy has already achieved significant milestones. Unilever Kenya aims to locally source 70% of its raw materials by 2025, with a targeted spend of over 6 billion Kenyan shillings. The company surpassed its 2023 target of 45% by 4%, achieving 49% at a spend of 3.9 billion Kenyan shillings. Currently, Unilever Kenya is edging closer to its 55% localization agenda for 2024.

Njoro Canning collaborates with approximately 1,500 smallholder farmers and 30 large-scale farmers. Through the partnership, they have implemented sustainable sourcing practices, supporting farmers in achieving global GAP certification and providing agronomic support. "Contract farming offers an assured market and fixed prices for produce throughout the contract period," explains Vipul Patel, Director of Njoro Canning Factory. This stability enables farmers to invest in their crops confidently, improving their livelihoods.

Vipul Patel also highlights the broader impact, stating, "Our partnership with Unilever has helped enhance livelihoods for farmers and the local community, contributing to a steady income and employment both directly and indirectly totaling over 4,000. Additionally, Njoro Canning recognizes that farmers produce seasonal products bound to rot quickly; thus, through food processing and preservation, we support farmers to ensure less food waste."

Edward Kivindu from Masinga sub-county, Machakos county is one such farmer. He grows Coriander. “I have been a coriander farmer for 25 years and a supplier to Unilever through Njoro canning for some years now. This has enabled me improve my livelihood. I was able to buy a motorbike, some cows and even a piece of land. This business has also enabled me to feed my family and educate my children”.

Njoro Canning’s efforts to develop farmers' capacity as suppliers include holding farmers' field days and engaging daily with them through dedicated field staff. These initiatives foster continuous learning and improvement, building a strong sense of community and shared purpose.

Despite the successes, challenges remain. Unpredictable weather, poor rural infrastructure, and access to affordable finance are ongoing issues. However, the support from Unilever has been instrumental in navigating these obstacles. "There is a lot of potential that farmers can tap into," notes Ochieng. "Our partnership aims to unlock this potential by providing the necessary support and market stability."

Looking ahead, Njoro Canning aims to enhance its production capacity, upgrade equipment and technology, and build further capacity among local farmers. The goal is to achieve 100% local sourcing gradually, reinforcing their commitment to empowering Kenyan farmers and sustaining the agricultural sector.

The 23-year-plus partnership between Njoro Canning and Unilever is a testament to the power of collaboration in driving economic and social change. By combining resources and expertise, both companies have created a sustainable model that benefits farmers, consumers, and the broader community. As they look to the future, Njoro Canning and Unilever remain dedicated to fostering growth and innovation in Kenya's agricultural landscape, ensuring that the seeds of today yield the harvests of tomorrow. 

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