Agriculture is key to Kenya's economy, contributing 26% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employs about 40% of the total population and accounts for 65% of the export earnings.
Appropriate food packaging plays a pivotal role in ensuring quality and safety as well as facilitating distribution and marketing of food products in national as well as global markets. However, in most sub-Saharan countries, poor packaging is one of the main reasons for the failure of locally manufactured food products to compete favorably with imported ones. Overcoming the packaging constraints that affect small and medium agro-enterprises (SMEs) in the region will strengthen the entire food chain, improve the competitiveness of SMEs and benefit all actors in the food supply chain.
In Kenya, Mount Kenya Gardens Ltd is a local privately owned firm that grows fruits and vegetables and packages the produce in bulk for local and export markets. The company uses an integrated supply chain from the out-grower, to connect them to the various market segments and customers globally. With funding from AECF, the company has been able to engage smallholder farmers to increase their supply of green beans to their customers and purchase machines for processing and packing ready-to-eat pickled green beans for two supermarket chains in Europe.
One such farmer is Peter Githua who has planted green beans on his 1/8 acre. Peter is one of the young farmers Mt. Kenya Gardens has contracted to grow green beans for export. The company provides contract farmers with inputs and technical support to ensure they meet the strict standards set for the export market.
Most green beans for export are planted in September and March. During this period, European Union markets are faced with winter and their only option is to import and that is when companies like Mt. Kenya Gardens maximize on their export. The annual demand from their clients is 6 million kilograms of pickled green beans.
“In the last season that just ended I harvested 1,471 kilograms that gave me a profit of US $300 after deducting my costs of production. Previously, I used to harvest 280 kilograms for each season. The tremendous increase in income and yields is attributed to the support Mt. Kenya Gardens has provided to farmers like Peter.
To date, Mt. Kenya Garden has supported over 7,500 smallholder horticulture farmers and created 700 direct jobs. The company now looks at expanding to new areas to engage more smallholder farmers to grow the green beans and create jobs for more youth and women like Peter.