This month, we sat down with Grant Brooke, the CEO of Twiga Foods to talk about the company’s mission and model of food distribution throughout Kenya. Particularly as we are exploring challenges and opportunities in the African transportation sector this month, we wanted to highlight the great work Twiga is doing to bring efficiencies to food distribution in Kenya.
Brooke is the co-founder and CEO of Twiga Foods, a mobile-based, B2B platform used by small- and medium-sized businesses to purchase fruit and vegetable stock from local and regional farmers. The company works with 5,226 vendors to source and deliver quality produce at fair prices. Currently, Twiga is Kenya’s largest seller of bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, and other staple commodities.
A Texan by birth, Brooke found himself in Kenya during graduate school studying the impact of religion on economic choice-making in informal markets and spending a lot of time researching food vendors. From there, he went to Oxford to pursue a doctorate on the subject. At Oxford, he met and became friends with Peter Njonjo, the former GM for Coca Cola in East Africa. The two began to discuss how they might apply Coke’s distribution model to produce, and from there Twiga was born.
Brooke said he and Njonjo began by assessing and then reframing the problems that they saw in Kenya’s food systems. While many may argue Kenya has a food production issue, Twiga disagrees. “We began reframing Kenya’s food challenges around, ‘Kenya is not food insecure, Kenya is market insecure.’ If you can organize the buy-side of agriculture, the production side will follow,” Brooke said.
Brooke and Njonjo saw that finding larger organizations who could and would guarantee purchases from farmers was a big motivator for farmers. With Twiga stepping in to establish distribution centers and coordinate logistics, they could seamlessly connect sellers to buyers and ensure the transfer of goods occurred in a timely and efficient manner before food was spoiled.
“The biggest challenge in post-harvest loss, and with farmers gaining access to the market, isn’t actually cold storage, or transport, or any “hard” investments,” Brooke said. “It’s communication.”
Brooke said that the biggest issue was that traditional, informal communication methods tended to breakdown often and lack planning among farmers and buyers in the transport stage. “Farmers would lay produce by the side of the road, with no planning around the volumes they had brought to sell and the haulage capacity the urban buyers had to pick up. You’d have either too many trucks showing up somewhere and prices skyrocketing or too few trucks and farmers unable to sell their stock. Twiga allows farmers to book their stock early, get the right amount to a collection center, and then reliably dispatch the correct volume for transit.”
Bridging this communication gap allows Twiga to provide unique advantages to farmers and businesses alike, including guaranteed markets, direct delivery to shops, fair pricing, and, by establishing long-term relationships with farmers, the ability to offer credit and other financial services so they can sell more. They also provide agronomy advice to their farmers and coordinate trainings and other services once a month at their collection centers.
When asked what he sees as the biggest challenges and solutions to food security in Africa, Brooke cited three things. “First, communication between urban purchasing power and rural demand is the single biggest food security challenge. Tackling that is a big chunk of the problem. Second, unlocking the potential of mid-sized landowners that currently don’t produce food through a combination of access to talent and finance is very important. It’s going to be hard to feed the continent on small holder farmers alone, so we need more middle-holder farmers,” he said. “Last, is improving road infrastructure. It’s the biggest ROI thing a government can do for food security.”
To learn more about Twiga Foods, please visit their website.