By Mark Kawalya
In Kenya’s residential areas, small vegetable vendors called Mama Mbogas play a crucial role in the communities. The women buy fresh fruits and vegetables from markets then resale the produce to residents in small quantities for daily consumption. Mama Mbogas are a crucial link between farmers and end consumers of the produce. Despite their importance, they face many challenges in operating this kind of business.
A day in the life of a Mama Mboga typically starts at 4.00 or 5.00 am where they journey to the market and haggle with brokers who often charge unpredictable prices. After they have purchased the produce, they make the trip back home and set up their stands. They will work all day trying to sell all the produce, many times juggling raising young children and carrying the burden of providing for their families. It is a very demanding business that often leaves very little margins for these women after a day of hard work.
Twiga, a Nairobi-based startup, is helping Mama Mbogas solve some of their challenges while also improving the accessibility of farm produce in communities. The firm is leveraging mobile technology and a modern distribution network that links vegetable vendors to an organized supply chain. The firm delivers farm produce to small retailers like Mama Mbogas and additionally gives financial assistance to vendors to boost their businesses as well as small-scale farmers who supply the company with produce.
“I discovered there was a gap in the market when I did research on Kenyan agricultural practices for my doctorate at Oxford University,” says Grant Brooke, co-founder of Twiga Foods.
“I was living in Kenya at the time and part of my field study was small-scale retailers of fresh produce. I realized how difficult it was for them to get their daily supplies.”
Brooke was shocked to learn that most of these women woke up at 4 am to go to the market and transported the stock using handcarts back to their stalls. Since they deal in fresh produce, they could not buy in bulk because it would go bad. This forced them to go to the market daily, which is not only cumbersome but also demanding.
The firm uses a simple business model, which sees it buy produce from a network of farmers that it delivers to informal vendors. Farmers benefit through standard rates for their harvest, timely payments and not having to worry about how to get their produce to markets.
Vendors benefit from the hassle-free and reliable delivery of produce that is sold to them at fair market prices.
The e-commerce startup, which is B2B in nature, claims that more than 100,000 clients use its services in Kenya, where it delivers more than 600 metric tons of produce to 10,000+ retailers on a daily basis.
“We see ourselves as building a one-stop-shop for the informal retailer and all their needs. So that’s what we’re evolving into as a business, “CEO Peter Njonjo said in a previous interview.