Social Brokering - Empowering Mango Farmers on the Foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro
How can vulnerable smallholder farmers benefit from integrating into the global food system?
Mucho Mangoes creates value for farmers in Southern Kenya through inspiring entrepreneurial thought and leadership. The social enterprise empowers rural smallholder farmers with a special emphasis on women by reducing pre- and post-harvest losses, improving crop quality, and increasing yields. Providing farmers with a stable market for their produce, the organization challenges a market system that is otherwise characterized by exploitation through middlemen. The CEO, Didas Mzirai, has created the company from his experience of working on mango fields as a small boy. His vision to drastically shift working conditions, empowering farmers, and reduce food waste in this sector has been long underway. In February 2021, Mucho Mangoes hosted Weav on their premises in Taveta to collaborate on accelerating the activities of Mucho Mangoes’ sustainable impact business.
Maria, one of the farmers that Mucho Mangoes works together with.
The impact of Mucho Mangoes
Mucho Mangoes collaborates with vulnerable farmers, who are inherently exposed to many challenges and lack adequate support systems. For example, according to the Kenyan Investment Authority, 40% of mango produce gets lost during post-harvest handling. While bearing a great opportunity of additional income, this also offers a potential for improving the climate impact of the farmers. The change of climate further poses an increasing risk to the farmers. One farmer told us that heavy winds have destroyed more than half of her banana plants and that she doesn’t know how to repay the loans she took on to plant them. Insects also put the quality of products at risk, which is why Mucho Mangoes distributes insect traps among its network. In recent years, many farmers switched to using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Mucho Mangoes focuses on a shift back to organic production by creating access to the proper inputs and by providing training. Overall, this is greatly appreciated by the farmers, as it increases the quality of their products while minimizing health risks.
By buying from farmers directly, Mucho Mangoes provides a security that they otherwise do not get. When farmers sell their produce, they primarily sell to brokers. The brokers drive through the small farms and collect produce to sell it to customers in urban markets like Mombasa and Nairobi. The farmers told us in interviews that they cannot rely on the payment of the brokers. Often they only receive a part of the payment and sometimes even nothing. Being systematically exploited by brokers, the farmers are left with no other options and will sell to the same broker again the next time. This puts the farmers under financial pressure as many of them take up small loans to finance farming inputs at the start of the season. Mucho Mangoes always pays within 24 hours, often through Kenya's innovative mobile payment system MPesa. The farmers agreed that cooperating among farmers would benefit their bargaining position towards the brokers, yet when asked about cooperatives the farmers said that they do not trust them due to past experiences.
Mucho Mangoes processes the raw products of the farmers through the organization's own facilities. This is an important step in the value chain as it increases the quality and value of the products, making them suitable for national and international markets. With a team of seven permanent staff members, the freshly bought fruits are processed into the final products like dried mangoes and banana flour. This is done on-site by using an emission-free solar dryer before the product is packed and sealed for sale.
Mucho Mangoes' processing facility
During the Covid pandemic, Mucho mangoes can only support a reduced number of farmers and therefore chose to focus on the most vulnerable farmers in their network. They work with a system to evaluate the vulnerability of individual farmers through factors such as marital status, number of kids, acres of farmland, and financial situation. Although there was no market to sell to at times, Mucho Mangoes supported farmers by continuing to purchase their produce. Often this was their only source of income as the brokers were totally absent for months.
Entrepreneurship drives change
In the case of Mucho Mangoes, the entrepreneurial spirit of Didas Mzirai drives the impact of the enterprise. Didas is well connected in his environment and noticeably enjoys a large amount of trust from his community. He envisions supporting many more farmers in the future. The next step for the entrepreneur is to start exporting products to foreign markets in the Middle East and Europe. His efforts present great opportunities for the development of small-scale farmers in the region. To scale and realize impact, it appears that individual visionaries such as Didas play an important role. We believe that they bear the opportunity to be entry points for partnerships that truly impact livelihoods in rural African communities.
Mucho Mangoes has won several prizes for its impactful and innovative approach. Even though these prizes generate publicity, the impact of such awards is increasingly receiving criticism. Oftentimes, they are not able to holistically contribute to the growth of the organization and serve the organizers of award shows more than the competitors themselves. In the past, Mucho Mangoes has benefited from partnering with NGOs, which provide funds for training, fertilizers, and other activities. While this can have an impactful effect, attaining such funds can also be tedious. The CEO reports that he experiences bureaucratic difficulties and sometimes engages up to three years before the first dollar is transferred. Mucho Mangoes' growth depends on accessing markets to sell their products. Foreign buyers in Europe and the Middle East bear the potential to increase the revenue of the organization. Therefore, Weav and Mucho Mangoes reached an agreement to work towards establishing market links to foreign buyers. The success of this will allow the business to grow and extend its reach across the region, improving the livelihoods of more and more farmers.
Didas Mzirai, CEO of Mucho Mangoes
Pressured by changes in consumer consciousness, innovative actors within the global food system increasingly shift their focus to generating societal value by sourcing from organizations like Mucho Mangoes. Buyers who focus strictly on profits risk supporting institutional frameworks that exploit laborers and the environment. Therefore, buyers ought to pay careful attention to which sellers they source their products from and conduct their due diligence accordingly. Actors like Mucho Mangoes can be the mediator for realizing sustainable livelihoods of their community. Their knowledge and access to local networks are instrumental in building the resilience of communities dependent on farming activities. Social leadership can be the key to sustainable transformations at the local level.