It’s 3am in Nairobi, many households are already up and have started their journey from the low-income settlements of Kangemi, Kawangware, Kibera, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Mukuru Kwa Reuben to Nairobi’s industrial area. Mostly on foot, trekking between 15-20km to make it on time, where they work as casual labourers on construction sites or industrial estates. They depend on daily wages, and in most cases, they access their main meal at lunchtime from the food vendors located outside the industrial parks.
Khadija Churchill Mohamed is one businesswoman who has defied all the odds to wake up early alongside these workers to provide safe and nutritious food options, such as nutritious boiled pulses, which she supplies to food vendors adjacent to the industrial parks. Her business, Kwanza Tukule-Swahili for ‘first, let us eat’ – is a young B2B enterprise which has already attracted a customer base of around 300 food vendors across Nairobi, with a particular focus on serving southern Nairobi’s low-income consumer households and workplaces.
A one-stop-shop for food vendors
Research suggests that in Nairobi’s low-income areas, 79% of the food sold by food vendors are carbohydrate-based products. Many of the popular and affordable staple foods, such as ugali, uji and mandazi are high in carbohydrates and lack the nutritional content needed for a healthy diet. Kwanza Tukule recognises that meat, poultry and fish – which are high in protein – are expensive and not affordable for the majority of low-income consumers. Kwanza Tukule, instead, provides high quality, nutritious and affordable plant-based protein such as pulses and beans, with the aim of improving the nutritional status of consumers in these low-income areas.
However, preparing pulses can be an expensive and time-consuming process. To source ingredients, street food vendors typically have to find time in the evening, after a long shift to travel to the market to buy the dried pulses and then boil them. With the ban on logging in Kenya, most vendors can hardly afford to use gas for cooking on a daily basis.
It is against this backdrop that Kwanza Tukule partners with local farmers who produce pulses, and street food vendors to accelerate access to affordable and quality food in the informal areas of Kenya. The business model aims to provide food vendors with a ‘one-stop-shop’ platform for all their needs. Kwanza Tukule provides a great solution to food vendors, using technology, efficient supply chains, and green energy, such as biogas made from their own food waste, to prepare pulses in bulk, which are delivered directly to the street vendors. “By supplying in bulk we shorten the supply chain from the farmer to consumer and we can also take advantage of economies of scale, reducing our own costs and costs for the vendors”, Khadija notes.
Kwanza Tukule has also taken advantage of the rising adoption of digital technologies in Kenya through a mobile, cashless payment system. Upon delivery, customers pay via mobile phone making the process cost-efficient, safe and transparent.
Accessing support from the SUN Business Network
This sounds like a simple and easy to manage business, but Khadija had to do a lot of learning on the job and part of that has been facilitated by her participation in the SUN Business Network (SBN) Kenya.
“When I moved back to Kenya from the UK, I took a sabbatical as I wanted to do something impactful. I then participated in the Nutrition Africa Investment Forum (NAIF) and this is when I was first introduced to the Kenya SUN Business Network. I joined the SBN WhatsApp group and had the opportunity to meet with someone from Lloyds Bank Foundation who advised me to try reaching out to an Equity bank for agribusiness loans” says Khadija.
Khadija believes that the SUN Business Network has been hugely impactful to her and her business as she has been able to share knowledge through the forums, as well as access calls for proposals and trainings which have already helped her grow her partnerships and business.
“Kwanza Tukule has always been very receptive to any support that could see the business grow and impact populations”, Khadija continues. She attributes her growth to the fact that her customer base has been very responsive and the speed at which they were willing to adapt to the new way of serving their customers has been impressive and encouraging for the business since their way of engaging customers is not conventional.
Kwanza Tukule’s learning journey has seen them understand that there is a need to improve on human resources, mechanisation and find ways of increasing the shelf life of their beans, as well as exploring how they can package their foods so they can reach consumers who would prefer packaged foods. “The beauty of our engagement with partners is that we are a true start up and being part of the SUN Business Network has been a good experience as we have been able to tap into expertise we would otherwise never have had access to”.
Khadija believes that the forums organised by the SUN Business Network are an excellent avenue for businesses to take the lead and facilitate discussions, allowing other sectors to learn from the businesses. Support from the SUN Business Network is needed now more than ever, with many businesses facing significant challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (see results from a recent survey of the impact of COVID-19 on SMEs in Kenya).
For Kwanza Tukule, they suffered revenue losses when companies across Nairobi were forced to shut down, and the food vendors they supply could no longer serve workers around the industrial estates. For the ones that were still open, Kwanza Tukule¸ faced significant challenges operating with travel restrictions and periods of curfew. In addition, they faced increased costs to ensure their employees were provided with protective equipment such as gloves and sanitisers.
The SUN Business Network Kenya recently launched its strategy for 2019-2023, which is aligned with the Kenya Nutrition Action Plan (2018-2022) and charts a clear path for the involvement of the private sector and business in addressing malnutrition in Kenya. The SUN Business Network in Kenya is committed to continue supporting SMEs like Kwanza Tukule through capacity development and financing links so that they can scale their businesses and grow their impact on nutrition.