“By applying circular economy principles to food system value chains, three objectives are defined as circular components of an ideal future food system: food is produced in ways that regenerate nature; food is not lost or wasted; and commonly wasted resources are used productively. A circular economy for food can bring clear benefits to human health and biodiversity, by reducing pollution and increasing nutrition.” (PACE Call to Action Report, 2021)
PACE, the platform for accelerating the circular economy, launched its Circular Economy Action Agenda for Food, with 10 calls for concrete action in order to create a sustainable future food system. Enviu’s program FoodFlow, is professionalising smallholder value chains across East Africa and is directly fulfilling 3 out of the 10 calls that PACE identifies as key in building a circular food value chain.
We sat down to speak with FoodFlow’s regenerative farming lead, Fennie Lansbergen about the practical side of building a circular food economy. The Biggest learning: things start happening once you take concrete action”
Fennie, Enviu is the co-author of this report. What drove us to contribute?
“As a partner of PACE we supported the issue analysis and 10 calls to action, which align with what we’ve learned in the day-to-day operation of our circular food ventures on the ground. Our role in the network is to build ventures which showcase solutions, proving it is possible to change these systems and inspiring existing participants in the food value chain with our innovative business models.”
The report is about changes that need to be made in order to build a sustainable and inclusive future food chain. Can you give us one example of how you’re doing this?
“One of the report’s calls to action (#6) is to ‘increase investment in food loss and waste reduction’. To fight the issue of food loss in East Africa we are currently building and piloting a cold storage as a service venture. This venture, SokoFresh, gives farmers more time to find a buyer before fruits and vegetables start to spoil. We rent out the cold storage to farmers and buyers on a per kilo per day basis, which makes this a very scalable model. Current food loss levels are around 40-50% in horticultural chains and the impact of this on business can be enormous. We are now employing 3 cold storages, but will not settle for less than hundreds.”
Can you explain how the cold storage units benefit farmers?
“Our first cold storage units are currently being deployed with our pilot partner HDI, who have already stored over 21 tons of mango’s in the last month alone. These storage units will allow farmers to reduce post harvest losses by 30%, cut their logistics costs and better manage the ripening of the fruits to ensure an optimal acceptance rate by their offtaker.”
What impact have you made so far?
“At Enviu our philosophy is to take concrete action, pilot, learn and scale. We are do-ers and as such are referred to in the report as partner-in-action. With our FoodFlow program we are working on:
- PACE call-to-action #3 – Scale Productive and Regenerative Agriculture Practices: We are building a program that creates a (business) system to enable farmers in Kenya to transition to regenerative farming. We will be doing this with solutions like a transition fund, a step by step transition tool and by linking farmers to the organic market.
- PACE call-to-action #6 – Investing in reducing food loss and waste: We are building a cold storage as a service venture (SokoFresh) and connecting wholesale buyers with groups of farmers online and offline with a logistics venture (SokoLink).
- PACE call-to-action #8 – Facilitate Secondary Market Development and Access: We are piloting a processing service for farmers. They can use this to open up new markets for unsold products, for example processing unsold avocados into avocado oil and selling this to a new buyer.
What makes FoodFlow unique?
We build innovative business models that can be used directly by small stakeholders. We start with the issue and do not stop before it is solved. We understand that with one key intervention dealing with the fundamental issue has the potential to be game changing for the whole value chain. For example, with our cold storage as a service venture SokoFresh Farmers can store their products on site for weeks rather than days. With this one change, there is potential to formalize the whole value chain. With more stored on site, Brokers can completely fill one van rather than make three partial deliveries, farmers lose less and earn more and with that additional money can make investments in better farming practice. One solution, implemented at the root of the problem, can have a cascading effect of potential benefits. In 2021 we hope to partner and scale this solution to many parts of East Africa.
Moreover, we’re building businesses that strengthen each other and together facilitate system change. For example, cold storage is not sustainable without a market linkage solution. Even with longer storage times, without a market linkage solution we still would end up with Mango’s chilling at the farm with nowhere to go. To really solve the issue of food loss in the value chain, we need to combine storage with efficient logistics to get mangoes to a buyer.
What is the key ingredient for success?
Our approach is very much based on thinking big, but starting lean. We find new ways and models of offering (existing) solutions to customers/farmers, using the lean methodology. First we gather good data and learn from it. Second we improve the product with learnings from data and third we measure product performance then repeat the cycle. Once success is achieved we create relevant partnerships and scale-up.
We are currently scaling up the successes we have had so far:
- Through piloting of our market linkage venture (SokoLink) we have connected about 60 farmers, selling 10 tons of avocados and mangos, resulting in a 10 to 30% income increase for their harvests.
- We’ve onboarded and trained 800 farmers that are now ready to use cold storage and market linkage services. The next step is to set up shop with cold storage near those communities.
What in your opinion is the next step?
Once we have our cold storage and market linkage ventures in place, the next step is to start integrating a rental processing service for farmers, enabling the farmer to extract the maximum value out of everything they’ve produced.
Then the goal is clear, to reach scale and bring the impact we are already creating to as many farmers as possible. To make this happen we need to partner up and start discussions with both corporations and governments about how we can best bring our ventures to scale.