A Flourishing Makueni
To become the county where an abundance of fruits and vegetables is grown, where farming is an attractive business and soil is healthy.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
SokoFresh, social venture (cold storage)
TruTrade, trader of produce
Makueni County Government
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Rotterdam and Nairobi
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
the Netherlands and Kenya
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
We have a vision for Makueni County in Kenya. This county covers appr. 8.000 km2.
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Enviu East Africa is based in Nairobi and is building ReChain; a program that drastically reduces post-harvest losses in the chain of mangoes, avocados and green beans. Makueni County is the focus county in which the necessary interventions are built into the value chain. In our ambition to build a zero loss food chain we work together with the county government of Makueni County, farmer cooperatives, extension workers, brokers and traders in the county.
Because of this work, we are very familiar with the current food system and big challenges of the county, but also very enthusiastic about the potential of this place to turn it around. It’s a beautiful region, with the most progressive and responsible leadership in the country.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Makueni is one of the most food insecure counties of Kenya.
Makueni County is one of the 47 counties in Kenya. It lies in the South East of Kenya, a 4 hour drive from capital city Nairobi. Almost 90% of its population of 900,000 people lives in a rural setting, depending largely on small scale farming for its livelihood. With over 64% of its population living below the poverty line, it’s one of the least economically developed counties in Kenya. The district has a semi-arid vegetation, with low and erratic rainfall. Makueni is one of the most food-insecure areas of the country, showing in the number of stunted children (25%) and children that are underweight (10%).
The county has a total arable land of 5,042Km2 which is 74 percent of the total area. Most of the land is used for agricultural purposes as most people depend on agriculture and livestock for their livelihood. Horticulture and dairy farming is mostly practiced in the hilly parts. The lowlands are used for livestock keeping, cotton and fruit production. Major crops grown include maize, green grams, pigeon peas and sorghum. Fruits grown are mainly mangoes, pawpaw and oranges.
Governor Prof. Kivuthu Kibwana is serving his second term in Makueni and is highly respected for the development he’s brought Makueni.
In Kenya there are several tribes, and in Makueni you find the Kamba or Akamba tribe. In Akamba culture, the family plays a central role in the community. The man, who is the head of the family, is usually engaged in an economic activity popular among the community like trading, hunting, cattle-herding or farming. The woman, works on her plot of land, which she is given upon joining her husband's household. She supplies the bulk of the food consumed by her family. Community decisions are commonly made through discussion and dialogue in a “Baraza”. Livestock is a sign of prestige and a life-saving commodity such as "a bank savings account". They do not sell livestock unless the situation is desperate.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Looking around in Makueni County in the year 2050 will be shocking: an awful lot of desert, here and there some big farms that have been able to survive in the hot and dry climate, many people have left their homes, and many are hungry. Due to the inheritance system pieces of land of farmers will be even smaller than they are now, which makes it harder to grow above subsistence level. And small farmers have lost the battle for water. The soil is exhausted, productivity has reached an all-time low. Adding to that a growing population in Kenya results in food being scarce and prices very high. Inequality will increase and a flow of economic refugees will leave in search for a better climate and place.
There is a vicious circle linking natural disasters with poverty: poor people suffer more drastically and have less resilience to enable reestablishment after disaster strikes. And they also have less means to invest to become more resilient. The lack of (steady) income of farmers, that enables them to grow or invest, is the biggest challenge currently.
Currently, the income of smallholder farmers is so low they can barely make a living. Biggest problems in the food value chains causing that are, there is:
- A broken, informal chain. Smallholder farmers do not have access nor transport to the market themselves, and are dependent on brokers. This results in a very bad negotiation position and many harvests going to loss because of timing mismatches
- no aggregation of smallholder produce; which makes negotiations and selling harder
- little value addition of crops to prolong shelf life
- sub optimal transport, causing losses
- sub optimal farming practices, resulting in low crop yield
- no irrigation, resulting in high gluts on the market (low prices and high losses)
- sub optimal quality of inputs, resulting in low yields and low drought resilience
Moreover, the effects of climate change are worsening the droughts in the region. This has a huge impact on the risk of bad harvests, and results in declining crop yield. Adoption of sustainable land management practices is low, and land degradation is increasing.
Because of the low profitability of farmers, youth try to find their luck elsewhere and move away to the city. Resulting in high urbanization and high unemployment rates among youth.
Because of land titles female farmers do not have the same access to productive resources as men.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our vision for Makueni will tackle these challenges by first building a professional value chain for fruits and vegetables, with that in place the farmers in Makueni are ready to be transformed to climate resilient and healthy farms.
1. building a professional value chain
We believe that in order to improve the business of the farmer, we need to build organized and structured value chains. To make sure that the farmer is able to sell everything she produces and make decent and steady living. In the fresh food value chains in Kenya the core elements of a professional chain, including smallholder farmers, are: aggregation of produce of small farms, cold storage to enable the aggregation process without losses, a supply and demand information system, processing and market linkage with larger buyers.
These interventions will be set up as third party businesses, providing services to the small stakeholders in the value chain (e.g. cold storage rental for farmers or brokers). For mangos, avocados and green beans Enviu is already working with the county government and SelfHelpAfrica to build a professional chain with 4 key interventions (cold aggregation, transport, processing, market linkage).
Once the farmer, in this structured organized chain, has increased her income and can count on a stable offtake of produce, then she is ready to grow and invest towards (climate) resilience.
2. build climate resilient and healthy farms
We need to increase the productivity of farmers to be able to answer the growing food demand and to provide the farmer with a better business case. There are 2 Interventions we deem necessary for this; improvement of seeds and the use of regenerative farming.
Makueni needs policies of the government that allow for and stimulate farmers to improve the productivity of their seeds, exchange and sell them. We also need seed banks to identify, save and distribute nutritious and productive varieties of local food crops. Which keep the soil healthy and are more draught resistant.
Also farming practices will be transformed, step by step. Regenerative farming, farming with nature, promotes soil building practices, resulting in both carbon drawdown and a better water cycle. It is dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers’ income and especially, topsoil.
To make the transition to regenerative farming happen the Regenerative Farming Fund will be set up in which the county government will take first losses. the county will also enable with supportive regulation, interest free loans for farmers and awareness campaigns. With that enabling support NGOs and companies will be able to guide the transformation.
These interventions will increase the income of the farmer in Makueni, enable them to grow their farm/, makes agri jobs attractive for youth, and improves the soil and climate.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Our Food System Vision for Makueni County is:
To become the county that produces an abundance of fruits and vegetables, where farming is an attractive business and soil remains healthy.
We love to imagine pictures like this:
Makueni County produces enough fruits and vegetables to serve the local market and also export their produce to different continents. The farms produce year round, as they use (natural) irrigation, and have multiple local crops. With the organized value chains in place this means there is practically no food loss at farm level and throughout the chain. The climate is hot, but farmers have adopted practices and crops that flourish in this climate. Soils are healthier than today. The county is thriving and investing in their outstanding farming practices, education, infrastructure and agri information systems.
Lives of the people, the farmer, have changed drastically. Farmers and other entrepreneurs have a fair position in the value chain earn a decent income. Both male and female farmers have access to relevant business information regarding the demand, weather, and prices. Moreover they are connected to the buyers, and have access to business related financial products. This enables them to make informed business decisions. And because of their steady income they’re able to acquire extra land of the neighbor that is moving into logistics, and grow and invest in their farm. Big and smallholder farmers will serve the market side by side. Kids go to school and the youth is eager to take over the farm, high-skilled jobs in the processing plant, or the irrigation company of their parents.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
This is the positive vicious circle we need to step into.
Our vision for Makueni County is to become the county where farming is an attractive business, that produces an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and soil remains healthy.
To become the county where farming is an attractive business
To grow towards producing an abundance of food, in a durable way for the planet, we believe we need to start by building a professional value chain in a market-led way. This will make sure larger buyers are able to source from smallholders efficiently and the farmer is able to sell everything she produces consistently against a fair price. In this professional value chain the produce of smallholder farmers is aggregated, larger buyers are connected to the aggregation hubs IT system to match supply and demand efficiently, all grades of produce of farmer are sold (export, local market, processing, compost) and there is an efficient logistical network in place for buyer and farmer.
An organized value chain for farmers in Makueni County that are growing fruits and vegetables will result in an increased farmer income and more importantly a more stable income. Also, the value chain is able to absorb larger amounts of produce. We believe the interventions throughout the value chain are a prerequisite for transformation of the farmer.
…that produces an abundance of fruits and vegetables
To be ‘resilient’ as a farmer in Makueni one needs to have a steady income from the farm, increased productivity from the field, and be drought resistant. Farmers in Makueni County take a two way approach to increase their productivity significantly and be drought resistant at the same time; they grow local crops with high quality seeds and have implemented regenerative farming practices as the ‘new normal’. The seeds have been grown, selected and improved by local seed banks businesses, with the knowledge of knowledge institutes that are exchanging learnings with other counties. The seeds of these crops improve soil quality and are drought resistant. The regenerative farming method has been perfected for the county by NGOs, knowledge institutes and county government. Farmers are trained by in the Makueni Regenerative Model, to transform step by step. They are implementing the practices with support of a regenerative fund that finances the medium term investments farmers make. They also work with social ventures that have business models making services affordable; like forestry businesses, irrigation companies and waste stream models.
… and soil remains healthy
By reducing losses, and taking care of the soil in the farming process, soil has improved opposed to the soil back in 2020. Nature is smart in using water sources, shade, different vitamins for different crops, compost, and grazing of animals. Regenerative agriculture practices increase soil biodiversity and organic matter, leading to more resilient soils that can better withstand climate change impacts like flooding and drought. Healthy soils beget strong yields and nutrient-rich crops.
This vision has sprouted from the work Enviu does with the farmers and traders in Makueni County
As we are now working on the challenges in the mango, avocado and green beans chains in Makueni, we work with farmers, extension agents, the county government, brokers, NGOs, processors and buyers that source from Makueni. This vision has originated from interacting with the people in Makueni, and experiencing the challenges in the chain. We have started solving the key challenges in the chains, like aggregation, cold storage, market linkage and lack of value addition. And we see that if we succeed, have built such a showcase value chain and we have buyers lined up to buy large volumes of good quality produce, then we’ll need consistent large volumes of good quality produce. This is something smallholders are not able to deliver yet, and climate change is making it increasingly difficult. And this is how this vision has developed itself over time. Basically, first solve the biggest problem of farmers (“we need a market”), then solve the biggest problem of the buyers (“we need large volumes of good quality produce”).
The food system is a closely interconnected system
This vision builds on a healthy business case for the farmer and other stakeholders in the value chain (economy). With a healthy business case the farmer is able to invest and transform towards a healthy farm; improving her soil and reducing CO2 (environment). As the farmer is farming in a regenerative way, she will grow a multitude of local fruits and vegetables, automatically diversifying the diet of farmer families as well as they eat what they grow (diet). Protecting and bringing some of the forgotten local food back, gives the people of Makueni pride in what they grow and cook (culture), moreover local crops are drought resistant. Technology plays an important part in building the interventions in the chain (e.g. IT systems to match demand and supply, logistics, processing technology), as well as in the transformation towards regenerative farming (e.g. weather forecasting, soil testing, seed breeding, irrigation, tree planting). These new technologies are important to make processes more efficient (technology), but also will generate a large amount of new skilled jobs in the agricultural sector. To realize this the government needs to ensure that the youth is educated well to match these needs. Besides education the local government plays an important role in regulating sustainability of farms in Makueni county, shaping policies around breeding of high quality seeds locally, investments in infrastructure, enabling financial inclusion for male and female farmers, policies around the equal division of water, and a system in which larger farms contribute to also support smaller farms with investments towards regenerative farming (policies).
The system is interconnected and complex, but this should be doable. We have become super excited to start working towards this vision together with the community of Makueni.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?