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Agricycle Global: Transforming Waste Into Opportunity

Agricycle radically transforms livelihoods by upcycling food waste into opportunity.

Photo of Ashlie Benson
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Agricycle Global

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.

N/A

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.agricycleglobal.com/ *Note: website in-progress https://jalifruit.co/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Milwaukee

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Murang’a, Makueni, Embu and Machakos counties in Kenya led by our Director of East Africa, Patrick Nderitu.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Kenya

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Movements connect people. Movements inspire people. Movements transform people and, ultimately, people transform places. Patrick Nderitu, Director of East Africa, is passionate about his home country. Envisioning a Kenya without food loss and connecting smallholder farmers to an international market has become a daily reality. 

Agriculture continues to dominate the economy in Kenya, particularly rural smallholder farmers. Tropical fruits and produce such as mangoes, jackfruit and cocoa flourish. Yet, not all farmers have access to preservation technology or markets, leading to postharvest loss. In fact, 2.8 trillion pounds of food waste occurs annually. In Sub-Saharan Africa, up to 95 percent is due to food loss - a gap between producers and markets. In Kenya alone, the FAO reports around 330,000 metric tons of mangoes go to waste annually. 

Kenyan farmers embody a common challenge across smallholder producers: barriers to technology and wide markets to sell abundant produce prevent potential fulfillment. By working together across a network of smallholder farmers and connecting them with appropriate technology to sell additional products and gain additional income will ignite long-term, sustainable partnerships, growth and empowerment. 

Reducing food loss through market linkage between smallholder farmers and US consumers will eliminate 90 percent of natural fruit loss through transforming waste into multiple upcycled products such as dried fruit, fruit flour, animal feed and fruit wine. Additionally, we chose Kenya because of its immediate connection to adverse effects of climate reality. In 2020, flooding has occurred through January when the rainy season was supposed to end in December. As our world becomes more connected, it is imperative we work with farmers, governments, private stakeholders and public entities to reduce food waste, connect markets and address climate reality. 

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.

Kenya is a beautiful country with an industrious and vibrant population. Kenya’s most common staple is maize (corn) and corn flour. Ugali is a common dish made from a mixture of boiled water and corn flour. Irio, a mixture of boiled maize, beans, potatoes and green vegetables is common in the central rift.  

Kenya's climate is largely tropical, but also has many internal variances. Kenya has two rainy seasons: the long rainy season from March to early June and the short rainy season from the end of October to early December. However, changes in climate have distorted the rain patterns in the last two decades. Extended periods of drought or extensive flooding due to unforeseen rainfall is occurring without anticipation. 

At the same time, Kenya has a vast arid climate with little rainfall. Half of Kenya’s 47 counties have arid or semi-arid land, with 88 percent of the total land mass being arid. Arid and semi-arid regions are of great importance to mango crops in Kenya as they are the main cash crop for residents. For Agricycle’s drying fruit production, the counties in our vision are located in the arid/semi-arid land. 

Kenya is made up of 42 tribes. Kikuyu represents 22 percent of the population, making it the largest and most dominant tribe in Kenya. Luo, Kalenjin, Kamba and Luhya are also large tribes in Kenya.  

Kenyans are highly religious people. Almost 100 percent of Kenyans believe in a God. Christianity dominates Kenya as 80 percent of Kenyans identify as Christian. Islam makes up about 10 percent of the population, espeically in the North Eastern regions. Kenya has increasingly become a place for refugees and immigrants, hosting thousands of refugees from Somalia and Myanmar. 

Kenya has a population of 48 million people. Almost 60 percent of Kenyans are under 35 years old, and the average age in Kenya is 19 years. While women do not have as many rights as men, women empowerment movements are increasing. In 2010, the constitution was changed to allow women to inherit land and other property. Additionally, at least one-third of civil servants must be women. However, women's rights have not fully been realized due to a gap between cultural mindset shifts and policy inclusion. Agricycle empowers smallholder farmers, especially women and vulnerable peoples, and encourages long-term stability of women in households. 

Agriculture continues to drive Kenya’s economy. In rural areas, the agriculture sector employs 70 percent of the population. Smallholder farmers lose up to 60 percent of their profits to the middlemen in supply chains. Agricycle cuts out the middleman and provides direct trade to smallholder, rural farmers in Kenya. 

Many Kenyans live in poverty, with 46 percent of the population living on less than a dollar per day.  Poverty is most prevalent in arid and semi-arid areas where agricultural production is the least. Agricycle provides stronger markets for fruit production in these regions. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

19177

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

48000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Each year, 2.8 trillion pounds of food goes to waste. Ninety-five percent of food wasted in Sub-Saharan Africa occurs due to food loss, the phenomenon occurring when food produced never reaches the market. Without accessible technology, smallholder farmers are left out of the market and, therefore, left out of market opportunities for economic growth. Further, in Kenya, ancestral harvest trees such as mango trees yield up to 2,000 mangoes per season. When selling less than 20 percent of fruits, farmers historically cut down trees to remove the burden of overabundant fruit. Deforestation leads to negative environmental impact, which already threatens the food system in Kenya. A traditional rainy season lasts until December yet, in January, flooding has caused unpredictable harvest seasons. Further, food waste emits greenhouse gases that exacerbate climate instability. Climate reality will continue being a challenge for farmers in 2050, but supporting ways to decrease the speed and impact of climate change for our farmers is imperative.

Beyond this, when a smallholder farmer gains access to appropriate technology but lacks clear market openings, farmers experience similar waste. Occurring when the only market access is local communities, farmers are unable to sell on a larger scale within and outside the country. Several factors can cause lack of access to markets, including lack of transportation, food safety training and partnerships. Agricycle integrates supply chain processes through market linkage and ensures smallholder farmers are central. We partner with NGOs, governmental agencies and other organizations to implement skills’ training and promote financial literacy, good agricultural practices and food safety standards. We leverage partnerships to access more options for transportation and advocate for stronger infrastructure to connect rural and urban communities. 

Challenges that farmers face now and in the future center around climate reality. Climate change affects seasons and can lead to unpredictable times of harvest, making it difficult for smallholder farmers to plan. For every product we sell, consumers have the option to pay $0.10 to plant a tree. Furthermore, through upcycling products and providing additional income options, ancestral trees are less likely to be cut down. 

We live in a globalized world. Yet, cultures, governments and sectors can be completely siloed. In 2020, lack of understanding one another causes misconceptions, biases and prejudices. As political turmoil, environmental refuge and income inequality increase, connection must guide us. In 2050, preservation and celebration of cultures will be even more necessary. To address this need for eliminating silos in a globalized world, connecting farmers and consumers through storytelling is never forgotten at Agricycle. Our tree-to-shelf program, Find My Farm, showcase interconnected cultures and people around the world.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Creating multiple products from one fruit leads to less waste, more value and more long-term benefits. Implementing appropriately-designed, easy-to-use and easy-to-clean technology is central to our Vision because meeting needs of farmers and communities drives decision-making. Our solar dehydrators require zero electricity, making it accessible to rural farmers. Cooperatives are trained to not only utilize the dehydrators, but also to manage food safely with international standards. 

At Agricycle, our vertically-integrated supply system ensures the entire process benefits the farmers who produce and manage fruit. Historically, smallholder farmers lose up to 60 percent of their profits to middlemen. When connecting markets around the world, risk associated with trade and equitable pay challenges communities. We eliminate middlemen and pay highly competitive prices directly to farmers. We pay $5/kg for dried fruit and our dehydrators produce 3 kg/day. Additional income and access to international markets add value to smallholder produce, benefiting communities as well as ancestral trees that are preserved instead of cut down due to the burden of overabundance. By eliminating middlemen, Agricycle also connects consumers directly with farmers through our Find My Farm program. Highlighting where our food comes from and who it comes from brings cultures together and identifies how the food we consume is connected to a system of people. 

Our local community development officers work directly with farmers to develop relationships, adjust to farmers’ needs and provide skills’ training. Each cooperative receives over 1,000 hours of training from food and safety standards to financial literacy tools, and our team works diligently to connect cooperatives with local governmental partners and NGOs to support long-term skills’ training. Agricycle recognizes farmers with strong agricultural practices, financial literacy skills and food safety standards are well-positioned to gain economic stability beyond Agricycle. 

Kenya confronts climate reality daily. Rainy seasons are extending longer than usual, leading to unpredictable harvest. As we grow financially and extend our partnerships, we will collaborate with organizations using precision technology to support farmers further. Today, consumers in the US have the opportunity to plant a tree to offset carbon footprint thanks to nonprofit partners. We also make conscious decisions throughout the entire supply system to reduce emissions, such as selecting Green Shipping to transport products. 

Food waste contributes to climate change. Rotting fruit releases harmful greenhouse gases such as methane. By using appropriate design technology, we not only provide accessible preservation techniques, but also reduce methane emissions from fruit and carbon emissions during the drying process. 

Agricycle’s vision tackles social, economic and environmental challenges associated with food loss and lack of market access. 

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.

Agricycle acts as a catalyst to build partnerships across sectors, networks and oceans empowering communities. 

Agricycle adds value to ancestral harvest trees by transforming waste into products sold internationally. By finding value in Agricycle’s impact, we envision a policy initiative to install infrastructure bolstering access to regional markets. Access to better roads leads to more connections within a country, connecting rural and urban areas. 

Access to healthcare is separate from affording healthcare. Kenyans are able to go to the doctor with relative ease, but are troubled with treatment prices. With increased wages, rural communities will no longer worry about healthcare costs. Further, families will have money to purchase materials for children’s school. Additional access to education leads to more opportunities for communities as a whole. Amenities for families such as designated latrines and plumbing will be reality for rural farmers. Removal systems also lead to healthier lives. Reduced methane and carbon emissions by eliminating waste and using clean technology leads to fresh air. Fresh air can reduce respiratory health concerns and promote healthy living.

Multilateral partnerships are central to Agricycle. Our partnership with SMEP microfinancing allows us to sell dehydrators directly to individual farmers. Once credit is established and farmers own dehydrators, they can then rent their dehydrators to neighboring cooperatives with different produce or seasons. With disposable income, combined with strong credit and skills training also received through Agricycle, smallholder farmers and women can begin their own companies and explore entrepreneurial endeavors. 

As Agricycle expands, continued upcycling leads to additional products such as animal feed, fruit flour and fruit wine. More waste eliminated yields more additional income for farmers to use for their families, their friends and their communities. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Dried fruit fills snackers with joy. Fruit flour fills gluten-free eaters with nutritious alternatives to their favorite sweets. Fruit powder fills your next dish with flavor. Fruit wine fills your sweet tooth after a delicious meal. And animal feed fills cattle’s tummy. Natural food waste from fruits and vegetables upcycled into not one, but several products inspires innovation and outside-the-box thinking. From dried fruit to animal feed, waste can be molded into a multitude of products. One piece of fruit can start as discarded produce and end as a key piece of opportunity for products and people around the world.

How does one eliminate food waste? It is more than “one”; it involves partners, networks and ideas. Eliminating food waste through simple design that is easily accessible to rural communities and uses zero electricity takes a big concept and makes it tangible, while maintaining environmentally-friendly standards. Women and smallholder farmers currently access local markets for fresh fruit and are left discarding unsold items. With average daily wages at $2/day, rural farmers in Kenya do not have access to disposable income and household amenities. When food waste is upcycled to additional products and sold in international markets, farmers’ additional income leads to wealth generation. For families, this means education for children, running water for the household and overall healthier living. Additional income combined with skills’ training means farmers can start their own businesses, rent out dehydrators they own and become local entrepreneurs. 

Eliminating food waste through upcycled products using simple technology yields incredible opportunities for food systems. Annually, mango trees alone produce over 750,000 metric tons in Kenya. Forty-four percent, or 330,000, goes to waste. Farmers faced with overabundance cut trees to rid the burden. Eliminating food waste adds value to ancestral trees and preserves them, adding more oxygen and reducing deforestation. Further, rotting fruit emits methane into the atmosphere. Eliminating natural food loss reduces methane, providing cleaner air and slowing realities of climate change. When climate reality is confronted, reduced environmental refugees and longer life occurs. Finding a business solution for dire climate challenges appeals to stakeholders at every level from advocates to policymakers, and Agricycle’s vision of eliminating food loss through simple design and market linkage attracts partners in several sectors. 

People drive movements. Central to our Vision are farmers, teammates and consumers. Connecting all people is a benefit of eliminating food loss with Agricycle. Our products are traceable from tree to shelf. Connecting consumers directly with farmers through storytelling, visuals and audio shifts the way consumers view products. What you eat goes beyond your digestive system. Buying our products does more than generate revenue - it inspires movements and connects people. Buying our products empowers women farmers and confronts climate reality. Buying our product indicates to our network of partners our vision is worth investing, leading to movements rethinking how food is connected around the world. All of this is shared; it is a collective conversation that starts with transforming waste into opportunity. 

Passionate people are at the heart of Agricycle. Patrick Nderitu, our Director of East Africa, leads a team who make every day an opportunity to connect with smallholder farmers, especially women and vulnerable populations, to ensure eliminating food waste to empower communities is realized. Consisting of community development and field officers from the counties we operate, our team in Kenya takes their experiences growing up, working and playing in Kenya to the cooperatives.

Our global team does not just operate at the cooperative level; they mold the business and adjust to local context, trends and needs. Patrick owns part of the company and, as a key leader to the team, informs decisions at the highest level. Working closely with the Chief Operations Officer, Patrick has built our supply system in East Africa and continues to build strategic partnerships to realize Agricycle’s vision. Without Patrick’s leadership and the team’s local autonomy to adjust to contexts, our supply system would not be aggregated nor impact as many rural smallholder farmers. 

While the team in East Africa informs decisions around the globe, cooperative members and farmers inform our team by sharing what they want and what they need. Our ideas matter, but community member’s needs must align for our vision to fully transform livelihoods and disrupt food systems. Because Agricycle empowers each component of the supply system, our collaborative spirit and ability to consolidate resources leads to disrupting convoluted food systems.

Connecting cultures and people in a globalized, yet siloed, world leads to more empathy and appreciation of our commonalities. Eliminating food waste has the potential to unravel systems benefitting only a few and leaving many out. Reducing deforestation, creating disposable income for travel and entrepreneurship, confronting climate reality, inspiring reliable infrastructure and building multilateral partnerships are all possible because waste is eliminated through Agricycle’s vision. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Newsletter

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Photo of Oluwafemi Abioye
Team

Dear Ashlie,
Great thinking from USA and good thought to implement in Africa where we record the highest wastage in food production. Achieving zero waste by developing multiple produce from a single farm crop should be our goal. I am in love with your analysis of various stages of food; from fresh to dried and waste for vegetable production.

Good luck to all of us.
Oluwafemi Abioye 

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