Maureen Ochieng has been a farmer in Siaya for the last five years. But it is in the last two years that she has realised farming benefits, after discovering a wonderful dehydration technology.
Maureen has a one-and-a-half-acre farm. On one-eighth of an acre, she has planted mangoes.
She had been a victim of uncontrollable market forces that would drive prices down. The mother of three would tend to her mango trees only to find little or no market when the fruit ripened.
With Siaya having an abundance of mangoes during the peak seasons (November-January), plenty is harvested but most of it goes to waste on the farms. This is because, with surplus produce, the local market does not absorb all the produce. Prices dip to less than five Kenya shillings per mango, leaving many farmers counting losses.
“It was so bad that sometimes I would sell each mango for less than five shillings. By all standards that price is not competitive and I would be left counting losses. I was also unable to store them as they are very perishable and would rot within days,” says the farmer.
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The Youth Group
When a frustrated Maureen heard about a local youth group that was helping farmers improve their farms she decided to join to try and salvage her farming business. She had heard about a mango value addition FAO project which was designed to empower the youth and wanted to be a part of it.
Members in the group, called Kobiero Youth Group would make contributions and take loans to boost their farming. It was, therefore, an added advantage when through a stroke of good fortune, the group got an opportunity to partner with the Siaya County government and Agricycle Limited.
The partnership enabled members to receive training to improve their farming yields and sharpen their business management skills. Late last year, they were able to purchase dehydrators from Agricycle and learn how to dry fruit.
The use of this technology was the turning point in how Maureen and the other members would carry out their mango-growing business.
They are now transforming mangoes that would otherwise go to waste into premium products and selling them at higher prices to Agricycle’s sister company, Jali Fruit Co. The youthful farmers are now counting profits.
For specific value chains, Agricycle directly purchases the dried fruits at a rate up to seven times the average daily wage.
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So how did the dehydrator come to be?
When Josh Shefner decided to visit the beautiful Blue Mountains of Jamaica, he had no idea about the journey of social entrepreneurship that awaited him. What began as a simple visit quickly turned into a mission to empower farmers and a long winding adventure that has seen him partner with over 3,000 farmers from over six African countries.
While at Blue Mountain, Josh had the opportunity to interact with smallholder farmers. He discovered how they struggled to sell their produce in flooded local markets and at rock bottom prices. He discovered that not everything could be absorbed by the market and the farmers would watch, desolate, as their produce rotted.
The discovery devastated him and he knew that he needed to do something. An engineering student at the time, the food safety expert began designing a passive solar dehydrator (it uses the sun) that would enable the farmers’ to store their fruits for longer. Upon seeing this, the excited farmers asked him to link them to markets.
He realised that the farmers lacked adequate resources to brand their products to market and export them internationally. This severely limited their ability to market their produce.
It’s through this experience that Agricycle was born.
The company has a vertically-integrated supply chain that connects farmers to world markets through a portfolio of ethically sourced and upcycled products. With over 30 global employees and a global network of over 40,000 smallholder farmers, Agricycle has grown three distinct product brands: Jali Fruit Co, Tropical Ignition, and Field Better.
Agricycle operates in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Liberia. In Kenya, it supports over 3,000 smallholders.
The company trains the farmers on modern ways to grow, harvest, and process their produce. The training includes value addition processing using passive solar dehydrators and food safety measures to support global market viability.
Agricycle buys dried fruits, brands, markets, and sells it to consumers in the United States of America.
Through the company’s ‘Find My Farm program’ stories of the women who dried it, the farmers who grew it, and the tree it came from are highlighted.
How it works
The dehydrators can produce three to five kilogrammes of dried fruit every 10-12 hours.
It consists of 12 trays made of high-quality, HDPE plastic (FDA-approved food-safe) and does not require any electricity. The dehydrators dry using the sun and natural airflow.
The rectangle tray measures 61 cm by 50.5 cm by 2.8 cm and includes 24 pieces (12 bottoms and 12 tops) which are stackable, making them easy to assemble and reassemble. They are also easy to maintain and clean as the plastic is portable.
To see how easy the dehydrators are to use? Check out Agricycle’s Director of East Africa, Patrick Nderitu, demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpXoLUHq_Kg.
The Dehydration Process
- Products that would otherwise go to waste at the farm level are identified and dried.
- The dehydrator trays are cleaned with a mild disinfectant and thoroughly dried.
- The fruit is then sorted and defective or spoilt removed. The ripe and semi-ripe fruit is then set apart for processing.
- The fruit is thoroughly washed to remove dirt and any chemicals. It is washed again in treated water to disinfect it. Once clean, it is peeled and the flesh is cut into medium-sized pieces.
- The slices are then placed onto the bottom trays and covered with the tops. Each tray is packed with as much fruit as it can hold. The trays are placed on the stands and left to dry under the sun.
- The fruit is checked every three hours to monitor the progress.
On average, it takes 10-12 hours for the fruit to dry, however, on an extremely sunny day, it can dry in six hours. .. Approximately, 10 to 15 kilos of fresh fruit (mango, pineapple, or jackfruit) is used to produce one kilogramme of dried fruit.
Using this technology, you can increase your output and income. By exporting the dried fruit, Agricycle also exposes farmers to global economies, providing a consistent market for their produce. Currently, Agricycle supports 3,000 farmers across different counties in Kenya