Taita-Taveta County is nestled against Mount Kilimanjaro and the Tanzanian border in southern Kenya. This is where Didas Mzirai grew up. It is where he spent his school holidays picking and packaging mangoes to support himself. And it is now home to Mzirai’s burgeoning social enterprise, Mucho Mangoes.
“The idea for Mucho Mangoes started when I was very young,” Mzirai explains. “While I was working in the mango fields, I saw just how much rural smallholder farmers were being exploited by the large exporters and middlemen companies, and I grew up thinking that one day I would come up with a solution.”
Even as a boy, Mzirai identified a lack of empowerment among local farmers. With limited local demand for mangoes and bananas, most of their harvest would be sold to large exporters. These commercial buyers were able to dictate the prices offered to farmers and only purchased fruits that fit the expectations of Western supermarkets.
Meanwhile, the farmers lacked the expertise and resources for improving both the quantity and quality of their yields.
In early 2015, Mzirai set out to change this reality. He attended an accelerator for young African entrepreneurs called Spark, now part of YGAP, where he received a $160 investment from the accelerator and encouragement from Aaron Tait, the Chief Impact Officer at YGAP, who advised him to follow his childhood passion. Combining this support and his small personal savings, he started Mucho Mangoes.
“Our goal is to create a local market for mangoes and bananas that is devoid of middlemen and exploitation,” Mzirai says.
Mzirai and his team of 6 employees now support over 500 mango farmers in Taita-Taveta County by providing them with training in pest management and horticultural techniques designed to help reduce their production costs. This training relies on a mobile resource hub that Mucho Mangoes established in partnership with the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC).
Women from Taita-Taveta County receive training at the mobile resource hub developed by Mucho Mangoes and AFRINIC (Credit: Mucho Mangoes)
These farmers typically lack reliable electricity on their farms, let-alone an Internet connection, to be able to access farming information or market their products online. Mzirai explains that the solar-powered resource hub fills this access gap for the farmers.
Mucho Mangoes also buys products from the same farmers they train, negotiating fair prices and purchasing fruits that large exporters reject simply for aesthetic reasons. This fruit is then dehydrated for various uses using the company’s solar-powered dryer.
Mucho Mangoes has been able to create a local market for upgrading fruits and reducing food waste by turning to off-grid solar technology. On top of intermittency, Mzirai says that electricity from the local grid is very expensive, which was why he wanted his company’s fruit dryers to be solar-powered.
The business model he has created underlines the significance that a reliable energy supply can have for creating new economic opportunities in last-mile communities like Taita-Taveta.
Having already empowered hundreds of farmers either through training or purchasing, Mzirai says the focus for Mucho Mangoes going forward is to expand its impact model to an even broader group. His goal is to eventually support all mango producing regions in Kenya by establishing a network of localized solar-drying and training facilities; then his sights will shift to replicating this in other Eastern African countries, including Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
In a first step towards this expansion, last fall Mzirai applied for an Energy Access Booster award, a program established by Total, ENEA Consulting, SEforALL and Acumen to support entrepreneurs in the field of energy access in Africa. Recognizing the impact of Mucho Mangoes work, this group awarded the company $28,800 along with strategic advisory services to help Mzirai meet his expansion goals.
“The Energy Access Booster has been a blessing for us,” Mzirai exclaims. “We are using the money from the award to procure a bigger capacity solar dryer that will let us double our purchasing from farmers.”