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  • Waste & Recycling
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lab 2: Food not waste in Kenya

The challenge

In our second lab we want to tackle the question: How might we solve the food waste problem in Kenya?


Up to 40% of each container of fruit or vegetable exported (mostly to the European Union) from Kenya is ‚wasted‘ in a country where many are still malnourished

Demand for high-grade horticulture products is growing worldwide and Kenya is one of the top horticulture producing countries worldwide, exporting avocados, mangos, green beans etc. to European markets and around the globe. Up to 40% of each container of fruit or vegetable exported (mostly to the European Union) from Kenya is ‚wasted‘ in a country where many are still malnourished.

There are two main reasons for food waste: ‚Cosmetic‘ specifications and order cancellations or last minute adjustments. Both are debited to European retailers.

Overly strict cosmetic specifications concerning shape, size or color of fruit and vegetable (not related to safety or nutrition value of the product) result in major amounts of fresh food perfectly fit for human consumption to be left to rot in the field or ‚rejected‘ further up in the supply chain.

Order cancellations or last minute adjustments from the top of the supply chain (retailers or traders/ middlemen) lead to farmers and/ or exporters of fresh produce being left with large amounts of fresh products and no market for their product. Secondary markets (e.g. the Kenyan domestic market) mostly can‘t absorb the produce (e.g. high quantities or food that is not consumed within the country) which often leads for the produce being dumped or sent back to the farmer.

Apart from the economic impacts of these practices (farmers often take loans to pay their workers and are either not paid or paid very little as product are rejected or dumped) the environmental (use of resources such as energy, water, fertilizer, land etc.) and social damage (farmers in debt, insecurity of future - farmers can‘t pay school fees and mortgages, food insecurity etc.) is immense. The impact of this challenge is big: horticulture exports make up 23% of Kenya‘s gross domestic product (GDP). The sector employs 4.3 million people directly and supports further 3.5 million indirectly through trade and related practices (total Kenyan population about 45 million). After flowers, fruits and vegetables are the 2nd and 3rd most important exported goods.

The horticulture industry is furthermore extremely resource intense: Apart from water, land, fertilizer etc. used to grow the product itself, massive storage and sorting halls (mostly close to Jomo Kenyatta Nairobi Airport (NJKA)) need huge amounts of energy to cool the premises to about 4 degrees Celsius.

Main hurdles

• Complexity and scope of the problem;
• Involvement of many stakeholders;
• Prevailing perception of putting rejected food/ food waste back in the market