It’s Saturday evening in the fruit and vegetables section of the supermarket and all the nice looking mangoes, avocados and cucumbers have been taken. What is left to buy are small apples, bruised tomatoes and bananas that are turning brown. Many of which will get left behind. Sub-standard goods: it might not seem that much to us, but in many countries it adds up to huge amount.
In Kenya, for instance, produce is often classed as sub-standard and sent back to the farmer – or thrown straight away as rubbish – even before it is exported. According to a 2015 field study by the environmental organisation ‘Feedback Global’, this problem affects around half of the different fruit and vegetable varieties produced in Kenya. The devastating thing for the farmers or middlemen is that they end up sitting on the surplus goods, which forces some of them into financial ruin.
‘The missing gap is the technology or the investment and the know-how to process the rejected vegetables and fruits says Yvonne Otieno, the Kenyan owner of Miyonga Fresh Greens, a producer and exporter of agricultural products. That’s the reason why she traveled to Berlin with six other entrepreneurs from Kenya to attend the second lab of tomorrow process, which GIZ has organised on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Whereas the first lab of tomorrow process sought solutions to Zambia’s tax problems, this time the subject was ‘Food not Waste’ in the East African country.
Participants in the lab of tomorrow innovation process use unusual approaches to search for solutions to a challenge facing a developing country or a transition economy. At the start of this three-day workshop, from 8 to 10 March 2016, some of the entrepreneurs remain sceptical and impatient. They would all prefer to present their own proposals right at the beginning. But in the design-thinking method employed by the lab of tomorrow, they must first attempt to understand the
problem from the point of view of the people affected and then identify innovative approaches before they define solutions. Next they have to develop ideas, adapt them to the local conditions, and perhaps question the ideas once again, before refining them in consultation with the Kenyan experts.
‘If we are truly realistic,’ says Norbert Reichl, an expert of the Food-Processing Initiative, after the first day of the workshop, ‘it’s not possible to avoid producing food waste entirely. But it is possible to devise practical solutions that allow us to reduce that waste by a significant proportion.’ With these words, he seems to be encouraging the participants to keep thinking and reflecting in the two days to come.
And it works. After three days of activity, two business ideas have emerged. These must now be turned into projects. One idea is about the processing of food while the second has more to do with transferring the necessary know-how. Information centres – known as HUBs – should be set up in various regions of Kenya. These would enable farmers to learn new skills by means of special educational measures, training courses and access to computers. The HUBs would provide them with important information about harvests and cultivation, as well as processing and marketing.
The three days of the innovation workshop come to an end. If the participating entrepreneurs choose to pursue their ideas further, they will come together again in April to take the next steps.
Christoffer Brick, one of the co-organisers with GIZ, is very pleased. ‘The idea of the lab works well,’ he says. ‘This second lab has confirmed that. Despite their initial scepticism, the entrepreneurs have come up with some great ideas. Ultimately, of course, we’ll have to judge our success by the projects that emerge, but the concept in itself is promising.’ The participants are satisfied too. ‘I’m really impressed how well organized the lab of tomorrow is and how many different fields of expertise it brings together to pursue a common goal. It’s great to see that we all feel the same about food waste and are thus equally energetic about creating solutions,’ says Vita Jarolimkova, founder of the start-up FoodPowder (FoPo).
The workshops are set to continue. From 17 to 19 May 2016 more entrepreneurs will meet in Darmstadt to work out ways to provide easier access to medicines in rural areas of Kenya.