Building Better Markets for Farmers

December 11, 2018

By Vanessa Bauza, IFC Communications

At the Next African Start-Ups program in Egypt, Grant Brooke, co-founder and chief executive officer of Twiga Foods, talked about his company’s quest to create a more efficient marketplace for farmers—and how African start-ups could disrupt established businesses.

Tell us about the “aha!” moment that led you to start your business.

Before co-founding Twiga Foods, I was an academic working on my PhD in economics. During my research, I realized that local food pricing was too high for it to be competitive in regional and international markets. What was making the food so expensive was the number of middlemen in the value chain. If we could make the supply chain more efficient by cutting the number of middlemen and reducing the rate of post-harvest loss, you could pay suppliers more while selling to the wholesale trade for less. We thought that was an interesting problem to try to solve.

About 7,000 small grocers, roadside stands, and kiosks in Nairobi and the surrounding areas now source their goods from us. We work with about 17,000 farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda to supply those goods, like bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, four, and onions. Before, the merchants would have to get up at 4 am to go to market to buy the goods. Now we deliver these products, as well as a number of processed foods, directly to them.

What’s next for Twiga?

We’re working hard on getting as many products listed as possible and making Twiga a one-stop-shop where food vendors can buy anything. Our demand has become quite high. In the past farmers didn’t have an aggregated buyer. They had to worry about the cost of production and whether a broker would show up to buy their goods. Now we’re able to guarantee a market for farmers. This means they can get an annual contract from us that guarantees a profit, as long as they manage their cost of production and risks well. 

What’s the best advice you’ve heard?

One of my advisors while I was doing my doctorate said, ‘Say something specific about something specific.’ I’ve appropriated that by doing something specific about something specific, which in our case means finding ways to get goods from farms to markets more efficiently.

What have you learned as a CEO that you wish you had known before?

As a CEO, I’ve learned a whole new skill set. I realized that ideas stop mattering at some point, because the team takes care of that. My job becomes to edit which ideas to go forward and which ones shouldn’t.

What does the digital economy mean for development in Africa?

My friends who run big established businesses are having meetings with me, asking how we build mobile-based platforms for our companies. Whether it’s selling insurance or cooking oil, they are trying to start digital platforms. I think it’s because a lot of them think they will get disrupted by companies like ours. Ultimately, having new companies that are very good at innovation will make life easier. Companies that go to scale do so because they provide information and services that make peoples’ lives better. That’s what the digital economy is doing in Africa.

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Published in December 2018