Farm to Feed is cutting food loss and creating data platform to improve farming outcomes | TechCrunch

4 min read
Farm to Feed is cutting food loss and creating data platform to improve farming outcomes | TechCrunch

Globally, a third of the food produced is lost or wasted, and in Kenya, that figure stands between 20% and 40%. For Kenya, unlike the developed world, food loss, not waste, is the greater problem, with small-scale farmers, who account for 75% of the total agricultural output in the country, facing a myriad of challenges, including inadequate market linkages and a failure to meet the cosmetic specifications for their produce.

For a transition, several startups are emerging looking to bridge the market gap for farmers. Farm to Feed, an agtech company based in Kenya, is one of the fast risers in the space. The startup aggregates farm produce, including imperfect crop products — like those considered too small, too big or too oddly shaped to be wanted by distributors — and sells them to businesses like restaurants and food processors through its sales channels, including an online marketplace.

Claire Van Enk, Farm to Feed CEO, co-founded the startup with Anouk Boertien and Zara Benosa in 2021, after pivoting from a nonprofit program that provided food to people who lost their income during the COVID-19 lockdown. She says, while sourcing produce from farmers, it became apparent to her that while food was plentiful, market access remained a major hindrance, leading to the startup’s launch.

“I saw firsthand what farmers were not selling even when markets returned, and it is a huge devastation not only on food security, but on the economy too,” Van Enk said, adding that food loss and food waste have a climate change aspect, with rotting foodstuff producing methane, a greenhouse gas that is worse than carbon dioxide.

She launched the commercial business to tackle the problem on a larger scale.

The startup uses aggregators to collect produce from small- and large-scale farmers in key farming regions of the East African country. Farm to Feed teams then sort, grade and dispatch the products to clients from its warehouse in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

It uses leased trucks but is said to be acquiring trucks with sustainable cooling solutions following a grant funding from IFC TechEmerge. To date, the startup has raised $1 million in equity and grant funding from various VCs, angel investors and institutions, including the Catalyst Fund, Renew Capital, Bayer Foundation, Mercy Corps AgriFin, IFC TechEmerge, DEG develoPPP, RAIN Challenge, and the GSMA Innovation Fund.

Van Enk said they have multiple sales channels, including its salespersons, the web app and, soon, a WhatsApp chatbot for customers preferring the social commerce route.

Other startups linking farmers to markets include Ghanaian agtech Farmerline, which is also giving them access to quality input, and Complete Farmer, which finds global markets for their produce. They are a part of the innovators tapping opportunities in the sector, a key industry in sub-Saharan Africa that contributes about 23% of the GDP in a region where 60% of the population are smallholder farmers. The sector’s importance to Africa’s growth cannot be overstated and has made it a key area of focus for innovators like Farm to Feed.

Data collection

On top of the e-commerce platform, Van Enk said they are building a data platform by collecting granular data, including on climate and drivers of food loss, for better farming outcomes and to create a more circular food system.

Van Enk said that from their system, which grades food, “and using the data platform, we will try to figure out some of the reasons behind, for instance, the disfiguring of produce. If it is because of poor quality seeds, this can be solved by partnering with entities that provide quality seeds, and if the reason is bad harvesting techniques, then we can carry out targeted training on the best way to do it.”

The startup is currently running a value-addition pilot to explore new revenue streams too.

“When you do more value addition, there’s a real opportunity to do margin expansion. I do think that food loss is such a huge impact opportunity and also a very good commercial opportunity,” she said. “I really believe there’s so much we can do with odd-looking produce and really create value for the farmer but also for the future of Farm to Feed.”

It is also looking to tap the carbon market and has done a feasibility study in the hope of being pioneers of a new methodology by Verra, a nonprofit organization that operates standards in environmental and social markets that quantify emission reduction from reducing food loss and waste. This will allow the startup to earn from selling carbon offset credits.

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