Building market-led approaches to food and nutrition security in Kenya

Every quarter, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) holds some Community of Practice workshops (CoP), which bring together representatives from private sector, government, and academia. These workshops are a key component of the GAIN Marketplace for Nutritious Foods programme in Kenya. The aim is to share information, learning, experiences, suggestions and possible solutions to improve the way food systems work. Particular attention is given to low-income consumers who struggle to access nutritious and safe foods on a daily basis.

The 5th Community of Practice workshop, held in March 2019, welcomed 80 participants to discuss ways to improve food security through new market-based approaches. The agenda of the workshop included speeches from GAIN’s Country Director in Kenya, Leah Kaguara; the First Secretary for Food Security at the Netherlands Embassy, Sanne Willems; the Project Manager of Marketplace for Nutritious Foods at GAIN, Harold Mate; the SUN Business Coordinator, Navneet Mittal; and the Managing Director of TradeCare Africa, Joyce Gema.

Ms Sanne Willems, the First Secretary for Food Security at the Netherlands Embassy in Kenya, opened the event stating that a multi-sectoral approach is needed to tackle malnutrition and health challenges in Kenya. According to Ms Willems, a market-led approach needs to be accompanied by the introduction and implementation of regulations, standards, as well as improved policies in nutrition and processing. Ms Willems also claimed that all nutrition specialists, investors, government partners, donors, civil society, non-governmental organisations and private sector companies need to come together to ensure that nutritious and safe food is available for the most vulnerable populations. Even though she pushes for the involvement of all players within the food system to take on the nutrition challenge, she insists that private sector should be leading the efforts:

“One of the approaches that the government of the Netherlands uses in agriculture-based programmes is market-led because we don’t believe that we are going to change the nutrition challenge without the involvement and leadership of the private sector.” – Sanne Willems

Ms Gema later introduced the theme of the 5th Community of Practice, highlighting that some financial and business operation problems can be better addressed through innovative ideas. According to Ms. Gema, there are many ways of being innovative within a business; however, identifying a common problem among several businesses is a great start. Networking events, such as these, are a great opportunity for companies to discuss those common gaps. It allows businesses to come together and find a solution they can all immediately benefit from.

The workshop also hosted a panel discussion with two guests from businesses who benefited from the Marketplace’s Innovation Accelerator Engine: Beryle Uza, Director of Poultry Allied; and Dr Paul Orina, Technical Advisor for Aquaculture at Nyabera Farm ICL. The two other guests were technical experts in market research: Karnika Yadav, Associate Vice President Business Consulting and Research at Intellecap; and John Wainaina, Lead Researcher at Strategic Business Advisor. The panellists identified a series of recurrent issues and opportunities small and medium enterprises (SMEs) face when trying to grow the business.

One of the key points made by the panel is the fact that a market-led approach is where varied food markets have different needs, advantages and disadvantages, but businesses are still able to design innovations that can address these needs sustainably. For business growth, SMEs need to consider different approaches such as business-to-business, where they can supply complementary products to other businesses, as well as business-to-consumer, where they target consumers directly. Exploiting a surrounding market can lead to rapid business growth and referrals to bigger markets.

During the panel discussion, Ms Yadav emphasised the importance of defining a clear business strategy with clear milestones that can be tracked:

“Businesses need to have a proper strategy of scaling up. You cannot be in one village today and say ‘tomorrow I am going to 100 more’. That is not possible. You must have a strategy and plan which make it clear that next year you will reach five counties and grow in that manner.” – Karnika Yadav

Another very important takeaway from the panel session is that there are great benefits when businesses choose to specialise in one value chain, as it will greatly reduce overhead costs and make market segmentation a lot easier.
Ms Leah Kaguara, GAIN’s Country Director in Kenya, gave some concluding remarks, urging businesses to really think about both the nutritional value and the quality of food they sell in the market. The creation of strong networks amongst all players in the food system could lead to greater solutions for the accessibility, affordability and availability of nutritious foods for low-income consumers.