MEET COVER STAR PETER NJONJO: ‘Being in Food on the African Continent is an Amazing Space to be’

Published 8 months ago
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Words and Curation: Chanel Retief and Lillian Roberts
Art Director: Lucy Nkosi Photography: Katlego Mokubyane
Photography Assistant: Sbusiso Sigidi Studio: NewKatz Studio, Johannesburg
CNBC Africa Videographer: Thabo Mathebula
Video Editor: Chanel Retief
Styling: Bontlefeela Mogoye and Wanda Baloyi
Outfits supplied by: Kworks Design; Imprint South Africa; House of Suitability; LSJ Designs
Hair & Makeup: Makole Made

“Our story started with a banana.”

“Yes, a banana,” Peter Njonjo attests, as he sits down, adjusts his glasses and looks right into the camera reminiscing the beginnings of one of Africa’s most influential companies–according to Time Magazine–Twiga Foods.

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“And the key thing here was that bananas in a supermarket in London were cheaper than they were in a supermarket in Nairobi.” This was strange for Njonjo as the banana in the London supermarket had traveled over 4,000 miles from Latin America to the United Kingdom. However, the banana in Nairobi had merely traveled 400 kilometers.

https://youtu.be/XEE1QrdTaTg

“And we asked ourselves, ‘why is this the case’? And by answering that question, we started uncovering the issue around food inefficiency.” Njonjo’s belief is that in Africa, the retail industry is fragmented by the many “middlemen” involved in the supply chain moving food from farm to the table.

“We realized that sometimes a banana has been touched by five to six people before it gets to the retailer.

In the course of that [time], half the produce is actually lost to poor handling and post-harvest losses. So that level of waste, that level of inefficiency was contributing to the high cost of food on the continent,” says Njonjo.

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At least one in five Africans goes to bed hungry and an estimated 140 million people in Africa
face acute food insecurity, according to the World Bank Global Report on Food Crises 2022 Mid-Year Update. Furthermore, a 2022 World Resources Institute report found that around a third of food produced globally is lost or wasted, resulting in economic losses of an estimated $1 trillion a year. In sub-Saharan Africa, the estimate is roughly 37% or 120kg-170 kg/year per capita.

“Food loss and waste leads to reduced economic returns for farmers, and the water, fertilizers, energy and land used in production also go to waste. Such loss and waste drives expansion into fragile ecosystems, accelerates deforestation, species extinction and contributes to 8%-10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions,” the report said.

“What we wanted to do is develop an alternative system that allows us to reengineer this whole supply chain to digitize it and get to a point where we can shorten the cycle between the farms, and the retail and also reduce the amount of waste,” Njonjo explains. Twiga Foods uses technology to build supply chains in food and retail distribution on the continent, starting with Kenya.

The company inspired by the banana is now reportedly worth $300 million.

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“The amount of food and beverage consumed in informal retail across the African continent is worth $700 billion. And if 50% of Africa’s disposable income is going to food, it means that that’s where the bulk of expenditure is at; that’s a bulk of [what] the opportunity is.”

“So the way we’re looking at it is we’re simply fishing where the fish are. The reality is that being in food on the African continent is an amazing space to be.”