Irene Wanjiru Mwangi, the owner of GAEA Foods (pictured in the middle) examines fresh cut potato chips with her employees. GroFin provided GAEA with financing to automate part of its production process to increase capacity.
Irene Wanjiru Mwangi started her business with just one sack of lowly potatoes. “We sorted out the different sizes under a great Mugumo tree and delivered them to eateries in the Nairobi CBD. The basic principles the current business is built upon arrived in dirty overalls marked hard work. I had to build it from the bottom up.”
Now – more than two decades later – GAEA foods buys and processes potatoes to supply to fast food chains and high-end restaurants. Its modern production facility employs 39 people and provides a livelihood to nearly 450 small scale farmers in Kenya’s rift valley. Irene works closely with farmers to help them develop better potato varieties and ensure quality and consistency of their crops. “It means a lot to be able to have a direct impact on families through providing a market for their produce,” she says.
|GAEA Foods cleans and processes potatoes for use by restaurants in Nairobi. They provide a livelihood to nearly 450 small-scale farmers in Kenya’s Rift Valley.|
Potatoes are considered one of Kenya’s staple foods – its consumption levels are only topped by maize – and since GAEA was founded the country’s middle class has continued to increase their spend on fast food and dining out. By 2015, market demand for processed potatoes from GAEA’s existing clients had grown substantially. Her clients requested Irene to deliver six tons of potatoes per day – more than double the amount she was producing. Irene approached GroFin, an impact-driven Small Medium Enterprise (SME) financier, for funding to increase the capacity of her business through automating part of its production process.
The GroFin Small and Growing Businesses (SGB) Fund provided her with the funding she needed. The SGB Fund was set up in 2014 to provide business development assistance, as well as start-up and early stage growth-capital to SGBs in Africa. It focuses on SGBs at the base of the SME pyramid, which are grossly underservedby other funds or financiers.
FMO has committed EUR9.5 million over five years to the SGB Fund for investment in women-owned and managed businesses. This investment qualifies under the 2X Challenge Criteria because of the Fund’s commitment to invest in and support businesses with a share of women ownership and leadership. Women-owned and managed businesses currently constitute 42% of the SGB Fund’s investment portfolio.
Irene says women entrepreneurs need both financial and human capital for their businesses to grow. “To an entrepreneur, these two resources are often a chicken and egg situation. Both are critical for sustainable growth to be realized.”
GroFin’s model of providing entrepreneurs with support beyond finance means that its clients receive continuous advice and development assistance to increase their ability to sustain and grow their businesses. This also includes pre-investment business support to help potential clients become investment ready as they apply to receive financing. Through this model, the SGB Fund has invested in 217 SMEs and provided business support to nearly 2,000 entrepreneurs.
GroFin assisted GAEA in formalising its accounting practices and provided Irene with expertise to help the business to adhere to local Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices. In addition, through its partnership with Dutch non-profit organisation PUM, GroFin secured an expert to develop a long-term growth strategy for GAEA Foods to expand into the retail space. The expert also advised Irene on how to streamline her business and further increase its production capacity. “GroFin believed in the dream with us. Thanks to the financial and technical support they provided us, we have been able to improve our employees’ quality of work and the quality and quantity of the fresh cut potatoes we supply.”
|A worker at GAEA Foods loads cut potato chips onto a truck for delivery. GAEA Foods employs 39 people.|
GroFin also facilitated Irene’s co-director, Roseanne Wanjiru Mwangi, enrolement in a management skills programme through its partnership with the Cherie Blaire Foundation.
Irene says women entrepreneurs in Kenya face the same challenges as their male counterparts. “But over and above that, they must also overcome the stereotypes that are inherent in Kenya’s largely patriarchal society.”
She says women’s labour is often not given due regard or appropriately rewarded. “Women sometimes have to work twice as hard as men to get half the mileage. I want to provide opportunities for women on an equal footing with men in my business, as well as among the producers I work with. When you support a woman, you support an entire community.”