Tanzanian company connects farmers to fresh produce buyers

A Kilimo Fresh farmer harvesting fresh spinach.

Kilimo Fresh is a Tanzanian online fresh produce platform that connects smallholder farmers to buyers. The company distributes fruits, vegetables and dry foods to hotels, retail stores, schools, wholesalers, the export market as well as individual customers. The company was started in 2018. Founder Baraka Jeremiah (29) answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

Kilimo Fresh is a Tanzanian-based B2B produce distribution platform that connects smallholder farmers and produce buyers to a fair and reliable market. The company enables buyers to access better-quality and fresh produce directly from the farms at affordable prices, delivered directly to their locations. The solution gives consumers a simple online ordering platform to purchase their daily needs of fresh produce, provides farmers with stable pricing and direct access to the market for their crops, and eliminates food waste between farm and fork.

2. How did you finance your start-up?

In the beginning, we had to bootstrap from personal savings, friends and families. This gave us a little runway and we were able to acquire some customers and make a small profit which enabled us to cover our operational costs. In December 2019, we raised a $30,000 SAFE round from Seedstars Tanzania Accelerator which helped us to finalise our online ordering platform, acquire more customers and grow the business. In August 2020, we won the Mest Africa Challenge and look forward to receiving $50,000. We’re still hoping to raise $200,000 before February 2021.

3. If you were given $1 million to invest in your company now, where would it go?

First, we would expand our storage facility to enable us to stock and move larger volumes of fresh produce and cut down our daily trips to the farms. We could limit these to just three to four trips per week instead of the current seven trips. We’d also install a cold storage facility to keep produce fresh for longer, even after reaching our customers.

A cold room made from charcoal, close to Kilimo Fresh’s habanero chilli farms in Iringa, Tanzania.

We’d also buy trucks and bikes and own the logistics process internally to cut down costs since there are very few logistics companies in Tanzania and their charges are so high.

Apart from that, we’d finalise the development of our USSD service for farmers as well as a mobile application for the street vendors. This would help us to have proper visibility of demand and supply and give us room to streamline and automate the food distribution from farm to fork.

Lastly, the funds will be used to acquire new customers and expand the business to new regions.

4. What risks does your business face?

The risk is usually in the spoilage of the produce between farm and fork. Dealing with perishables requires an unbroken supply chain; if anything happens and goods are delayed or exposed to high temperatures for a long period of time, there’ll be a lot of discarded food as well as a waste of resources used to produce that food.

Another risk is the commitment and loyalty of smallholder farmers. Kilimo Fresh will need to offer attractive prices and favourable extension services to make it an attractive business proposition for the farmers to continue supplying to the company.

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

For Kilimo Fresh, direct contact works better than any other means of marketing. Before we began supplying, we did a survey and visited 200 B2B customers in Dar es Salaam to better understand their challenges with regard to sourcing fruits and vegetables. We asked what a great service would look like to them; once they explained, it was our defining moment because we began doing exactly what they asked for.

Through direct visits and contacts, we’re able to understand the challenges our customers face as it allows us to establish good relationships with them and makes it easier to get feedback in case there’s anything they’d like changed. We visit most of our customers twice a month.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

The most exciting moment for us was making our first export of habanero chillies to the UK. Europe has extremely high standards and is very strict when it comes to products coming from Africa.