Kate Kibarah turned her interest in healthy living into a successful business that today grows, processes and distributes health foods across East Africa. The founder of Kate’s Organics told How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi why organic farming is the next low hanging fruit and her ambitions to tap into the European market.
How did you start Kate’s Organics?
This is a passion for me. I grew up as an obese child. I changed my lifestyle and people kept asking me what I had done to lose weight. So I started as a health consultant offering a healthy lifestyle advisory service and a colonic hydrotherapy service. I was mostly doing health training courses, lectures and presentations for corporations, social networks and groups. I even founded a virtual lifestyle health club, but most of my clients could not get access to healthy, organic foods which I often recommend.
In 2009, we began to grow, package and distribute Kate’s Organics health products, which are mainly green tea, herbal teas, detox teas, spices, honey and healthy herbs like aloe vera and moringa oleifera. The products are formulated from selected organic herbs, spices and whole foods collected at their peak potency. The leaves, flowers, roots and buds contain many vitamins and minerals that rejuvenate and invigorate the body.
We work with teams of single mothers and widows in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania who grow the organic foods for us. We support them with everything necessary for their farming needs, from providing seedlings, technical know-how to training or any other service necessary that they require. We have a manufacturing plant in Nairobi where the produce is brought for processing. We distribute in leading supermarkets across East Africa and we have recently joined a project through which we will soon begin exporting our products to Europe. Our company ethos is to promote and support a healthy society by providing products and services for consumers on the basis of quality and affordability.
What is driving appetite for healthy living?
There is a big market for organic, natural and healthy foods in Africa. A few years back people were not this health conscious, but the increase of lifestyle related diseases and growing incomes has seen the levels of health awareness increase. This trend is making people seek ways to stay healthy through lifestyle change, exercise and changing their diets. The health and wellness industry will be a trillion dollar industry globally. Fast foods have been a growth area for years, but the healthy living trend is gathering speed. I know a few Kenyan farmers who are making millions from exporting organic foods. African farmers should take this opportunity to get certified to grow organic foods. It is only a matter of time before the dollars start rolling in. I believe the future is organic.
Tell us about some of the challenges of running this business.
Growing organic foods is not easy because you do not accelerate growth. Something like aloe vera for instance, takes about five years before maturity. Sometimes the yield may be poor because again you cannot use chemical based fertilisers and pesticides, or accelerate growth unnaturally. It is also a process before a farm is certified to grow organic foods plus there are cost implications.
Again not adding chemicals like preservatives to increase the shelf life means what is produced needs to be consumed within a period of time. Marketing and creating awareness is also challenging as well as getting access to shelves in supermarkets. Kenyans do not fully understand what organic really means. In the US, anything written organic literally flies off the shelves, but here it is not really appreciated.
From you interaction with farmers, what problems do they face and how can Kenya improve its agriculture industry?
Farmers face challenges getting access to markets. If say, a smallholder farm that cannot afford to export their produce, grew organic foods, where would they sell it? The other challenges are lack of funds, poor transport and lack of reliable rainfall and water for farming. Farming has a lot of potential. Kenya is one of the world’s leading tea producers but we consume very little ourselves. We also do very little value addition ourselves, instead we focus a lot on exporting raw materials. We should develop our food processing industry to create jobs and increase our global competitiveness.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs?
Believe you in yourself and in your dream. Take on the responsibility of making your dream a reality. Do not be afraid to take risks, the greatest failure is to not try. Once you find something you love to do, be the best at it. Positive thinking will let you do everything better than a negative mind.
Your future plans?
We will improve and diversify the range of products and services we offer. We will strive to create new, healthier and better tasting organic products and medicinal remedies that meet the growing demands of our clients both in Kenya and abroad. We want to become an internationally recognised Kenyan flagship for organic production and best practice for the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. Kate’s Organics also strives to promote organic farming in Kenya and we are keen to exploit the organic food market in Europe. We also want to increase awareness on healthy living.