WeFood, Daily Table, Social Supermarkets and lessons for Kenya in tackling food shortage

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A consumer shops for Brookside dairy milk products in a supermarket in Kenya's capital Nairobi on July 28, 2014. French food group Danone said it was buying a 40 percent stake in Brookside, East Africa's top dairy producer, as it seeks to expand its footprint in Africa. Brookside sells mostly long-life milk in Kenya and neighboring countries such as Tanzania and Uganda. The deal with Brooksideóthe largest milk collector in East Africaówill allow Danone to enter one of Africa's largest milk markets. AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA

BY DAVID ONJILI

Company Shop, Britain’s largest re-distributor of surplus food and goods partnered with Community Shop to help manufacturers and retailers deal with the headache of surplus sustainably around the year 2013. This was to mark the beginning of a successful journey of community shops, an idea for shoppers on the verge of food poverty to get the opportunity to buy food and drink for up to 70% less than the normal high-street prices. The aim is to stop the large stores from dumping.

A community shop is simply a social enterprise that is empowering individuals and building stronger communities by realizing the potential of surplus food.

Denmark has the WeFood stores, a supermarket that sells at a discount items from major supermarkets that were destined for the trash bins. They include boxes of cornflakes that are torn, mislabeled commodities like having wrongfully labeled plain rice as Basmati or nearly expired foods that would ultimately land in the trash of the major supermarkets.

The Danes prefer not to call their stores Social supermarkets because that name is associated with ‘poor’ people. The success story of WeFood since 2016 has been remarkable. They were able to reduce the amount of food landing in the trash bins to 25% or 35 pounds per person per year. A similar concept is taking root in the United States under what is called Daily Table

The Daily Table on the other hand is a not for profit organization that also seeks to provide affordable and nutritious food to all irrespective of social status. They too partner with manufacturers and supermarkets to help them offer special buying opportunities for the communities that are involved. Their sole aim is to help address bad eating habits caused by challenging economic times plus the adverse effects of wasted food and its precious minerals cause to the environment.

A number of Kenyans are familiar with this concept of curbing waste. About the years 1998 here in Nairobi, you would find ‘broken’ eggs on sale in certain selected supermarkets which would retail at a price that was about 60% less the value of a normal egg. They would be separately located and labeled so any consumer purchasing them would be fully aware. This was done so that the stores would not lose out on making money from them while Kenyans especially of the lower income bracket would get protein by affording the said eggs.

In Pipeline estate in Eastlands Nairobi, it is a common phenomenon to see individuals selling bread at a price that is 30% less than the original price of a loaf. These are loaves from bakeries that either weigh slightly less than the recommended weight or are slightly overcooked and rather than throw them, the bakers sell to the locals.

Nutrition and food wastage is an important factor for any country world over. It is now becoming very crucial how governments tackle what they produce in relation to how it is disposed. Europe has settled for ‘social supermarkets,’ a store that addresses the nutritional problems but to low-income areas.

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu speaking in Britain on the need to help fight poverty in the world.

Kenyans currently are enjoying government subsidized maize flour which is retailing from Sh90 after a reported poor harvest had seen the price sky rocket to around Sh150 for a 2Kg packet leading to a huge uproar as this staple food became unaffordable to many households. This led to a change in the dietary habits of many.

It is not new phenomena in Kenya to see wastage of produce. Seasonal milk glut is a nightmare to dairy farmers who are more often than not forced to pour it only for the prices to sour beyond half the population’s reach in the following months. It is well documented how cereals too are either spoiled due to bad storage or fail to get ready market and end up being wasted.

On the converse, what if we could bypass the dairies and allow farmers in a certain location to deliver milk or their produce to stores for a slightly lower price, this way the said farmers would get cash and the citizens in that locality would gain access to food that is nutritious and not have to worry about the high price of the same products as is found in major retail outlets.

Compare the energy with which government undertook to start the Galana/Kulalu project some four years down the line; it is still at the experimental stage. Only 2, 500 acres of the planned 10, 000 acre ‘model farm’ is developed. The initial target of 40 bags per acre has not been met so far, yet in all this we have a maize shortage.

Interestingly, as renowned economist Dr David Ndii put it in his Daily Nation column of April 21 2017, the calorific value of maize aside, Kenyans were turning to chapati, a product of wheat flour, after ugali became expensive. Rice seems attractive but the cost was elusive to many and cassava is not that popular.

Food production is an important step in feeding the nation, but we must wake up to the idea of saving what is already produced from going to waste.

The question that we should ask ourselves is how much food as a nation we are losing due to dumping. What measures should be put in place to help curb this and how can we involve the local communities in collaboration with the manufacturers to help them reach consumers. Too, the government can also be involved by facilitating all these processes.

However, as long as we view food production and consumption as a means of enriching ourselves, we will continue to lack food and the nutrition of the population will be poor and thus the government will still lose money on trying to fight nutritional ailments and the labour force will be weak. This, in the end, will reduce the life expectancy of many.