- Baraka Jeremiah is one of the founders of a produce distribution platform in the name and style of ‘Kilimo Fresh.’ In this exclusive interview with Rosemary Mirondo of Mwananchi Communications Ltd (MCL), Mr Jeremiah talks regarding the platform. Read on…
Please tell our esteemed readers what your company is all about…
Kilimo Fresh is a Tanzania-based B2B (Business-to-Business) and B2C (Business-to-Consumer) produce distribution platform connecting smallholder farmers-cum-produces with traders/buyers in a fair and reliable market.
The company enables buyers to access good quality fresh produce directly from farms at affordable prices, which is then delivered directly to the buyers on location.
The solution gives consumers a simple online ordering platform to purchase their daily needs of fresh produce. It provides farmers with stable pricing and direct access to the market for their crops – even as it eliminates food waste ‘from farm to fork,’ so to speak!
What produce do you supply?
We supply fruits, vegetables, cereals and dry food products that are economical, easily transported and stored.
How did you come up with the idea of starting the business? What motivated you?
Our story began in 2015 when I (Baraka Jeremiah) and my co-founder, Justice Mangu, graduated from Mzumbe University in Morogoro Region where we were pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree Programme in Business Administration and Entrepreneurship Development.
Based on a common interest, we went into farming, growing tomatoes, capsicums and watermelons, which we sold to middlemen who then sold to wholesalers in Dar es Salaam. At that time, we faced major frustrations resulting from low profit margins, lack of proper market information, demand visibility – and a lot of food waste!
In 2017, we took a break from farming and researched into better models that would give farmers a more direct access to markets and stable prices for their crops.
This involved travelling to different parts of Africa, including Nigeria where we met Faith Pella who – because of her background and rich experience in Agritech for over nine years in East and West Africa – became our third co-founder.
The three of us together formed Kilimo Fresh in 2018 to help solve the challenges which farmers in Tanzania were facing.
Currently, Kilimo Fresh has 10 full-time employees –including the three founders, namely: Faith Pella, Justice Mangu and Baraka Jeremiah.
When was the company established?
We started Kilimo Fresh in mid-2018 as a pilot/test project until December 2018 when, after being satisfied with the business model, we decided to officially incorporate it.
How much capital did you start with – and has the business grown? If yes: by how much: what is the capital now?
We started with only $5,000 in 2018 – and we’re targeting $300,000, about 40 percent of which has already been raised.
You talked about supplying to hotels; which are the hotels – and what other establishments do you supply to, if any?
We’re currently supplying to hotels, restaurants, catering firms, and supermarkets in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma. But, recently – especially post the viral Covid-19 pandemic – our business model has extended to B2C, mostly involving home deliveries.
This enables prospective customers to order fresh groceries from us from the comfort of their homes – and Kilimo Fresh promptly delivers same at their respective doorsteps.
We are currently working on more tech integration in terms of ordering, and different payment options. The objective here is to make the Kilimo Fresh shopping experience as convenient as it is humanly possible for our customers.
What are the challenges you have been facing so far – and what are you doing to surmount them?
When we were launching Kilimo Fresh, we had difficulties in hiring the right team. At that time, we lacked the experience in hiring, and we also couldn’t afford to hire the best of the very best because we lacked the funds needed to pay the requisite salaries.
It also took us time to ensure that everyone we hired understood the business in terms of our vision and dedicated mission. A shortage of funds really affected our operations, with payment cycles taking us that much longer to complete. Some of our customers would pay us in 15 days, while others took up to 30 days to do so.
More often than not, we ran out of cash in the 3rd week of the month – and had to spend the remaining days waiting for our next cheque! Such a situation limited our growth, as some of our customers turned to other suppliers as alternatives since we weren’t able to deliver on time and in full.
However, we’re already sorting this out, and are currently raising funds to cover our operations for 18 months, as well as enable us to scale up.
How has Covid-19 affected your company – and what are you doing to overcome this?
We’re among the companies that were hugely affected by Covid-19, both positively and negatively. For instance, we lost 80 percent of our B2B customers, including schools, restaurants, and catering firms. This was largely due to public gatherings that were limited and schools were closed down for some time.
We sat down as a team and came up with a Plan B on how to stay in business. We knew that we had to rely even more heavily on technology to be able to supply fresh produce, especially as people were rushing either online or to supermarkets to get their fresh foodstuffs.
So, we decided we would be in the Top-5 online food deliveries in Tanzania – and partnered with the Top-5 supermarkets in Dar es Salaam.
I’m proud to say that Kilimo Fresh has achieved 98 percent of this goal – and the adjustment enabled us to keep on supporting farmers through ready markets for their produce. Consumers also get affordable fresh food at the farm-gate while staying at home with loved ones, all protected from exposure to the Covid-19 malady.
What benefits can be derived from the company?
We offer convenience to both our B2B and B2C customers by tailoring our services to their needs while offering them the best quality and the best prices compared to the available alternatives. Our customers save 15-to-20 percent on their purchases from Kilimo Fresh.
Do you do exports?
We currently export red habanero chilies which are grown by the company in collaboration with other farmers in the Morogoro Region. Our farm size currently totals 27 acres and plans are in place to expand this to 60 acres so as to meet the growing demand.
Also, we’re in the pilot phase of exporting Cavendish bananas and avocados to the Ukraine and Italy.
What is good about your products compared to others with the same idea?
We offer the best quality at affordable prices, compared to other competing entities in Tanzania. Also, our distribution model is very efficient – whereby, for example, our customers can get their orders delivered within an hour of placing an order!
Is there a technology used in your line of business?
We’ve got a web platform () onto which our customers can log to find out the available products and their respective prices – and place orders for the items they want on the spot.
The platform enables customers to schedule delivery, as well as make payments digitally or by cash once they receive the goods.
We regularly update the lists and prices of available stocks to ensure that they are accurate at all times.
Apart from that, we’re also working on another integration that would enable our customers to place their orders even when they’re offline!