This is the second in a series of examples of companies successfully overcoming challenges to find profitability in smallholder markets. This week, we are looking at Twiga Foods, a tech company in Kenya that has successfully entered the urban produce supply chain with support from its strong human resources department and design-centered approach.


In Kenya and in many workplaces around the world, the human resources department is not considered an important tool when it comes to business growth. When a company expands rapidly, managing personnel is always lower in priority. In Kenya, when undergoing a large or rapid expansion, rather than using their human resources team to recruit and train quality, local, long-term staff, most tech companies hire expatriate consultants who have impressive pedigrees but are expensive and do not necessarily yield good results because they lack understanding of the local context. But one company has made human resources its number one priority, and, in addition to a strong research-focused design strategy, is finding success in smallholder markets. Twiga Foods, a tech company in Kenya that is connecting rural vegetable growers with urban produce vendors using a mobile business-to-business platform, has sustained high growth by focusing on human resources and design principles.


Twiga does not view human resources as an isolated department, but rather as an integrated part of its operations that should provide its other business units and employees what they need. The HR department collaborates closely with other departments to understand their recruitment needs and identify the best people to carry out the company’s strategy. Instead of hiring expensive outside consultants, Twiga recruits Kenyans and provides them with trainings on growth and planning strategies, business practices, and corporate culture. Because Twiga is growing quickly, its human resources department continuously reviews the effectiveness of its staff and leadership trainings while focusing on its corporate culture. With so many new employees joining the company as it expands, Twiga is working to standardize its onboarding trainings to ensure that the quality of these trainings doesn’t suffer. It holds employees to high standards of conduct; for example, it follows a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment, which is uncommon in other workplaces. In a recent anonymous survey of all staff, employees expressed a high level of respect for company leadership, which suggests the focus on a positive corporate culture and training works.


Twiga’s other important strategy is to continually analyze its model and practices, which is why it formed a design team to evaluate every part of its operations, including its farmer strategies. A research and data focused design approach allows emerging companies to monitor their progress and customer feedback. Twiga’s design team uses design principles for growth and planning Twiga’s collection centers and interactions with smallholder farmers. Through its farmer surveys and observations, the team noticed a lot of the farmers would side sell to brokers and under-deliver the quantity of produce they had promised to Twiga, even though Twiga pays more than local brokers. Farmers preferred the brokers’ quick and easy purchasing approach to Twiga’s, for which farmers must accumulate their produce, deliver it to Twiga’s collection point, and then receive their payment via M-Pesa mobile money. As a result, Twiga’s design team came up with a quicker way to weigh farmers’ produce to make their process more convenient and retain suppliers.


Thanks to these corporate strategies and the support of Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, Twiga Foods is expanding its network of rural collection centers, where it collects produce from smallholder farmers for sale to urban vendors, from the existing eight to 33, benefitting 7,500 new smallholder farmers.


Next week, we will highlight another successful company and its work in tapping into smallholder markets. How are you making yourself competitive in smallholder markets by improving management practices? Tell us about it in the comments below!