Frank Omondi: Wildlife Biologist Turns To Business, Becomes World’s First Trade Certified Producer Of Macadamia Nuts

Frank Omondi is the founder and CEO of Grow Fairly, a macadamia and cashew nuts processor based in Kilifi County.

He has previously served as Managing Director at Ten Senses Africa and spent a decade in the Tourism and Hospitality industries on different management and advisory roles.

Omondi holds a Bachelors degree in Wildlife Management from the Moi University in Kenya.

He established his company after realizing that middlemen in were taking home much than the farmers themselves.

Grow Fairly now works with over 15,000 cashew nuts farmers and some 9,000 macadamia farmers from the coastal region.

Here is his story as told by WoK.

Omondi established Grow Fairly in 2005.

His goal was to create opportunities for disadvantaged producers as well as supporting the fair trade concept.

The idea of setting up the company followed his analysis that showed that middlemen were exploiting local farmers.

In an interview with Business Daily, Omondi noted that his analysis showed that middlemen took home as much as 38 percent while farmers took 15 percent.

“To change this, we became the world’s first Fair Trade-certified producer of macadamia nuts,” he explained.

Years since it’s established, Grow Fairly has so far onboarded 15,000 cashew nuts and 9,000 macadamia nuts farmers.

The factory has a capacity to process 400 to 600 metric tonnes of cashew nuts and 600 to 700 tonnes of macadamia nuts every month.

While scaling and bulking remains a challenge, the company developed a software to track, trace and weigh farmers’ produce.

The software enables weighing using Bluetooth enabled scales, and farmers are paid directly via M-PESA depending on the capacity of the produce.

“We have teams of field officers who report to a regional officer who then moves around with the truck collecting produce bought by the field officers and the software permits him to buy up to a certain limit,” Omondi said.

Omondi noted that raising capital was not easy but he had friends who needed less convincing to support him.

“You can have as many documents and good ideas but your relationship with your fundraisers, either in equity or partners or in debt, matters

“We’ve been fortunate to get assistance from development partners such as NORAD, the European Union and USAID,” he explained.

He stated that they experienced challenges with electricity and water while setting up the factory.

“We welded the factory roof using a generator. We applied for a power connection which took eight months, it was expensive,” Omondi added.

They also experienced challenges with getting the right people for the job.

“The problem is that not all jobseekers are tooled and ready to plug and play so you have to train people on the job,” he said.

Omondi also explained the importance of considering quality checks while disclosing how he lost a consignment worth over Ksh 20 million.

“We learned not to ship a product you don’t have confidence in and we had to invest in our quality systems and processes,” he said.

Grow Fairly is looking at expanding its footprint to Ethiopia where they are doing macadamia trials.