James Shikati: How Cravings For Kenyan Foods While Living Abroad Inspired My Export Business

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James Shikati PHOTO/Courtesy

James Shikwati is the founder of Inter-Region Economic Network (IREN) headquartered in Shianda, Mumias.

IREN deals with exportation of indigenous dried Kenyan vegetables to the international market, especially Europe.

But why did James decided to venture into the business? Here is what WoK has gathered about the same.

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Interest

Speaking in an interview with Alex Chamwada, James said he ventured into the business out of experience.

He also noted that he specifically targeted the international market having lived in Europe for one year.

“I’ve stayed in Europe for one year and I could yearn for food from home, so I know what someone who stays abroad feel when they touch vegetable from their own country,” he said.

Upon his return, James started working on a possible solution to have Kenyans living abroad enjoy foods from home.

In the long run, he also worked with local farmers who came in handy in helping him achieve his mission.

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“We started as researchers, we have interacted with farmers for the last six years and we were doing research to look at the best technology that can enable small holder farmers to mitigate challenges that they may have to improve food security,” James said.

Through IREN, James exports variety of indigenous vegetables such as amaranth, spider plant (sagaa), cowpeas (kunde), African black night shade (managu) and rattle pod (mitoo).

James sources his vegetables from farmers spread across 14 counties mostly in Western and the vast Nyanza region.

“You’ll notice Kakamega County getting Sagaa is not easy, but Kisii, they have lots of it. We have created this network of farmers that we worked with during our research and make them our suppliers,” he said.

Preparations

After receiving fresh vegetables from the farmers, workers at IREN then weigh it to ascertain the exact weight since farmers are paid per kilo.

The vegetables will then be moved to the next step which is plucking before it is weighed again to know the weight with stalks and without the stalks.

The vegetables will then be washed followed by a process which includes dipping the vegetables in hot water then cold water before being taken outside for solar drying.

“We are digging into an indigenous technology which has been there for centuries; chemicals were not available by then

“We are still using that practice of no chemicals in our processing, it’s a matter of washing the vegetables,” James explained.

IREN has helped people in the community having employed 30 women who handle vegetables preparations.

International market

IREN exports to among other Europe countries, the United States where they have certification from the authorities.

James explained that to penetrate to the international market, you also have to have proper certification locally.

“To approach the US market, you have to first qualify in Kenya. It means KEBS must certify you first, it is then when you’d move to the US and introduce the product,” he said.

IREN also works with Kenyans in diaspora as distributors.

They also supply to the Middle East and America.

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