Lynne Odiwa and Fiona Morema are the co-founders of Nature’s Best Green Culture Ltd, a thriving agribusiness that sources fresh and organic traditional vegetables, commonly known as ‘Kienyeji’ such as managu and sells them to city folk and netizens.
WoK sat down with the two entrepreneurs to understand how they set up their company that is quickly finding itself in the lips of many Kenyans.
Birthing The Business Venture
Lynne and Fiona met through a mutual friend. The two soon realised that they had lots in common, most important was that they had a shared value system. Beyond the friendship, they were both keen on getting into the entrepreneurship space together. They kept on having discussions about various ventures but nothing quite came to fruition until now.
“Nature’s Best came about in a very interesting way because I was in a very dark place but it brought forth something beautiful. I was going through a very difficult financial period at that time. I had a small 4 year old girl already only to realise I was expectant and the person responsible we were not on good terms. Without warning, Covid struck, my consultancy jobs dried up because donors were pulling out, I had already drained my savings because covid-19 was the last thing we expected so I went flat broke,” reflects Ms. Odiwa.
Never give up, survived on Ugali and black tea
Things got so bad that at some point Odiwa would be left surviving on Ugali and black tea yet she was expectant and supposed to be eating healthy.
At the time, Fiona was in school and the two friends would occasionally chat, but since Lynne doesn’t talk much she would most times pass the phone over to her extrovert daughter, Ariana.
“Ariana is a very bright child, she is very talkative and so most times her mom would give her the phone since she doesn’t talk much herself, she is an introvert. So when we were talking she hinted that they was a problem and she is very smart in how she puts it across so you would have to think deeply to understand. On that particular day when we finished talking I told her I am sending her mom Ksh1000 ,” Fiona fondly remembers.
The Ksh1000 was Godsend, as Lynne was expectant, hungry and broke. She knew she had to put it to proper use.
Lynne says; “I went and bought some managu, some sagaa and other kienyeji vegetables because I knew they would last me and my daughter for some time until the next cash came to my hands.”
Striking Goldmine – Kienyeji Vegetables
Before that Lynne used to get tired and sickly often but that changed when she started consuming Kienyeji vegetables. She got her health back and that is when it dawned on her that there was ‘gold’ in traditional vegetables.
“Kienyeji is very nutritious by nature and I thought there’s someone out there who needs this especially those in a similar situation like mine. I went to Facebook and made a post asking how many people love Kienyeji vegetables and there were a lot of comments and when I sieved through them I realized there was potential in this business,” Lynne emphasizes.
Convinced, she approached Fiona with a proposal to set up a business selling kienyeji vegetables in Nairobi city. Nature’s Best Green Culture Ltd was thus born out of the sheer necessity to survive.
“After brainstorming we decided to sell precooked Kienyeji vegetables for the consumer’s convenience and in order to give it a longer shelf life. We thought it would also make us stand out from the crowd,” said Lynne.
A big value add was that their vegetables were organic as they were sourced from upcountry.
How we started precooking Kienyeji for Nairobians
Fiona was onboard and lent Lynne Ksh1500 which she immediately sent to her mom to source for Kienyeji vegetables. As soon as they landed in Nairobi, Lynne got down to sorting, cleaning, chopping and pre-cooking the organic greens. Once packed and frozen, she went online and posted. Orders streamed in and Nature’s Best Green Culture Ltd was officially in business. While their vegetables had a ready market they faced some logistical challenges.
“At that time we were facing a lot of challenges, we used to rely on Matatus to transport our luggage to Nairobi and many times our Kienyeji would arrive in Nairobi already spoilt because of poor storage and heat. There are times we would lose a whole consignment. So you can imagine that loss and she is pregnant with no external source of livelihood. Then the lockdown came in and we couldn’t access those vegetables from Kisii,“ said Fiona.
At some point, they tried sourcing the vegetables from Nairobi but quickly ran into headwinds. For one, their customers rejected the new vegetables as they didn’t like how they tasted, secondly they had a strange smell and thirdly they would rot much faster than the ones from Kisii. On hitting so many brick walls, they even abandoned the vegetable business for a Laundromat that never even took off.
“And we were actually going for that better option more, we wanted an office, we wanted a nice business where we would come to the office and start delegating duties like you do this, you do that (laughs) if clients asked us about our Kienyeji vegetables we would dismiss the idea completely but its like fate was pushing us into the Kienyeji business, that is where the goldmine is,” Fiona says.
August 2020 to June 2021 saw the two friends forced into a period of learning the ropes. They took time to really understand the ins and outs of their business from pricing, to logistics, to branding.
“We prayed over it since we are strong believers of God and we clearly saw signs that we need to go back to doing the Kienyeji vegetables business. We sat down and came with a plan to turn our idea into a proper business because clearly every other thing was not working out.”
With lockdowns out of the way, and logistics finally sorted out, a friend of Fiona loaned them Ksh 50,000. The money was only released when they had submitted a proper business proposal complete with a budget.
“Before we got the loan from my friend I went to Kisii to do more research since we still had the transport challenge. We also needed to connect and recruit local farmers. Our stock until that time was not a lot and we wanted to now do it in bulk. It was difficult to convince them but we talked to them and we even had to write a kienyeji contract to convince them of our good intentions, ” Fiona explains.
600kgs of Kienyeji vegetables sold every week
Nature’s Best Green Culture Ltd today sources 300 kgs of organic vegetables a week. On a good week, the company sells 600kg to different clients across Nairobi. It’s not only Kisii farmers who are reaping big, close to 25 vulnerable women from Mukuru Kwa Yaba slums are employed as casual labourers to sort and process the vegetables once the batches land in Nairobi.
Product diversity has also only gotten better with time. Nature’s Best Green Culture Ltd at the moment offers 9 different Kienyeji vegetables ranging from Managu to Terere. Their prices are also pocket friendly.
“We have 9 types of vegetables you can either buy plain or mixed. For managu, terere, pumpkin leaves, we sell them at KSh390 per kilo, saga plain goes for Sh490, then saga mixed with terere and mrenda mixed with pumpkin leaves goes for Sh440.” states Fiona.
“We have clients who buy our Kienyeji to take with them abroad. We even have clients who have been purchasing our Kienyeji to take to the USA so our products are all over and we are looking for distributors whom we can work with after getting our standardisation.” Lynne explains.
Lynne and Fiona are at the moment working on getting KEBS certified. In the near future, Nature’s Best Green Culture Ltd plans to make a foray into supermarkets . Fiona dreams of a time when traditional vegetables will be a much sought after cuisine.