Her dream to have an export business came with barriers. At produce stall to produce stall in Dubai, she was rejected and dismissed on gender and age. However,she was determined. The last stalls, Fresh Fruits Company, boosted her confidence to make entrepreneurship a realistic goal.
“…Thirteen years later, Fresh Fruits continues to be our prime customer having supported us all these years,” Eunice wrote in an e-mail to the World Bank.
Ms. Mwongera is CEO of Hillside Green Growers in Kenya. The family-run export business works with small scale farmers from eastern and central Nairobi provinces to produce fruits and vegetables for the Middle East and Europe.
The vegetables and fruits that are exported include, Kenya French beans, mange tout, sugar snaps, baby corn, avocado, mangoes , passion fruit and Asian vegetables including okra and ravaya.
Eunice has 20 full-time staff and 100-150 temporary lay workers for daily calls. The majority of packing houses recruit single mothers in the largest slum of Kibera, Kenya where help is in urgent need.
“….We are humbled to support and provide jobs for them to earn a living,” Eunice wrote in her e-mail.
In summer of 2009, Eunice was nominated a Borlaug Fellowship to visit Louisiana State University to learn about horticultural methods and best practices in the field for several weeks. After her visit, she was able to teach her farmers organic manure preparation, organic fish farming, and financial skills such as forming co-ops, conducting cost analysis, and setting up business plan writing.
She said the key differences between US and Kenya in farming is the lack of collaboration and knowledge capacity, technical expertise and trainings.
“US government and institutions facilitate information and technical assistance to farmers and entrepreneurs … this does not happen in Kenya,” she wrote. “Farmers and entrepreneurs are on their own, on the contrary, we are heavily taxed through customs and fees.”
Hillside is just the beginning for Eunice’s enterprise. In the last two years, she’s also working with 20 ladies from East Central Africa who have business experience. They created a brand called Dabdii export that will merchandise lifestyle and food products. Dabdii is the only women export house in Africa. Its membership is drawn from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and Ethiopia.
“The core group is equipped the strong foundational entrepreneurial skills- like no other. Its products will have an east Africa brand name into global market,” she wrote.
Still, the direction of Africa’s agricultural export business in relation to food security is unclear. Eunice points to mounting pressures at the Ministry of Agriculture to organize and act accordingly on addressing widening disparity of the haves and have nots and formulating farming incentives.
“Agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy,” she noted.