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King of the nuts: Patrick Wainaina

Patrick Wainaina Founder & CEO of Jungle Nuts

Kenyan food company Jungle Nuts was formed out of a mission to lower the country’s high unemployment rates. “It’s a big problem when your brothers, sisters and cousins are all unemployed,” Jungle Nuts Founder and CEO Patrick Wainaina tells The CEO Magazine. “So I thought there must be something I could do about it.”

After working as a production engineer at the Kenya Nut Company, Patrick used the skills and knowledge he gained to branch out and start his own business. Established in 2004 under the initial name, Sawa Africa EPZ, the company specialised in producing macadamia and cashew nuts. Its macadamias are grown in the mineral-rich soil of Mount Kenya and
its cashews are grown along the Kenyan coastal strip.

Patrick Wainaina Founder & CEO of Jungle Nuts
Patrick Wainaina, Founder & CEO of Jungle Nuts

The company later changed its name to Jungle Nuts and, over the years, continued to grow, eventually reaching one of Patrick’s main objectives – to employ 2,000 people. “That is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Patrick. “We need to create many more jobs and we need to have an idea that creates jobs – not just white-collar jobs but blue-collar jobs as well. We need to lead the youth to be able to generate jobs so that everybody is able to employ two or three people.”

Farmers are number one

Jungle Nuts considers its farmers as its main priority. Patrick highlights that the farmers need to be well taken care of to ensure the company delivers high-quality products to its consumers. “We take our farmers very seriously because that is where the value chain begins,” Patrick says. “We are very careful about our farmers because they are our number one suppliers. Next to them come our workers. Here at Jungle, we say we are nuts by choice because everybody is so wired and passionate about what they do.”

“We take our farmers very seriously because that is where the value chain begins.”

To further support its farmers, the company developed two apps, J-Shamba and J-Hela, which streamline and safeguard the purchasing process. Farmers are registered through J-Shamba and the app can be connected to a set of scales and a printer via bluetooth when it comes time for purchasing.

In 2009, Kenya banned the export of raw nuts but one of the biggest challenges Jungle Nuts faces is smuggling by overseas traders. “This has been a very big problem for us because Chinese traders go to rural areas in Kenya and buy macadamias,” Patrick says, describing how they are then typically smuggled to Tanzania and on to China. “They’ve been smuggling 10%–20% of our total macadamia production. Unfortunately, as they smuggle, they do not bring in anything that can develop the industry. This has been a big problem but we’re working with the government to see what more can be done.”

“‘J’ stands for jungle and ‘shamba’ means farm,” Patrick explains. “When we developed J-Shamba, we were addressing two issues; pricing and weight. We use electronic scales and make sure that the price is set in our server.” The system also delivers a personalised experience for farmers.

“When you’re using a broker, the farmer has no name and does not know which company they are selling to,” Patrick continues. “With the app, the farmer and the company are identified. The farmer is very proud to be selling to Jungle Nuts
and Jungle Nuts is extremely proud to be dealing with them.”

Another benefit of this app is that when the farmers go in to complete the purchase, they can also receive training on the best ways to store the nuts and proper harvesting techniques. The second app, J-Hela, handles money transfers. “It’s very important to ensure that farmers get their money in a timely fashion,” Patrick says. “When we purchase from the farmer using the app, we can pay them immediately for their produce.”

An employment ecosystem

Jungle Nuts has continued to expand over the years and is now focusing on organic foods. It produces organic macadamias, cashews and avocado (exported fresh to Europe) and organic dried fruit. It also produces macadamia oil, avocado oil and moringa.

At the end of the day, Patrick continues with his mission of generating employment in Kenya. “We want farmers to make as much money as the teacher or engineer next door,” he says. “If the farmer sticks to farming, we can be sure that if they expand, then Jungle Nuts will too.”

Patrick Wainaina Founder & CEO of Jungle Nuts

Patrick further describes the additional advantages that come with supporting farmers. “The more you work with the farmers, the more they learn proper management skills and how to ensure their farming method is efficient,” he explains.

“And when they work with a lot of other farmers who are doing the right thing, there’s a sort of synergy that happens. “These farmers have cows,” Patrick continues. “And once they plant macadamia, they get the husk and give it to the cows. Then they get the cow dung which goes back to the farm; it’s a whole ecosystem.

One strategy the company uses to strengthen the collective farmer synergy is by paying them in clusters. “There are 100 farmers per cluster,” Patrick says. “What happens is that once they’re in these clusters they not only discuss macadamias and cashews, and the like, but they are also able to discuss their own activities as a village. They can discuss other avenues of making money.

“Every cluster is lead by a cluster head who is our employee. There’s an internal democracy in the cluster where we have a chairman, a treasurer and a secretary, whom they choose themselves. As we do this, we are also empowering the rural community to be in charge of their own affairs.”

The next step

With the company’s success in the macadamia market, Jungle Nuts’ next plan is to become a major exporter of fresh avocado. It is also on the way to exporting its own organic coffee. “All these efforts take us one step closer to our overall objectives,” Patrick says. “We are very happy with our customers and we tell them, ‘If you buy anything from Jungle Nuts, whether it is macadamia or avocado oil, you’re touching the lives of 100,000 farmers in Kenya and beyond.’”

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