East Africa Fruits: The voices behind the vision

MCE Social Capital
5 min readMar 24, 2023

By Emma Rucker

This innovative social enterprise has uplifted and empowered thousands of subsistence farmers in Tanzania, and has set their sights further on transforming the agricultural sector in East Africa.

There was once a time when Beatrice, a smallholder farmer in Kahe village, struggled to support her family and couldn’t afford to send her children to quality schools. Burdened with debt, Beatrice was challenged like many other smallholder farmers in Tanzania to find financial security amidst market barriers and unpredictable challenges with the land. But smallholders working in Tanzania’s agricultural sector make up the backbone of the country’s economy, with agriculture representing one third of the GDP, and their struggle to support themselves is indicative of a deeper need.

A Look into Tanzanian Agriculture

Located to the east of Africa’s great lakes, Tanzania is a country known for its diverse and rich culture, wildlife, and agricultural sector. While over 75% of the population rely on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods, Tanzanian farmers are faced with many barriers to sustainable livelihoods, and often find themselves living below the poverty line. A large majority are smallholder farmers who rely on traditional methods of farming and lack access to necessary inputs such as modern technology, high-quality seedlings, fertilizer, and irrigation.

Farmers receive training from EAF staff

The barriers farmers face are not exclusively tied to their production efficacy, but also access to markets to sell their produce. Many farmers have difficulty finding buyers for their crops, which limits their ability to generate income. This is particularly true for smallholder farmers, who often lack the resources to transport their crops to larger markets. In addition, Tanzania has not escaped the mounting impacts of climate change, especially within rural communities. More frequent droughts and floods leave farmers with damaged crops, overwhelmed by unpredictable weather patterns and unequipped to build back with more resilient strategies.

Bridging the Gap

Determined to address the root causes of these barriers and improve the lives of Tanzanian farmers, Elia Timotheo, a native of Tanzania, founded East Africa Fruits (EAF) in 2015. With a vision to eliminate food waste in East Africa with efficient food distribution systems while ensuring that smallholder farmers have a stable and growing source of income, EAF focuses on supporting farmers to grow high-quality crops such as potatoes, bananas, onions and rice. They work to improve farmer incomes and access to markets by reducing post-harvest losses and adding value to fresh produce through quality and timely delivery. Their unique business to business structure connects farmers directly to informal vendors, hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. After seven years in operation, they now support nearly 5,000 smallholder farmers on crop planning, upgrading farm side infrastructure and transition to sustainable practices.

CEO Elia Timotheo shares what makes EAF special and his vision for the company.

One such farmer is Willy, who was struggling to invest in his land and provide for himself. Once he started working with EAF, their guidance and resources allowed him to begin dreaming of a better life. He was able to buy three more plots of land with the increased income he received. He also gives back to his community by providing employment opportunities — he’s been able to buy several motorbikes and hire some of his young peers as drivers to make additional income.

Creating Transformative Impact

Willy is just one of many smallholder farmers benefiting from the increased income and sustainable farming training provided by EAF. A recent study by 60 Decibels found just how impactful EAF’s work is in the lives of smallholder farmers. Their survey of EAF participants found that 90% of farmers report improved quality of life, one saying, “My income has increased due to their price offers so I have been able to provide for my family and I have started to build our house.” Another expressed,

“I have been able to pay my children’s school fees and I support my family in general from the money I earn after selling potatoes [to EAF].”

As a result of EAF’s training in sustainable farming techniques, 91% of farmers reported an improvement in their farming practices. By promoting sustainable farming, EAF is not only protecting the environment, they are also helping to enhance the livelihoods of the farmers they work with. One smallholder said, “They taught me new techniques on how to increase my banana production by controlling crop pests and improving soil fertility.” Another shared,

“I applied everything they taught — how to prepare land, irrigate and use fertilizer. My yield increased from 80 bags per acre to over 100 bags per acre.”

EAF is also making an impact by creating jobs and promoting economic development in the region. The company’s operations have created employment opportunities for thousands of people, from farmers to packers to truck drivers. Like Willy, many partners of EAF find themselves in a position to expand their business and hire more employees. This has a positive impact on local communities and stimulates a wave of economic growth in the region.

EAF client Rashid (second left) with his team at his local restaurant.

The Power of Partnership

After being introduced in 2017, MCE recognized a deep commitment to uplifting the community in Founder Elia Timotheo and CFO Diana Michael, as well as the know-how and innovative spirit needed to make their vision a reality. Two years later, EAF joined MCE’s Small and Growing Business (SGB) Portfolio and received their first loan from MCE. Their programs uplifting smallholder farmers with few resources and spreading sustainable and climate-friendly farming practices embodied MCE’s mission to empower families living in poverty to build a better future. MCE’s investment team has been impressed with their business operations and vision.

“What EAF does in cutting out the middleman and increasing farmers’ access to market is relatively straightforward, but they do it exceptionally well. They listen to their customers’ needs and are constantly improving,” says Laura Lueken, Senior Investment Analyst at MCE.

After successful repayment of their first loan, MCE disbursed a second loan to EAF of $500k in October 2022. We believe Elia and Diana’s team are just getting started on their journey to transform the agricultural sector in East Africa. As they bring more and more smallholder farmers like Beatrice and Willy into the fold, their impact will have positive ripple effects on the lives and land of rural communities in Tanzania and beyond.

As an impact-first investor, MCE is proud to be on the journey with them.

EAF CFO Diana Michael (left) with MCE Director of Business Development & Communications Christina Lukeman outside Dar Es Salaam during due diligence in July 2022

Visit mcesocap.org to learn more about MCE Social Capital and our commitment to improving livelihoods through inclusive finance.

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MCE Social Capital

MCE is a nonprofit impact investing firm that mobilizes capital to generate economic opportunity for women and rural families living in poverty. mcesocap.org