In Nairobi, Only Two Organic Restaurants Serve Four Million People

In Nairobi, Only Two Organic Restaurants Serve Four Million People

But despite this high demand for organic foods, supply is often problematic.

“There are hardly any farmers who grow their crops organically,” said Wamwea.

The restaurant sought out a group of farmers in the nearby Murang’a County and trained them on growing of organic foods. Wamwea says he does not purchase his foodstuffs from just any supplier, preferring to use the farmers trained by the restaurant.

Healthy Foods clients also include tourists who want to sample organic foods from Kenya. But among local clients, Wamwea says he has observed a worrying trend over the past three years he has been the restaurant’s manager. “Children visit this restaurant with their parents but refuse to eat the organic foods, preferring to visit the nearby fast foods restaurants,” he said. He attributes this to a misconception that organic foods are not sweet, making them unpopular among young children and teenagers.

The other organic foods restaurant, Bridges Organic Foods, is also in the city center. The restaurant claimed they source their foodstuffs from members of the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), the umbrella body that links organic farmers and organizations in the country.

Reputation is critical in the organic foods industry, because customers can only trust that the food is really organic.

“How does one confirm that what is served at those restaurants is truly organic, anyway?” asks Grace Wambui, a 21-year old accountant who frequents a fast food restaurant. She cannot afford organic food, she says, due to its high cost – although she would love to eat healthy.

Cultivating customer confidence about the organic quality of the food is perhaps the hard part. Most farmers in Kenya are known to use excess chemicals to grow their crops with the intention of getting high yields and ensuring fast maturity.

“Others use excessive chemicals to control pests and diseases, some of which have been banned. Such crops have high chemical residual levels that are lethal to consumers,” says John Njoroge, the director of the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming.

These chemicals lead to a lot of serious health conditions. Cancer cases are growing at alarming levels, while the incidence of diabetes and other lifestyle diseases has escalated. Njoroge said that many people are increasingly becoming conscious of what they eat due to rigorous campaigns advocating healthy eating. This explains the rise in demand for organic foods, he said.

These health awareness campaigns are spearheaded by Kenya Cancer Awareness, Diabetes Kenya and other similar organizations. With a rapidly-growing middle class population who are becoming increasingly conscious of what they eat, local organic farmer Dr. Wanjiku Kamau says the organic foods market is largely unexploited. Both local and international investors should give it serious thought, she says.

Dr. Kamau has been seeking partners to collaborate with her in harnessing the unexploited market.

“Because of the high demand and premium prices, I have been encouraging farmers to grow organic foods using greenhouses,” she said.

There is only one market in Nairobi that sells organic foods only. The market operates on Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The local farmers, who are all KOAN members, go to the Karen organic farmers market six miles from the capital to seek buyers for their organic produce and organic products such as oils.