Akili Group’s ecosystem approach in community engagement

Akili Group’s ecosystem approach in community engagement


When Akili was founded in 2010, ecosystem thinking was embedded in the DNA of the business through the inclusive value chain model. “We were intentional about creating value and sharing it with all stakeholders, cascading the benefits to the smallholders we set out to work with,” explains Haron Wachira, Akili Group’s founder.

No individual organization is able to address all the complex issues that affect smallholder agriculture in Kenya. To cite a few: lack of agronomy training and knowledge, lack of access to water, further exacerbated by climate change and irregular rain patterns, poor resilience and adaptability among many other challenges, little or no money to buy necessary inputs and lack of assured access to market. Akili’s inclusive value chain model rides on an ecosystem approach to harness the tools, networks and partnerships required to address the multiplicity of challenges that must be addressed to lift a community out of poverty.

In Haron Wachira’s words, “All interventions need to be designed  to work together in a multiplicity of ways in order to support one objective.”  

Wachira says this to explain how ecosystem thinking has been influencing his enterprises since the 90s. He has applied this philosophy of businesses across various sectors including computer sales and publishing. 

“All things have to be able to work together in a multiplicity of ways in order to support one objective.”

Starting with the church community in Kangema, the Inclusive value chain model has been tested and refined through the work of Akili across various value chains including spinach, coffee, beekeeping, in different communities. The approach has demonstrated increased resilience and impact in rural communities, and like most things, it’s gotten better with time. Click here to read more about Akili’s First Community. 

“While working in Kangema, in the first Akili community, training and helping families to nurture vegetable gardens, we found in time that a family had more vegetables than they could consume. Soon we were drying, and storing so that a family could keep the vegetables for a whole year. This was the inspiration behind Akili Foods’ stinging nettle and moringa powders” Click here to find out more about Akili Foods Products.

“The approach has demonstrated increased resilience and impact in rural communities.”

Fast forward to 2023, the Inclusive value chain model is being implemented at scale with more than 300,000 farmers. At its core, the Inclusive value chain model was designed to create a platform for collaboration in order to serve communities. The approach has evolved over time, to include several key pillars. 

In this blog, we explore just one of these pillars – perhaps, the most foundational idea behind the approach. The inclusive value chain model, aims to respond to a critical issue endemic to agricultural value chains in Africa – the exclusion of smallholder farmers in value systems. As meaningful contributors to value chains, these small producers deserve a share of the “real value.” This concept of sharing value backwards to the producer was first piloted by Akili through its inaugural work in the milk value chain where farmers received a dramatically higher price for their produce than their counterparts by selling their milk to Akili. 

“We created a value system where we organized the milk to be collected from the farmers; to be taken to the aggregation center and then sold in retail stores. On the first day, we sold milk at 60 Ksh per liter. After all costs, farmers were earning double what they would otherwise have earned.” 

This is an important concept, because, as demonstrated by a study undertaken by UNDP. Cost smallholder farmers run loss making agri-enterprises. Sharing the real value enables farmers to profit from their labor as opposed to operating at a loss. Farmer Wanjku is able to sell her produce at the correct market price, so as to get a share in the profit that every party involved in the value chain enjoys. This necessitates providing the farmer with market information, agronomy training and providing third party support in components like value addition. This ultimately unlocked her access to the value chain and returned better value for Wanjiku. 

Over the years, we have learned that to work with farmer groups, there is a need to have a proper understanding of their specific challenges and needs in relation to farming and community well – being as a whole. In order to increase reach and realize sustainable impact, an initial bond of trust needs to be established by working together with communities. On the frontline are Akili’s Ambassadors who are individuals from within the community that understand the culture, the real struggles, and the needs of their fellow neighbors and community. This entire approach is not unique. Similar to the Community Engagement and Accountability approach that is adopted by organizations such as the Red Cross, it boils down to an ecosystem approach, where stakeholders co-create shared value. 

In more recent times, this is also being applied in Akili’s work in carbon-offset funded projects. In Nyandarua, Laikipia and Nyeri, through the DGB/Akili Hongera Project, communities are provided with energy efficient Cookstoves and fruit and shade trees as a first, primary benefit. Investors get enough carbon credit income to refund their investment and leave them with profit. A portion of carbon credit income is shared back with the source community, from where the carbon credits are earned.

Communities also enjoy secondary benefits, which fund various strategic community improvements including scholarships, water infrastructure, health clinics, nutritional education and facilitation and agronomy training for both the carbon credit generating trees and also for other crops. In this way, the circumstances in which the members of our communities live are holistically improved.

The secondary benefits can only be enjoyed if the registered groups adhere to the set requirements. This incentivizes them to, not only remain accountable, but to keep each other accountable. This then adds a sense of benefit- based accountability to the existing community based accountability model. The result? Improved effectiveness, concrete results and heightened impact. 

The big idea of the Inclusive value chain is that every party involved benefits.

The big idea of the Inclusive value chain is that every party involved benefits. From the farmer that plants and harvests the crops to the final consumer that purchases a quality product for their consumption. At the beginning of this chain is the farmer, who needs support to address myriad challenges and bottlenecks in order to be a meaningful contributor to value chains. 

Challenges in implementing this approach do exist. There are many. They are myriad. However, by focusing on a broader network effect, where all stakeholders enjoy value, the model has demonstrated more resilience and increased impact.