HealthyDiets4Africa Living Lab: Celebrating Outstanding Youth Innovators in Agribusiness.

In a groundbreaking celebration of agricultural innovation, FSPN Africa, as a pivotal component of the European Union-funded HealthyDiets4Africa Project, proudly inaugurated the HealthyDiets4Africa initiative. The grand launch, held at the esteemed KALRO Kabete, served as a rallying point for the dynamic engagement of youth innovators spearheading a transformative revolution in the food system of Kenya

This momentous occasion unfolded as a blue-ribbon platform for the unveiling of four exceptional and pioneering solutions, carefully shortlisted through the rigorous process of The Youth in Agribusiness Innovators' Challenge. Emanating from the minds of talented young innovators, four solutions were passionately presented, unveiling the potential to redefine and elevate the agricultural landscape.

The overarching goal is to empower, strengthen, and shape these groundbreaking solutions, positioning them strategically for scalability. Through this strategic positioning, the aim is to enhance accessibility to safe and nutritionally rich foods, fostering a sustainable and resilient food system for the benefit of all.

We are thrilled to announce three winning innovations from Gavo Foods International, Ustawi Food and Onja Foods ranked positions one, two and three respectively. Our sincere congratulations to the three winners for creating solutions that are lifechanging on how we view our indigenous foods, consume them through value addition and ultimately improving nutrition status of consumers while also creating employment. Meet the winning innovations:

Gluten Free Flours by Lilian Bitok of Gavo Foods International

As we champion and celebrate the immense transition in technology in food industry Gavo Foods International takes better chances to pride in offering health solutions using underutilized foods which made them rank position one in the Youths in Agribusiness Innovators' Challenge bagging Ksh 250,000 under the stewardship of Lilian Bitok who carried the day.

With over 9 years of experience, in management, product development, and distribution gained from working with one of the leading insurance companies in Kenya. I made the decision to resign in 2021 to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. Additionally, I possess extensive knowledge in Web Development and Digital Marketing.

Interestingly, Lilian holds a Degree in Business and currently Co-founder and Director in charge of Marketing and Distribution at Gavo Foods International Ltd with specialization in marketing and leadership. With over 9 years of experience, in management, product development, and distribution gained from working with one of the leading insurance companies in Kenya she made moves in 2021 to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.

Shifting focus to the innovation, one of their distinctive peculiarities is the adaptability of their products to meet specific customer needs as motivation to being dynamic with changing times and consumer tastes.

Lilian Bitok pitching her innovation during the HealthyDiets4Africa Living Lab Launch on 19th October 2023.

“For instance, we offer specialized flour for baking designed for individuals with gluten intolerance.” Narrates Lilian Bitok.

They offer array of products with nexus on boosting the health of children.  “Our Children's Porridge is enriched with milk, providing a nutritious option tailored for young ones. Furthermore, our Medicinal Porridge Flour is fortified with Moringa, offering an extra layer of health benefits.” She added.

Before a child grows and start struggling with gluten challenges, Gavo is at the forefront of managing the situation while at an early stage. They are offering the solution with early introduction of products in the child’s diets as well as nutrition information guides about living with and managing gluten intolerance that is the main cause of celiac disease.

To improve the experience of making meals with their products, they have mounted recipes on packages and nutrition information that is meant to enhance sound decision making when choosing the products.

Their commitment to sustainability extends to the use of climate-resilient raw materials, such as cassava, millet and sorghum in developing their products. A part from enriching the flours, they make composite products guided by scientific knowledge that ensures the target consumers necessary nutrients.

A round of applause to Gavo foods limited for supporting smallholder farmers. They source their raw materials from them, ensuring them a guaranteed market. This not only supports local farmers in Uasin Gishu County but also contributes to the resilience of our supply chain.

Genesis of Gavo Foods Limited

Lilians draws inspiration from personal immense backlash struggles with gluten intolerance that went undiagnosed for a significant period of time. “It wasn't until I consulted a nutritionist at the gym who recommended the use of gluten-free products that I found relief.”

The nutrition solution she got turned into a transformation wheel that drove spillover of the solution to other consumers. In 2020 she started business her journey with her business partner who had conducted extensive research on gluten and together they decided to translate the research outcomes into an intervention by establishing their company.

Gavo Foods International Team celebrates after their innovations sealed the top position.

“Our journey took us to the Kenya Industrial Research Development Institute (KIRDI), where we delved deeper into research and development to create a gluten-free all-purpose flour for baking.”

Working with KIRDI primarily ensures that all processors meet standards of operation (SOP) in their processing and manufacturing ventures. Shifting focus to business nexus many individuals suffer from celiac disease with scanty information on the viable sustainable solution. Recognizing the emerging need for gluten-free products in Africa spotlighted a niche for Gavo Foods to exploit.

Establishing their business presented a share of challenges and opportunities that required dedication, perseverance, and collaboration to breakthrough. Notwithstanding, their aim is to make gluten-free products more accessible to a broader consumer, emphasizing the importance of dietary choices in overall well-being by creating awareness and promoting a healthy eating culture.

Scaling of the business

Lilian narrates that have been facing myriad challenges and the moment is the hustle of hiring dryer at a lumpsum cost as well as predisposition of their products due physical movement of their raw materials, and sharing of the drier which again has been attracting significant expenses in transportation.

Resorting to sun drying has been partially viable to the processing cycle, “At times, we are forced to resort to sun drying, which is difficult to regulate in terms of heat, and we also grapple with weather-related challenges.”

Winner Lilian Bitok Co-founder and Director Gavo Foods International (Right) poses for a photo with her Director Lilian Songok after winning Youth in Agribusiness Innovator's Challenge 2023.

To cut down on expenditures, iron out delays in fulfilling customer orders and ability to explore additional markets they will be Ksh 250,000 prize to build a medium-sized dryer, enabling them to address afore mention challenges, exponentially grow operations, meet market demand more efficiently, and expand our reach.

With burning motivation to go beyond Gavo Foods limited is envisioning to become a center of innovative agrifoods value addition in Kenya and beyond. We aspire to lead in the creation and promotion of healthier food options.

To achieve this aspiration, they are on a Mission to foster awareness of healthy eating habits in every household across Africa. This can come true through your support and meaningful partnerships at business capacity and community empowerment programs to reach more target consumers especially children; which affirms their firm believe that our well-being is intricately linked to the quality of the food we consume.

Instant Composite porridge flours by Judy Mwende of Ustawi Foods

Meet Judy Mwende Mutunga, a dedicated graduate of the University of Eldoret with a Bachelor of Science in Food Operation Management. She's not just a specialist in food production and nutrition; she's the visionary Founder and CEO of Ustawi Foods. Judy's journey draws back to 2021, which began with a realization of the market's niche in nutritious flour from novel and underutilized food varieties which are key options to combat malnutrition.

Driven by innovation, it crafts organic composite flour from indigenous ingredients like amaranth, pumpkin, sorghum, and millet, sequesters them in the market. Despite facing financial hurdles and a lack of guidance initially, Judy expressed tenacity and through partnerships with institutions such as BAYE AFRICA, she found support to navigate the entrepreneurial landscape.

Founder and CEO of Ustawi Foods Judy Mwende showcases one of her innovations.

Ustawi Foods isn't just about business; it's on a mission to revolutionize nutritional health solutions. It all starts at the food sources by training farmers on organic farming methods and minimizing post-harvest losses, where they're empowering communities to thrive.

The impact? Feedback is the benchmark for any business or manufacturer to pride about the quality of their products and solutions.  For their case, a large customer base is the Lactating mothers who have praised the flour for its taste and its reported benefits on increasing breast milk production.


But Judy's ambitions don't stop there. With a keen eye on scalability, Ustawi Foods is gearing up for expansion that involves ramping up production, bolstering marketing efforts, and fortifying distribution networks.

With milestones set to increase production capacity by 50% and expand market reach to lactating mothers in areas like Isiolo and Baringo, there's work to be done.

That's where the prize of Ksh 150,000 comes in. They plan to allocate it wisely, earmarking it for market research and product development. This strategic investment will fuel the innovation’s growth by better understanding customer needs and broadening their consumer base.

First Runner-Up Judy Mwende receives her award from FSPN Africa's Regional Director Mr. Kalvince Otieno.

Linking to the aforementioned products, they also have peanuts and honey which have proven nutritional benefits that are vital for growth and immunological functions.

As Judy and Ustawi Foods continue their journey, their commitment to innovation and nutrition remains unwavering. With the right support and strategic investments, they're not just building a business—they're shaping a healthier, more resilient society, one flour at a time.

Cassava, Sorghum, Pearl millet, Sweet, Sweet Potato, Chickpea Flours and Pastries by Mary Karoki from Onja foods.

Onja Foods, a pioneering venture in the realm of underutilized and nutritious alternative foods to wheat sourced products, has been on a remarkable journey since its inception in 2018. Founded by Mary Karoki, a visionary entrepreneur with a passion for food and nutrition security, Onja Foods has successfully harnessed the potential of underutilized indigenous crops like cassava, sorghum, pearl millet, sweet potato, and chickpea to create a range of wheat-free products, from flours to pastries.

Second Runners-Up award from FSPN Africa's Regional Director Mr. Kalvince Otieno.

They serve an array of consumers that accommodates those with medical disorder such as celiac disease that is exacerbated by gluten intolerance and those who are health conscious and value the lifestyle of Africa cuisine tastes in their diets.

Their vision revolves around promoting food security and preventative nutrition, and its mission is to foster healthy and prosperous consumers. Notable achievements include product development they produce a variety of products from the flours, certification of all flours, successful customer acquisition and retention, building a strong brand name, media features in Newspapers and magazines, and grant awards. Here is their journey

Journey from IT to Food Processing

The journey began in 2018 when the founder, having left conventional employment, incorporated groceries deliveries into a cleaning business. It was during this time that she discovered cassava flour and through her personal research, delved into the world of gluten-free alternatives.

Recognizing the gap in the market, Mary aligned their venture with the then national big 4 agenda on Food Security, focusing on the drought-tolerant cassava as a sustainable source of nutrition.

With guidance from a mentor and training from KIRDI, the founder registered Onja Foods in December 2018. Certification for cassava flour and starch followed in 2019, marking a crucial step in their commitment to quality and standards.

“Through research I did learn of KIRDI, approached them and later got training on how to produce cassava flour and starch and at this point I did register for certification for the same and began the process of certification.” Mary narrated. This process happened between Feb and May where the certifications were acquired.

Along the initial market outreach to family members and friends, they revealed a demand for porridge composite flour, leading to further research and the development of innovative products such as sweet potato flour. “I did develop a porridge composite flour and sweet potato flour.” She highlighted.

They begun value addition of their flour products pastries and journey involved a lot of learning and unlearning, as the founder navigated the challenges of self-taught entrepreneurship considering Food Science and Processing was not her initial trained profession.

“In 2021, Onja Foods expanded its list of goodies to include pastries, a decision influenced by consumer demand for end products.” She underscored.

Mary Karoki showcases some of the products from Onja Foods.

Additionally, in their market scale up, Pop-up markets to interact with customers, paved way into retail market opportunities and was an eyeopener to strong digital presence that became key elements in raising awareness and driving sales.

Looking ahead

Onja Foods has ambitious plans for 2024, including the establishment of a production facility and expanding its B2B customer base. To achieve these goals, they are seeking to utilize the prize won, Ksh 100,000, in a strategic manner. The funds will be allocated towards setting up a production space, finalizing the purchase of a small drier with a top-up of acquiring a stainless-steel table and boosting the pastry business through investment in raw materials and packaging.

This win is a testament to Onja Foods' commitment to innovation and growth, as they continue to make a positive impact by providing healthy food choices to an ever-growing consumer base.

The HealthyDiets4Africa, a European Union funded Project is turning out to be immensely valuable for young entrepreneurs. The innovators challenge accolade not only validate our successes by young food system actors but also provides a platform for continued growth and improvement.

More Reading: Agile Action on Food Systems: Unveiling the Impactful Journey of HealthyDiets4Africa Living Lab in Kenya

FSPN Africa is already working jointly with BAYE in providing coaching experience that is particularly empowering, and providing entrepreneurs an opportunity to reflect on their deep-seated leadership challenges and leapfrog scale up of their business for sustainability and profitability

Congratulations to all the 31 young innovators who made it to being shortlisted the challenge. Their commitment made it possible to kickstart the first cohort of HD4A Living Lab. Together we are making stride of creating innovative solutions that will propel access to healthy indigenous foods.