2019 Winner

Hungry cities: Inclusive food markets in Africa


The Inspire Challenge is an initiative to challenge partners, universities, and others to use CGIAR data to create innovative pilot projects that will scale. We look for novel approaches that democratize data-driven insights to inform local, national, regional, and global policies and applications in agriculture and food security in real time; helping people–especially smallholder farmers and producers–to lead happier and healthier lives.

This proposal was selected as a 2019 winner, with the team receiving 100,000 USD to put their ideas into practice. 

Food systems serving low-income, urban populations feed billions of consumers around the world, yet they can be challenging to analyze due to data gaps. To gain insights into the metropolitan Nairobi food system, the project proposes to analyze five years of commercial data on 17 fruit and vegetable crops from more than 20,000 farmers and 12,000 retailers and wholesale markets. Insights will support data-driven policy engagement, improve business decisions, and further research on the role of fresh fruits and vegetables (FFV) in reducing nutritional deficiencies in low-income populations.

Low-income populations in Nairobi have decreased access to FFV, which plays a key role in determining nutritional status; they disproportionately face iron and vitamin A deficiencies, and most households cite availability and cost as the main constraints to FFV consumption.

Because the food systems that feed low-income, urban populations in Nairobi contain multiple actors from fork to farm, both formal and informal, only partial or, in some cases, even contradictory information exists about the availability of products, consumption patterns, and price dynamics.

To close this data gap and improve access to affordable FFV, the project proposes to analyze five years of commercial fruit and vegetable crop data collected from the more than 20,000 farmers and 12,000 retailers in the Nairobi metropolitan food system by Twiga Foods, a Nairobi based start-up.

Founded in 2014, Twiga Foods offers market-based solutions through an innovative business-to-business model. Using mobile technology, Twiga Foods has captured five years of market demand data for 17 fruit and vegetable crops from more than 20,000 farmers and 12,000 small-scale vendors.

The data-driven insights generated by this project will help identify inefficiencies in FFV production and distribution, assist policy makers in identifying sustainable solutions to providing healthy, safe, and affordable food to a growing urban population in Nairobi and beyond.


The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT coordinates the project’s research activities, leads in designing consumer data capture tools, and conducts data analysis and modelling for private sector decision-making and policy action. 

Twiga Foods leads in developing the applications for data collection at the wholesale and retail levels. The applications will be deployed to more than 12,000 retailers currently working with Twiga Foods.

Step by step

October 2019

Project awarded US$100K Inspire Challenge grant

The project was one of four winners of the Inspire Challenge 2019 and was awarded US$100K at the Convention of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture, during 16-18 October, 2019.

January 2020

App and survey development

The Twiga team developed the data collection app, and the CIAT team surveyed market wholesalers, retailers, and consumers.

Phto: A. Vezina / Bioversity International. Dessert bananas on display at a fruit and vegetable market in Nairobi, Kenya.

March - April 2020

High frequency consumer surveys with COVID-19 adaptations

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Nairobi, Kenya as the team was set to begin consumer surveys about fruit and vegetable consumption. In response, the team added survey questions related to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

Due to COVID-19 lockdown measures, the 2,465 households were surveyed via phone interviews.

Through the surveys, the team sought to understand how consumers’ food security and nutrition were impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,  as well as the  government’s policies in response.

June 2020

Phone surveys shed light on dire food insecurity in Nairobi slums

As the team collected high-frequency data via phone interviews from thousands of households, it became apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affected access, affordability, and consumption of nutritious foods, especially for low-income consumers in Nairobi.

While the calls paint a grim picture of residents lacking access to water and income and facing high rates of disease, careful listening helps researchers find details and granularity that reveal food system flows and food consumption patterns before and during the crisis, and develop better approaches for a post-COVID recovery.

Click here to read transcripts of phone interviews with residents of Kibera and Mathare, the two largest slums of Nairobi.

A woman sells tomatoes at a market in a slum of Nairobi, Kenya during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: UN Habitat/K.Milhahn.

June - November 2020

Data leveraged to address consumer needs

In response to the team’s data on the negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on food security and nutrition, Twiga Foods reduced prices for fresh fruits and vegetables, specifically in Nairobi slum areas.

Additionally, the team collaborated with the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health and Nutrition to improve the diets of low-income consumers during the pandemic. They shared their big data analysis on consumer impacts to inform government and private sector responses to the crisis.

Watch the video below for more info on how the project helped get fresh fruits and vegetables to the people who needed them the most:

July 2020

Working paper published on the impact of COVID-19 on diets of poor consumers in Nairobi

A working paper on the impact of COVID-19 on diets of poor consumers in Nairobi, Kenya was published based on the primary data the team collected from 2,465 households between April and May 2020. 

The report finds that roughly 90% of households in the Nairobi slums reported dire food insecurity situations. They were not able to eat the kind of foods they preferred, they ate a limited variety of foods, a smaller meal than they felt they needed and fewer number of meals in a day. 

In addition to the analysis, the report presents several factors associated with quality food consumption during the pandemic and advocates for the inclusion of vulnerable consumers in policy design and implementation.

Access the full working paper

November 2020

Second cycle of consumer data collection

A second round of data collection began for the same 2,465 households. The survey included both the standard set of consumer questions, as well as follow-up questions to the COVID-19-specific question to understand how COVID-19-related policy changes affected fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.

November 2020

Five million data points analyzed

The team analyzed a Twiga Foods dataset which captures the different types of foods sold in markets in low and middle-income areas. The dataset spans from May 2019 through October 2020 and contains five million data points.

From this analysis, the team sought to identify gaps in the types of foods retailers make available to consumers and make intervention recommendations aimed at improving consumers’ food security and nutrition.

February 2021

Third cycle of consumer data collection

The 5Q approach was used to capture consumer trends in the third round of data collection  with the same 2,465 households that were first surveyed in March 2020.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Project News and Resources

Big data helping low-income consumers in Nairobi better access fresh fruit and vegetables

Big data helping low-income consumers in Nairobi better access fresh fruit and vegetables

Underused data, big data analytics, and ICT survey tools promise to reveal new and useful insights into the complex, multi-actor ...