With their app Tekeya, entrepreneurs Menna Shahin and Maxim Haartsen are working to reduce food waste in Cairo by bringing unsold meals to the people who need them most.
Egypt’s poverty rate hovers near 30 percent, leaving millions of people hungry or food insecure. More than 20 percent of the country’s young children suffer from stunting caused by malnutrition. At the same time, food waste in Egypt is among the worst in the world. Each year, the average Egyptian throws out more than 70 kilograms (154 pounds) of food, placing the country in the top 10 percent of waste producers worldwide. This phenomenon closely follows the calendar—during Ramadan, about half of the food at iftar buffets, where many Muslims break their fast, goes uneaten throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
“I think most of us realize that food waste exists, and most of us cringe when we see it happening but then tend to look away,” Shahin says. In 2019, while watching waiters at a sushi restaurant toss out huge amounts of fresh food, she and Haartsen decided enough was enough. The pair launched Tekeya soon after.
Once users download the app, they can order meals to go, either paying a small delivery fee or picking their food up from one of eight locations spread throughout Cairo. Each meal sells for half of its original price—bringing money to restaurants that would otherwise throw surplus food in the garbage.
“I started doing some research on the Web, and I came across a few companies in Europe who set up this model,” Haartsen says. “We looked at that model and thought we could replicate this in Egypt.”
The partners had their fair share of growing pains. Food producers didn’t always realize what they stood to gain from Tekeya, and that made finding partners difficult. “They first need to understand it,” Haartsen tells Food Tank. “Once they get it,” he explains, “they love it.”
So far, Tekeya reports that they have saved almost 16,000 meals from the landfill. The company also works to reach underserved groups who can’t use the app.
“Of course, some people can’t pay the delivery fee,” Haartsen explains. That’s why Tekeya also offers a donation track. Users can choose to buy meals for themselves or to donate them to any of 75 certified charities around the city. In this way, the app helps relatives across the world buy food for their loved ones.
“We had an Egyptian lady who lived and worked in Germany download our app and donate a couple boxes of mangoes,” Haartsen tells Food Tank. “So from a totally different country, she helps a local provider not throw food away and helps feed the people.”
Many of the app’s current users are environmentally-conscious young people, looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. According to the company, Tekeya has prevented nearly 40,000 kilograms (88,000 pounds) of carbon dioxide emissions caused by food waste. Young mothers and other deal-seekers also download the app.
Going forward, Haartsen and Shahin look to expand their donation track. The pair have partnered with a local refugee aid organization called Threads of Hope and will provide food for dozens of refugee women as they find their footing in a new country.
Noah is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he’s pursuing a double BA in Environmental Studies and Global Studies. He’s a big fan of sustainability, food justice, and foraging, and is thrilled to pursue his passion for storytelling with Food Tank.
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