Since 2015, the Kenyan small business, Safi Organics, has been producing organic fertilizer. They’ve had great success, not only with the yields of the organically fertilized fields improving, but also with the climate benefits due to the fertilizers being biochar-based. in cooperation with the international initiative Water and Energy for Food (WE4F), production is now expanding.
The fertilizer that smallholder farmer, Solomon Rigoh, spreads on his field shines black and fertile. He spreads it with his bare hand, which he can do safely. Farmer Rigoh uses a natural fertilizer from Safi Organics that does not contain any potentially corrosive chemicals.
Chemical fertilizers are known to ensure fast and lush growth. However, they have a downside; plants become more susceptible to pests, their taste suffers, and crops such as fruits and vegetables spoil faster. The biggest problem, however, is that soils become hard and acidic. It is estimated that one third of the world’s agricultural land is so degraded from over-fertilization that it is virtually impossible to farm there. Or it is only possible through the use of even more fertilizer, for which small farmers, especially in India and Africa, have to spend large amounts of their meagre incomes. The biofertilizer company Safi Organics, founded in 2015, wants to break this cycle of poverty.
Orginally, Founder Joyce Kamande and her business partner, Samuel Rigoh, were trying to solve another problem. “Initially, we were trying to figure out what to do with this waste. The huge biomass waste that is just thrown alongside the road,” Joyce says. Plant residues and agriculture biomass waste are often swept up and burned at the roadside in Kenya, and the smoke from the small fires is omnipresent. The idea was to press the waste into briquettes and sell them as fuel. “We started with briquettes, but we didn’t even manage to boil a pot of tea with them,” Joyce remembers laughing. The idea of making mosquito coils was also uneconomic, to say the least: “The problem was that these mosquito coils would go for about six hours, where the normal mosquito coils in the market were running for about eight hours.” So, what to do with the waste from the roadside?
Organic fertilizer is a boon for the environment and climate
The answer was found after a little research and an initial test. Safi Organics sold the first 20 bags of their new product –the biofertilizer –to smallholder farmer Mr. Dan. After the first harvest, Dan came back to celebrate. “We knew it would add to increase the yields,” says Joyce, but Dan had doubled his harvest! Spurred on by this success, Joyce and Rigoh set up their small business in2015. Today, they supply six thousand smallholder farmers with their carbon negative, high yielding, organic fertilizer. This is a huge success -not only for Safi Organics. It is also good for the environment and the climate. The small company’s biofertilizer is not only free of artificially added chemicals. It is a carbon-negative fertilizer that binds up to 1.7 tons of harmful climate gases from the atmosphere every year. In addition, the fertilizer improves soil quality so much that up to 30 percent less water is used. Chemical fertilizer makes the soil so hard that no water can seep into it. Organic fertilizer makes it so loose that it stores water better. But more than that -the fertilizer also saves money, partly because it is cheaper and partly because the harvests are better. Yields are increased by at least 27%.
“I’ve seen the growth of the smallholder farmer from where they didn’t have enough food or income from the fields to getting themselves a modern house and living in it,” says Joyce. It’s not about wealth at all, she says, it’s about making a living and having enough additional income to pay for the children’s school fees or for small comforts. Like farmer Kebushi, who now owns a tractor that he can lend to other farmers.
Until now, Safi Organics’ fertilizer has been produced more or less by hand -from collecting the biomass waste to chopping it in a shredder, to mixing and turning the biochar, which is then filled into bags when it is ready. In order to automate production and be able to produce more organic fertilizer, Safi Organics is supported by the Water and Energy for Food Program, a joint international initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the European Union (EU), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the Netherlands, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The initiative promotes the scaling and dissemination of climate-friendly, energy-efficient, and water-saving innovations and economic solutions. Safi Organics is confident this support will allow to scale up even further and establish more regional branches, thus enabling yet more smallholder farmers to increase their income -and saving the environment along the way.
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WE4F Contact Person:
Kilian Blumenthal, Advisor in the WE4F East Africa Hub based in Nairobi, Kenya
Kilian holds a B.Sc. in Environmental Engineering of the HAW Hamburg and a M.Sc. in Agricultural Sciences in the Tropics and Subtropics of the University of Hohenheim. His academic research focused on Solar Water Pumping Systems in Bolivia and the Potential Use of Solar Energy in the Maize Value Chain in Benin. He has done numerous trainings on the SPIS Toolbox and gained experience during longer stays in South America and Sub Saharan Africa.