Safi Organics

Congratulations! This Entry has been selected as a semifinalist.

Safi Organics: Affordable, carbon-negative soil amendment helping farmers improve yields by 30%

Nairobi, KenyaMwea, Kenya
Year Founded:
2014
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Rural farmers often rely on synthetic fertilizers, leading to long-term yield loss from soil degradation/acidification. We offer a carbon-negative soil conditioner for these farmers, using a patent-pending process from waste at a lower cost. Our customers have seen their yield increase by 30%.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we can produce a unique blend of soil amendment from waste that helps farmers improve their yield by 30%, while actively sequestering carbon from the atmosphere?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Africa's fertilizer price is 2-4 times more expensive than the world because most fertilizers are manufactured abroad and imported via extensive middlemen. What exacerbates the problem is that many fertilizers that can be afforded by African farmers are synthetic varieties that often cause further degradation/acidification of the soil over years. In many areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, this has led to declining crop yields at an average of 4%/year.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We produce a carbon-negative soil conditioner blend derived from organic waste through low-cost production facilities. We have developed unique recipes enabling the production of soil conditioner from various types of farm waste in less than 2 hours (a 20-fold reduction in processing time and 10-fold reduction in capital cost). This conditioner, which can completely replace commercial fertilizer, helps farmers improve their long-term crop yields by 30% and increase their income by 50% by reversing soil acidification. In the short term, we will produce and distribute this product via direct sales. In the long term, as we expand to other communities, we will also employ a franchising model.

Awards

Winner in the MIT IDEAS/Global Challenge, third prize in the Jacobs Startup Competition, and winner in the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Mr. Kibhonge is one of the young rice farmers in Mwea aged between 25-40 whose land has been degraded slowly overtime. He currently earns $300/season selling his produce. In the past planting season, he learned about our product from the Irrigation Board. He bought 2 bags for his land and noted that “the yields were more than what I saw before”, and that “the product is very good, because when the soil is compact, it allows the roots to penetrate.” By the end of his first season, his yield improved by 20%, and this translates to $100 more cash per harvest cycle. This new income is enough for Kibhonge to send 4 children to school or invest in a new bicycle to transport their produce. In Africa there are 138 million farmers like Mr. Kibhonge.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

So far, our product has been applied to more than 80 acres of farm land primarily in Mwea but also in other regions of Kenya. Some farmers have driven as far as 100 km to buy our product. Selected testimonials of the positive effects of our product are available in our company video. So far, we estimate that we have helped these farmers realize a 10% increase in their income. We have also sequestered 90 tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse emissions from the atmosphere. We estimate that by the end of 2016, we will reach 5,000 customers, and by 2018, 75,000 customers. At that point, we will be managing 225 tons/year of waste that would otherwise be burned. Thus we help sequester 125 tons/year of CO2 equivalent in greenhouse emissions, as well as reducing other pollutants that could otherwise cause local smog. We will also have helped farmers generate a total of US$7 million in added income

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We will achieve a production capacity of 10000 bags/month by Q4-2017. This will happen as follows: 1. Sign contract with our first product distributor by the end of 2015. 2. Become cash-flow-positive before Q4-2016. We expect this to happen when our production level reaches 1700 bags/month and will use the profits to support our growth. 3. Commission a second production site (2 tons/day) and sales center in the Rift Valley by Q2-2017. This will enable us to better serve key customers there. 4. To scale in the long-term, we will employ a franchise network and collect franchising fees.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Initially, we rely on equity-free grants/prizes to support the capital investment to set up our production facilities. We produce and sell our soil conditioner at a 20% profit margin, which means that our financial break-even point is ~1700 bags/month by Q4-2016. The estimated internal rate of return will be about 65%, which is within the range for traditional venture capital. Our next scale-up rounds will be fundable via venture capital.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

We hold a combination of patents for our technology and secret recipe to protect our product. The most prominent competitors are the status quo, which are imported fertilizers (Athi River, Famicare) which cost 30% more and do not address the issue of soil acidification. Also, re:char (now defunct) tried to sell a similar soil conditioner using an organic recipe, but their recipe was difficult to produce at scale and maintain quality control than ours. Various projects try to turn waste into compost, but the composting process takes 20 times longer than ours, and requires much more land.
Team

Founding Story

When I was young and living in rural Kenya with my grandmother, I remember one day my grandmother told me: "Son, 20 years ago we were harvesting double of what we have harvested this year. I am afraid 30 years from now yon won't have any food from this land to feed your children!" This scared me. As I grew I knew that not only my children who were threatened but also millions of other children. Thus I became involved in agriculture. In 2013 I made my first trip to Mwea as an agribusiness manager and saw mountains of waste rice husk. I became excited about the potential of turning this into soil amendment for farmers, and over the next year I developed the formula to make this happen.

Team

Samuel Rigu has worked as a farm manager with various agricultural communities. Notably, he worked with the Turning Point Trust Farm, which had been operating at a loss, and turned the farm into a self-sustaining operation within 6 months. As an entrepreneur, he has partnered with a large manufacturer and successfully sold more than one million low-toxin mosquito coils. Samuel holds a B.Sc. in Agribusiness from the University of Nairobi. Japhet Omari manages our production site full-time in Mwea, from helping farmers set up the production process, to overseeing the production and distribution of the fortified recipe. Japhet holds a B.Sc. in statistics from the SouthEastern University. Kevin Kung is an MIT PhD researcher focusing on optimizing biomass conversion and solid fuel production, within the MIT Reacting Gas Dynamics Lab and MIT-Tata Center for Technology and Design. Kevin has contributed extensively to the design and development of our low-cost reactors and processes, and has had experience helping set up or working with social entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa and India. In the next 6 months, as we grow our production and customer base, we will require a dedicated marketing director, a position that is currently split between Samuel and Japhet.
Background
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

Through email from a colleague

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Co-founder and CEO

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

When I joined The Turning Point Trust, it had been reporting losses month after month since its establishment, I wrote a strategic plan on how to convert the land to self sustaining, among the things that I introduced was conservation farming which cut down labour cost by over 80%, I also pioneered the composting of the waste from the farm which cut down the input cost by 20%. Finally I adopted Open Pollinated Variety seeds which allowed us to produce our own seeds without having to go back to the shops. We then used staggered planting to ensure continued supply of food throughout the year. The results, by the end of six months the farm registered its first profits and was in a position to feed a total of 50 persons in the farm.

Furthermore, in starting this company, initially when I started working with rice farmers on their farm waste, I thought that producing green fuel was the way to go, and I invested all my time making the briquettes. When we tried the briquettes they were a total fail, because we did not anticipate rice husk is 20% ash, and as we burnt it, the fuel was quickly covered by ash. Despite spending 6 months trying to improve the product, I bowed down and conceded that briquetting was not the way. We did not give up but continued experimenting, and we learned that we could make a new form of low-toxin, low-cost mosquito coils from the waste. I convinced the largest mosquito coil company (KAPI) in Kenya to purchase the material from us. Over a few months, we supplied more than one million mosquito coils in Kenya. However, KAPI moved their facility far away, and it was no longer economical for us to supply the material. Instead of giving up, I realized the new potential of turning waste into soil amendment, and I never looked back.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

On the board of advisors of the company, we have Eric Mwandia (Chairman, Kenya Airport Parking Services Ltd.; director, Azicon Kenya Ltd.) and Wycliffe Muga (Senior Editor, the Star). Eric is a successful businessman in Kenya, and has introduced us to key customers. Eric has been helping us obtain key product distribution partners through his personal network. Wycliffe is well connected in the social impact sector in Kenya, and has led us to secure the support of key authorities within Kenya. For example, Wycliffe introduced us to Dr. Judy Wakhungu, who was appointed by the President of Kenya to serve as the Cabinet Secretary for Environment. Our project has the expressed support of Dr. Wakhungu and her colleagues.

In terms of product development, we have partnered with two large commercial farms—AAA Growers and Beram Farm—that have been testing our product for their different crops at a large scale.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a world- renowned school of engineering. We work closely with researchers from both D-Lab and the Reacting Gas Dynamics Group to maintain quality control and to improve our conversion technologies. Notably, in August 2015, our company was selected as a partner company by the MIT Sloan Entrepreneurs in International Development (SEID) group, which provides pro bono consulting service (by MIT MBA students) for selected companies with a clear social mission. In fact, two SEID consultants will be paying us a visit in January 2016. Over the next few months, we look forward to interacting with these students in mapping a detailed product distribution strategy.

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