KOMAZA

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KOMAZA

Kenya
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Budget: 
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

KOMAZA provides rural families with cash crop farm inputs on credit, alongside training, processing and marketing services. We transform barren land into productive tree farms. Over a ten-year harvest cycle, a family can earn over $5,000, while KOMAZA retains a portion of the revenue to invest in new farms.

About You
Organization:
KOMAZA
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Section 1: About You
First Name

Tevis

Last Name

Howard

Country
Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

Organization Name

KOMAZA

Organization Phone

1 650 319 8895

Organization Address

KOMAZA Kenya | PO Box 117 | Kilifi, 80108 | Kenya

Organization Country

, CO

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, CO

Innovation
What makes your innovation unique?

KOMAZA has created an entirely new model called microforestry. We know that smallholder farmers need access to a complete value chain – from quality inputs to end product markets – in order to profit from their land. Until now, farmers face piecemeal options. For instance, some programs provide inputs to simply increase agricultural production without access to value-added processing. KOMAZA’s operations support families through all stages of tree production: planting, maintenance, harvesting, processing and sales.

We work in regions often overlooked by other organizations. Most agriculture-based programs help poor families living on fertile land where opportunities are plentiful. KOMAZA, on the other hand, partners with the hardest-to-serve families living on harsh semi-arid land. To create one of the few high-impact interventions that flourish in dryland, we plant drought-resistant crops and use water-efficient planting practices. Moreover, our decentralized, village-based field extension network helps us extend distribution into incredibly remote regions.

Our key innovation is that our model enables complete financial self-sustainability, from individual farmers to our organization as a whole. We spend roughly $250 to start a farm. Over our ten-year harvest cycle, a farmer can earn more than $5,000 from both short-term crops and high-value trees. They continue earning the money as long as they maintain their farms. As an organization, we retain a portion of each farm’s revenue to invest with new families. In the long-term, we will achieve full donor independence and self-funded scaling to reach millions of people.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

KOMAZA creates lasting economic, environmental and social impact. Since 2008, we have planted more than a quarter-million trees with 1,000 families in Kenya. Within the next two years, KOMAZA will have planted more than three million trees with 10,000 farmers. Our impact will be felt across East Africa by the end of the decade.

We currently work with families who make less than $300 per year. With a KOMAZA farm, a family earns more than $5,000 over ten years. Although agroforestry requires a long-term delivery model, we harvest our trees in phases to provide regular revenue. We also intercrop our trees with short-term crops, such as cowpeas, to immediately boost income and nutrition.

KOMAZA generates further economic impact through local jobs. To date, we have created nearly 100 new jobs, and 93% of our positions are filled by Kenyans. Beyond wages and performance-based bonuses, we invest in professional development. Recently, we sponsored our Experimental Farm Manager, Wycliffe Etemesi, in attending an agroforestry course. He wrote a letter about his experience, which you can read about on our blog: http://komaza.org/blog/?p=111.

Our farms also dramatically impact the environment. By 2020, we will have planted more than 50 million trees that will sequester millions of tons of carbon dioxide. These trees avert families from cutting down indigenous forests and stem desertification. We also teach farmers how to reduce erosion and enrich the soil. Already, farmers like Kanze Kithi have seen their barren land transform into rich, grassy tree plots. (Read more here: http://komaza.org/blog/?p=204.)

Ultimately, KOMAZA will achieve its greatest impact in the way we translate farmers’ earnings into social change. When harvest time arrives, we will give farmers the knowledge and access they need to make sound investments in things like nourishing meals, school fees and interventions like water purification systems. In this way, we help farmers build the foundation for lasting development.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

Our farmers have been born into lives with almost no opportunities. Their dry, degraded land is their only asset, and they use what little money they have to buy seeds for subsistence farming. Unfortunately, they cannot afford improved drought-resistant crops; fertilizer and other inputs are out of the question. In the end, their crops often fail. Low rainfall, recurring drought and infertile soil make traditional farming almost impossible in Africa’s semi-arid land.
Because families cannot earn enough from their farms, they must extract wealth from the environment to survive. Driven by poverty, families cut down indigenous trees to sell as firewood and charcoal. Without trees, semi-arid soil cracks, dries and is washed away by rain. Deforestation exacerbates food insecurity, climate change and desertification while drought grows more frequent. Over time, farmers’ land becomes even worse.
Families are trapped in a vicious cycle: extreme poverty drives environmental destruction and causes even greater poverty. The economic challenge our farmers face is at the core of a wider set of challenges. Families must find a way to transform their only asset – their land – into a sustainable source of income. Of course, farmers have no access to cash crops and fertilizers, no knowledge of agricultural best-practice, no access to value-added processing equipment, and no access to profitable markets. They have many acres of barren land, but no hope of utilizing it effectively. Families remain trapped in extreme poverty.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

Our farms deliver unprecedented income to families while KOMAZA retains costs-plus to enable self-funded growth. We recognize that per-farm profitability increases dramatically with economies of scale. Our impact also increases as we plant more farms. Thus, we are strategically investing in rapid growth in the short-term. Planting with many farmers now requires us to delay our break-even point and temporarily increase our donor-dependence. As a result, however, we will be able to attain economies of scale more quickly and establish greater profits for our partner families and program as a whole.

Within the next three years, we will have more than 10,000 farmers with three million trees. Their small-scale plots will reforest more than 5,000 acres of dry land. To reach our ambitious milestones, we must raise substantial philanthropic support and build a strong Board of Directors, Local Advisory Board and a wide public support base. Financial resources and expert guidance will power agricultural R&D on our experimental farm while we expand to new families. As we grow, we are recruiting and training outstanding local and international staff. This team will create the operational, management and financial systems that ensure our day-to-day and long-term success.

We have more than doubled our reach this year, and we are prepared for potential obstacles on the path to continued progress. Like many early-stage social enterprises, our primary challenge is raising adequate funding. While we will ultimately become self-sustaining, we currently need to leverage our proven results and comprehensive business plan to attract donors, advisors and new board members. To overcome agricultural challenges, from drought to poor maintenance, we are testing new interventions, diversifying crops and expanding field staff for stronger farmer support. Finally, to find qualified staff willing work in a rural region on a modest salary, we offer professional development and many other benefits, and we recruit with an emphasis on national staff and systems-based experience. The steps we are taking now will build the foundation for effective long-term growth and impact.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

In Year 1 (2010), we will plant with 1,000 new families (reaching 1,500 total). Our farmers’ plots will include half a million trees on 1,000 acres. To complete Year 1 activities, we will secure at least $750,000, including modest earned income. We will also raise $1.5 million for Year 2. Meanwhile, we will strengthen our Board of Directors and Local Advisory Board. To bolster profitability and environmental impact, we will conduct R&D on rainwater harvesters, short-term crops and alternative, indigenous tree species (read more at http://komaza.org/blog/?p=180). We will also begin GIS mapping and SMS-based field reporting. Finally, we will recruit exceptional staff to develop operational infrastructure, including systems and policies for management, human resources, financial control, ICT and administration.

In Year 2 (2011) we aim to plant with 2,500 new families (reaching 4,000 total). Our farms will cover over 2,000 acres with 1.2 million trees. We will engage our Board of Directors and support base in pursuit of $2.5 million in funding for Year 3. We will also receive our first large influx of earned income. In the field, we will saturate our first Rural Cell (unit of operations) and begin expansion into new divisions. We will also roll out interventions tested during Year 1, and we will explore opportunities to improve our model with carbon credits, Forestry Stewardship Council certification and environmental conservation. We will establish performance M&E to measure our impact. To manage the year’s expansion, we will hire a COO, CFO and other high-caliber local and international staff.

In Year 3 (2012) we plan to plant with 6,000 new families (reaching 10,000 total), likely also launching a first replication in a new country. As our earned income increases, we will maintain a fundraising target of $2.5 million for Year 4 and begin exploring opportunities for alternative financing mechanisms. We will drive a major push in wood value capture and provide families with socially beneficial opportunities to spend their new income flows on life-changing investments. We will continue building an extraordinary team and operational systems to support our growth.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?

No

If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Approximately 150 words left (1200 characters).

Sustainability
What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?

Yes

Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

KOMAZA seeks to develop well-focused, synergistic partnerships that leverage the unique resources and skills of others in ways that are mutually beneficial. As such, we have developed a diverse network of professional, government, academic and non-profit partners. Locally, major partnerships include:

• Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI): Assisting with field experiments on pests and diseases
• National Environmental Management Authority (Kenya): Evaluating KOMAZA’s environmental impact
• Kenya Ministry of Forestry & Wildlife: Providing government support, technical assistance and knowledge sharing
• Kenya Ministry of Agriculture: Collaborating on soil conservation and resource management strategies

In addition to collaborating with organizations in the field, we also seek to identify partners who can support the overall growth and strategic direction of KOMAZA. For example, Princeton in Africa and Humanity Exchange have connected us with highly skilled staff, and lawyers from Morrison & Foerster LLP regularly provide pro bono assistance. Similarly, The Draper Richards Foundation and Rainer Arnhold Program have provided critical financial support and ongoing advisory services.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Our farms include food crops for immediate farmer income, but trees are the real driver of revenue. In Kenya alone, annual wood product markets are worth nearly $1 billion. Demand is growing rapidly with population growth, economic growth and rural-to-urban migration. According to the International Center for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), the national wood deficit will total 11.8 million meters cubed by 2020.

Through extensive market research, we have chosen specific wood product markets to enter: charcoal, roundwood, electricity poles, timber and boards. Buyers vary from individuals to shops that serve end-users. As African markets are extremely price-sensitive, we will compete primarily by offering comparable products at a substantially reduced price. We anticipate selling our products at a 20-25 percent discount compared to existing suppliers.

Further, KOMAZA can reliably provide higher quality wood products and can effectively respond to customer needs. We will likely provide multiple grades of wood to attract various customers at different price points. In the long-term, KOMAZA can differentiate by offering certified sustainable wood (i.e., Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)), which is increasingly demanded in North America and Europe.

Upon selling our farmers’ products and sharing the earnings, we recover costs and reinvest revenue in program expansion. Initially, to supplement this revenue, we will pursue a variety of funding opportunities, from traditional grants to equity investments to carbon financing. Ultimately, though, our business model will allow us to achieve breakeven before the end of the decade, enabling complete donor independence and growth.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Between 2002 and and 2005, while conducting malaria research in Kenya, I came to understand the cycle of poverty and deforestation that threatens the future of people living in Africa’s semi-arid regions. In the face of failing crops, farmers voraciously cut down trees to earn extra income. Today, Kenya faces one of the highest levels of deforestation in the world – less than 2% of the country is covered by forests. Short-term need is forcing farmers to destroy the long-term sustainability of their land and livelihood.

Studying local conditions more closely, I discovered a remarkable opportunity to help dryland farmers lift themselves out of poverty. The poorest farmers in East Africa often have surplus land and labor, while regional and global demand for wood products grows. I learned that, unlike seasonal crops that are highly dependent on accurate timing of rainfall, trees can survive months without water and can effectively utilize rain whenever it comes. Wealthy farmers in Kenya already plant trees as a low-cost, high-return investment, and their farms flourish even in semi-arid land. A lack of knowledge and resources prevents others from accessing the same opportunity.

Inspired, I delved into research. By 2006, I created the concept of microforestry and planted KOMAZA’s first demonstration farm. Our model is specially suited for semi-arid land and provides farmers with inputs on credit with training, processing and market access opportunities. In this way, the hardest-to-serve families have the opportunity to grow trees that substantially boost income while they promote a healthy environmental future for their communities. I explained our original core model in this short video, http://poptech.org/popcasts/tevis_howard_microforestry. As we move forward, we continue to apply the principles of the business world – productivity and profitability – to deliver maximum impact in a sustainable and highly scalable way.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

I serve as the Founder and Executive Director of KOMAZA, which I began developing while studying at Brown University. My academic pursuits frequently brought me to rural Kenya, where I conducted malaria immunology research at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Labs until 2005. As I spent more time in East Africa, I realized a tremendous need and remarkable opportunity to help families overcome poverty. I launched KOMAZA in 2006.

Continuing to work on KOMAZA part-time, I returned to Brown and earned a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience while conducting coursework in social enterprise, economic development and anthropology. Since completing my studies in 2007, I have raised $1 million for KOMAZA from highly selective organizations, such as Draper Richards Foundation and Mulago Scalable Investments. Over the past three years, I have received several awards recognizing my work in social enterprise.

Currently, I spend the majority of my time in Kenya, leading a staff of nearly 100 individuals – from top tier management consultants to local agronomists who have decades of on-the ground experience. With this team, I have built KOMAZA from an idea into a high-impact organization now serving 1000 farmers. As we continue to grow, I am focusing on our long-term strategic development and planned expansion throughout East Africa. While KOMAZA began as my own endeavor, today the organization includes dozens of exceptional social innovators. Please visit our website, www.komaza.org, to meet our growing team.

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