Safi Organics: Decentralizing fertilizer production to provide rural jobs and livelihood and to improve farmers' income by 50%

We use technology to establish profitable village-based fertilizer operations that help farmers improve their yields by 30%.

Photo of Kevin Kung
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Takachar (doing business as Safi Organics Pvt. Ltd.)

Year founded

2015

Initiative stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $50k - $100k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 1,000 - 5,000

Organization type

  • Social enterprise

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • Kenya

Headquarters location: City

Wang'uru, Kirinyaga County

Location(s) of impact

Kenya: Wang'uru, Mwea region, Ekalakala region, Naivasha, Awendo
India: Uttarkahand

Website

http://safi.strikingly.com

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Most fertilizers today are produced in large-scale, centralized facilities and then shipped to remote/rural areas. Due to the long-distance transportation, many rural farmers often pay 2-3 times the world price for their fertilizers. As they have limited income, these farmers often become dependent on the cheapest, synthetic varieties that over time degrade and acidify their soil. Mr. Kibuchi, for example, a rural farmer in Kenya, has seen his harvest yields decrease by almost 50% in the past 20 years.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

We use technology (developed at MIT) to downsize/decentralize fertilizer production, making it possible to deploy on a village level profitably using local resources/labor. Imagine low-cost, small-scale and portable reactor units that can be latched onto tractors and shipping containers, and enable the on-site conversion of agricultural residues into a carbon-rich intermediate in 2 hours without external energy input. This intermediate is then mixed with our proprietary recipes to complete the nutrient requirements. Our product is a liming agent, which reverses soil acidify and improves yields. At the same price that farmers pay for their fertilizers, their yields can improve by 30% and income by 50%.

In addition to benefits to farmers, our process, by virtue of creating profitable village-based fertilizer operations, also creates livelihoods/jobs in rural decentralized areas.

Finally, our product is carbon-negative: the more farmers purchase/use it, the more CO2 we mitigate.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Mr. Kibuchi is a rice farmer in Mwea, Kenya who owns a one-acre land. For the past 20 years, he has been dependent on imported DAP fertilizer, and has noticed that his crop yield almost halved due to increasing soil acidity and leaching. Last year, he started using our Safi Sarvi, and noticed an immediate improvement in his crop growth (rate, flowering, and harvest yield) compared to before. After 2 seasons, he has seen his harvest and income increase by 30%, which was sufficient to allow him to send his 2 children to school and invest in a new tractor. So far we have impacted more than 1,000 farmers like Mr. Kibuchi. In Kenya alone, there are an estimated 3 million such farmers, spending about USD45 million/year on ineffective fertilizer.

In addition to social benefits, due to the carbon-rich nature of our fertilizer, each ton applied sequesters 1.7 tons of CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere. So far we have sequestered about 5,700 tons of CO2 and managed 7,200 tons of local waste.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Initially, as we prove our self-operated pilot cases, we rely primarily on grants (60%) and earned income from local operations (40%) to iterate our process. As we replicate in more villages, we expect these operations to be completely supported by earned income and make a $60,000/year/village profit. Once we prove this profitability, we will start franchising the solution out to farmers' cooperatives and local agricultural NGOs to achieve faster scale, by providing training/equipment in exchange for 10% of the profits from these franchisees as our income. To help us scale beyond Kenya into other countries, we will also seek impact financing (~$500,000) in 2019 to accelerate the process; we estimate that this equity financing can be paid back in 5 years with 4x return.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Most existing fertilizer processes (e.g. OCP, Uralkali) are large-scale (100+ tons/day), cost more than $500000 upfront, and take years to construct. These are incompatible in remote villages without long-distance transport. Our reactors cost $20, can be deployed in a matter of weeks, and is more agile.

Compared to small-scale organic composting (e.g. Sanergy), our conversion process is 200 times faster. Compared to biochar-based fertilizers, our process has 2-3 times higher conversion yield

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

Co-founder Samuel came from a rural Kenyan farming family, and grew up witnessing how farms in his village were degraded by the dependency of synthetic fertilizers. He studied agriculture in university, wanting to improve rural agriculture in his village and beyond. In 2013, Samuel met co-founder Kevin, who has been working since 2011 on a low-cost, decentralized biomass reactor design. The duo initially co-founded a prior company that sold millions of low-toxin mosquito coils to the Kenyan market. After this initial work, Samuel brought local insight of rural farmers from his background and developed various proprietary nutrient recipes into the Safi Sarvi product that they love, while Kevin completed the design of the reactors as part of his PhD thesis at MIT. The co-founders incorporated the company in 2015 and now has grown it to more than 1,000 customers and 7 full-time employees.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Upon recommendation from others
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Attachments (4)

EcoCert.pdf

Organic product certification from EcoCert

KALRO.pdf

Laboratory testing and validation of fertilizer mix

Testimony_Kibushi.pdf

Testimony from farmer Mr. Kibuchi

Testimony_Kibhonge.pdf

Testimony from farmer Mr. Kibhonge

3 comments

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Photo of Dorine Poelhekke

Good work, I especially like the founding story! I'm very curious as to how your technology works. At SimGas, biogas company developing and selling modular, mass-produced biogas digesters in Kenya, we also address the need for affordable and effective fertilizer (alongside the need affordable and reliable energy). As I'm sure you know, biogas digesters solve both porblems at once: it produces biogas (clean energy used for cooking) and bio-slurry - organic fertilizer. Our customers (smallholder farmers with 1-0 cows) tend to have more available bio-slurry every day than they need for their land. We are therefore looking into ways to dry and package to create another business case for them. Would love to get in touch and share ideas! Dorine http://www.simgas.org

Photo of Kevin Kung

Dorine: Thanks for your comments --- and congratulations on your project (I have definitely heard of SimGas in Kenya before). We'd love to talk further about working together in Kenya --- just shoot me an email at trashiscash at mit dot edu.

To answer your questions --- We use slightly different feedstock than you do. Biodigesters typically require wet feedstock such as manure, organic waste, etc. We work best with dry, fibrous feedstock such as agricultural and forestry residues. Our process is thermochemical whose advantage is that it is about 100 times faster than biological pathways (it takes us about 30-90 minutes to turn organic waste into fertilizer, rather than weeks'-months' time).

Photo of Dorine Poelhekke

Hi Kevin, thanks for getting back and explaining your technology.
30-90m is very fast! I understand the value of speed in this process when you produce fertilizer in bulk, to be able to serve as many farmers as possible.
For a domestic biogas digester (one digester per farmer), once the digestion process is up and running (indeed 3-4 weeks after installation), it produces fertilizer (and biogas) continuously and on a daily basis, for about 10-20 years (as long as the farmer keeps feeding the digester regularly with organic waste). So speed isn't an issue when it's made fresh and available every day, right in the backyard of the farmer. I'll shoot you an email, I hope to learn more from you!