Innovation: Eco-friendly farming inputs

Two Kenyan agribusinesses have developed effective and affordable farming inputs from previously unwanted materials. A bio-pesticide made from locally available weeds and a carbon neutral organic fertiliser – a mixture of charcoal, crop residue and plant waste – have shown promising results for Kenyan farmers.

Safi Sarvi® increases crop yields by 30% and is half the price of conventional fertilisers © Safi Organics

A bio-pesticide that helps Kenyan farmers protect their grain harvests from weevil attacks has been developed by industrial chemist Donatus Njoroge. The low-cost ‘Molepse bio-resource’, which has repellent and toxic capabilities and kills pests that come into contact with it in less than 5 minutes, is made from several extracts of the Ocimum (aromatic plants) species. “The product is formulated from different species of plants that are found locally here in Kenya. A drop of the (essential) oils, extracted from these plants, acts as an effective pesticide,” said Njoroge.

The bio-pesticide, which took Njoroge 4 years to develop and is available in powder and liquid form, is applied by fumigating sacks of grain. Two sacks are used in the process; the sack containing the grain is fumigated first, and then placed in another sack to ensure the bio-pesticide fumes are trapped. Twelve 90 kg bags of grain can be protected with only 60 ml of Molepse, at a cost of €0.80 for up to 6 months. “It has no chemical additives, which of course plays a major role in reducing its production costs and thereby making it affordable for poor farmers,” Njoroge adds. “It is eco-friendly and safe.” The product, which is being used by over 100 grain farmers in central Kenya, was also the first runner up in the 2017 East Africa Post-Harvest Technologies Competition, which was organised by the Inter Region Economic Network.

Samuel Rigua, another Kenyan innovator, has developed a carbon-neutral fertiliser and soil conditioner using locally available rice husks. Safi Sarvi®, which is a mixture of biochar (charcoal made from crop residues), crushed limestone and other plant waste, increases crop yields by 30% and annually removes at least 5.4 t of CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere for every hectare of land it is applied to. The fertiliser also lowers soil acidity and aids retention of soil nutrients and moisture, reducing irrigation by 15%.

According to Rigu, Safi Sarvi® is half the price of conventional fertilisers (€12 for a 50 kg bag), and is being used by over 1,000 farmers growing rice, maize, wheat, bean, pea, vegetable and fruits in Kenya. Rigu’s company, Safi Organics, also benefits farmers by paying them for a former waste product. As well as being certified organic by Ecocert, the fertiliser has also won a number of awards and was among finalists for the Innovation Prize for Africa award in 2016.

James Karuga

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.