Agricultural waste is the new gold mine in Mwea

Farmers in Kenya are faced with high cost of imported fertilizers which over time have also led to degraded soils with increased acidity. In Kenya, fertilizer is available to farmers in the open market, at a cost of Kshs 3,000 a bag, but the government fertilizer has been subsidized to Kshs 1, 800 per bag of planting fertilizer and Kshs 1, 500 per bag of top dressing fertilizer. However, some of the fertilizer subsidized by the government meant to cushion farmers from high costs of production ends up in wrong hands to cartels that divert it to the open market.

Safi Organic a company supported by Kenya Climate Innovation Center is solving this problem for farmers by introducing the fortified biochar fertilizer. The company is committed to developing a low-cost alternative to break smallholder farmers’ current dependency on expensive imported chemical fertilizers, which make the soil acidic in the long run. Biochar is defined simply as charcoal that is used for agricultural purposes. It is created using a pyrolysis process, heating biomass in a low oxygen environment.

Safi organics has pitched tent in Mwea and will be using rice husks to make the fertilizer. During harvest time many farmers dispose of millions of tons of agricultural waste such as rice husks and maize stocks through open-air burning, which creates toxic pollutants.

For many years, farmers in Mwea had to contend with disposal of massive rice husks and stalks after harvesting their crop. But the waste product is slowly turning into some gold mine. Some creative entrepreneurs have discovered this waste can serve as affordable and fortified fertilizer. Previously, the stalks were burned to ashes within the rice paddies immediately after the harvesting season.

Safi Organics are converting this waste into affordable high quality biochar using efficient low cost biochar converters. They further fortify this biochar using their special enhancement formula to ensure balanced nutrient availability to crops. The company started with an estimated production capacity of 5 tonnes per month and by the end of the year will have a capacity of 25 tonnes per month.

According to the Samuel Rigu, Chief Executive Officer, Safi Organics Ltd, biochar has many agricultural benefits. It increases crop yields, sometimes substantially if the soil is in poor condition. It helps to prevent fertilizer runoff and leeching, allowing the use of less fertilizers and diminishing agricultural pollution to the surrounding environment. And it retains moisture, helping plants cope through periods of drought. Most importantly, it replenishes exhausted or marginal soils with organic carbon and fosters the growth of soil microbes essential for nutrient absorption.

Mr Wanderi added that biochar made from agricultural organic and agricultural waste retains a significant amount of nutrients from its source. Because biochar attracts and holds soil nutrients, it reduces fertilizer requirements something common organic matter cannot do. As a result, fertilization costs are minimized and fertilizer both organic or chemical is retained in the soil for far longer. Chemical fertilizers are typically fossil-fuel based, thus biochar provides additional indirect climate change benefits by reducing fertilizer needs.

Retailing at Kshs. 1500 the biochar fortified fertilizer is even cheaper than government subsidized fertilizer and other options available in the open market. However, it has more benefits than the chemical fertilizer.  When added to the soil, biochar improves plant growth and enhances crop yields, increasing food production and sustainability in areas with depleted soils, limited organic resources, insufficient water and/or access to agrochemical fertilizers. Not all soils react the same to biochar and it frequently can take up to a year to see results. On poor soils with low carbon content, many studies have shown biochar can increase crop yields up to four times. Read More

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