Samuel Rigu remembers vividly back when he used to assist his grandmother during the school holiday breaks with garden chores in Mwea, Kirinyaga County.
During maize harvesting season, she would tell him: “Twenty years ago, we used to harvest double what we are getting from this field today. I am afraid in the next 20 years, we might harvest nothing.”
The grandmother was referring to dwindling soil nutrients that could no longer improve yields, despite various improvements through fertiliser addition.
Scared by her comments, Rigu vowed to find a solution to the problem to make the land more productive. In later years, armed with knowledge in agribusiness management from the University of Nairobi and work experience at a non-government organisation, he founded Safi Organics in 2015.
The firm, which is located in Mwea, converts farm waste into fertiliser. Rigu says he runs the company with 18 permanent employees and up to 40 casuals that he contracts during busy seasons of the year.
He targets farmers of coffee, potato, rice, pyrethrum, tree, vegetables, tomatoes and maize in Kilifi, Bungoma, Kirinyaga, Embu, Machakos, Nyandarua and Kiambu counties.
In an interview with Money Maker, Rigu says to set up the business, one needs over Sh2.5 million capital, a skilled workforce and a steady source of raw materials.
The raw materials include rice, macadamia and coffee husks.
“Once we get the raw materials, we carbonise and put them in a store where we allow the re-growth of microorganisms. After that we do the milling and mix with our special formula to come up with the organic fertiliser,” he says.
“We can produce 3.5 tonnes of fertiliser every day, which can serve up to 5,000 farmers,” Rigu says.
Some of the varieties Safi Organics produces include planting fertiliser, top dressing, acidic amender and foliar fertiliser.
Rigu says that, unlike the chemical fertilisers whose nutrients are quickly lost through leaching, the company’s fertiliser provides a counteraction because it is slow releasing. However, it has not been easy for the innovator; he has to convince farmers that rice husks can be used to nourish the soils of their farm.
A bag of the fertiliser goes for Sh1,500 and is relatively cheap compared to inorganic fertilisers that cost up to Sh3,200.
Rigu says organic fertiliser is the solution to increasing farm yield in the face of dwindling productivity because farmers are unable to access affordable and effective farm implements.
“Using the organic fertiliser will cut down the cost of rice production by 20 per cent and increase farm productivity by up to 30 per cent,” he says.
Increased acidity in soils significantly reduces fertility, leading to a decline in yields for farmers.