Caroline Oteino and Victor Alai, Agriculture Extension students at Friends College Kaimosi showcasing their Mbolea Dawa innovation. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

With the planting season underway, the majority of farmers are struggling to obtain key farm inputs like fertiliser. Those who primarily rely on commercial inorganic fertilisers, which are expensive and unreliable, find it difficult to afford them.

However, this scenario could change with the realisation of an innovation by two students from Friends College Kaimosi (FCK). Caroline Oteino and Victor Alai, Agriculture Extension students enrolled in the newly introduced Competence Based Education Training (CBET) programme, aim to expand their idea of creating liquid organic fertiliser using readily available residue from banana stems and Neem tree leaves.

Their innovation, named “Mbolea-Dawa” (Fertiliser-Pesticide), won the second position in the 2023 Kenya Association of Technical Training Institutions (KATTI) Western region’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions innovation fair and is seen as a possible way to reduce overreliance on inorganic fertiliser.

The young innovators’ idea arose after witnessing how Vihiga farmers wasted mature banana stems after harvesting banana fruits. In Vihiga, banana farming thrives, resulting in the abundance of mature banana stems. The students recognised the potential of utilising banana pseudo stems, considered agricultural waste, as the major raw material in the Mbolea Dawa product.

“We saw how Vihiga farmers waste their mature banana stems and thought we can make organic fertiliser that can help restore back farm through locally available  residue from crop after harvest,” said Alai.

Their research showed that if left to naturally decompose, banana stems take months, hindering their ability to return nutrition to the soil. Thus, the need for their idea emerged.

The process involves extracting sap from banana pseudo stems using a crushing machine, which is then mixed with crushed Neem leaves and water and left to ferment for two to three weeks. The resulting highly concentrated liquid organic fertiliser is stored in five-liter containers and applied during top dressing using a spray pump, with no chemical effect on the plants.

“Our research showed that if left to naturally decompose, banana stem takes months thus hindering the ability to give back nutrition to the soil thus the need for our idea,” said Alai.

The banana sap provides essential macro and micro nutrients to plants, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and growth hormone, while Neem leaves act as a natural pesticide due to their Azadirachtin content. When mixed and applied to crops, the Mbolea-Dawa product effectively fertilizes and protects plants from pests.

The young innovators note that Mbolea Dawa fertiliser has been shown to reduce soil acidification and increase crop yields. They are now hoping to commercialise their invention of a liquid organic fertiliser. Once approved, the product is expected to be sold at Sh500 for five liters, with documented evidence of its impact on crops.

“We know that neem plant  does not directly kill insects but it acts as an anti-feedant, repellent, and egg-laying deterrent and thus protects the crop from damage,” said Oteino. 

The students’ innovation and mentorship have been boosted by the support of the Young Africa Works in Kenya- TVET Programme, aimed at empowering young Kenyans, particularly women, through formal training and a focus on the recognition of prior learning.

According to Silvester Odundo, an agriculture trainer at FCK the idea by the students would help in the wake of increased acidity in soils that has significantly reduced fertility, hence reduced yields for farmers. 

“We encourage the students to do more innovation especially in the agriculture field and the Mbolea Dawa is set to positively change how we use fertiliser, “ said Odundo. 

According to Friends College Kaimosi Deputy Principal in charge of Academics Francis Miheso, agricultural innovation is set to take a new turn with the new curriculum being implemented by the government in conjunction with its development partners. Through CBET, students can apply innovation in their course studies, leading to entrepreneurial opportunities.

“TVET is one of the most significant tools in combating poverty and bridging the skills gap, and thus implementation of CBET is good for innovation,” said Miheso.

Through the CBET students are cable to apply innovation in their course studies which can be transformed to entrepreneurial opportunities.