Guest blog by Isaiah Esipisu.
Using basic farm wastes such as rice husks and maize cobs, Samuel Rigu, a 28 year old agribusiness expert from Kirinyaga County in Kenya has developed a clean cheap soil health solution that apart from restoring soils that have been acidified by chemical fertilizers, sequesters carbon from the atmosphere.
“This is a truly innovative and enterprising young man,” said Prof Ruth Oniang’o, a Nutrition Professor and the 2017 co-winner of the coveted Africa Food Prize.
Apart from promoting indigenous vegetables for nutrition in Western Kenya through Rural Outreach Africa, Prof Oniang’o has always encouraged communities to keep their soils healthy the natural way by use of organic manure and by growing nitrogen fixing crops such as soybeans.
Rigu’s innovation therefore brings a new ingredient on the menu, which Prof Oniang’o thinks will add value to existing solutions.
The organic fertilizer known as ‘Safi Sarvi’ is made by burning rice husks, maize and other organic farm wastes with little oxygen to allow carbonization before adding a special ingredient to complete the process. The end product, which is now an organic fertilizer, is then packed in bags of between three and 50kg bags for sale to farmers.
“This product helps break smallholder farmers’ current dependency on expensive imported chemical fertilizers, which are actually acidifying their soils in the long run,” said Rigu, who is hopeful of introducing the product in Western Kenya with the support of Prof Oniang’o.
So far, Safi Sarvi is used by over 1,000 farmers in Kirinyaga and Machakos counties.
The fertilizer, according to Rigu is a soil conditioner that has proven to increase yields by 30%, while at the same time enhancing its nutrient holding capacity, saving water through better soil retention, and sequestering up to 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide per acre of land during the growing season.
Carbon dioxide is an important heat-trapping (greenhouse) gas, which is mainly released through human activities such as burning fossil fuels, as well as natural processes such as respiration and volcanic eruptions. Due to excess release of the gas into the atmosphere, the earth and the sea have become warmer than normal, leading to a phenomenon known as climate change.
Sequestering some of the gas and storing it into the soil is therefore a clear climate change mitigation measure.
It is because of such salient environment friendly features that Rigu’s company – Safi Organics – has been widely recognized by different organizations and in various entrepreneurial competitions such as MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, University of California’s Global Food Initiative, the Tony Elumelu Foundation, and the Total Challenge – Kenya among others.
Prior to starting Safi Organics, Rigu studied Agricultural Development at the University of Nairobi and worked as a farm manager and community trainer.
According to experts, many chemical fertilizers tend to lower the soil pH, which causes acidity and leaching of essential nutrients from the soil. Therefore any crop planted in such soil cannot grow well.
Organic fertilisers therefore reduce acidity in the soil and do not cause leaching. The fertilizers also keep beneficial microorganisms in the soil alive, thus enhancing the health of the soil. They also improve the structure of the soil, allowing circulation of air for the benefit of beneficial microorganisms that usually help in the release of nutrients to the soil.
According to Rigu, application rates of the Safi Sarvi vary from 500-2,000kg per hectare, depending on soil and crop type, fertilization, and climate. “In the long term (2-5 years), farmers will notice that their crop yield will increase as the acidity in their soil is counteracted by our fertilizer. This is expected to increase their income further,” said Rigu.
If the Safi Sarvi is widely adopted, it will greatly benefit Africa’s rural farmers, whom, according to Rigu, pay much more than the rest of the world for fertilizers because most are manufactured abroad and then imported.