Farmers in Kenya still face challenges accessing subsidised fertiliser, as Francis Muchiri, a farmer from Kirinyaga county attests.
However, a young entrepreneur has found a solution for such farmers. 32 year-old Marion Atieno Moon, has been providing bio-organic fertiliser, which is affordable and of high quality.
Marion says during a visit to rural Thailand, she was surprised at how much food people had and yet back in the her rural home, people did not have much. She realised Kenyan farmers were producing a lot less produce compared to many other parts of the world and she started digging into the reason why.
“One of the things I learnt is that farmers in Vietnam and Philippines were very careful with their soil, not necessarily that their soils were very fertile, but even in instances where they had destroyed their soil, they acknowledged that as opposed to Kenyan farmers who unknowingly deplete their soils,” she said.
Agriculture cabinet secretary Willy Bett said that farmers have over the years used fertiliser to a level where soils have become acidic and are in a needy situation.
Marion says she saw that as an opportunity and thought that if she could find a soil fertility solution for Kenyan farmers that allows them to sustainabily, economically and effectively increase their yields, then she could be in business. Thus, Wanda Organic Limited was born.
Marion did her research on plantmate organic fertiliser contacted Dr Cruiz and organised for some samples to come to Kenya which she tested on a friends farm and the results were good.
“Its about reducing the amount of chemical fertiliser used. If your soil has enough organic matter, you don't need to add but where organic matter and certain nutrients are low, that's when you add,” she explained.
She registered her company in 2012 though the process was long and very expensive as the product had to pass through lab, greenhouse and field tests before it could be approved.
"No one was willing to support me. Everybody said come back to us when you have 2,000 farmer clients or when you have finished with the government and you have your approval,” said the Wanda Organic founder and CEO.
In 2014, USAid, under the Feed the Future program gave her Sh7.7million in funding for technical assistance to do proof of concept which she did for 16months in Machakos and Makueni before moving to other areas.
“I wanted to prove that the technology I wanted to introduce to Kenya works, is licensed and farmers are ready to pay for it."
Muchiri who grows maize and bananas, says he learnt of the product during a field day late last year. “I used the product on a quarter acre of land and the results have been good. It is expensive but very accessible as opposed to the subsided fertiliser from the government," the retired police officer says.
In mid 2014, Marion got commercialisation approval.
“We were increasing quantity and quality of produce and also enhancing cropping cycles. For example with the french beans, farmers used to harvest three to four flashes but after using our product, they were harvesting seven to eight flashes. We have also seen the suppression of soil borne diseases which is massive as they are very difficult and expensive to control. The International Potato Center did some initial trials and they are seeing a reduction in bacteria wilt but extended trials are still ongoing,” says Marion.
The bio-organic fertiliser is currently priced at Sh3,300 for a 50kg bag but farmers get a discount of Sh150-Sh200 to cater for the transport cost.
She recently signed an agreement with two Philippines companies, ELR Family Trading Inc and Richfund International Co Limited for the manufacture of plantmate bio-organic fertiliser in Kenya.
"We hope once the manufacturing factory is established, the price can come down to between Sh2500 to Sh2300,” she adds.