'We work with Kenya's finest scientists to fight pests'

CEO Dudetech Tom Mason.
CEO Dudetech Tom Mason.

Dudutech CEO Tom Mason talks about his company’s innovative integrated pest management system. He was interviewed by Brenda Okoth

What is Dudutech and how long have you been in business in Kenya?

Dudutech is an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) business which produces, supplies and offers technical support for an extensive range of biological control agents to the agriculture sector in Kenya. Dudutech is a subsidiary business of Finlays, Kenya’s largest agricultural export group employing 22,000 people and annually exporting 400 million stems of flowers, seven million kilos of vegetables, 26 million kilos of black tea and three million kilos of tea extract. Finlays is a member of the Swire Group, a diversified business house with activities all over the world.

Dudutech was set up in 2001 to enable Finlays Horticulture reduce pesticide usage. Finlays Horticulture has its own bio-control production facility that has promoted a close collaborative working relationship between Dudutech scientists and growers as we developed IPM solutions for our own operations. It is this heritage which makes Dudutech unique, an IPM company set up by growers for growers.

What is your role in the company and in which countries do you operate in?

As managing director of Dudutech, I am responsible for the strategic direction and operational performance of the business in all countries of operations. This includes but is not limited to Eastern and Southern Africa, the UK and the Netherlands, with distributors in North America and Northern Africa.

I play a supportive role to the technical and operations managers, Jack Adundo and Barnaba Rotich, who are responsible for our three production sites, 14 hectares of outdoor insect production, two dedicated indoor insectaries, and state-of-the-art fungus and nematode production facilities. Given that our business now employees over 300 of Kenya’s finest scientists, entomologists and agriculture professionals, it’s a big team for us to run.

Dudutech pioneered the integrated pest management strategy in Kenya. How did you achieve this and what challenges did you face?

Dudutech was founded in 2001 to develop biological pest control products for Finlays fresh flower and vegetable business. Dudutech’s mandate was to develop full integrated pest management programmes to cover all Finlays crops. This was to reduce pesticide use and pesticide residues, to address the social and environmental issues surrounding pesticide use, to break pesticide resistance cycles in the crops and to promote long term sustainability.

Dudutech pioneered Integrated Crop Management in Kenya. In 2001, there was very little legislation to deal with biological pest control products, and Dudutech worked closely with various government and donor bodies in order to develop appropriate procedures and protocols to be the first to bring biological pest control products to the Kenyan market.

It was the legislative framework around integrated pest management products that gave people the confidence to use it; in simple terms it’s regulated like medicine, it has to do what it says it will do on the packet!

Since then we have expanded our business to include third party customers and many strategic farm partnerships such as Red Lands Roses, Van Den Burg Flowers, Maridadi Flowers and Twiga Roses.

Your tag line is ‘environmentally intelligent farming’. What does it encompass?

The concept ‘environmentally intelligent farming’ is something we solely developed for farmers in Kenya and interestingly, it’s become quite popular amongst farmers in Europe and South Africa. It’s a holistic approach to farming where one utilises the full spectrum of environmentally safe farming products and technologies to their full potential. For example, utilising traps to trap insects rather than a harsh synthetic chemical or utilising one insect to eat another. We are heavily reliant on various aspects of nature and making it work 10 times better.

What products do you have and what makes them unique?

Dudutech now supplies 17 biological control products, with more in the pipeline. We produce fungus-based products that kill insects and yet are completely friendly to humans and the environment. We produce insects that eat only one type of pest which damages crops. We produce worms that compost waste. All of these are uniquely Kenyan solutions and exist naturally in Kenya; there is no modification, simply finding a better way to utilise them.

Since you began your business, what pests present the biggest challenge to you as a company and to your consumers too?

Our major challenge is thrips, which is a challenge for horticultural farmers around the world. Thrips are tiny, slender insects with fringed wings. They feed by puncturing the epidermal (outer) layer of host tissue and sucking out the cell contents, which results in stippling, discolored flecking, or silvering of the leaf surface. Thankfully we have conducted a huge amount of research and have found a system that uses fungi, beneficial nematodes (microscopic worms that eat the larvae or eggs of the pest) and other insects that like to feed on thrips — so we can fight nature’s pest with nature’s solutions.

Is you company into environmentally conscious pest control?

Yes, we are controlling pests in horticulture, but not yet for residences and offices — it’s a great idea though and I will discuss it with my team. Thanks.

How do you ensure this?

Environmental pest control is a really exciting space and involves the use of effective trapping system to trap cockroaches, rats, moths and other pestilence.

Are the materials you use for pest control treatment safe for kids and pets?

We consider humans and animals part of our environment hence our products are 100 per cent friendly to them too. That explains our beautiful ladybird logo that represents this conscious effort to promote products that are safe for people, safe for vegetable produce and safe for the environment.

Do you have a quality certification as a company?

We hope to be ISO certified by the end of 2015 and we hope that you will be there to celebrate with us as Kenya’s first homegrown biotechnology company in IPM receives ISO9001:2008 quality management systems certification. This is a really important milestone for us as a business and our teams have worked incredibly hard this year as part of the preparatory process.

What are some of the initiatives that you have been involved in with farmers that you consider successful?

Our greatest initiative is recognising the importance of training as a way to open the door to successful Integrated Crop Management. Dudutech has a NITA registered training department, that is peer reviewed by Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Dudutech supplies into horticulture, out-grower schemes, large scale agriculture, grain and cereal production, tea, coffee and forestry in East Africa, in addition to exporting to South Africa and Europe since September 2011.

Tell us about your partnership with eco-spray?

Eco spray is a global business that has selected blue chip companies to distribute their novel bio pesticide Nemguard, their chief executive Philip Charlton-Smith and I have been working on structuring a deal and are proud to announce that we have embarked on an exciting Africa distribution partnership, as well as extending our research and development capacity to assist in further developing their product.

What this means for the common farmer in Kenya and the citizens of Kenya is that potatoes and carrots are going to be a lot safer to eat and easier to grow, as Nemguard gets rid of Nematodes, the biggest pest to potato and carrot growers. It’s a natural product made from garlic.

What does success look like for Dudutech in Kenya five years from now?

Success for Dudutech is building on the proud heritage and success that has bought us to the point that we are today. We would like to significantly increase our export base and globalise our technology platform. With the warm words of global leaders President Barack Obama and Google co-founder Larry Page, we are strongly believe that Kenya is a hub of innovation and with the support of government initiatives we can ensure that Kenya is positioned to step ahead in the global agricultural arena.

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