By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
Interest in organic food and farming is high, and organics have become a growing global industry. The worldwide market for organic food grew by more than 25 per cent between 2008 and 2011, to US $63 billion, according to pro-organic group the Soil Association. That is an impressive accomplishment given the backdrop of the global economic crisis, and evidence that people value quality food, even in tough times.
One Kenyan company is hoping to help farmers benefit from this global surge in interest in organic food. The company is selling a healthy alternative to chemical fertilizers and is hoping it will soon be able to source its products in Kenya, too.
BioDeposit (http://biodeposit.lv/index.php?page=elixir-3) sells soil conditioner and natural fertilizer made from two ingredients: peat found in marshlands and silt dredged up from lakes, which is called sapropel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapropel). This naturally occurring resource is rich in all the elements required for abundant crops and has the added benefit of not poisoning the soil and water table when used on farmer’s fields.
It is sold as a solution to the multiple pressures hitting farmers, from chaotic weather patterns to soil damage and decreasing yields. It offers a way to boost farm productivity without damaging the soil in the long term.
In 2011 the amount of farmland that was organic reached 37.2 million hectares in 162 countries – but this is still just 0.86 per cent of the world’s agricultural land (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). If BioDeposit has its way, Kenyan farmers could help to grow the number of hectares being farmed organically.
Presenting the solution in October 2013 at the Global South-South Development Expo (southsouthexpo.org) at the headquarters of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, BioDeposit communications and media chief Nelly Makokha (http://ke.linkedin.com/pub/nelly-makokha/29/a08/634), explained that the company is hoping to bring the technology behind BioDeposit to Kenya, if they can get permission.
At present, the source materials for the products are dredged from lakes in Latvia in Eastern Europe. Because of the political structures of Kenya, it means a long political process is ahead to gain permission to dredge any of the country’s lakes. BioDeposit’s Latvian scientists conducted research on the potential for Lake Naivasha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Naivasha) in the Rift Valley and claim it has enough deposits to provide Kenya’s farmers with organic fertilizer for the next 200 years.
“If the government agrees, the fertilizer is basically cheaper than any other fertilizer the farmer [will] have ever used in a long time,” said Makokha. “It will be pocket-friendly for them. As they earn more money from the more yields, they are spending less on the fertilizer.
“Our slogan is ‘smart agriculture for health and wealth’ – health in terms of you become organically grown, and if you are looking for organic certification, we will organize that for the certifiers. Right now most countries are looking for organic food and cannot find it.
“So when you become organic that means you earn more money on your products so it means you are healthy and you are wealthy!”
The fertilizer comes in 12 milliliter packets that cost 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.30). A farmer would need two packets for each quarter acre of farmland.
Based on a Russian discovery from the early 20th century, BioDeposit draws on naturally occurring resources.
Its products include BioDeposit Agro, described as a “biologically active soil conditioner,” and BioDeposit Elixir, described as a “humic plant growth stimulator.” The Elixir is a “sustainable, water-soluble” concentrate made from peat and can be used to soak seeds prior to planting, increasing the germination cycle. For the farmer, it means more seedlings in a shorter time. It also can be poured on compost piles to boost humic content to speed compost decay. Peat is formed from above-ground marsh plants, either on the surface or under a layer of water.
BioDeposit Agro is made from sapropel from the sediment at the bottom of freshwater lakes. It is a renewable, naturally-occurring resource as it has been formed from the accumulated settling of plants such as reeds, algae, trees, grasses and animals over time as they decay.
Unlike other chemical fertilizers, using the BioDeposit product does not require special protective clothing and does not harm human health. Children are also not at risk if they accidentally ingest the product.
“Most farmers have small farms – quarter acre, half acre, at most three acres,” said Makokha. “For a quarter acre you spend five dollars and you get more yields. Two of them would be approximately five dollars – that’s enough for a whole season – so it is pocket friendly.”
And if the company is able to harvest the material in Kenya, it would be even cheaper.
“You can imagine if we dredge here – probably (get the cost down to) a dollar – so it makes more sense for the farmers.”
The dredging has another positive impact: it helps with managing flooding by making the lake deeper once the silt is dredged out, making life better and safer for people living nearby.
BioDeposit has been operating in Kenya for a year and, Makokha said, “the response is awesome.”
BioDeposit organizes workshops for farmers through cooperative societies, helping to guide farmers through the whole process of becoming organically certified.
The company believes its products will help avert problems such as what happened recently when the European Union prevented some flowers – a major source of overseas income for Kenyan farmers – from entering the EU because of banned pesticides.
Cleverly, BioDeposit does most of its business digitally through mobile phones. It conducts its business with sales representatives by phone and conducts training by phone as well. All payments and bank transfers are done by phone using the M-PESA system (http://www.safaricom.co.ke/?id=257).
“It is the easiest way to do business in Kenya,” said Makokha. “Everybody right now owns a mobile phone. When we get the M-PESA, we transfer directly to the account. You get the money and transfer to the bank account and you are done, very easy for everybody … doing wonders for us.”
Published: March 2014
1) Soil health crisis threatens Africa’s food supply. Website: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8929-soilhealth-crisis-threatens-africas-food-supply.html
2) 2050: Africa’s Food Challenge: Prospects good, resources abundant, policy must improve: A discussion paper from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Website: http://www.fao.org/wsfs/forum2050/wsfs-background-documents/issues-briefs/en
3) State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Website: http://www.worldwatch.org/sow11
5) Integrating Ethno-Ecological and Scientific Knowledge of Termites for Sustainable Termite Management and Human Welfare in Africa by Gudeta W. Sileshi et al, Ecology and Society, Volume 14, Number 1. Website: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss1/art48
6) Soil Association: The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health. Website: http://www.soilassociation.org/marketreport
7) Research Institute of Organic Agriculture: FiBL is an independent, non-profit, research institute with the aim of advancing cutting-edge science in the field of organic agriculture. Website: http://www.fibl.org/en/fibl.html
International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements: Since 1972, IFOAM has occupied an unchallenged position as the only international umbrella organization of the organic world, i.e. all stakeholders contributing to the organic vision. Website: http://www.ifoam.org/
9) BioDeposit on Facebook. Website: https://www.facebook.com/BioDepositAfrica
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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