Safi Sarvi: a locally-produced, carbon-negative and high-yield fertilizer

June 15, 2017

Kenya Placeholder
Kenya

Safi Sarvi: a locally-produced, carbon-negative and high-yield fertilizer

About the Implementing organization

Name: Safi Organics

Country: Kenya

Year of establishment: 2013

Type of organization: Community enterprise or business

Description

Almost all current fertilizer production processes (e.g. OCP, Uralkali, PotashCorp) are built upon economy of scale: a centralized, capital-intensive facility can produce massive amounts of fertilizer at a low cost. While this serves economies such as Europe, North America, and China well, any attempts to replicate this centralized production in emerging economies and remote areas have been met with failure: the dispersed market in these areas is insufficient to sustain a centralized production, and any sophisticated equipment, once broken, is very difficult to replace. We recognize this deficiency, and therefore have designed our fertilizer production to be low-cost, small-scale, and portable. All our equipment is designed to be highly durable in resource-constrained setting, and can be maintained and repaired locally without needing to ship it to town centres. Therefore, we deliberately forgo the economy of scale of conventional fertilizer processes, but in exchange, we also eliminate the significant logistical cost of shipping bulky fertilizers long-distance, and thus are better able to serve the large swathes of dispersed rural markets in a decentralized way that current technologies cannot hope to penetrate. Additionally, our fertilizer has the following differences compared to the status quo: (a) as it contains an inert carbon-rich intermediate, applying it into the soil sequesters CO2 from the atmosphere, and (b) it is a liming agent and can improve acidic soil.

Nature Element

Grasslands / Drylands

Type of Action

Restoration / Sustainable use / Mainstreaming into sectors / Access and benefit sharing / Pollution prevention, clean up / Awareness and education

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Climate action

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)

    

Environmental Impacts

Traditionally, many rural farmers often burn the post-harvest agricultural residues in the open, which is a major contributor to air pollution and urban smog. Our conversion process, which utilizes agricultural residues, reduces this practice. Furthermore, for every ton of fertilizer produced, we manage about 1.7 tons of waste. More importantly, our conversion process turns the agricultural residues into a carbon-rich intermediate that stays inert in the soil for hundreds of years. It is estimated that for each ton of our product being applied, farmers are also inadvertently sequestering 2.4 tons of CO2 equivalent. Therefore, our product is truly carbon-negative, but our carbon sequestration benefits do not depend on the carbon market or government policies, but on pure market forces of improved yield/income for the farmers. Finally, better soil health for local farmers translates to less nutrient leaching and better water retention (~20% less irrigation need for rice, for example).

Sustainable Development Impacts

Primarily, our fertilizer improves local farmers’ soil health and crop yields by up to 30%, leading to increased income. Take the example of Mr. Kibuchi: he has been using our product for 1.5 years, and has seen his income increase by 40%. That is sufficient to send 2 of his children to school, and recently he was able to afford a small tractor for his farm. Beyond delivering benefits to the end users (farmers), because of our localized production plants, we also hire local workers. This creates additional job and income opportunities in decentralized, rural areas around localized fertilizer production. Each of our village-based operation is expected to deliver $240,000 of lifetime value to the local community in 10 years.

Scalability

We aim to expand via a franchise model. Currently we own and operate our pilot franchise in Kenya as we need to learn and prove that our process is indeed locally profitable and impactful. Within the next 12 months, we anticipate that we will expand to 5 additional villages in Kenya, but all on an own-and-operate model as we familiarize ourselves with other soil/crop conditions. After that, we aim to franchise the process out to local farming cooperatives and agricultural mills. This will be done in partnership with local organizations such as the One Acre Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation, which have linkages to many rural communities as well as access for financing. We are also working with a Kenyan government agency (KALRO) to promote our process through their regular training programs nationally. In expanding to other countries outside of Kenya, we anticipate a similar partnership with local cooperatives, organizations and the government.

Replicability

Despite that agricultural conditions and crop types in different regions are widely different, we have reasonable confidence that our solution can be replicated widely. We have already tested our process with respect to different soil conditions (acidic, neutral) and crop types (maize, rice, groundnut, coffee, sugarcane, etc.), and have already developed different nutrient recipes for different conditions. Indeed, while we work primarily in our pilot right now, we have also deployed our solution at a small scale in four other villages in Kenya, as well as with a partner in India and Thailand. After all, the challenge of high-quality fertilizer access is not only restricted to Kenya but has applicability in many parts of the world, and we believe that our solution can replicate wherever we can find a dependable source of local unused agricultural residues.

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