How Safi Sarvi, Kenya’s home-grown fertilizer, improves Africa’s crops

Samuel Rigu, founder and owner of Safi Organics: “Safi Sarvi mitigates climate change by sequestration of Co2 from the environment. For every acre of land our product is used, we sequester 1.5 tons of Co2.”

Over the years, Samuel Rigu has won several startup and entrepreneurship awards with his invention of home-grown fertilizer Safi Sarvi. Two years after he started Safi Organics, his business is rapidly maturing. He is now negotiating with franchising partners in Kenya as well as in Nigeria and Cameroon to make his Safi Sarvi fertilizer take off in Africa. “With the proper funding and with a lot of entrepreneurship, success is around the corner”, Samuel insists.

Safi Sarvi is an affordable and organic alternative to traditional chemical fertilizers. The patent pending production process for the environmentally friendly fertilizer is brilliantly simple. Rice husk or chaff – or other organic farm waste from products like corn – is burned under limited oxygen in a reactor, after which it is mixed with a secret nutrient ingredient, making it a complete fertilizer. Safi Sarvi comes with a bonus, that is all-important in today’s quest to beat the effects of climate change. Samuel Rigu: “The product mitigates climate change by sequestration of Co2 from the environment. For every acre of land our product is used, we sequester 1.5 tons of Co2."

Increase yields
The product works wonders for Kenya’s maize, rice, wheat, beans, peas, vegetables, fruits, and flowers farmers. Samuel Rigu: “Safi Sarvi increases a farmer's yields by 20 to 30 percent while reducing soil acidity. 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”.

In the middle of the rice region of Mwea, Kirinyaga County, Samual can easily access unlimited amounts of his base product, rice chaff. Safi Organics buys chaff from a network of local rice processors for about $30 per ton. He sells back fertilizer to local farmers for $15 per 50-kg bag, which is about half the price of the traditional imported chemical fertilizer. He can typically process two tons of chaff in a day on four product lines.

Paid for waste
Hence, Safi Sarvi works beneficial to farmers, in two ways. Farmers and processors now get paid for waste they used to throw away; farmers also enjoy improved yields at affordable rates. “We offer farmers a unique fertilizer blend, tailored to the African soil, at a lower cost compared to the market cost. Safi Sarvi achieves this without harming their acidic soil in the long run.”
Business is going well. Safi Sarvi is sold throughout Kenya. “Still, transporting our product over distances of 500 kilometers and more, is inefficient and costly; we strive for a 50- to 100-kilometer catchment area. It is better to open up new production facilities in other regions. We are in the process of negotiating franchise partnerships in other regions of Kenya.”

Meanwhile, Samuel and his staff of eight work on the development of an online sales platform where farmers can order and pay for the product. “We also consider offering low-cost and easy to use testing facilities for farmers, to enable to get reliable data on the quality of their soil. This may help applying the fertilizer more effectively. This may even lead to the launch of Safi Sarvi varieties for specific soil characteristics. We are discussing this with suppliers of additives, with whom we may even be able to develop a folia or fluid product in future.”

Developing and growing
All in all, the Safi Organics business is developing and growing. “We’ve become quite well-known on the continent”, Samuel adds with pride. “We are even in touch with companies as far away as India.” Samuel is now looking for funding – US$350,000 – and franchise partners to launch Safi Sarvi in at least one other African country. “I definitely see opportunities in opening up franchises in other countries in Africa and Asia. But it does take deep pockets as well as time and energy.”

Samuel Rigu’s Safi Sarvi fertilizer won several awards, like the second prize in the MIT Food and Agribusiness Prize. His business won the Total Startupper of the Year award, held in 34 African countries in 2015, the 2015 Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program, the 2015 Jacobs Startup Competition and the 2014 MIT IDEAS global challenge.

Photo Credits: Safi Organics

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