Kenyan business is tapping into the organic farming market

25 April 2014. Organic farming in Africa is gaining popularity as farmers seek to exploit growing demand among the continent’s emerging middle class, as well as export to European markets with appetites for healthier foods.

Myles Lutheran, a director at  Eco Fuels Kenya
Myles Lutheran, a director at Eco Fuels Kenya

Producers of organic fertilisers are taking note of the “big market opportunity”. So says Myles Lutheran, a director at social enterprise Eco Fuels Kenya, adding that organic farming “is an inevitable shift as African farmers seek to produce better quality produce, attain higher yields and protect their soils against destructive chemicals”.

Eco Fuels Kenya produces organic fertilisers and biofuel from the nuts of the Croton megalocarpus canopy forest tree. The tree is naturally abundant in equatorial East Africa, but the commercial potential of the Croton nut is largely untapped.

The company collects nuts from a network of more than 1,500 individuals in the Laikipia area (about 300km from capital Nairobi) who generate a seasonal income from the harvest.

“We squeeze oil out of the seed which has a lot of different uses including replacing diesel fuel in certain engines, curing leather and making soaps. However, the oil makes up only 10% of what we are doing,” says Lutheran. “The remaining 90% of the nuts we collect become organic fertiliser, and due to growing demand for organic fertilisers and the necessity for Kenyan farmers to adopt more sustainable farming practices that is the primary opportunity for our business.”

Eco Fuels Kenya sells its products to more than 20 export-focused corporate farms and hundreds of local small-holder horticulture farmers in central Kenya. Lutheran adds that Kenya’s market is also attractive because legislators and farmers now recognise that overuse of chemical fertilisers has depleted the country’s soils and contributes to poor yields. Eco Fuels Kenya is hoping to expand its market by encouraging farmers to supplement its chemical fertilisers with organics.

Despite the potential, Lutheran says making sales is “an uphill climb” because Kenya’s is not yet an established market for organic farming like Uganda and Tanzania.

“Turning the need for organic fertiliser into a demand for product is a timely process. You can talk to almost any farmer and they are very keen on organic, they know the benefits and they know why chemicals are bad, but they still do not just switch all of a sudden from chemicals to organic fertiliser without visible evidence of the fertilisers’ results which often means three to four months trials and another two to three months to close sales after that.”

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