From sea to soil: Kenyan entrepreneur turns seaweed into fertiliser

Mohdhar Mohamed

Mohdhar Mohamed, founder of Morganics and Allied Ltd

Mohdhar Mohamed founded Morganics and Allied Ltd, a company that transforms seaweed into organic fertiliser, offering an affordable alternative for farmers.

Mohdhar Mohamed, born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya, saw potential in the ample seaweed found in the surrounding ocean waters. After carefully considering how to turn the abundant plant into beneficial products, he established Morganics and Allied Ltd in 2021, a company that converts seaweed into organic fertiliser.

“I am a farmer and the producer of Morganics Liquid Seaweed Fertiliser, and a marine conservationist. What compelled me to start this venture was, first, to make it easy for farmers to access affordable and effective organic fertiliser and also a way to make a decent living for me and the community around me,” says Mohdhar.

Starting out was tough. The harvesting, processing, storing, and packaging of the seaweed presented significant hurdles. “Challenges started with the harvesting of seaweed and the general handling and processing of fresh seaweed, storage and packing, but with time and with help from the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), we have managed to overcome most challenges,” says Mohdhar.

He began his venture working alongside three of his sons, carrying out every task by hand. Today, he employs five permanent workers and brings in casual labour when the workload is heavy.

“At the moment, I am in discussion with a women’s group on how we can train them on seaweed harvesting so that they can earn a living too,” he adds.

Mohdhar’s initial capital came from his personal savings, which, by his own admission, were limited, with some contributions from family. “It has been a battle for me, considering I had no business background. It’s been challenging from getting the legalities right and bookkeeping … we are still developing,” he concedes.

“We have one product that’s already in the market – Morganics Liquid Seaweed Fertiliser, an organic fertiliser made using a fermentation method, and a second product in the pipeline that will be a seaweed concentrate,” says the entrepreneur.

Mohdhar explains that not all seaweed can be transformed into fertiliser. A crucial initial step involves selecting the seaweed, which must be fresh and not dry, before proceeding to the processing stage to create the final product.

The selected seaweed then goes through a thorough cleaning process. It’s washed and rinsed to remove excess sea salt, sand, and impurities like plastic and debris. After cleaning, the seaweed is chopped into smaller pieces, weighed, and stored in containers filled with water in a controlled room. To maintain quality, each storage container is inspected every three days for changes in temperature and pH. Every batch also undergoes chemical testing to ensure consistent quality.

He reveals that the fermentation process usually takes between 30 and 45 days. His operation has the capacity to produce up to five tonnes a month. However, for now, they fulfill orders as they come in.

Mohdhar sources packaging containers from Nairobi, opting to package the liquid fertiliser in both one-litre and five-litre containers. He sells the one-litre container for US$5.6 and the five-litre container for $24.8.

“Seaweed has long been used to help plant growth, especially before the advent of commercial fertiliser production. It provides many benefits to plants above and beyond conventional fertilisers to promote stronger, healthier plants. When plants are stronger and healthier, they are better able to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, salinity, insect pests, and diseases.

“Morganics is nontoxic and very safe for humans and pollinators too. It is affordable and has great coverage,” says Mohdhar.

“My strategy has remained the same – we are not in a competition with the big boys, we are here to give the farmer an alternative, one that is better for you, your plants and your soil.”

As an active marine conservationist, Mohdhar understands the importance of marine life and the necessity to protect it. His team adheres to “ethical” harvesting practices, focusing only on seaweed left by the high tide and found above the waterline. This approach not only provides the raw material for his business, but also serves as a cleanup activity, helping to maintain the health of their shorelines and beaches.

As organic farming gains popularity, Mohdhar expects his orders to increase, requiring him to expand his operation.

“There is a huge potential in seaweed as a source of income not only as a farm input, but also in cosmetics and food too,” he says.

For those considering a similar venture, Mohdhar offers some advice: don’t give up. “I started over four years ago, and I told myself, ‘one farmer at a time’ and one day Morganics will be on the top shelf. Set your target, start small, do not fight the competition, build your brand and base it on trust.”

“I plan to continue telling the farmer that it is time to shift from chemical-dependency farming and embrace organic farming because it is the right way to go. I plan to grow both my product list and output capacity and keep helping where I can.”