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.
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.”
The company produces 25 tons of fertiliser per month and plans to increase its monthly output to 75 tons by the end of the year. The company’s two products, EcoGrow and EcoGrow Plus Neem, were recently certified by the East Africa Organic Product Standards (EAOPS).
“The number of certified organic farmers in Kenya has doubled to 70,000 in three years according to available data. Due to the lack of certified fertiliser inputs, these farmers have been forced to use their own compost for fertiliser which is a timely process and may deprive their crops of certain nutrients. Thus, there is a big opportunity for us to supply that certified growers market with a ready-to-use product and help farmers get better yields while making a stronger case for more certified organic growing.”
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.
Organic farmers traditionally sold to export markets, but in recent years demand in urban centres such as Nairobi has been increasing. This, Lutheran says, is likely to attract more farmers.
“The number of organic farmers markets and organic only restaurants is increasing in Nairobi. There is a rising middle class that is starting to mimic western countries in a lot of ways, including the greater consciousness of caring about what they eat. It is still all very early stage here in Kenya, but it is happening faster because of easy access to information through the internet other media.”