A Frontier Markets Scout as an Unreasonable Mentor and a visit to UpEnergy in Uganda

The past couple weeks have been quite exhausting as I spent over 75 hours on busses and matatus for both my roles with Eco Fuels Kenya and Village Capital, along with some time spent in Uganda to visit a fellow Frontier Market Scout Andrew Price who is working with UpEnergy. Despite the exhaustion of time spent on public transport and unpaved roads, the trip contained a number of highlights that made it all worthwhile.

Eco Fuels Kenya - Organic Farming

Eco Fuels Kenya General Manager Cosmas with one of our retail farming customers

I got started with a trip to Nairobi for a number of investor and partner meetings on behalf of Eco Fuels Kenya. We had a wonderful site visit from a potential impact investment partner just before I headed south, so over the following week myself and the other members of the management team followed-up in Nairobi as the firm performed additional due diligence and learned each of our perspectives on the opportunity and challenges of the organization’s future. Taking advantage of the trip to Nairobi, I was also able to meet and engage with a number of potential partner organizations, most of whom also participating in the development of Kenya’s organic fertilizer market, to make formal introductions and brainstorm collaboration ideas. As we dig deeper into the world of organic fertilizers it is becoming more and more apparent that collaboration, rather than competition, will help us reach our goals of replenishing Kenya’s chemically depleted soils. It is an exciting time and opportunity for Eco Fuels Kenya to be in a position to help lead the development of this commercially-viable market.

Mentoring UnreasonableAfrica - Myles Lutheran Frontier Market Scout

Group photo with the team from GrowthAfrica and Unreasonable Africa who helped pull off the incubator event

Before departing Nairobi for Kampala, Uganda I participated as a mentor for the Unreasonable Insitute’s first Nairobi initiative: a 48 hour incubator for social entrepreneurs. Representing both Eco Fuels Kenya and Village Captial at the event was a great opportunity to help some early and mid-idea stage social entrepreneurs develop further to a point where they could take the next step in building their business. Since Village Capital and GrowthAfrica recently announced a second incubator program this upcoming September, it was a great opportunity to meet some potential participants and teach them about the Village Capital model. On top of meeting and brainstorming with entrepreneurs, it was great to network with the other mentors of the program to dive deeper into the Nairobi social enterprise scene while exchanging ideas and resources. To top off the great weekend spent at the incubator I was proud that one of the teams I helped mentor was named the winning enterprise of the weekend, riding the success that they had during the session I spent developing their idea with them to the winners circle.

Andrew Price - UpEnergy | Frontier Market ScoutsAndrew Price - UpEnergy | Frontier Market Scouts

Andrew interviews an UpEnergy client after she spent two weeks trialing a new cookstove product

An overnight bus ride put me in Kampala to catch up with fellow Frontier Market Scout Andrew Price who is working with UpEnergy. UpEnergy (as described on their website) fights poverty, improves health and protects forests by making clean energy technologies available to more people in the developing world through carbon-financed distribution channels. Carbon financing through international carbon credit markets allows UpEnergy to sell their products at a price that Base of the Pyramid (BoP) customers can afford to pay, thus increasing access to these life-changing technologies. Having no prior experience with clean cookstoves, the primary product UpEnergy distributes, I was extremely interested in seeing their implementation and the challenges of their distribution which are well documented. I shadowed Andrew as he went on customer visits to get feedback from trials of new cookstoves that UpEnergy is considering adding to their portfolio.

With a short pit stop in western Kenya to visit a new best friend, I exhaustively made my way home to Nanyuki on buses and matatus to get back to work at Eco Fuels Kenya. Officially half way through my six month Frontier Market Scouts assignment, I’m excited as ever to continue the progress we’ve been making since my arrival.

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Some Photos from the GrowthAfrica Site Visit – April 2013

Working hard with one of the team members for the photo op.

Working hard with one of the team members for the photo op

Alan explains the process to some guests and Johnni of GrowthAfrica, our newest Director

Alan explains the process to some guests and Johnni of GrowthAfrica, our newest Director

Cosmas explains the benefits of our Organic Fertilizers on depleted soils to Johnni of GrowthAfrica.

Cosmas explains the benefits of our Organic Fertilizers on depleted soils to Johnni of GrowthAfrica

Cosmas and Johnni - Eco Fuels Kenya

Cosmas holds some Croton Nuts as he explains part of our production to Johnni and other visitors

Alan and Johnni - Eco Fuels Kenya

Alan and Johnni with one of the input in our Organic Fertilizers

Alan with Croton Seeds - Eco Fuels Kenya

Alan takes a moment to seperate some Croton Seeds during the visit

Cosmas, Anothy and Seed Collectors - Eco Fuels Kenya

Cosmas of EFK and Anthony of GrowthHub with some of our Croton Collectors

Cosmas, Soloman, Organic Farm - Eco Fuels Kenya

Cosmas and Soloman stand with a farmer using our Organic Fertilizer on his Cabbage.

Helping to Pave the Way for Kenya’s Organic Farming Future

As progress continues in the upgraded Eco Fuels Kenya factory and daily operation starts to move towards an autonomous flow, the management team now looks forward to further implementing its strategic plan for the future. Specifically what this means is diving deeper into the market for organic farming and organic fertilizers in Kenya and looking to collaborate with other players in the field who have equally vested interest in the people, environment and economics of the country’s agricultural future. It is an unfortunate, yet common occurrence to hear from prospective clients whose soils have been damaged by heavy use of DAP and NPK fertilizers over the years. Everyone from large-scale commercial farmers to a growing number of agro-finance social enterprises that help subsistence farmers increase income are actively looking for ways to repair their soil conditions for increased production (i.e. yield and plant size) now and to ensure longevity for future seasons, two of the main benefits of planting with organic fertilizers.

The Eco Fertilizers Kenya logo

The Eco Fertilizers Kenya logo

Back in mid-2012 Eco Fuels Kenya was told by KEBS that our organic fertilizer brand, Eco Fertilizers Kenya, was the first organic fertilizer being produced in the country. Since that time we have become aware of a number of other locally produced organic fertilizer and farming initiatives, but there is still a lot of work to be done to educate and build awareness in the development of a growing organic farming ecosystem that focuses on short and long term benefit to the country and its people.

Some players and initiatives in the organic farming movement across Kenya worth noting include Ashoka Fellow Nelson Kariuki, who has made significant progress facilitating policy changes to enable increased use of organic fertilizer in the country and helped start an organic fertilizer brand called Rutuba. Next is the work of the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), which is using a network of organic farming stakeholders to fulfill its mission of improving the livelihoods of small scale producers in Kenya through organic agriculture. Their monthly publication, The Organic Farmer, helps to bring education, unity, and facilitate collaboration in a young, but growing section of Kenya’s agricultural economy. Last but not least are up and coming social enterprises including ourselves and companies such as Sanergy, which increase sanitation in Kenya’s slums through micro-franchised toilets and produces energy and organic manure out of the collected waste.

Zucchini Plant - Eco Fertilizers Kenay

Zucchini plant grown with Eco Fertilizers Kenya organic fertilizers

Despite momentum for Kenya’s organic movement being underway, there is still much work to be done. Proper scientific control testing for all organic fertilizers on the market and outreach/education are among the major challenges which Eco Fuels Kenya seeks to undertake in partnership with local and global organizations that have interests in encouraging sustainable agriculture practices. With their help, we hope to move these conversations from a community level to an international level and engage not only direct buyers and sellers of goods, but also the government which has the ability to influence the flow of imported chemical agricultural inputs, help encourage investments into local organic agriculture companies and build infrastructure that every modern economy needs in order to thrive that is currently lacking in places where large agricultural operations are taking place across Kenya.

As Eco Fuels Kenya continues to grow production levels at our new factory site we have higher ambitions than simply developing a market for organic fertilizers. We want to set an example for the country and the rest of East Africa how value can be created from indigenous, organic resources that have been historically ignored or discarded. Through partnerships we will demonstrate that the biggest impact can be achieved if we work together towards common goals instead of independently in silos where efforts are often inefficient or wasted. Our success will prove that, with the use of today’s technology we don’t have to ignore BoP (Base of the Pyramid) community members from either side our supply chain just because they live in rural communities or have little to no formal education or job training. And through replication of our model, fulfilling our vision of six additional factory sites across the country in the next six years, we’ll help pave the way for Kenya’s organic farming future.

Biochord Humicoil - Eco Fertilizers Kenya

A close-up look at EFK’s soil-conditioning organic fertilizer

Finished Product - Eco Fertilizers Kenya

Finished product ready to be shipped to Laikipia’s agricultural producers