Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Joyce Kamande (JK:) With five years of hands-on experience in the economic empowerment of rural smallholder women farmers and youths, I co-founded Safi Organics. We focus on ensuring organic fertiliser delivered to the farmer is of the right quality and quantity.
I hold a masters degree in procurement and logistics from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture. As an environmental enthusiast, and passionate about empowering the youth and smallholder farmers in rural areas of Africa, I believe it is possible to economically empower farmers through sustainable agriculture. I am also currently the ‘Thought for Food’ Ambassador in Kenya.
MB: What led you to start Safi Organics?
JK: Growing up in a semi-arid area in Kenya, I witnessed first-hand the challenges in food insecurity which was a result of degraded soil and lack of water.
I decided that I would make a change and help our community rise out of poverty by ensuring that they can produce the maximum from their land. I met one of my co-founders during my final year of university, where we partnered to research on waste management and developed a high yielding organic fertiliser suitable for African soils. After successful trials on the farms, I knew this was the right solution for my community.
Safi Organics was founded in 2015 to empower smallholder farmers with the resilience to curb food insecurity in Africa.
MB: What are the main problems you are trying to solve?
JK: Most fertilisers today are produced in large-scale, centralised, capital-intensive facilities and then shipped via long-distance transport to emerging markets. As a result of this logistical and import mark-up, rural farmers in Africa often pay 2-5 times the world price for their fertilisers. Most farmers can therefore only afford the cheapest synthetic fertilisers available in the market which, over long-term application, has led to soil acidity in the farm. This has directly impacted the yield production, making the farmers’ food produce insecure.
We offer to implement village-based fertiliser plants that rely primarily on locally available labour and resources (e.g. crop residues) for the production. The novelty is that our process eliminates the long-distance fertiliser logistical cost, and improves farmers’ yields by up to 30% and net income by 50%. So far we have operated a financially profitable pilot operation in rural Kenya, serving 5,000 smallholder farmers. Our fertiliser is also officially certified by the relevant government body.
The vision is to improve the availability of high-quality fertiliser and food security for the 240 million rural smallholder farmers, by using our patent pending technology developed together with MIT.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
JK: So far through our pilot, we believe that we’ve proved the technical and economic efficacy of our solution within a limited context – rice and selected vegetables. However, agriculture is highly diverse. Whilst we have a roadmap of how to refine our process and technology to be robust, with respect to diverse input and soil needs, this needs to be proven out in different regions where the soil nutrient requirements can be different. Instead of having to set up test plots in different locales, it would be much more efficient for us to collaborate with local researchers with access to test plots, to speed up this robustness trial.
Furthermore, in the next two years, we are also scaling for maximum impact, first in Kenya and then also in other regions with degraded soils. This requires heavy recruitment and screening of local implementation partners, on whom we will need to depend for the success of our project.
While we are well connected to many agricultural networks in our local communities, we are actively building this network elsewhere. We are already working on this through the local Kenyan Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation offices, as well as other international organisations, such as Ashoka.
Both Meaningful Business and its partners will augment this network especially internationally. The publicity we gain will also attract other partners to us. Some of these partners are large corporations which can be strategic in our eventual scaling.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
JK: Firstly, as we seek to expand, it is important to document the positive impacts within our pre-existing group of 5,000 farmers. We will demonstrate a mechanistic cause by analysing soil/crop nutrient samples in plots that use our intervention versus those that do not.
Secondly, in the next 12 months, Safi Organics will expand to another 15,000 farmers within five communities. While we already have interested community partners, we are also looking to secure overall ecosystem partners to ensure that our solution meets the necessary standard and regulatory requirements, which will support our subsequent scaling through existing farmers’ networks.
In the next three years we aim to impact three million farmers in Kenya, setting us on a platform to exponentially expand across Africa and Asia impacting up to 240 million farmers globally.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
JK: In the world today, doing business creates more employment and triggers innovation. However, while we are still running after those profits, it is our responsibility to create social impact for our current and future generations.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
JK – ‘When I accomplish one thing I should celebrate and forget it, and immediately aim to achieve the next goal ‘- Chris Kirubi
MB – Who inspires you?
MB – How do you define success?
JK – Success to me is when I see that smile on a rural smallholder farmer as she increases her yields sustainably and is able to take two of her children to school or build a modern secure house. This is the main reason why I wake up every morning.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
JK – I wish I could be a zealous public speaker
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
JK – “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” by Robin S.Sharma
MB – What do you do to relax?
JK – When I feel exhausted or overwhelmed I love to visit a waterfall or take a stroll in the forest and enjoy the beauty of nature . Nature helps me to unwind.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.