Marion Atieno Moon inspects the sukuma wiki (collard green) farm in Machakos keenly. She nods, bending to touch one of the crop’s huge leaves. It is evident that the plants are doing well.
Marion is in the county to meet members of Twone Mbee farmers’ group, who are growing vegetables and fruits, mainly pawpaw.
The meeting is key to her because she is here to assess how the crops are doing after they planted them with organic fertiliser.
She is the founder and managing director of a company named Wanda Organic.
The Business Administration graduate saw a gap in the use of organic fertiliser and she is eager to exploit it. Wanda Organic imports the fertiliser from the Philippines where it is cheaply produced.
The entrepreneur has, however, secured necessary licences to set up a manufacturing plant in Kenya.
“I came up with the business idea while visiting the Philippines three years ago. I learned of how they make affordable organic fertiliser, which is widely embraced.”
The fertiliser comprises microbes (bacteria, fungi, protozoa and micro-algae) and organic waste, which has cow dung, rice husks and bagasse (sugarcane or sorghum waste).
The process of making fertiliser takes 21 to 30 days leading to the production of a “dark brown to black” soil-like product free of whiff.
“All these raw materials are available locally, which will make it easier for me when I start production soon,” Marion says of the venture she has teamed up with her brother and gets support from her father.
She sells a kilo of the organic fertiliser at Sh63, with a 50kg bag going for Sh3,150 compared to a similar weight of (subsidised) inorganic fertiliser that sells at of Sh2,500.
“Most farms are depleted of nutrients due to excessive use of inorganic fertiliser. Use of organic fertiliser helps restore the nutrients,” she notes.
ORGANIC FERTILISER FACTORY
Her quest to set up the factory and promote use of organic fertiliser has seen her win grants. Recently, the 30-year-old was among seven recipients of a grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAid) under the Feed the Future initiative.
The Ministry of Agriculture, through the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate, has given her the greenlight to set up the factory.
“I began seeking the licences in 2012 and got approval in July. During that time, we worked with various farmers and the University of Nairobi. The field trials were supported by USAid in Machakos and Makueni.”
As she gets closer to achieving her dream, it has not been smooth sailing in the business. Her biggest challenge has been the high cost of transporting the bulky fertiliser from the stores to the farmers.
Marion started working with three farmers in the two counties. The number has risen to 70, with Twone Mbee being one of the largest group. “I have a team of six field officers (average age is 25). We are working with young people who understand local farmers.”
The entrepreneur says one does not need to be an agriculturalist to set up an agribusiness.
“All you need is the right attitude, the money, the idea and people to offer the right advice. It is what has kept me going,” says Marion, who has spent close to Sh10 million on the venture.
Prof Samuel Mwonga, an expert in soil fertility management, says organic fertilisers help replenish soil nutrients, especially, after long use of inorganic fertiliser.
“But many tend to have low amount of nutrient content. This can be improved by incorporating activators, which will increase the rate of decomposition and reduce the ratio of carbon to nitrogen.”