At 27 years, Samuel Rigu has done what few can only dream of accomplishing in a lifetime. He is the founder and CEO of Safi Organics, an award-winning startup that is changing the lives and fortunes of farmers across Kenya.
Started in Mwea, Kirinyaga County, a few years ago, Safi Organics has received glowing international recognition for its work. The company is known for harnessing farm waste and using it to produce a purely organic fertiliser known as Brochar, which he supplies to farmers at an affordable price.
Samuel says the farm input has resulted in increased yields for farmers by up to 35 per cent, and helped them reap benefits from what would otherwise be waste.
“The fertiliser is purely organic and therefore safe for use on the farm. It also does not require any additives such as lime to work effectively, making it cheaper compared to other varieties,” Samuel explains.
To plant an acre, a farmer would require three 50kg bags of the fertiliser variety, which also encourages water retention in the soil and can also be produced at the farm through a simple procedure.
“To make the fertiliser, rice husks, maize combs and other waste are burned with little oxygen and carbonized, and then a special ingredient is added. The fertiliser is then packed in bags of between three kilograms and 50kg bags before being distributed to the farmers,” he says.
The special ingredient makes Safi Organics fertiliser what it is, effective and easy to use. He remains tight-lipped on the secret ingredient, saying it has been patented and can only be used under license.
Rigu says that over 200 farmers in Mwea, Nakuru, Nyeri, Kiambu, and other areas have embraced the fertilizer, simply known as Brochar, which has become popular among the farmers for its low PH and better water retention qualities compared to other varieties. Farmers also find it quite affordable.
Safi Organics is a partnership between Samuel and Kevin Kung, a PHD student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT.
The two first met as students and now share the goal of changing the fortunes of farmers and helping to feed millions of people facing the threat of a shrinking food basket.
Samuel says their dream is to make their product accessible to farmers worldwide through a partnership with MIT to see this initiative replicated by youth all over the world.
Safi Organics was recently named winner of the Total Challenge, Startup of the Year 2016, with a cash prize of Sh2.5 Million. An elated Samuel says the money will go a long way in growing the company and assisting the community in which he works.
Safi Organics beat more than 40 other startups to win the challenge, an accomplishment he says has affirmed his belief in persistence, hard work and an indomitable team spirit.
“The Total Challenge sought startups with great social impact and capacity to be self-sustaining in the future,” he says.
At the moment, Samuel has employed six young people in his farm. Born in Kinangop in 1988, he grew up watching his parents till the land to feed a family of 11 children. Life was not always easy for him and his siblings.
“As the last born child, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother on the farm. I could see the yields shrink, but the grim reality sank when my grandmother worriedly said to me, “In a few years, this farm will no longer produce enough to feed the family,” he says.
His family depended on their 2-acre farm for everything, and this reality planted a seed in his mind that would blossom to become Safi Organics many years later.
“I thought to myself; what will happen to all the people who live here when the land can no longer sustain them? I saw an opportunity to do something for the community. I wanted to improve their yields so that they could get enough to eat and earn a decent income from the land,” he says.
Samuel graduated from the University of Nairobi with a degree in Agricultural Development in 2011 even though his father had wanted him to study engineering.
He has worked as a farm manager and a teacher, but as he says, his focus is to serve where he can make the greatest impact, and he believes he is where he is meant to be, his vision is to reach at least 10million farmers in Africa.
Samuel believes Safi Organics is the company to watch because of its people-centered focus.
“At Safi Organics, everyone is important. We welcome everyone to share their ideas, and together, we will work towards actualising those ideas. Every day is work in progress.”
Name: Samuel Rigu
Institution: University of Nairobi
Course: Agricultural Development
Company: Safi Organics
Location: Mwea, Kirinyaga County
Award: Total Challenge, Startup of the Year 2016.