Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Green Farming: Restoring Kenya’s Soils the “Wandaful” Wayo

This post was written by Emmie Kio and Sylvia Maina of Land O' Lakes IDD.

Soil. It’s a loose, sometimes sticky brown substance we often step on before we go about on our way. It might seem of little value to many, but to farmers, it’s everything.

It is the medium through which plants absorb water, grow and receive required nutrients. Healthy soils also translate to healthy produce, which is especially critical to smallholder farmers in Kenya, where soils are too acidic and depleted due to improper agricultural practices, including overuse of low-quality chemical fertilizers. According to AGRA’s Africa Agriculture Status Report 2013, Kenyan farmers’ fertilizer usage averages 86 lbs (39 kg) per hectare—higher than the usage rate of other farmers in Africa.

In December, we celebrated World Soil Day. The theme, “Soils, a Solid Ground for Life,” could not better articulate the value of soil for humanity’s survival and the opportunities that abound. The theme brings to mind Marion Moon, a woman who has heeded the call and set her mind and hands to restoring Kenyan soils using a unique organic fertilizer. We met her through our work at Land O’Lakes International Development’s office in Nairobi.

Wanda Organic and Healthy Soils

Marion Moon is the founder and managing director of Wanda Organic, a social enterprise that provides farmers with the latest biotechnology in the form of organic fertilizers. With seed funding and technical assistance from Feed the Future Kenya Innovation Engine, a five-year program funded by USAID and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, Wanda Organic has successfully tested the use of Plantmate Organic Fertilizer and Prime EC Foliar Plant Food in select semi-arid areas in Kenya, with the ultimate goal of setting up local production facilities in the region. The products, the result of breakthroughs during more than 40 years in biotechnological research, increase yields by improving crops’ ability to resist diseases and restoring soil health by, for example, unlocking nutrients and improving water retention capacity.

A farmer examines a handful of Plantmate fertilizer before applying it to crops. Farmers testing the innovative product say that they like its color, that it has no odor and that it is moist and “feels alive.”

Plantmate organic fertilizer has the ripple effect of not only increasing profitability, but of also increasing family incomes, improving nutrition, creating new employment and developing rural economies while restoring and strengthening the health of Kenyan soils.

Farmer Naomi Nthenya Munyao noticed an increase in productivity after using Plantmate on her family farm. A smallholder in Machakos County, 55-year-old Naomi worked with Wanda Organic to test the fertilizer on fruit and vegetable crops, including French beans, bananas, paw paws and tomatoes. A few months into the project, Naomi began reporting exciting results: Her son Titus, who was managing the demonstration site, realized a bumper tomato harvest amounting to three times the usual yields. Titus was so enthralled with the organic fertilizer that he offered Wanda Organic an acre of the farm for further demonstrations and began championing the use of Plantmate among his neighbors. Moreover, he bought two goats with part of the profits from his tomato sales. Believe it or not, he named his goats “Wanda” in appreciation of the remarkable results.

Farmer Naomi Nthenya Munyao tends to French beans on her family farm. Photo Credit: Faith Njoki Njung’e/USAID Kenya

Since early 2014, Marion’s company has been working shoulder-to-shoulder with smallholders to demonstrate the effectiveness of Plantmate. By May 2015, the end of Wanda Organic’s award implementation period, the company had established more than 30 demo sites in Kenya’s Machakos and Makueni counties, and additional sites in other regions of the country. Wanda Organic had also trained more than 400 farmers on sustainable farming practices and proper use of the product. The number of farmers who adopted Wanda’s products and recommended practices had more than doubled from late 2014, from less than 75 to almost 150. Those who adopted the technology realized at least a 30 percent increase in yields and a 20 percent decrease in cost of inputs due to the efficacy of the innovations.

As the demand for Plantmate continues to rise and Wanda Organic explores strategies to establish local distribution centers, it makes us happy to know—and to have worked directly with—someone nurturing a solid ground for many lives by improving smallholders’ soils.