Kidogo, kidogo, hujaza kibaba (A lot of small steps will make big difference)
Investing in sustainability is one of the first steps towards a circular economy within a company or value chain. There are many great examples within the flower industry, that show that each and every small step can make a great impact.
Floriculture is big business here in Kenya, two of the many farms implementing circular principles in their daily practice demonstrate how kidogo kidogo, hujaza kibaba they work towards a circular economy. From their foundation both of them have aimed for self-sufficiency. What started from a must to survive as a company in those early years, has continued in to a personal strive to develop structures and projects which take into account the environment and are equally economically interesting.
The power to create power
In the early 90’s the Kenian government started the first geothermal tests around the Naivasha region. At that moment the Oserian was still farming purely in the soil. Due to its size, and many pumps needed, the farm was known as the “the one of largest electricity user in the whole of Kenya”. Supported by the National government they invested to become the first farm that generates power by using their own geothermal wells. The steam converted by the well-heat system can heat 7 million litres of water daily to a level of 95 degrees, which is then used to heat up the greenhouses at night. All water in this system is constantly reused so none of it goes to waste.
Florensis has another approach, they have built a mutually beneficial relation with a nearby processor who uses all organic waste of Florensis for energy and compost production. Florensis grows their product in a hydroponic system and therefore does not use the compost. Additionally Florensis is looking into the possibilities for introducing a solar system. The location of this solar system is still uncertain as two locations have additional benefits. At the first optional location the solar system can reduce air-condition costs, at the second optional location it increases the sustainability of the plastic covers of the water storage thanks.
Reduce – Reuse – Recycle
Neil Hellings, manager of Oserian and Eddy Verbeek, manager of Florensis, both truly adhere to the 3 R’s: Reduce – Reuse – Recycle. This is reflected in the daily management of their farms. Flower farms in Kenya have to deal with a high presence of pests and insects amongst others due to a lack of cold periods which can break the breeding cycle of insects.
Their ambition to become a chemical free farm is therefore challenging and one needs patience and persistence. Florensis works closely together with for example Koppert on IPM (Integrated Pest Management). A complete ban on all chemicals will not be possible in the near future, but the introduction of insects into the greenhouses, natural enemies of flies, moths and spiders is a start. Moreover the use of nematodes, harmless fungi and bacteria to destroy pests also has a great impact. Oserian works together with a team of Swiss and South African experts on biological crop protection to limit the use of chemicals on their farm, this method largely uses similar methods.
To prove that the chemicals used on the Florensis farm are not harmful for the environment they have placed 20 beehives around the farm, which coincidentally also produce over 600 KG of honey. Oserian also believes in the importance of bees, they sell the honey commercially as an extra source of income.
Within the near future Oserian aims to become a carbon neutral business, they have already replaced 50% of their farm vehicles with (secondhand) electric tugs. Installing a 1MWt solar power station has reduced the usage of diesel use up to less than one quarter of the diesel they used just one year ago, an initiative that not only saves money but helps them toward the target of becoming carbon neutral.
Florensis together with Philips has reduced the energy usage of their greenhouses with 93% by installing 11-Watt GreenPower LED flowering lamps and replace the 150-Watt incandescent bulbs.
The flow of water
A large part of the flowers on Oserian farm are grown hydroponically, in plastic bags filled with volcanic pumice, collected from their own premises. This system is applauded by the Water Resource Management Authority (WRWA) for using up to 40% less water. The water for irrigation used to be fetched from the lake. Nowadays Oserian is looking to collect rain water and to increase its water recycling using both geothermal heat and ultra-violet light for sterilization. The water can be reused several times before eventually being used for several other crops grown in tunnels or open fields..
Recently Florensis has installed a circular water purification system on their farm for producing drinking water from the borehole. The purified water is provided to the employees and their families who live on the premises, and the waste water of this facility is used in the fish ponds with catfish. The water from the fish tanks is then filtered in the wetlands system next to the farm where it supplies the banana and sugarcane production of the employees and is given back to nature.
Visible to the eye of the consumer
Ones an entrepreneur start to think within the principles of a circular economy, the principles can be implemented trough out the company.
Both farms have invested in the processing of used plastic. After +/- 10 years the plastic bags used for the hydroponic systems could be seen as waste, but this is no longer the case, these bags are now recycled at a recycle unit. The unit turns the bags, and also the plastic of the greenhouses and other waste materials into poles that are used on the farm. In the future, Oserian plans to even reuse the pumice from the hydroponic system. Currently they are investigating if the used pumice can be turned in to bricks or other building materials.
Neil of Oserian comments: “Most consumers are not aware that many farmers are increasing their efforts on the farm to reduce their environmental impact. They just see the packaging going into their waste bins, for example the sleeves in which the flowers are transported and we are therefore trying to produce bio-degradable sleeves. Unfortunately this is not yet possible but we will keep on trying”.
Also Eddy Verbeek sees the need for sustainable packaging. However both of them have not been successful in finding a sustainable solution, even despite the many years of collaboration with different universities and companies. A focus is therefore on the development of sustainable lightweight boxes in which the flowers are transported. By creating stronger boxes, waste is reduced and up to 15% more flowers can be carried per box.
Florensis is testing boxes made of strong isolating cardboard, without the use of any other materials. All plastics, such as tape, protective paper and all staples have been removed. The boxes of Oserian are made of very thin recycled cardboard with second use plastic clips and this innovation has removed the need for internal cardboard wrapping of the flowers inside each box.
Fully automated grass cutters
Numerous bbq (nyama choma) parties have been organized in Naivasha as farmers realized the powerful potential of sheep. Sheep do not only lead to a decrease in chemicals usage thanks to their ability to cut grass to perfection by which they destroy breeding grounds for insects, but they also save on fuel and labor costs. Finally, they are a good reward for the hard-working staff.
Oserian is also investing in a zero-grazing beef unit which will further reduce their organic waste and the manure is collected and used in a worm farm. The worms and manure will be turned in to vermicompost that will fertilizes the green beans used in their IPM (Integrated Pest Management) insect breeding facility.
These two companies show just a few of the possibilities to implement circular thinking in agribusiness. Many other examples can be given, and lead to opportunities for (Dutch) businesses. From solar panels to Integrated Pest Management, Kenya is ready! The circular economy is a source of endless business opportunities.
The Embassy is pleased to contribute to the cause and ideology of the circular economy. Therefore we gladly open up our online platform to the share the success stories. Would your company like to share their story? Please feel free to contact Naifirstname.lastname@example.org.