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Meet a Solver: Kevin Kung, Safi Organics

You’re a rural farmer in Kenya. Importing fertilizer to grow food will cost you almost three times the world price because of transportation costs. How do you solve this problem?

Kevin Kung and his startup Safi Organics have an answer: Help rural farmers produce local fertilizer so that they don’t have to pay to import it.

And, this solution is sustainable. Kevin became a Solver in our 2016 Carbon Contributions Challenge because his solution is carbon-negative.

Let Kevin tell you Safi Organics’ story below. And if you want to join Kevin and Safi Organics, make sure to apply to our 2017 Global Challenges by August 1: (1) Sustainable Urban Communities; (2) Women and Technology; (3) Brain Health; and (4) Youth, Skills, and the Workforce of the Future


Q: Tell us your story: How did you first become interested in the work you do?
My partner, Samuel Rigu, grew up in rural Kenya and witnessed first-hand the issues of rural farmers in Kenya. He and I met while Samuel was working on technologies that could turn local agricultural residues into an effective, high-yield fertilizer. Our partnership was born this way and has since transformed into the creation of Safi Organics.

Q: Did you have a turning point moment that inspired you to think differently about your work?
Initially we started the company by selling solid fuel cooking briquettes, but we quickly found out, after initial tests, that the briquettes became covered in ash very quickly and were unsuitable for cooking. We could not demonstrate a viable product and decided to pivot to what we have now.

Q: Tell us about your background—professionally, personally, or as a team.
I just graduated with a PhD from MIT and have been working on the core conversion technology for the past five years. My partner Samuel grew up in Kenya and is intimately familiar with the challenges the country faces and the needs of the smallholder farmers that our solution helps.


Q: What is the problem you’re trying to solve?
Fertilizers today are mostly produced in large-scale, centralized, and capital-intensive facilities in North America, Europe, and China. After they are produced, fertilizers are shipped long distances to emerging economies such as Kenya. Due to this logistical mark-up, rural farmers in places like Sub-Saharan Africa have to pay two to three times the world price for the imported fertilizer.

Q: How are you trying to solve it?
We use technology to downsize and decentralize the fertilizer production, making it possible to implement village-based, profitable fertilizer production units using locally available labor, resources, and waste. This drastically cuts down the long-distance transportation cost, and allows rural farmers to access a high-yield fertilizer blend that is locally produced and can improve their yields by up to 30 percent.

Q: Tell us a story! Who will your solution impact?
One of our users, Mr. Kibuchi, is a rice farmer in rural Kenya and has been using our fertilizer for the past two growing seasons. He has seen his crop yield increase by about 30 percent. Due to his additional income, last season he was able to afford a new tractor for his farm which he credits to our fertilizer. Mr. Kibuchi is a big advocate for our product and has encouraged fellow farmers to use it as well. He said: "If they have not started using it, they should start now."


Q: What do you think the Solve community can uniquely bring to solving your challenge?
First, connections to potential grant-based funders and implementation partners. Second, publicity and a platform to showcase the work in order to reach a larger audience.

Q: What’s the challenge that you think Solve should take on next?
Making humans multi-planetary.


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