Henrik and I held a two-day orientation in Musamba, Kenya, about a half hour south of Bungoma, for nine (yes there are nine, despite the bonus two guys who jumped at the opportunity to get in on the team picture) newly minted biochar experts. It was a packed two days consisting primarily of discussions about the benefits that farmers will get from using the Rutuba kiln to produce biochar, field visits to over 100 local farmers, and about ten runs with the Rutuba to make sure everyone is familiar with how to use it themselves going forward.
I like to believe that all of our sales reps learned valuable information and sales techniques from Henrik and I, but in the end it was an equal if not greater learning experience for the two of us. Each of our reps had insightful, proactive thoughts on how to most effectively reach farmers. They understand how their community members – fellow farmers and future customers – think about income and expenses and how they frame the benefits we are trying to sell.
The reps organized a field day for local farmers the Friday following our Tuesday-Wednesday orientation. People from the area were invited to come learn about biochar and experience first-hand the simplicity of using the Rutuba. Nearly everyone in attendance (the few small children excluded) actively participated in the loading and unloading of the kiln during each run and asked great questions about the long-term effect of biochar on their soil and how they can pay for our product. By the end of the day every single person who attended left with a new found passion for biochar, and a handful left with arrangements made to start installment payments for their new Rutuba kilns.
One of the best received benefits during the event was the ability of Rutuba users to make charcoal briquettes from biochar. The currently prevailing practice is to cut down trees to make charcoal – a process that is both incredibly costly for the environment and prohibitively cumbersome for most who use briquettes for cooking. In addition to organically increasing the fertility of their soil, the biochar produced by the Rutuba enables farmers to use their agricultural waste products to produce their own charcoal briquettes. These can both be used for personal consumption and sold in bulk at local markets for a reasonable sum. This way, customers are able to realize both long term and immediate revenue increases in the form of yield improvements and briquette production.
Going forward we will be experimenting with various sales mediums like the direct visit/farm demo model employed this past week. Additionally in the coming weeks we will be setting up displays and demos at various markets in the area for our sales representatives to manage while Henrik and I engage in further discussions with local agrovets (agricultural retail stores), government agricultural offices, and other organizations actively working with farmers in the area.
Every day more and more people are learning about the biochar revolution and volunteering their support. Whether through purchases or offers to host community demonstrations that they themselves organize, Western Kenya’s farmers are adopting biochar as a newfound solution to depleted soils, deforestation, and the high cost (both financially, and environmentally) of inorganic fertilizers.
Text edited by Eric Solomonson