From the Field, News

Monday, November 15, 2021

Making Biofertilizer in Rwanda

Last Earth Day, we announced our plans in Rwanda to transform coffee and food waste into organic fertilizer that supports coffee producers in our supply chain. As the rainy season nears its end, we’re excited to bring you an update about the project.

The Project

This project is the result of a partnership between Sucafina Rwanda (RWACOF), The Bug Picture and COPED. When it comes to improving yields and quality to increase incomes, coffee producers in Rwanda face an uphill battle against nutrient-poor soil, older rootstock and a lack of inputs. Sucafina Rwanda’s new partnership is making affordable, environmentally-friendly fertilizer accessible to coffee producers and is helping to save on landfill space.

While chemical fertilizers can increase coffee yields, they have several drawbacks. Since they don’t help make soil healthier, farmers need to buy and reapply fertilizer each year. Additionally, chemical fertilizers are typically designed as a one-size-fits-all solution with just a few formulas sold to producers across the world. Rwandan soil is highly acidic and tends to have very little binding agent. Many commonly used fertilizers simply run off at the first rain. What is needed is a unique and cost-effective solution, specifically designed for Rwandan needs.

At our fertilizer plant, black soldier fly larvae spin waste into fertilizer gold. These little guys can consume large amounts of organic waste (including coffee pulp) very quickly. Our new facility is located in Bishenyi at one of COPED’s landfills. The landfill takes in up to 1.5 tons of organic waste daily, covering significant tracts of what would otherwise be arable land. With the new program, food waste is kept separate and, instead of adding to the landfill’s growing bulk, it’s mixed with coffee pulp from Rwacof’s Washing Stations, and treated with the larvae, which can transform it into nutrient-rich compost in as little as 10 days.

We expect production of around 11 tons of low-impact, high-yield biofertilizer per month through bug power. In addition to being cheaper and more environmentally friendly, this innovative bio-fertilizer is designed with the specific needs of Rwandan soils (and farmers) in mind. The formula we and our partners are currently producing is the result of comprehensive research and collaboration with organizations and local governments to find the ideal balance of the nutrients plants need – Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (NPK for short).   We will continue experimenting with additional formulae and eventually, as we scale up, will offer several options for farmers, all tailored for their soil and climate.

Read more in this article. 

What We’ve Learned

Since our project began, we have extended our operations, which led to hiring new employees, creating new jobs for local workers. We’ve also learned a few things. “We’ve learned that coffee pulp has a different output ratio on the final product than expected, so we’re adjusting our plans to ensure we produce enough fertilizer to support our supply chain partners,” says Mona Philippon, Specialty Supply Chain Operator for RWACOF. In practice, this means that it takes more coffee pulp to produce the fertilizer than we initially expected. As a result, we’re working with our partners to source additional waste.

The facility is hard at work producing fertilizer for the coming season. The best time to apply fertilizer is right after the rainy season, which is ending in a few short weeks. “We’re on track to produce enough fertilizer for our farming partners’ first application,” Mona says.  “We're hopeful that over time the use of organic fertilizer and lime will help contribute to the increase of organic nutrient contents in the soil and reduce its acidity levels, which will contribute to improve the yields.” Mona explains. Sucafina plans to buy lime and distribute it alongside our organic fertilizer, supplying it where soils are too acidic, according to the soil analysis we’ve conducted at every coffee plot in our supply chain.

This project was supported in part by from our roaster-partners who purchased coffee from Rwanda during Earth week this year, as well as by our partners COPED and The Bug Picture. We can’t wait to see the impact of these fertilizers on harvest seasons in the years to come.

This year, the harvest season will begin exceptionally early in Western regions and are expected to start in early 2022.  

This project is part of our Farmgate Initiative, which creates opportunities for you to help build a more equitable and sustainable supply chain. These projects are made possible through collaboration with our origin operations, local actors and nonprofits who help us facilitate project contributions. Speak to your trader about how you can add a contribution to this project or our other supply chain sustainability initiatives.