As many people watch water hyacinth take over Lake Victoria, Jack Oyugi has found a way of turning the pesky weed into a valuable product.
Shiny, well-piled bales of dried water hyacinth welcome you to Biofit production plant at Kendu Bay, Homa Bay County.
Biofit is an agribusiness enterprise, focusing on solving animal feed challenge and environmental problems by incorporating water hyacinth in animal feed products.
Water hyacinth has been a menace to residents living along the shores of Lake Victoria, especially those who depend on the lake for fishing. Now, Jack Oyugi, an entrepreneur, has come up with an innovative solution.
Oyugi, a biotechnologist, is using water hyacinth to produce chemical-free animal feed such as hyacinth livestock cake, dairy meal, poultry mash, fish pellets, and pig mash, among others.
“We look forward to the management of water hyacinth in African lakes and restoration of lake productivity. We also hope to create job opportunities and raise living standards of our smallholder farmers,” says the 27-year-old entrepreneur.
But what motivated him to come up with such a solution? Oyugi says that in 2012, while working in Mombasa, he tried coming up with alternative types of animal feeds. His initial idea was to try hydroponics— the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil—but he found it too costly.
Born and raised in Homa Bay, Oyugi understands quite well the problem affecting the community and since he used to watch cows feed on this weed during the dry spell, he decided to learn more about it and find out whether it could make good quality animal feed.
As he was carrying out research in 2016, he managed to come up with a viable solution. To make the hyacinth feed, the process involves harvesting the raw water hyacinth from the lake, cleaning and drying it, homogenisation, melting, chelating (binding ions and molecules) and cooling.
“A fully produced biofit (the substance produced when the hyacinth has been processed) is safe and healthy for animals to feed on owing to the rigorous production stages it undergoes. It is free of any synthetic hormones or boosters that are normally added to animal feeds during production”.
With the final product, he conducted a few tests at the University of Nairobi before taking it to an international laboratory in the Netherlands for a test that determines whether it was safe for animal consumption.
“We have carried out several international and local laboratory tests on our products and they have been approved as safe for animal consumption,” he says. With this approval, he was ready to share samples with farmers in Homabay.
During the pilot phase, which involved 10 farmers from Meru Central Farmers Association and three from Homabay, he realised that farmers recorded an average 30 per cent increase in production and 20 per cent reduction in the cost of feeding.
In 2017, he partnered with SNV, a not-for-profit international development organisation, working in agriculture, energy, and water, sanitation and hygiene and as a result, he upscaled to reach 1,000 dairy farmers in Meru.
Because of the partnership, Biofit was born and registered. Oyugi also brought on board three other partners: a veterinarian, a livestock nutritionist, and a crop scientist. Biofit now consists of eight full-time employees and four casual ones, in addition to the 20 fishermen with whom they work. The enterprise also boosts women’s incomes by hiring them to sun-dry the plant.
He envisions his enterprise as a leading company in Africa, producing single-cell protein feeds for animal and human consumption. He would like to expand beyond Kenya and incorporate more types of organic waste and plants.
His efforts have been recognised by the Tony Elumelu Foundation, where he was mentored, trained, and granted seed capital of Sh100,000 to upscale production in 2017.
He emerged as a finalist at the Sankalp Africa Summit, where negotiations with investors for capital injection of Sh25m in equity are underway. His innovation emerged the best in Agriculture in the 2017 edition of the Nairobi Innovation Week.
Currently, Oyugi is incubated by Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC), where he benefited from the sustainability training organised by KCIC staff, in which they learned how to incorporate concepts such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their business model and supply chain analysis.
The budding entrepreneur advises the youth not to let the fear that someone will steal their idea hold them back because sharing ideas with other people helps you grow.
“Young people tend to think that if they tell someone their idea, it will get stolen. However, if you do that, you might die with it. Therefore, try to do whatever you can with your idea, however small it might be”