Innovation and Learnings

Kenya is a country of innovators.  From M-PESA, which has been globally recognized as a leading technology to allow cash to be transferred between mobile devices, to crowd investment platforms like Lelapa Fund targeted to link African businesses to global investors, to Barefoot Power’s implementation of solar technology to allow rural homes access to electricity, to Plastic Fantastic’s idea to create beautiful items from waste plastic, Kenya is bringin’ it.  Innovation-style.  Every day. Yet, it’s not always the super techy solutions that we might think that are the most innovative.  More often than not, innovation is everywhere around us in the form of simple tools.

LishaBora recently completed a crowdfundraising campaign with the completion resulting in several members running 10K and half marathon races in Nairobi.  The money raised was used to fund some of our own innovations.

One of these trays is not like the other? I wish

One innovation able to be tested was an improved tray design so as to allow our hydroponically grown fodder to be produced in such a way that we could easily compare test differences between trays. Everything from material selection, baffle design, structural support, and overall dimensions that make life easier for greenhouse workers to maneuver the trays were considered. 

First, we tested the design with just two trays.  Now, we’ve got a total of sixteen of the improved design and this allows us to test numerous variables at once while the ambient conditions within the greenhouse vary.  In effect, we can be better at optimizing our yield and produce more consistent fodder.

Adjustable Racks

Our original rack design was welded in-place with fixed shelf angles and spacing between racks.  With the funding we received, we ordered a test-rack of an improved design where angle-iron is used to allow easy adjustment of tray slope and spacing.  The new design also allowed easier leveling within the greenhouse with adjustable footing as it was found that the concrete floor was uneven in some areas, causing water to flow unevenly down the trays and fodder.

With the new rack in-place, we are looking to do some additional modifications to improve the overall stability and strength. Nevertheless, it’s a great start to design improvements as we have more confidence that the water is reaching the fodder evenly to allow better comparison between trays.

Go with the Flow

Remember when I mentioned simple tools can often be the most innovative?  Well, check out our water flow regulators.  When cavemen wanted to control their flow of water, they probably created this exact design, right after inventing fire. I may not have a rotameter to accurately measure the flow, but I do know that the more holes drilled in the container, the faster the flow rate I’m going to get.  These regulators are currently being used to compare relative differences in flow rate as they impact yield.

Vent Sessions

We recently patched and repaired our vent system to allow air flow to be delivered more consistently.  Now, I’ll admit, I am no Red-Green, yet I will say that I have come to appreciate duct tape.  Coincidentally, the tape was also purchased in two colors: red and green, as Dave said, ‘It’s the holiday season.’ Well, it works!

Recycled Water Not Dead Yet

Okay, so we had to stop recycling our water for the time being in order to achieve higher yields, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t capture rain water collected and use it.  The modification was simple: we disconnected the greenhouse return water and directed the water from the greenhouse roof to the same recycled water collection tanks.  Then, we disconnected our filter and ran a simple pipe to the check valve that originally stopped the flow of water from the gravity tank.  With it being the rainy season right now, we are able to take advantage of the excess water.

Germination Tests

Bench-scale germination tests were completed and found that soak time could be increased from five hours to eight in order to improve overall percent germination.  Since then, we’ve adapted the standard work procedure to now adopt this new finding and we continue to monitor for consistency as ambient conditions (not currently controlled) have shown to have a large impact.


Lastly, THANK-YOU to everyone who supported the GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds towards some of the innovations we’ve listed.  You are helping us to reach more farmers with our barley fodder and you answered our call for funding help when we needed it most. 

With the progress we’ve made in this last month, we’ve now secured a grant from the Kenya Climate Innovation Center in the amount of $20,000.00 as a step towards scaling the business; this means we can achieve the goal of creating a second and third greenhouse, which we are planning to begin work on in January 2016.  It was your help that gave us that extra push we needed to execute some much needed improvements without wait and now we’re on our way!  Yet, before the greenhouses go up, we will continue to iterate and innovate each design in order to keep learning and improving.

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