A Year in the Making

As LishaBora is wrapping up 2015 and coming up to officially a year old, we've decided to make a video updating everyone. Check out the video to see a day in the life for us, our greenhouse managers, our delivery boda boda drivers, and our customers. 

I first arrived with LishaBora in May through a partnership with Engineers Without Border Canada (EWB). After completing my Bachelor of Biosystems Engineering from the University of Manitoba, I literally hopped on a plane 4 hours after my last exam and just like that I was in Toronto for pre-departure training with EWB. Its been that fast paced every since with Graham and Liz who joined us in August. 

Since I arrived in May, we've been conducting research and development of our hydroponic systems. We need to produce 6 kilograms of fodder for every one kilogram of barley seed planted to make our business financially sustainable. We've been conducting tests on tray and rack material and design, nutrient mixture, water flow rates, spacing, different greenhouse structures, different water recycling systems, and germination methods. Designing and manufacturing something in Kenya is very different than in Canada. All business is done face-to-face, with minimal done over the phone or internet. The availability and cost of purchasing materials and doing business varies wildly, with electronics being very expensive and labor being very cheap. These factors greatly effect the business, because we have to innovate our systems at low costs to be able to charge the customer an affordable price point while still turning a profit. For example, its better financially to hire someone to stir, mist and germinate our seeds in many buckets than manufacturing a large germination vessel that would be expensive to manufacture at a large scale. We've learned a lot about the design and management of our systems, and in January, with funding from the Kenya Climate Innovation Center and Engineers Without Borders McGill and Queen's Universities, we will be building our second greenhouse! This will be our first big market test. We will be moving from our pilot greenhouse that has been hacked and sawed together, torn down multiple times and rebuilt, to a system that is designed and engineered. In the new greenhouse we will be following a specific operations plan of germinating, planting and harvesting the fodder. We will ramping up our sales operation as we will now be producing 500 kilograms of fodder a day. January to March 2016 will be proving LishaBora's commercial viability. It is nerve-wrecking, extremely exciting, and daunting all at the same time. LishaBora's passion for dairy farming, for hydroponics and for Kenya will push us forward to success. 

Moving from Winnipeg to Thindigua, about 20 minutes north of the center of Nairobi, has been quite the change! Stepping onto a matatu, the public transport buses, is like stepping onto a party bus with neon lights, blasting music and tvs. They come in all shapes and colors, my favorite one to ride one is bright pink with Iggy Azalea on the side. Roads are not only for cars, but are also for people, animals and hand carts that somehow all move fluidly together in what looks chaotic, but feels normal after a couple months. A balmy 28C everyday and 17C every night is a nice change from -40C to +40C we get in Winnipeg. Kenyans are always looking to help out, always looking to make a dollar, true capitalists, and there is always a way to solve a problem with the people who live in Ndumberi, where our pilot greenhouse is. The landscape is beautiful, green as far as the eye can see, with places like the Massai Mara, towns like Diani, Kilifi, and Mt. Kenya all available for a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi. When we go into Nairobi town, if you go during rush hour, its possible to sit in the same spot for an hour and half as the city is gridlocked. I'll never complain about traffic or potholes in Winnipeg again! The social entrepreneurial mentality is vibrant in Nairobi, with private, for-profit business ideas that create social impact being thrown around in discussion over a Tusker. Politics, religion, AIDS and feminism are never too sensitive a topic for a heated debate. Nairobi is a special place, and Kenya is becoming the hub for investment and development of East Africa. 

I'll close out this post with my experience I had attending President Barack Obama's speech to the Kenyan people. Graham's girlfriend, Naomi, had received tickets, but was away in the United States for the Young African Leaders Initiative, so I was Graham's back-up date. During President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya, CNN called Kenya a “hotbed” for terrorism. The media of the United States is powerful and influential, and I have a hard time sympathizing with media from a country that has 14, 7, 3, 21 people shot dead on a daily basis from their own mass shooting gun violence.  Having the great opportunity to attend his speech to see the first, and possibly last in my lifetime, Kenyan-American speak to Kenyans was surreal, inspiring, and honouring. President Obama spoke to tradition and innovation, “Every country and every culture has traditions that are unique and help make that country what it is.  But just because something is a part of your past doesn’t make it right.  It doesn’t mean that it defines your future.” To work just outside of Nairobi in the rural areas, yet still be close enough to be able to go into the city when needed, has been a blessing. To see the traditions of cultures in the rural areas yet 15 kilometers away is a city filled with young entrepreneurs and investors represents the internal struggle that faces Kenya today. Whether the issue be terrorism, water security or women’s rights, the new generation in debate with old traditions is what makes Kenya unique. To be at the forefront of this lively discussion is what gives us our motivation at LishaBora. We are at the forefront of hydroponics and agriculture with LishaBora, and we are going to be the best in our field. We are a part of the vibrant discussion of tradition versus innovation seeing both sides of it in the city and countryside everyday. And we look forward to the day when CNN calls Kenya a hotbed for investment, because we will know we were at the debate. 

Thank you all for your support in moving LishaBora forward! A special thank you to the Kenyan Climate Innovation Center, Engineers Without Borders Canada National Office, Engineers Without Borders McGill and Queen's Chapters, Agrium, Village Capital, and everyone else who has supported us with early stage funding and advising!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!!

David