Yielding High Yields

Original Posting July 1, 2015 - Content moved August 13, 2015

We have been busy doing business with the Devil. While it may seem extreme, for March and April, mold, specifically white Aspergillus, has been making our beautiful lush fodder into stinky cesspool-like goo that we are using to get on the better side of some of the neighborhood pigs. While we are making good friends with pigs, it is costing us a lot. 20-30% of all the seeds we plant were being lost to molds. In order to combat this mold we have done a lot of research and have decided that the best way to fight it is to make an environment that it does not thrive in.

Most people are in agreement when they say that mold does not prosper or grow when the humidity is bellow 70%. The best way to get rid of humidity is ventilation and remove the water source. Relative humidity is determined by how much water the air can hold and how much water is in the air. In order to reduce the humidity of the greenhouse, we have cemented the floor, built a gutter system to collect water, put a new (not leaky) roof on, altered the design of the greenhouse in order to maximize evaporation and venting including raising the roof by three meters. All this on top of a complete overhaul of our routines has greatly reduced the humidity and is winning the fight with mold. This has not been the only story we have been able to tell over the course of the past few weeks and months. This month we were able to achieve, through careful irrigation techniques a record of 6.4kg of fodder from one kg of barley grain. When we are talking to other players in the Kenyan market they all claim 5-7kgs but I have yet to see anyone do more than 5. The industry standard, based on readings from the US and India primarily is 7kg of fodder from 1kg of grain. For LishaBora to be really successful, we need to achieve 6 on average. Right now we have a lot of up-hill battles to fight but we are getting there. Now that we have solved the mold problem we will be able to really get ourselves up to around 6 and that’s with little or no automation.

A mold spot on the underside of a mat. They start in the middle and grow down and then up, so they are often there before you can see them when looking from above. Sneaky.

A mold spot on the underside of a mat. They start in the middle and grow down and then up, so they are often there before you can see them when looking from above. Sneaky.

To be able to do this, we have hired Lucy. A 37-year old, hard-working and ambitious mother of four children between ages of four and 18. She walks 4km to work each day. Lucy works for us seven days a week (though we offered six, she really wanted to get the extra day, which we are fine with). She was brought on in order to help with getting into a better routine for the greenhouse. Since Ester is doing more marketing, operations and customer service, we really need more hands on deck. She has been a God send. This has led us to get more customers trying our fodder and paying for it as well. We have not done very much marketing and probably wont until we have really stable production, but we are starting to get people’s attention. We have done a lot of new things in the past few months including completely changing our irrigation system and tray design, conducting both base-line and follow-up surveys in order to measure more accurately the impact we are having and have started reaching out to farmers in new regions in order to see how customers mindsets and interests change when you start talking to more business-orients dairy farmers. 

Cutting a fodder mat into small pieces to take as samples to potential customers.

Cutting a fodder mat into small pieces to take as samples to potential customers.