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Sistema Bio: Creating value from waste for Kenyan smallholder farmers

  • By Vivian Kwame
  • December 30, 2020
  • 0 Comment
  • 180 Views

The Kenyan market currently has a huge demand for biogas. Sistema Bio is keen on filling the biogas gap in the country by introducing competitively priced high-performance bio-digesters and add-on productive accessories. ASM reached out to Esther Altorfer, the managing director in East Africa to shed more light on their products, the market as well as their future plans.

Here are the excerpts:

Tell us about Sistema bio

We work to empower smallholder farmers by providing them access to technology, capacity building and financing. We also work with them to eliminate any unsustainable sources of fuel in their farms like firewood, charcoal or LP gas and also chemical fertilizers by replacing them with clean cooking fuels which are biogas and organic fertilizers. We do that by selling a technology known as a biodigester which collects the daily manure that is available on the farm from mostly cows but also pigs, goats and other animals. The biodigester transforms the waste into biogas which is used for cooking and also as an organic fertilizer. We have so far installed over 17,000 biodigesters worldwide. In Kenya alone, we are very close to having 4,000 biodigesters installed.

What is the inspiration behind Sistema bio?

We are facing a lot of challenges as humanity today with the main ones being food security and climate change. The biodigester, as a product, but also with all the services that we offer around it, acts as an all in one solution to these challenges. We thus use waste and transform into resources. We contribute to the circular economy and to the natural cycles in nature nothing is ever lost. Everything is always transformed, reused, recycled and we are inspired by this natural cycle to solve humanity’s biggest problems. We realized that smallholder farmers across the world produce 80% of our food and on the other hand they are the poorest category of the population with the least access to financing, technology and training.

What sets your products aside from the others?

Sistema bio has a higher quality, superior product that is prefabricated biodigesters. We manufacture them in our manufacturing plant which is ISO90001 certified and we have designed it for the use of smallholder farmers. Our technical team members are farmers themselves so when they design a product, they know how it has to be for farmers to use it.

The product is built to last for more than 20 years and we provide a warranty of 10 years on the main raw materials. The quality also applies to the other products that are packaged alongside the biodigester. Beyond that, what makes us very different is that we consider the fact that we are a service and finance company so we have developed our inhouse financing program where we can award up to 24 month loans to our clients to invest in the biodigesters.

We use the bio-digesters as collateral to guarantee the loan. That has been the reason for our huge success so far, our ability to make high-quality products through in-house financing. We also have a huge brand that represents customer service and customer loyalty, so we have a full-service package and training package for each client and we do not leave a client till they have fully adopted the biodigester into their day to day lives at the farm.

Do you have criteria for the loan application?

Yes, we do. It is quite standard to look at the client’s CRB ratings, their savings and revenue. We also ask for a guarantor and how many active loans they have. Beyond the basic criteria, we also look at how much each person spends on firewood, charcoal, LPG and chemical fertilizers because we know that those expenses will be transformed into savings once the biodigester is fully adopted. We try to match the savings with the loans so that they do not feel any difference for the first 24 months. They also have more than 18 years of savings once they have reimbursed the loan.

Aside from small scale farmers, who else is your target?

Anybody who has access to animal manure be it cow waste or pig waste. If they can get at least 40 liters of waste and have a constant supply of water, they can invest in the biodigester.

How can potential clients access your products?

They can always call our toll-free number 080070020109 and they will be put in touch with our local sales team or they can visit any of our field offices which are located in Kiambu county, Bomet county, Kericho, Meru and Embu. They can also reach out to us on Facebook.

How has the market response been so far?

There is a huge need for biogas in Kenya and there is a huge market of smallholder farmers. It is one of our most densely populated markets compared to the other markets.

Any current projects that you are working on?

Currently, we are doing a lot of work on biofertilizers. We are setting up demonstration farms for biofertilizers all over Kenya to demonstrate how potent they are. In a recent article shared on our blog, we highlighted cabbage farmers who have managed to increase their products by 50% by using the biofertilizers which they get for free in their farms so this goes to show some of the benefits of using biofertilizers. To add on that, we are also looking for other partnerships. If anyone is interested in joining forces, they should be free to reach out to us. So far Kenya Climate Ventures (KCV) has been our biggest partner.

We are also going to start actively selling our biodigester to large farms that have 20-50 cows because we are launching new biogas appliances that enable use of biogas for productive scale farms. This is going to be the new market that we are launching in 2021. We are also looking to install around 3000-4000 biodigesters in 2021 with our main region of focus being the Rift Valley.

Benefits your partnership with KCV

KCV invested in us very early, when we were still starting in Kenya within our first 12 months. They provided us with very strategic capital to launch. They have been on our board since day one supporting us with financing and technical support.

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