How to make money improving soil health & crop nutrition

Are you looking to make money by helping farmers to improve their soil health and crop nutrition? This article explores some of the most profitable agriculture business ideas in the area.

With poor extension services in many African countries, many farmers lack access to the right information and products to improve and maintain their soil health.  The result is poor soils that lack in crucial nutrients and organic matter. Such soils can not retain ample moisture and its structure is destroyed.

To improve yields, farmers mostly use acidic fertilizers, Its overuse has lead to soil acidity. The other option is applying raw manure. Its use can lead to an increase in nematodes and other soil pests and diseases affecting plants’ health and yields.

Related: How to Test your Soil PH at home-DIY

Luckily, the above challenges can be exploited as profitable agribusiness ideas by you. The top ideas include;

  1. Offering soil testing & analysis services.
  2. Sell agricultural lime.
  3. Distribute fertilizers. (Organic, Foliar, crop-specific, foliar)
  4. Compost and sell treated manure.
  5. Offer Soil research services
  6. Offer soil consulting services.
  7. Sell digital soil testing kits online

1. Soil testing (Analysis) services

A young lady wearing white lab coat collecting a soil sample to a cleat glass jar.

This involves a bundle of services that may include either or all the following services.

  • Collect soil samples
  • Undertake actual soil testing using dry scanners or wet (lab) analysis.
  • Interpret soil results such as Acidity (PH), element (N, P, K) levels, organic matter contents.
  • Give farmer recommendations on best soil improvement products (fertilizers, manure & agriculture lime etc.) and methods to improve crop yields and profits

While dry scanning results are usually instant and cheap, it limits them in parameters analysis and details. Wet testing provides detailed results, takes comparatively longer time to provide and somewhat costly.

The prevailing cost of conducting soil analysis is Sh 800-1200 depending on whether analysis of soil samples are on-site or delivered to soil testing centres.  

Besides soil analysis services, entrepreneurs also can venture into.

  • Collecting soil samples from farmers, delivering to testing centres and delivering results to farmers at a fee.
  • Importing soil testing kits and selling them to agro-dealers and agribusiness entrepreneurs for a profit.
  • Sourcing fertilizers, certified seeds, and agrochemicals as recommended by soil analysis results and delivering them to farmers at a commission from agro vets shops and input suppliers.
  • Creating awareness in the importance of soil testing and get paid a referral fee for each consumer or farmer who undertakes soil analysis from a certain service provider.

2. Distribute agricultural lime

According to a 2014 soil study report, 43% of soil samples in Kenya are outside the optimum PH. range of 5.0-8.0 conducive for maize growing. Most of these samples were from western, Nyanza, Rift valley and coastal regions heavy acidity heavily affected which.  Maize yields in these areas are as low as 1ton/ha against a potential of 6 tons/ha.  Acidic soils are because of:

  • Over-application of acidic based fertilizers reducing soil PH.
  • Naturally occurring soil acidity because of climate or soil type by formation.

Agricultural lime is one of the major solutions to soil acidity. Apart from raising the soil PH levels, the agricultural lime application reduces the solubility of toxic elements and increases the availability of plant nutrients. Lime helps in biological nitrogen fixation in legume plants and improves the general microbial activity in the soil.

Agricultural lime is a calcium-rich product processed from limestone, gypsum or dolomite, the same raw material used in the manufacture of construction cement. Depending on processing steps, a cement company can be a producer and distributor of agricultural lime. Though the use of the product among the small-scale farmers is taking the track, it is still negligible. Therefore, there is a huge market potential for its manufacture and distribution in the country.

The existing business ideas for agricultural lime include;

  • Stocking and distributing agricultural lime to small-scale farmers in appropriate and affordable packages to target farmers.
  • Sensitization programs to agrovets and farmers to stock and use agricultural lime for improved crop yields
  • Offering complementary products and services under one roof such as soil analysis, certified seed and hermetic bags to farmers.

3.Import and sell chemical fertilizers

 A hand applying blue fertilizer granules to small green pea crops

Kenya’s application of fertilizers is still low. While the average historical application rate per acre in Kenya is around 14.8 kg, the global standard recommendation is 50 kg per acre. In 2012, Kenya’s average use of fertilizer was 44 kg per hectare whereas it was 62 kg, 164 kg and 182 kg in South Africa, India and Brazil respectively. The major reasons behind low fertilizer usage include:

  • Affordability where most farmers report the prevailing prices are high with national and county governments stepping in through subsidization.
  • Supply challenges where a farmer cannot access fertilizers when and where needed
  • Inadequate information on fertilizer blending and usage.
  • Inappropriate packaging with most suppliers packaging 50 kg bags whereas farmers would desire 25 kg, 10 kg, 5 kg, 2kg and 1kg depending on affordability and land size. 

Fertilizers help in maintaining and improving soil nutrients, enhancing crop yields. Kenyan fertilizer market has over 20 brands and blends. These are conventional (chemical) fertilizers such as CAN, DAP, Urea. Additional blends are gaining market share and they include crop-specific, organic and foliar fertilizers.

Manufacturing of bulk fertilizers is overseas, we import them in bulk, blend and bag them for distribution to small-scale farmers. The distribution can either be through;

  • Government subsidies where mostly it does not benefit the targeted farmers
  • Commercial distribution among over 8000 Agro-dealers and traders.  Apart from it being expensive, there are many instances of mishandling and quality compromise

As an entrepreneur, solving any of the above challenges would benefit farmers, some avenues one can venture into include;

  • Sourcing and supplying basic based fertilizers in farms or regions with high acidic soils.  
  • Supplying acidifying fertilizers in highly alkaline soils.
  • Distributing crop and/ or region-specific fertilizers such as selling potato fertilizers in Nyandarua County or rice fertilizers in Kirinyaga County.
  • Marketing organic fertilizers to promote safe agriculture.
  • Delivering foliar fertilizers and growth boosters.
  • Setting up fertigation infrastructure for medium farms
  • Advising farmers and stockists on cheap sourcing and use of fertilizers

4. Compose and sell organic Fertilizers

A pile of well rotten compost with a manure station signage

A 2014 study on soils in Kenya found out that 89% of soils lack in organic matter. Regular application of compost and manure maintains and sustain organic matter content in the soil.  A soil with higher organic matter content has higher microbial activities ensuring high soil nutrient and hence better higher crop yields.

Most small-scale farmers are mixed farmers practicing crop farming and animal husbandry. Mo st of those use farm manure from their animals to improve soil fertility. Crop farmers lack an immediate source of manure and compost.

Most farmers use raw manure which has several environmental concerns. Phosphorus stimulates algae to grow in water bodies. Nitrogen which converts into Nitrates that can contaminate groundwater through leaching. If consumed by pregnant women and children, it may cause health implications. Another major challenge with untreated manure is its unpleasant odour. Other challenges associated with raw manure is its bulkiness affecting transport.

 There are many business opportunities for making and distribution both compost and manure as follows;

  • Making or producing compost/ manure from animal and crop wastes, yard waste and food scraps.
  • Stocking manure and compost heaps from high production areas to areas with high demand
  • Running  a manure treatment plant
  • Offer compost spreading services
  • Specializing in making high-value manure and organic fertilizers from poultry, aloe Vera, rabbit’s urine among others
  • Producing

5. Soil consultancy and advisory services

Someone holding vermicompost  health worms in decomposed soil

Soil management is a science and an art. There are a few professionals who are highly knowledgeable and possess rich expertise in soil management practices. These include zero tillage, crop rotation, conservation agriculture, promoting soil fertility, controlling soil erosion, etc.

Professional soil managers can engage in profitable businesses in:

  • Running a Soil consultancy service business to guide farmers on soil management and Good agricultural practices.
  • Packaging and dissemination of soil management information in print and electronic media at a profit.
  • Sensitization of farmers on proper soil inputs and soil management practices for a fee
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