Agrimagined offers promising glimpse into budding Kenyan remineralization efforts
Bryan Ollier, an agriculture specialist from a village near Coventry, England, and Joseph Kinuthia, a farmer in Kenya, formed the U.K.-based company Agrimagined last year after connecting online due to their shared interest in supporting sustainable, affordable, nutrient-rich agriculture. Once the two got to talking, they developed a vision for Agrimagined, which would help accomplish their shared goals surrounding remineralization and education.
Inspiration for Agrimagined: Ollier and Kinuthia’s previous experience with remineralization
Shortly before he connected with Kinuthia, Ollier found himself inspired by a nature documentary on elephants. The elephants migrated long distances and knew where to go to find the minerals they were lacking. Ollier said this fostered his interest in whether humans were capable of the same thing.
Soon after, he attended Groundswell, an exhibition on regenerative farming and large-scale agriculture, where he met Jennifer Brodie of REMIN Scotland and learned about remineralization. He frequently traveled to Asia, where he learned about Agbiotics. Prathapan Pillai from the oil palm company BPP Agraria in Malaysia introduced Ollier to Agbiotics, microbes used alongside plant tonics to clean hotel rooms with bed bugs and COVID-19. Intrigued by these results, Ollier decided to explore their impact on crops.
He experimented with Agbiotics in crop trials in Ghana and found that the microbes facilitated the plants’ nutrient absorption, as they synthesize nitrogen and mobilize potassium, iron and other important minerals and nutrients. Now, Agrimagined sells Sankofa Agbiotics, alongside its other products, which include RevivaSoil rock dust and Triple Green fish hydrolysate fertilizer.
Ollier also sent a container of rock dust from REMIN Scotland to Ghana for additional trials. The pandemic put these plans on hold until recently, but now work has begun.
Meanwhile in Kenya, Kinuthia has been doing experiments of his own on his 54-acre farm, where he lives with his wife and four kids. His farm originally raised livestock like cows and goats, but he began using the land to instead farm vegetables such as beans and tomatoes in 2021.
Kinuthia’s farm is conveniently located near a quarry, where he can easily obtain finely ground rock dust of volcanic origin due to the proximity to Mount Kenya. Mount Kenya is formed of mainly basalts and other volcanic rock types. He began testing its effects on his crops and said he found much success, especially when applied to his kale plants.
“The key thing that [Kinuthia] noticed was that the soil was keeping the soil moisture much longer,” Ollier said of the rock dust’s impact. “I think that is a very important feature.”
Agrimagined’s current projects and challenges
Though some of Agrimagined’s work stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is now returning to its many rock dust soil remineralization projects in both England and Africa.
In England, Agrimagined is applying three types of rock dust to maize crops and studying the outcomes. Ollier said these tests seem promising so far, but the whole process is expected to take about a year. The RevivaSoil dust is basalt, and the other two are slate and siltstone, both of which have very high K levels.
Agrimagined has also picked up its work in Africa again, especially on Kinuthia’s farm. It will be used for both experiments and educating local farmers in Kenya on the benefits of using rock dust to sustainably improve soil health and crop yield. The farm is located at 1,500 meters above sea level in Nyeri County near Mount Kenya, an extinct volcano located in central Kenya. It is Africa’s second highest peak, after Mount Kilimanjaro. The peaks formerly were home to glaciers, since melted due to climate change, but the soils on the lower slopes have never been glaciated. They are now mainly forested and cultivated by farms like Kinuthia’s.
Alex and Nakuyo, two young men who until recently were living in a nearby rescue center for orphaned children, came to work on the farm. They help manage the farm and maintain a hen house with 200 chickens, which altogether lay over 50 eggs a day. They recently started using their personal funds to expand the project, and aim to bringing their eggs to market later this year.
While much of Agrimagined’s work has been successful so far, they still face several logistical hurdles. Because Kinuthia’s farm is in a sparsely populated area, it is difficult to connect with nearby farmers. Ollier said Agrimagined is looking to source materials locally for experiments in both England and Kenya, but conceded that the large distance between farms poses challenges to reducing transportation costs.
Agrimagined is now bagging Vumbi, a rock dust product sourced from a local quarry, for transport to nearby farms. However, Kinuthia currently faces many challenges in trying to reach small-scale farmers who cannot access his farm. Most importantly, he does not have a truck to transport the rock dust to the farmers.
Aside from logistical challenges, the farm is also subject to damage from natural factors such as high winds and elephants, who tend to trample and eat the crops. Though Kinuthia has set up an electric fence to keep the elephants out, rock dust may also be an option for guiding the animals to eat plants elsewhere.
“The important thing is to make sure that the elephants have water and food so that they can eat that rather than your crops,” Ollier said. “I don’t mind spreading a couple of tons of rock dust by the stream so grass grows there and the animals can eat it. It does not cost a lot of money.”
Agrimagined is also exploring the intersection of circular farming and remineralization. They feed black soldier flies vegetable waste from the farm, and the fly larvae are fed to the farm workers’ chickens. The chicken manure is then returned to the farm as a source of nitrogen for the soil alongside the minerals from rock dust and Agbiotics.
Education and collaboration: Agrimagined’s future
Agrimagined will also begin education efforts on Kinuthia’s farm. The company plans to use it as a dual-purpose commercial and demonstration farm to educate local farmers in the area of soil remineralization and Agbiotics. Ollier said the key to success with remineralization is getting younger generations interested in rock dust and the agriculture industry, which is a major focus on Kinuthia’s farm.
Using chemical fertilizers in Africa is expensive, barring many small farmers from adequate access. The farmers who opt out of applying fertilizer to their land see soil health degrade over time. Those who do have the means to purchase and apply fertilizers struggle with extremely high costs, making it economically unsustainable. The cost of fertilizer and agrochemical prices more than doubled as diesel prices soared in recent months. This situation has been dramatically exacerbated by the ongoing war in Ukraine. A sustainable and affordable alternative is needed.
Kinuthia’s goal is to educate his community about rock dust and its affordability by the end of the year to get more farmers involved. “Our prices would be lower than the chemical fertilizers, so that is how we are going to get more farmers [involved],” he said. “We have to reach [local farmers] through workshops and through promoting rock dust products.”
In just a few years, what started as a lively conversation between two individuals from different countries transformed into a forward-thinking company supporting the mission of soil remineralization and highlighting the positive impacts of soil remineralization and regenerative agriculture in Kenya.
Please consider making a donation to support the project. Add a note to your donation designating it on behalf of the Kenya project. All proceeds will go toward assisting Joseph Kinuthia in getting a truck to transport Vumbi rock dust to local farmers.
Teagan King is a junior at the University of Missouri studying journalism and international studies with an emphasis in environmental studies. She has previously covered politics and science stories for her university’s newspaper and believes in using writing to educate readers on overlooked topics and encourage important discussion. From a young age, Teagan has fostered a deep appreciation for nature. She is especially passionate about covering environmental issues such as activist movements, sustainability, and remineralization efforts in the agriculture industry. In her free time, she can be found reading outside, playing violin or spending time with her dog.