The challenges of building a resilient farmers’ community in Africa
In The News
14 Nov 2022
Audrey S-Darko is a researcher and a farmer from Ghana. She is the founder and CEO of Sabon Sake, a start-up that equips farmers with the tools to battle soil degradation and enhances their livelihoods. The start-up uses a circular approach to deliver climate-resilient agricultural solutions that accelerate the regeneration of degraded soils and boost agricultural productivity.
Audrey S-Darko won the EIT Climate-KIC Climate Launchpad competition in Ghana in 2019 and participated in ClimAccelerator. This week at COP27 in Sharm-El-Sheikh, the entrepreneur won the US Department of State Climate Entrepreneurs Pitch Competition, and a prize of 50,000$ that will allow her to grow her company.
We talk to Audrey S-Darko about how her company is helping farming communities in Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa to build resilience and adapt to a changing climate. She explains how Sabon Sake helps farmers move from conventional agriculture towards practices that contribute to topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil. This is what is referred to as regenerative agriculture.
Anne-Sophie Garrigou: Can you introduce us to Sabon Sake?
Audrey S-Darko: Sabon Sake is a climate tech company that connects regenerative agriculture with carbon financing. We focus on working with small farmers primarily in rural landscapes and supporting them to transition from conventional farming to regenerative agriculture.
With our demonstration farms that are grown from scratch without any chemicals and synthetic products, we are showing farmers the benefit of applying regenerative agriculture practices to the food crops they grow.
We also help them play a part in mitigating and adapting to climate change by storing carbon in the ground while preparing their land or planting their crops.
ASG: What are the major challenges that you are trying to solve with Sabon Sake?
ASD: One of the major challenges we are trying to solve is the farmers’ ability to fight against droughts and low yields and being able to grow crops as consistently as possible regardless of the weather patterns and what happens to the climate.
We are trying to ensure that the farmers we work with are able to produce enough food and reduce the shortage of food supply for the community, and that means that yields have to be consistent and farmers need to have access to soil support to enrich the landscapes.
ASG: How many farmers are you working with?
ASD: The farming communities we work with are growing food not only for themselves but also to supply the local markets. People from the urban landscapes buy products at the local farmers’ market to sell in the cities. The local farmers are therefore the primary producers of food across the urban landscapes.
There are 7,200 farmers within our regenerative farmers network. Those are farmers that understand the impact of climate, they witnessed it, they know the importance of transitioning from conventional agriculture to regenerative agriculture, and they’re excited to adapt well to thrive in the climate crisis.
ASG: How does Sabon Sake contribute to building resilience for the farmers and the community?
ASD: We help the farmers’ community to build drought resistance and restore degraded landscapes by applying our soil blends, Sabon Terra, to their crops. Sabon Terra means to make the earth new again. We use biomass waste from the communities to create the soil. It’s a circular model. We use the waste that derives from the community and turn it into value-added products, which is our soil.
This biomass waste would normally be burned or dumped, which increases emissions. We add value to this waste by using it to develop our carbon soil. Our product has properties that build drought resilience and helps lock carbon down in the ground. That’s what we call sustainable biochar production. We’re simply converting biomass waste into biochar, into a soil blend that helps restore the drought landscape.
The second way we’re building resilience is through the training in food regenerative practices that we’re offering to the farmers. These practices contribute to restoring moisture in the soil, to building more drought resilience landscapes and better plant resistance.
We are also empowering women farmers to grow more food and participate in farming activities on large scale and understand the need to grow food themselves and have access to learn to do that.
ASG: You mentioned the carbon financing aspect of the project. Can you explain how it works?
ASD: Farmers don’t earn a lot of money from their farming activities so as we’re building a regenerative farmers network that understands and applies regenerative agriculture practices, we connect them with corporate organisations that are passionate about multiplying their climate impact.
Money is channelled to them to incentivise them with their climate adaptation practices of making sure the landscape is drought resilient, rainwater harvested, no chemicals or pesticides sprayed, to restore the soil by diversity, storing carbon in the ground, etc.
ASG: You participated in EIT Climate-KIC Accelerator. What was it like?
ASD: It was very enlightening. It was great because we receive a lot of training and knowledge on how we can build more resilient business models and how we can create an impact within the communities that we work with. It was super cool to also understand what it means to be a climate-adapted company and how that is crucial at this time. Not only to survive as a business but also to enable the customers who pay for our products or the ones who partner with us to also survive and thrive.
It helped us to move our business model from a simple profit-driven model to one that considers climate change.
ASG: You just won the US Department of State Climate Entrepreneurs Pitch Competition at #COP27. Congratulations! How is it going to help you build your company, and how do you see yourself in five years from now?
ASD: I see myself as being able to build a grassroots movement across farming communities that understand what it means to be regenerative and empower not less than 5,000 communities across the world, equipping them with the tools and resources to be regenerative, to be able to feed themselves and feed others.
And on the policy aspect, I see myself as an advocate where I’m able to support and assist in creating more and more impactful policies that affect positively rural farming communities, policies that allow the farming community to make more money, to thrive as farmers, and policies that make them feel like growing food for the world is the best thing ever.