Rhodes University alumnus’ biofertiliser helping to reduce production costs

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Rhodes University BSc alumnus, Nkululeko Ngqinambi. Photo cred: Thozi Manyisana.
Rhodes University BSc alumnus, Nkululeko Ngqinambi. Photo cred: Thozi Manyisana.

By Thozi Manyisana, Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform


Rhodes University BSc alumnus, Nkululeko Ngqinambi has produced a biofertiliser to help lower production costs for farmers who have been battling high fertiliser prices.

Ngqinambi, 30, said he thought of the idea to start his own fertiliser product, which he calls SmartRoot, when he saw how his mother and other local farmers were battling high in- put costs and reduced yield. Kraal manure used to fertilise the soil and crops did not help much.

“I was raised by my unemployed mother, who depended on agricultural activities like planting maize and other crops, vegetables, poultry, a piggery, and livestock. My mother was strict in teaching us agriculture activities, and I am a proud farmer thanks to my mother’s firm hand and eagerness to ensure we become better people.

“When I saw their struggles, my heart was sore, and I decided to use the skills I’d learnt from the lab to assist the community because I love development,” Ngqinambi said.

Having majored in chemistry and geology while at Rhodes, he said he used the knowledge he gained from his studies to develop a product that would provide a much-needed service to farmers of the Eastern Cape.

Ngqinambi developed the Smart-Root booster biofertiliser, which is a blend of four carefully selected indigenous species of mycorrhizal fungi species picked for optimal performance over a wide range of bioclimatic zones throughout the seasons.

“Communal and smallholder farmers invest a lot of money in buying chemical fertilisers, but up to 70% of the nutrients of the applied chemical fertilisers are not used by plants. They end up lost to the environment, causing multifaceted environmental problems.

“The Smart-Root booster improves the plant’s ability to efficiently absorb and use nutrients and water from the soil. It is applied by mixing it with exist- ing synthetic and organic fertiliser, and will result in reduced quantities of synthetic fertiliser application,” he said.

The entrepreneur and farmer said based on efficacy trials conducted, use of the SmartRoot booster resulted in an average increase of 50% in yield per

Tsolo based scientist and manufacturer of organic SmartRoot booster bio-fertiliser Nkululeko Ngqinambi shows his product which he says lowers farmer’s production costs. His fertiliser is registering as a group 3 fertilizer in terms of the Fertilizer and Farm Feeds Act 36 of 1947, a regulatory requirement for the production, marketing and sale of fertilizer products in South Africa.

 hectare, while reducing synthetic fertiliser application by 25%.

“The overall benefits for the farmer is a reduction in input costs, increase in yield and improved profit, while reducing the negative impact of synthetic chemical fertilisers in the environment.

“SmartRoot works closely with the farmers and this provides them with a first mover advantage.

“In the same context, SmartRoot has patented this innovation,” Ngqinambi said.

As part of the research & development processes that led to the full registration and licencing of the Smart- Root biofertiliser, Ngqinambi received seed capital from the Technology In- novation Agency (TIA) and Savant Technology Incubator, its commercialisation partner.

During these stages, they developed cultivation of the mycorrhizal fungi feedstock method, processes, experimenting with different growth

mediums, grow-out periods, harvesting techniques, and methods of processing and packaging the ready-for- use product to be used in field efficacy trials.

“The results of the successful efficacy trials saw SmartRoot being registering as a group 3 fertiliser in terms of the Fertiliser and Farm Feeds Act 36 of 1947, a regulatory requirement for the production, marketing and sale of fertiliser products in SA,” he said.

DRDAR’s social scientist, Dr Zolani Mike, congratulated Ngqinambi on coming up with the innovative Smart- Root booster biofertiliser, saying he did a good job for the province’s resource-limited farmers.

Ngqinambi plans to upscale his business, but needs funds to buy proper machinery to process his biofertiliser into granules, and establish a production storage facility for manufacturing and distribution.

He wants to open his factory in his home village to create sustainable jobs and business opportunities, training local farmers to produce ingredients of the product, logistics, marketing and distribution.