As a trained chemical engineer, Bernard Ndungu joined a paper processing company after college. It was there that he first understood the importance of quality raw materials. “The fiber length varies a lot and therefore affects the quality of the paper that is manufactured,” he explains. He went on to work for a pharmaceutical manufacturer that made artemisinin, the active ingredient in antimalarial drugs. Bernard learned that where the plants were sourced and their soil quality affected the medicinal extraction results. In later roles, this trend continued as he recognized the importance of trace elements in the soil that make their way into mineral licks for livestock, vaccines, and even breakfast cereal.
In 2013, Bernard founded Fadhili Africa to offer financial services and training to people working in agribusiness. “We had many problems in farm productivity, and this is how I began to learn about the value of soil testing. For me, it was a light bulb moment. I chose to stand in the gap to help farmers increase their productivity and get financed.”
Fadhili Africa initiated a partnership in 2017 with Agro Care, a company based in the Netherlands, to offer soil analysis services in Kenya. Their work shortened soil testing time for farmers to under fifteen minutes using mobile digital technology. They were among Kenya’s first “rapid result” service providers, helping farmers double their yields.
But when COVID-19 hit, Bernard had to let all but one of his staff go. Determined to rebound, he enrolled in our Entrepreneur Academy, an intensive, 4-month MBA alternative designed to accelerate training for entrepreneurs with businesses in the early to growth stage. After completing the Academy, Bernard won the 2022 Sinapis Kenya Business Competition.
When asked about the impact Sinapis has had on his business, he says, “Before Sinapis, I could not think of putting God as the head of the business. Today, we start with a morning devotion led by our staff."
"We now have a road map for the next three years. We are determined to walk the talk to deliver it. We are more confident in what we are doing.”
Sinapis also helped him develop a passion for his community, and he is helping put three students through college.
And the business continues to innovate and grow. In 2022, Fadhili Africa piloted a coffee formula that Bernard claims can increase coffee production threefold.
We recently interviewed Bernard. Here's some of what he had to say (slightly edited for clarity):
Sinapis: Bernard, from a business standpoint, what was the biggest challenge Fadhili Africa faced when you enrolled in the Sinapis Entrepreneur Academy?
Bernard Ndungu: I joined Sinapis during the COVID-19 pandemic. I lost the business due to the lockdown and felt I needed to come back again stronger and better. Morale was low, and I had released all the staff except one. I had to figure out the way, and I knew it had to be practical … a friend told me about Sinapis, and I gladly took up the challenge. I was committed, and I put in the time to learn and try out the new concepts in my business.
The biggest problem I solved through Sinapis was the identification of our ‘Visionary Customer.’ Once I got this and tested it, it worked. I was excited, and to date, we drive and leverage our visionary customers.
Sinapis: How did winning the Sinapis Business Competition 2022 and the $10,000 USD prize impact you and Fadhili Africa?
Bernard: Winning was a great validation moment. I felt a stamp of approval … I have always thought that I was in my area of calling — testing soil to enable farmers to increase their productivity and profitability. The financial reward was also a step up to solving one of the limitations that we had been facing: the logistic problem.
Logistic cost is our biggest challenge in serving smallholder farmers. We have been using public transport that is slow and not reliable. To hasten the delivery of our service, we did a pilot by hiring a motorcycle which has worked well for us. We intend to invest more. With a motorcycle, our staff is able to serve more than 15 farms a day when we were serving five farms a day. Our ambition has gone a notch higher, and we are moving forward as a team in solidarity.
Sinapis: Can you share some of the ways your training with Sinapis makes a difference to your business today?
Bernard: The Visionary Customer lesson. We identified the gap and continue reorganizing our team to accommodate these new thoughts and ideas. Also, the lessons on financial planning. We now have a road map for the next three years. We are determined to walk the talk to deliver it. We are more confident in what we are doing.
Before the Sinapis experience, I could not think of putting God as the head of the business. Today, we start with a morning devotion led by our staff.
We are also in the process of reviewing our staff engagement and reward system. Transformation is happening, and we are happy about it. We are investing in retooling our staff. So far, we have used some of the trainers in the Sinapis alumni community, as well as our internal team. We are confident that we shall see the results in the near future.
Sinapis: From a community leadership perspective, what has been most valuable about your Sinapis training?
Bernard: My call for community service has gone higher. I am now a facilitator in the Man Enough program. I have also taken up moderation, especially where knowledge is shared. Finally, I have chosen to give to students in colleges and universities. We currently have three students, two who are in agriculture and one who is in journalism. I am now more committed to positively impacting the community.
Sinapis: Can you share one inspiring story of a farmer who has benefitted from your soil testing?
Bernard: We have a farmer in Shamata in Nyandarua County for whom we tested soil and gave recommendations for his potato farm. We got our engagement started with him when he was getting 60 bags of potatoes per acre. On implementation of the results, his production increased to 90 bags per acre, with less input. We found that his soil was too acidic. This interfered with the nutrient absorption by the crop. The much-needed phosphorous was locked in the soil. We recommended lime application and less usage of DAP fertilizer, and it worked. Mr. Mwaniki is able today to get over 120 bags of potatoes from the same farm. Am proud of his work.
I have seen this happening in coffee, maize, cabbages, and fodder, among others. We are currently working on a coffee-winning formula that we piloted last year, and that has worked fantastically. It is a near-prescriptive way of increasing coffee production threefold. We are rolling it out now and look forward to sharing the success story in the third quarter of this year.