Story in Brief
- Smallholder farmers produce an estimated 70% of Africa’s food, but many struggle with low crop yields due to poor soil health and traditional farming practices. Alumna Audrey S-Darko 19’s Sabon Sake provides clean soil regeneration products and training that are currently helping some 7,200 smallholder farmers increase their yield.
- The Business Administration graduate worked with other student researchers in Ashesi’s labs to develop the process for converting biomass waste into the regenerative material that powers the soil products. The University’s Entrepreneurship Centre helped propel her work (supporting her research through the Centre’s D:Lab and then providing support to take her prototype to market through its Venture Incubator).
In 2021, Audrey won additional grant funding from the Standard Chartered Women in Technology Incubator programme through Ashesi’s Ghana Climate Innovation Centre. At the November 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt, Sabon Sake was announced winner of the US Department of State Climate Entrepreneurs Competition; where Audrey competed in the finals with three other startups from the US, Israel and Egypt.
Audrey first visited the sugarcane farming community in the Volta Region of Ghana – where she now runs Sabon Sake – as part of a volunteer project while still a student at Ashesi. The project was focused on identifying solutions to Ghana’s collapsing sugarcane industry and, with it, hundreds of farming livelihoods. However, she and her colleagues stumbled on another challenge during this visit. They discovered that farmers burned most sugarcane waste accumulated during harvesting. The burning and other traditional farming practices in the area harmed soil health and led to broader declining crop yields.
It was a trigger for her. Audrey returned to campus with this unexpected challenge in mind and, with other colleagues on campus, developed a way to convert sugarcane waste to organic fertiliser that could eventually be manufactured and distributed at scale. It led to the creation of Sabon Sake, a name derived from the Hausa language which means “to make something new”.
“Across sub-Saharan Africa, 65% of our soils are degraded,” shares Audrey. “We are losing a lot of soil nutrients that provide food that feeds not just ourselves but also the world. Sabon Sake converts biomass waste which would usually be burnt or discarded, to produce an organic soil amendment that enables farmers to improve their soil health more sustainably. We are also able to train farmers to understand what it means to grow food in a climate-changing era.”
“The farming communities we work with are growing food not only for themselves but also to supply local markets,” she adds. “People from the urban landscapes buy products at the local farmers’ market to sell in Ghana’s cities. The local farmers are, therefore, significant food producers across the country. Farmers within our network understand the impact of climate change. They have witnessed it, know the importance of transitioning from conventional to regenerative agriculture, and are excited to adapt well to thrive.”
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