Boomitra, a WFP Portfolio Innovation and Earthshot Prize winner, has become a leader in the soil carbon market. In their new pilot in Kenya, they hope to positively impact more farmers’ livelihoods through climate-smart practices and additional income opportunities.
By: Jackie Negro
When Hannah Karanja was a young girl in Nambale, Kenya, she remembers her mother’s farm flourishing year after year with a diverse harvest of crops grown without using fertilizers.
“In my childhood, the weather patterns were steady, the rains came at specific times, and so our parents knew when to plant and when to harvest, but now the climate is very unstable,” she says. “If you do not take the right measures, you will not have a good harvest.”
To keep her farm sustainable and profitable amid the changing climate, in 2019 Hannah began introducing regenerative agriculture practices on her farm. These techniques have not only increased her yields from nine stacks to eighteen to twenty-four stacks per acre but also increased profits for her and her family.
Boomitra founder Aadith Moorthy has consistently explored ways to leverage technology to build solutions to the escalating global threat of climate change, especially for smallholder farmers like Hannah. When he founded Boomitra in 2016, Moorthy set out to apply new, cutting-edge technology to the challenges agricultural producers face, combining Artificial Intelligence and remote sensing with carbon removal credits to support farmers fighting climate change.
Six years later, Boomitra is now a leader in regenerative agriculture practices and the soil carbon market. They have reached more than 120,000 farmers, including Hannah, and enabled the removal of 10 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, resulting in a 10–20 percent revenue increase for farmers.
Due to its proven impact in the climate space, Boomitra was recently awarded the third-annual Earthshot Prize in the “Fix Our Climate” category. Boomitra will be awarded GBP 1 million and engage in the year-long Earthshot Fellowship programme, where they will receive dedicated support to continue scaling Boomitra and reaching more farmers worldwide. We are exceptionally proud that two of our Portfolio Innovations — Boomitra and S4S Technologies — have won the Earthshot Prize this year.
Implementing regenerative agriculture on the farm
While Hannah now grows maize, sorghum, beans, soy and potatoes and raises livestock on her farm in Nambale, Kenya, she farmed exclusively sugarcane for many years, where she might only receive a harvest every 24 months. To her, the profit was not worth the time and effort she put in. Her soil was also at risk — monocropping and ploughing the land can diminish key nutrients and damage future harvests.
Around the world, over a third of global soils are significantly degraded, hampering global food production, water distribution and carbon storage and impacting farmers’ livelihoods worldwide. Given that soil is the foundation of our global food system and water supply, improving soil health is essential to adapt to climate threats.
Hannah knew that she needed to change her farm to save her soil and support herself and her family. In 2019, she attended a seminar to learn more about farming, which is when she made the switch from farming sugarcane to farming maize, potatoes, beans and soya with regenerative principles.
Her new approach includes crop rotation, meaning the same plot of soil is used for a variety of crops in succession. Crop rotation retains diverse nutrients in the soil, gives time for nutrients to replenish, and allows for multiple harvests in shorter time frames. She also now employs a no-till method, which traditionally disrupts and depletes the crucial nutrients in the top level of soil.
Still, she continues to face challenges on her farm. In late 2021, an illness brought Hannah to the hospital and caused her to miss a harvest. She returned to a damaged farm and needed to plant again, which resulted in a loss the following harvest, as well.
Recognizing that her farm was still at risk, Hannah joined Boomitra and the farmer-focused global consortium Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA) for their pilot in Kenya in 2022, which will provide Hannah with further guidance on regenerative agriculture and new income streams through a carbon removal credit system. The pilot project was launched under the WFP Innovation Accelerator and will reach more than 1,200 farmers in Kenya, who will become eligible to receive carbon financing in the coming year.
Already, these principles have availed Hannah of economic stress and empowered her and her family. When harvesting, she nearly doubles her yield, allowing her to sell some produce and keep some to be used at home. With her income, she can buy more seeds to take back to the farm, starting the cycle of growth again.
“It is from this farm that even my last child went to the university, graduated and is now a lawyer; my second last child is an engineer and now I even teach my grandchildren this method of farming,” she says. “This is unlike how things were before.”
Boomitra’s farmer-first revenue model focuses on providing the farmer with the majority of the profit generated by a carbon credit, and thus intends to support Hannah even beyond the at-market benefits of her improved farming practices.
Hannah’s farm also serves as a training site for other farmers interested in regenerative agriculture and participating in the Boomitra-FtMA programme. Hannah on her own has taught almost 60 farmers in her community.
“For me, I am always ready to help farmers learn this method. Even my children ask me how I manage, but it is because I enjoy farming and the harvest is always good,” she says.
The Boomitra-FtMA pilot project in Kenya became possible when Boomitra was selected for the WFP Innovation Accelerator’s SDG2 Acceleration Programme. In collaboration with the WFP Kenya Country Office, the WFP Innovation Accelerator welcomed Boomitra into the sprint programme, providing grant funding to establish an office in Kenya and hire local staff.
Working together with the WFP Kenya Country office to ensure a smooth launch, the WFP Innovation Accelerator advised Boomitra on how to deliver their onboarding sessions for farmers and provided mentors for UX and UI app customization and testing support, meaning that Boomitra’s technology could reach farmers faster and with less complications.
“This is another great example of how innovation can play a successful role in connecting WFP and the private sector to boost support for Kenyan farmers and improve their livelihoods while also positively contributing to climate action,” says Federico Naccarato Sartori, Head of Innovation at WFP Kenya.
Critically, the WFP Innovation Accelerator also connected Boomitra with FtMA, which made it possible for Boomitra to reach farmers in Kenya. FtMA has operated in Kenya since 2017 to overcome supply chain bottlenecks and promote sustainable food systems. To date, they have reached approximately 207,000 farmers across 13 counties.
The WFP Innovation Accelerator plays an important role in connecting innovative solutions like Boomitra’s to beneficial funding, services, or partners to elevate their impact. The Boomitra-FtMA partnership is a key example of connecting like-minded innovators to build climate resilience and support smallholder farmers.
How Boomitra unlocks new potential for smallholder farmers
Through training farmers in regenerative agriculture practices and then tracking their soil health with cutting-edge remote-sensing technologies, Boomitra empowers smallholder farmers to earn more income while contributing to global climate adaptation. Boomitra’s approach to regenerative agriculture is unique in the following ways:
Farmers and ranchers are the centre of Boomitra’s innovative approach to restoring the planet’s soils. With its network of partners, Boomitra provides participating farmers with free support to introduce regenerative agriculture on their farms.
Farmers are empowered to make decisions on their farm that best fits their context, environment, and needs. When implemented practices lead to carbon sequestration, farmers become eligible for carbon financing.
AI-powered remote soil monitoring
Boomitra’s proprietary AI and remote sensing technology measures soil moisture, nutrients, and carbon more accurately and efficiently than traditional soil monitoring technology. With accurate and timely data, farmers can reduce their water and nutrient usage by 30 percent while enhancing soil fertility.
Boomitra’s technology is based on models developed from more than one million accredited soil samples and analyses. By pairing this data with satellite technology, Boomitra can accurately and continuously monitor soil conditions without the need for additional soil sample collections and analyses, which require additional time and resources.
Equal access to carbon markets
Boomitra provides supplementary revenue streams for smallholder farmers through carbon credit payments, which compensate farmers for the carbon stored in their soil due to their regenerative practices.
Unlike other carbon market systems, Boomitra’s technology makes it possible for agricultural producers of any size, growing any crop anywhere in the world to engage in carbon removal markets, removing barriers to access additional income for smallholder farmers.
What’s next for Boomitra?
To reach our climate goals, we must continue to support and scale innovations like Boomitra working at the nexus of climate change and agricultural production. Farmers are key actors in climate change and hold great potential to mitigate climate impacts and adapt our food system to be resilient and sustainable.
Should the FtMA-Boomitra pilot in Kenya reflect the impact of Boomitra’s prior projects in India, Mexico, and the Pampas grasslands of South America, Hannah and the 1,200 other farmers involved in the project may receive 10–20 percent additional income from climate financing this year.
Aadith Moorthy has great ambitions for Boomitra to achieve carbon removal on the gigaton scale, bringing global reduction targets within reach while supporting farmers like Hannah to contribute to restoring our planet’s soils.
“We cannot restore the earth without the support of farmers, who produce the food we eat and rely on the land for their income. Our technological solution empowers farmers with the data they need to improve soil and maximise their crop yields, while creating a valuable store for carbon,” says Boomitra founder and CEO, Aadith Moorthy.
Jackie Negro is a communications consultant at the WFP Innovation Accelerator.
Thanks to Hannah Karanja for sharing her story as well as Martin Karimi, Angeline Wafula and the WFP Kenya Country Office for their collaboration on this story.
The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP colleagues, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies, and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support, and WFP’s global operations.
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