Photo by: Thomson Reuters Foundation

In the midst of a severe drought with raising famine concerns, farmers in Kenya have started switching to irrigation pumps powered by cottonseed biodiesel to water their crops. Zaynagro Industries is producing biodiesel that provides cheap power to the pumps saving Kenya’s food supply.

"Our biodiesel comes from crushing cotton seeds left over as waste after ginning — the process of separating the seeds from raw cotton," said Taher Zavery, managing director of Zaynagro Industries Ltd, the Kitui-based company producing the biodiesel. "We started producing and using it to power our cotton ginning factory in 2011. With increased production, we now use it for our trucks, sell it to the United Nations to run some of their buses — and also to local farmers for irrigation."

Over 1,200 farmers have bought pumps powered by biodiesel as part of an initiative from Zaynagro Industries. Under the pilot program, farmers pay a down payment on the pump for immediate usage then follow an interest-free payment plan to pay the remainder. With down payments starting around $300 and cottonseed biodiesel starting at $0.80/liter ($0.20/liter cheaper than normal diesel), farmers are enthusiastic about the economic boost the project has brought the region for the past three years.

"With a diesel pump, corn yields were lower and I would get $150 in three months. With the biodiesel pump, I can earn $450," said Kenyan Farmer Alex Babu Kitheka.

The Kenyan drought has caused massive agricultural damage to some parts of the country; with nearly half of Kenya’s counties reporting severe rain shortage, Zaynagro’s program might be just what farmers need to protect agriculture.