“After harvesting, farmers spend a lot of time and resources drying maize in the sun. Sometimes it’s even rained on when there are unexpected showers, resulting to more losses. I thought of how I could manufacture a machine that would solve this problem,” said David Burii in an interview.
David Burii dropped out of school after his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination in 1993 due to lack of fees, shattering his ambition to pursue engineering at the university and fulfill his childhood dream of making an aircraft.
But that did not stop him from being an innovator who is today revered across the country and in other parts of Africa where his Jua Kali farm machines are in use.
Each day, his mind was flooded with ideas on how he could make various gadgets and machines. Looking at the way farmers were struggling to secure affordable machinery, he aspired to make cheap ones. He was also troubled by losses farmers incurred whenever they harvested grains, especially due to poor drying methods.
In 2013, Mr Burii designed EasyDry 500, a machine that can dry 500 kilos of grains in three hours. It is a portable machine using open technology and can dry maize, wheat, rice among other grains, reducing moisture content from 20 to 13.5 percent.
The dryer runs on a small petrol engine which uses about half a litre of petrol per hour to power two fans which direct heat produced by burning maize cobs to the maize bed, a suspended table-like structure placed on a canvas bag.
Moisture content in grains is a major challenge in the commodities market. Farmers incur huge losses if the moisture content is high, a situation that can also lead to aflatoxin contamination, posing a health risk to consumers.
Mr Burii says according to tests conducted by AflaSTOP: Storage and Drying for Aflatoxin Prevention on the prototype, the machine reduces aflatoxin by 77 percent as opposed to traditionally dried maize at 51 percent. AflaSTOP runs a project that identifies the most promising storage options to control aflatoxin in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Mr Burii has built 70 units and sold 23 of them. It costs at least Sh70,000 to manufacture one machine, with each going for Sh90,000.
The innovation has become such a success that Mr Burii has sold the machine both locally and in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. “I also offer a service where I charge Sh200 to dry a bag of maize but most farmers don’t understand why they should pay this much. But if you look at the cost of drying maize in the open air for an average of two weeks when the farmer takes them out every day, the labour costs are too high,” he says.
“As part of my service to the community I intend to move from village to another offering this service because I know for sure farmers are suffering,” adds the father of four, who is a beneficiary of the Laikipia Development and Innovation Program (LIDP) and the County Enterprise Fund.
Mr Burii has also seen his business expand from a staff of two in 2017 to 20 currently, and hopes to provide more job opportunities to the youth.
“Through the help of the county government, I was able to get funding, certification and to market my machines which had previously been a challenge,” he said, adding that he also markets his product at trade fairs.
The innovator is currently working on a motorcycle-engine operated mower for harvesting hay “that is faster and cheaper than other products currently in the market,” to help small-scale livestock farmers.
“My dream is to one day set up an industry where I will manufacture affordable farm inputs and be a global leader in training the youth and create jobs. I did not go beyond class eight but that did not stop me from using my brains and talent and this is the lesson I want young people to learn. They should not also look down on the Jua Kali sector which I am convinced is the solution to joblessness,” says the 42-year old.
Laikipia County director of innovation Winnie Gathoni said they are supporting Mr Burii’s work. “We offer training programmes, marketing and exposure to the innovative youth engaged in various projects,” she said.