This young agriculture graduate is using seaweed to produce organic fertiliser and support organic food growers and urban gardens across Liberia.
Laymah Kollie, bird story agency
When he’s not building a backyard food farm for a client, Ebenezer Doto Kukai can be found at the beach. He doesn’t come for the sun, sea, or sand, however. He’s here for the seaweed.
The beach is part of the compound of the Eternal Love Winning Africa Hospital and is right opposite Kukai’s home. A graduate of the University of Liberia with a Bachelor of Science in general agriculture, Kukai lives in the GAS Community in Montserrado County in north-western Liberia. He collects seaweed from the beach and processes it at his home, allowing it to first decay in order to produce compost, or liquid fertiliser.
“I did research on organic fertiliser and seaweed was found amongst them. That’s how I knew that the stuff I usually see on the beach whenever I visit, is fertiliser. That’s how I started gaining interest in seaweed and I started encouraging farmers to engage in organic farming,” Kukai said, explaining what first got him started in backyard agriculture.
After his research on organic fertilisers led him to seaweed, Kukai created his first home garden in 2019 as an experiment to check his theories. The backyard garden was a success and he was able to harvest lettuce, cabbages and peppers.
In 2020, he built a team that was able to train 60 urban farmers, providing them with seedlings and seaweed-based fertiliser. His “feed your home” activities have covered five communities to include Rock Hill Community, CC–Care Community, Valley View Community, and Rock Crusher Community.
In 2023, Kukai (who now goes by #Eben “The Modern Farmer” on social media) has provided 32 homes as well as a school with an urban garden, with a focus on urban spaces to improve local nutritional levels and lower the costs of fresh vegetables in communities.
“I collect between US$30-40 per garden and make up to eight home gardens per month. For community members who cannot afford my wage, I usually ask them to purchase their materials and I set up their garden without a wage,” Kukai explained.
In addition to his freelance gardening work, Kukai is an agriculture instructor at the Nyenoweh Eston Preparatory School, a local school in his community. He also works with the organisation Reduction of Waste as an agriculture field technician.
While Kukai has founded a non-profit organisation, Kwapai Africa, to take on a lot of the work, his passion is to find new ways to improve the use of organic fertilisers, including seaweed-based preparations.
“I was inspired to use seaweed because it’s a natural component and doesn’t have a negative effect on our health, they are environmentally friendly. Seaweed has several benefits for crops, it’s a renewable asset, it can improve soil structure, enhance nutrient availability and boost plant resistance to pests and diseases,” he said.
The 26-year-old agriculturist can usually be found processing seaweed fertiliser at his home. This includes washing the decayed seaweed with water and using the liquid as fertiliser and preparing unwashed decayed seaweed that can be composted directly in the soil. The liquid fertiliser takes up to a month to be effective for use, while the composted fertiliser takes up to two weeks to a month.
Kukai interacts with farmers on a daily basis to identify crop behaviours and how to produce more effective organic produce gardens. He also interacts with his fellow community dwellers and shares knowledge on the production and importance of organic farming.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, agriculture is the sector most vulnerable to climate change, providing primary livelihoods to more than 70% of the population. Some, 49% of Liberians are considered food insecure, so Kukai’s efforts have been widely endorsed.
“I hope to improve soil health, increase crop yield, reduce resistance to synthetic fertilisers, promote sustainable agriculture practices and minimise environmental impact,” he explained.
Through Kwapai Africa, he is now spreading the message of organic farming and providing urban garden training sessions.
According to Kinnie O. Bogar of Barnersville Community, the backyard garden and fertiliser solution has been helpful to her and her family.
“It was great, the backyard garden. It really works and grows our crops fast,” Bogar said.
Faith Tokawoh, from Kissi Community, concurred.
“For me, I never had any idea on seaweed being fertiliser but I learned that from the training. Right now it is the type of garden I do,” she said.
Other trainees lauded the benefits of not having to buy vegetables.
“Since he started this garden business for me, I don’t buy greens, cabbage and other soup from the market anymore. It helps me save money on other issues,” explained Hawa Corneh, a resident of Rock Hill Community.
Nyenoweh Eston Preparatory School – and its pupils – are the latest beneficiaries of Kukai’s work.
“Since this man came to the school we have seen a lot of improvement in agriculture. It’s a mobile garden because we don’t have enough space on the compound but he’s doing well. The students are gradually learning the practical aspects of agriculture,” said Amos Diggs, the school’s Vice President of Instructions.
What is clear from the non-profit’s Facebook page, however, is that whether it’s as #Eben “The Modern Farmer” or as the Kwapai Africa team, these organic urban farm instructors are all very much in demand.
bird story agency