This is the last post of a 14-part series on entrepreneurship in Africa and the companies who participated in the inaugural Unreasonable East Africa program.

The croton tree seems an unlikely source of an agricultural revolution. Indigenous to the point of weed-like throughout East Africa, it produces a walnut-sized inedible nut and has never served much purpose beyond shade and firewood. But it turns out croton nut oil can power diesel engines without additional processing. That could make it one of Africa’s most important biofuel sources and, perhaps, a deterrent to the deforestation that continues to ravage large swaths of the continent.

In 2012, Alan Paul, an engineer and veteran entrepreneur, founded EFK Group (Eco Fuels Kenya), a zero-waste operation that extracts fuel oil from croton nuts and turns the leftover nut pulp into variety of industrial inputs, such as organic fertilizer. At about $1 per liter, EFK’s croton biofuel costs around 15 percent less than diesel and also burns cleaner, while the nut-based fertilizers cost around half of competing products. Additionally, since all of this comes from the nuts, it gives people a reason not to cut down the trees for wood—an important side effect in a region where deforestation is rampant.

Paul grew up on a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe, where he developed a passion for the environment. It wasn’t until 2009 that he stumbled upon the croton nut’s untapped potential. He had been hired as a consultant for an organization that was exploring the croton nut as a biofuel and, while the project never came to fruition, Paul continued pushing forward with his own resources—inspecting production techniques, distribution costs, and sales opportunities.

Paul settled on Kenya as his base of operations, due to the country’s relatively well-established economy and infrastructure. With his own savings, he partnered with a small nonprofit croton operation who had experience collecting the nut, hired a team, and launched EFK. After two years of research and testing, he is going to market.

Our goal is to raise the income for our BOP collectors without taking away their from other income opportunities. Tweet This Quote

Because there’s no such thing as a commercial croton farm, EFK has developed a network of 2,000 collectors in communities throughout Kenya, where the abundance of croton trees has been turned into a strong source of seasonal income. “It takes a Croton collector only two hours to earn what they could expect from a full day’s labor,” says Myles Lutheran, EFK’s director of business development. “Our goal is to raise the income for our BOP (bottom of the pyramid) collectors without taking away from their other income opportunities.”

To date, EFK has sold all the biofuel it can produce and more than 150 tons of fertilizer, exceeding $100,000 in revenue through the business’ two-year pilot phase. The company plans to introduce its chicken feed and biomass briquette products by year’s end.

Nate Beard

Author Nate Beard

Nate is a thinker and instigator who occasionally tries to write, sometimes on

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