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Based in Luxembourg since over 20 years ago, Fertilux is a family-owned SME located in Grevenmacher with a staff of 80 people. It specialises in the production of eco-fertilizers, made from a mixture of raw materials produced by European agro-industries. “We are a link in the circular economy,” explains Sébastien David, Technical Engineer in the company. “Farmers have products that go to the agro-industry. On our side, we close the loop by using our real know-how to formulate our eco-fertilizers, to be used by farmers, from agro-industry products.”

Fertilux has filed a patent for its technique of enriching its eco-fertilizers with microorganisms. This means that its products do not only nourish plants, but they also stimulate biological activity in the soil and help fight erosion and acidification, phenomena that have a negative impact on soil fertility.

“We know that in countries that have used chemistry as their only weapon to increase yields, a collateral effect has been the reduction of soil fertility,” says David. “There is an urgent need to reverse this trend.”

Close relationships with local distributors

The company, which makes the bulk of its sales in Europe, began to turn to the African continent in 2016 with a view to diversifying its business geographically. “In order to be less dependent on a single market, it was natural to bet on exports. Africa represents an incredible potential and has the advantage of allowing us to deliver our products throughout the year, whereas in Europe we are subject to natural seasonal cycles.”

Fertilux has gradually developed its activities in Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa, while waiting to expand its coverage to Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We work with local, independent, but exclusive distributors in our market. We could not have penetrated the African market without them, but they could not have developed without us. There is a real convergence of interests. The win-win relationship is real, it’s not just a marketing term.”

The potential is enormous on a continent with the highest rate of population growth globally, a trend that automatically boosts future demand. For the time being, an African farm uses 16 kg of fertilizer per hectare, whereas a European farm uses an average of 300 kg…

Aid for innovation

Fertilux came to work with Luxinnovation when it was looking for support for innovation, particularly for setting up very complex and costly approval processes. “We received invaluable help in preparing our application for support, with concrete advice. We received a grant of €45,000 from the Ministry of the Economy, which represented a substantial part of our costs incurred in obtaining approvals from the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, the reference authority in this area. Luxinnovation also guided us to the Business Partnership Facility.”

The Business Partnership Facility (BPF) is a financing facility offered by the Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Action of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and managed by the LuxDev agency. It aims to encourage the Luxembourg and European private sector to join forces with partners in developing countries to set up sustainable business projects.

Halfway between business and development aid

“We have put together an application for the implementation of practical solutions, on the ground, to increase soil fertility and generate more income for small local producers,” summarises Mr David. This “integrated soil fertility management” project includes eco-fertilizers, certified seeds, micro-credit for local producers, agronomic expertise and technical monitoring. We also need to adapt our practices to local climatic and socio-economic conditions. We are halfway between business and development aid.”

The support provided by the BPF, amounting to nearly €200,000 over two years, will notably enable the accompaniment, recruitment and training, on site, of technicians.

“The example of Fertilux shows that Luxembourg companies can provide economically viable and relevant solutions for the needs of developing countries, as long as they can adapt the offer locally. The integrated management concept proposed by Fertilux is a triple win for the company, the small producers and the partners in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso,” concludes Pascal Fabing, Head of Corporate R&D and Innovation Support at Luxinnovation.

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