Central Kenya farmers replace money with manure

manureFarmers in Central Kenya are exchanging animal manure from each other with no money involved, a model that is shielding them from the erratic supply and cost of synthetic fertilizer as the rest of African farmers adopt the model impressed by the results.

Dubbed manure barter trade, the model involves farmers meeting at an agreed market place each with their animal manure which they trade for manure from another animal. “So if I have cow manure an excess of cow manure in my farm and would want to mix it with some bit of goat manure and pig manure I just need to come with it to the market because there must be another farmer who has an excess of another animal manure but a shortfall or lack of another,” said Jeremiah Gitira one of the pioneer farmers of the barter manure trade.

Gitira rears some 30 pigs but has been overwhelmed by the manure which he says though nutritional to the crops doesn’t do well on all crops especially the fresh produce like capsicum and carrots which he also farm. “So the trick here is, these fresh produce responds so well with goat manure. So when I exchange part of my pig manure with goat manure I mix both and the results are amazing,” he added.

Borrowing from the non currency exchange of produces by traders in the famous Kagio market in Central Kenya, the farmers have now secured a strategic place within the market where the manure barter trade has flourished for the last two and half years.  The manure traders now say the trade has expanded from the initial four farmers to over 350 members at the moment. The farmers meet twice per month, on Tuesdays and Fridays and on average exchange over 600 bags in one market day. “The fertilizer in the market is prohibitively expensive, and the subsidized government fertilizer is another story all together which is dogged by deceit and long procedures which makes it hard to access it in time delaying planting time.

We couldn’t wait to see this happen so we decided to come up with something of our own and our manure trade has made it sure that we don’t disrupt planting season,” says Dorothy Makenji a widow whose 12 goats and 10 cows has placed her among the leading manure traders in the market.

During market day each farmer brings his own manure. They then proceed to request for the manure that they need. “So if I have 5 bags of cow manure I will look for a farmer with 5 bags of say pig manure. If I fall short of that, we exchange what the other farmer has, before moving to another farmer until I get the amount I need,” said Gitira. No money exchanges hand.
The farmers say this cannot compare with the prices of synthetic fertilizers.  A 90kg bag of DAP one of the common fertilizers with smallholder farmers goes for Sh1900 and can only take care of a quarter of an acre. “But a mixture of goat and pig manure in a 90kg bag can go for half an acre because spreading it across the farm is much easier,” Gitira adds. The nutritional value of the animal manure they say cannot be compared to the synthetic ones. But the strength is in the mixing.

While cow manure has phosphorous and nitrogen in large quantities, which are important especially for plants at their infancy as they builds their ‘immunity’  it falls short of potassium an important component for strong leaves and roots which is found abundantly in pig manure. Goat manure on the other hand weak on nitrogen is abundantly endowed in magnesium and organic matter which determine the final crop. “Of course the farmers didn’t know the scientific reason behind this, but learnt about it from borrowing manure from each other, it has worked tremendously and is an ingenious way that is now being adopted elsewhere,” says Mike Tocho an agricultural extension officer in Karatina.

Mike is referring to adoption of the model in Tanzania, Senegal and Zambia where farmers on an exchange programme in Kenya got so impressed with the model and how it is working that they replicated it in their home country. Already in Senegal three markets are now exclusively involved in manure barter trade.