Organic compost manure can achieve similar food yields as synthetic fertilizer scientists now say, in what could now save smallholder farmers from over reliance on the expensive fertilizers and increase acreage under fertilizer use that averages 8 kilograms per hectare compared with the global average of 100 kilogram per hectare.
The researchers from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute however says for this to make a meaningful impact, the organic compost must have been consistently used for 3 to 4 years.
“We can now confirm scientifically that compost delivers the same results as synthetic fertilizer over but over a longer period of consistent use like 3 to 4 years,” Anne Muriuki, Principal Research Officer at KARI station of Thika said in an earlier interview.
“The challenge is that while compost is nearly free for small scale farmers and the process of making is very simple, they do not know how to make it,” she said.
Traditionally farmers have relied on food waste, leaves, twigs, maize stalks and other farm waste to create manure. However the mode of preparation which is misinformed has meant that the compost doesnt maintain its potency and nutrients while applied to the crop.
For example while making compost farmers are usually advised to dig a hole meaasuring 4 by 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep then put the ingredients following the instructions and wait for around two months before the compost is ready. However common practice involves farmers leaving the farm waste to decompose openly and which washes off nutrients especially when it rains.
And with the soil nutrients continuing to be depleted without being replenished, partly due to farmers' inability to keep up with the prohibitively expensive commercial fertilizers, the scientists are scaling farmer education in the correct preparation and use of compost manure.
“It is now that we have started educating small scale farmers on how to make compost. We want to upscale the education by partnering with grassroots organizations,” said Muriuki.
But even as Kenya spends billions in importing fertilizers, reports now indicate that waste top among them food is hugely untapped and could go along way in addressing the fertilizer shortage in the country. The waste food can be turned into compost manure which experts in soil fertility say is more advantageous than commercial fertilisers. However this waste continue to rot unexploited.
For example Nairobi city alone produces 29,000 tonnes of organic waste, 80 per cent of which is raw vegetable and fruits wastes while 15 per cent is left over foods according to a research conducted early last year by Environmental Cost Management (ECM) and Waste Netherlands shows
“As more flats come up and population rises, Nairobi is experiencing an upsurge in organic wastes. fruit waste and left- over foods in most of these flats particularly the best raw materials for compost,” ECM’s lead researcher Joyce Gachugi said.
Researchers are in agreement that the waste should never go to waste. According to a study done by Ecoh Holdings Ltd, an environmental research firm in Nairobi, since 2005, each tonne (1,000kg) of waste produces 700kg of packaged compost.
The 870,000 tonnes of organic waste produced in Nairobi can make 609,000 tonnes of fertiliser, according to the research findings.
“The value of 50 kilogrammes of compost costs Sh2,000. This means the country can produce compost fertiliser worth Sh24 billion if all the waste is collected and recycled,” says Collins Mwenda, a researcher with Ecoh Holdings.
Government statistics show about one million tonnes of chemical fertilisers which sell at Sh2,500 (subsidised rates per 50kg bag) is imported annually.
Written by Aloyse Muinde for African Laughter