Globally there is an ever-growing appetite for organically produced food. Emerging knowledge points to the fact that organically produced foodstuffs are healthy and make people less susceptible to chronic illnesses, such as cancer, compared to those grown using chemically produced inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
Armed with this background, innovative researchers in Malawi are producing liquid fertilizers from human urine. One of the researchers, Goodfellow Phiri, a graduate in agriculture told SciDev.Net that the process of producing the bio-fertilizer dubbed ‘liquid gold’ is not very complicated. He explained that the process starts with the collection of urine, which is the raw material to produce the fertilizer. The urine is collected from strategically placed tanks at public toilets or from members of the public.
“When the receiving tank is full, the urine is taken and transferred to a bigger tank which is 1000 litres. Whilst in this tank, the urine is cooked by heat from the sun. During the heating process we monitor the PH of the substance, to ensure that it’s mature. When it is mature, it changes from being acidic substance to alkaline substance. At that level, there is no smell, there are no pathogens and also it is safe for human handling, free from diseases,” he said to SciDev.Net.
Phiri opined that the bio-fertilizer produced from urine is more effective and less harmful to the environment.
“The fertilizer we have is natural sustainable by nature, the human being eats what is grown from the soil, whatever comes out of the human being must go back to the soil, that’s very sustainable now and forevermore. But when it comes to performers in the field, liquid fertilizer is better because it reconditions the soil making it fertile. The chemical fertilizer is the opposite, the more you apply it the worse and worse the soil becomes, damaging the soil,” Phiri said to SciDev.Net.
When applying to crops, the fertilizers are diluted with water at varying ratios depending on the crop to be fertilized.
The collection of urine, Phiri said to SciDev.Net, also ensures a clean environment as people are now strategically disposing of their urine for sale to the bio-fertilizer producers, earning some income for their upkeep as well.
“When people urinate anyhow in the open, there is water contamination; we experience a lot of disease from drinking the water. What we have done is buy the urine from the public because what we collect from the market is not enough. That means people are no longer throwing urine in the bush but they are keeping it safe for sell to us, reducing the contamination of the environment,” added Phiri.
Initially, he said, people resisted the adoption of the liquid gold but through spirited campaigns, the public embraced the new fertilizer.
“Changing people from chemical fertilizers to organic fertilizers has been a struggle. Organic fertilizers from human waste have been a taboo in Malawi. So what we have done is to grow demonstration gardens every year and at the time of harvest we invite the public to see the difference and compare. When we go out to grow demonstration gardens we invite farmers and we do it together with the farmers, farmers are taken through the process and farmers begin to understand that urine is safe and effective,” he said.
A farmer from Malawi, Winston Banda commended the liquid gold, indicating that it resulted in him getting better yields.
“I started my vegetable garden in 2018, using chemical fertilizers, but when I started using this bio-nitrate fertilizer which is now organic, I have now seen a big change in my garden. The harvest is so nice; the harvest is so huge as compared to what I have been doing at first. The prices according to what we apply to the vegetable garden, the price is fair,” Banda told SciDev.Net.
Phiri told SciDev.Net that the production of bio-fertilizers started in 2007 and the hope is that the price of the liquid gold currently packed at 8 000 kwacha (US$9.80) per 20litre container will go down further by more than 20 percent as plans for mass production are underway.