The reutilization of organic wastes (kitchen, agricultural and industrial wastes; excreta from humans and livestock) to make soil amendments is an ancestral technique known to provide improved soil quality, higher water retention, and better plant production. Nonetheless, this sort of “circular economy” for organic material is often neglected in the present era of chemical fertilizers. The reasons for this include a perceived lack of raw material availability; sanitary concerns; cultural or social taboos; or because chemical fertilizers are promoted as a better option by agricultural outreach services.
While many farmers lack adequate access to soil amendments and struggle to farm soils with low organic matter and nutrient content, many rural and urban communities in the Global South do not have access to adequate sanitation. Rates of open defection can exceed 80% in some areas, leading to contamination of aquatic resources that local populations rely on for water and fish. “Ecological sanitation” provides an interesting option: the use of toilets that separate liquid and solid wastes, allowing recovery of resources for agriculture. This is particularly relevant for arid/semi-arid regions where water scarcity means that flush toilets are not an option.
While suitable methods are known for the transformation of wastes into safe farming inputs, more work needs to be conducted to define and translate these protocols into local environmental and cultural settings, such as are found in the arid/semi-arid areas of West Africa. There considerable interest in the idea of circular economy for organic matter in the CCRP’s West Africa Community of Practice (WAf CoP). The use of human waste (urine, re-branded as “oga” or boss) has been found to be an effective biofertilizer by Fuma Gaskiya, a large farmer research network led by a farmer organization. This has inspired other WAf CoP project teams, as well as CCRP leadership, to explore the topic of ecological sanitation (recovery of nutrients from sanitation to agriculture) more broadly.
Crop production, and consequently food security and safety, are dependent on soil health. A soil’s organic matter and nutrient content are key aspects of soil health that influence crop growth and productivity through the soil’s ability to hold water, cycle nutrients and sustain a healthy microbial community. Soil carbon and nutrient content is often inadequate in tropical farming systems. African soils, for example, are often ancient and highly weathered, and resource-limited farmers have difficulty building and maintaining healthy soils. Animal wastes (manure and urine) are recognized as important sources of soil inputs, while human wastes are ubiquitous yet neglected resources that could be tapped for enriching soils.
The transformation of organic wastes (human excreta; domestic organic waste; industrial organic wastes) and their utilization in agriculture can provide an economically viable, ecologically interesting and healthful options for reducing waste accumulation. It also provides an alternative to the use of chemical fertilizers that are out of reach for many resource-limited farmers, have a high carbon footprint to produce, and can have negative impacts on soil quality and fertility over the long term. Indeed, soil degradation and desertification are increasingly pressing issues for which urgent action is needed, as emphasized in several high level, international reports.
Outputs and Outcomes:
Inventories will be assembled for current local practices regarding organic waste streams in Maradi, Niger; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire. Farmers’ perceptions will be explored to assess social and cultural factors that could influence their adoption and/or adaptation of recycling approaches. Taboos, health concerns and other barriers may constrain implementation of proposed actions. This work will be achieved by young, local interns who will conduct interviews and collect existing data.
Two potential recycling scenarios will be developed for possible implementation. One will focus on ecological sanitation, and the other will consider a broader set of organic resources that could be combined to produce balanced fertilizer products. The latter approach, known as territorial symbiosis, is a novel one for the regional CoP.
The qualitative models defined above will be subjected to more quantitative analysis, and the results will be visualized in spatial and temporal representations to support subsequent co-design and implementation (beyond the scope of this one-year project).
Capacities of the early-career researchers will be developed. The interns and their supervisors in regional universities will gain new relationships with each other and with French scientists with allied interests.
Data sheets and short films will serve as resources for the teams, as well as for wider networks of stakeholders.
Investment in the action research teams working towards nutrient cycling from sites of food consumption to sites of food production will contribute to greater employment and food security in the region. Better sanitation will also contribute to reduced gut illness, and thus to better food security.