27 February 2008

Uganda: Human Urine Safe As Fertilizer

There are several advantages human urine has over compost manure. It's not only cheap and user friendly but effective too

Members of Nezikokolima Farmers Group in Nabuti Village, Mukono District have substituted the use of compost manure with human urine to fertilise their gardens and they say their vegetable yields are impressive.

Besides, there are several advantages human urine has over compost manure. According to Cissy Mukasa, one of the 25 members of the group, urine manure is effective and user friendly.

It was introduced to the group by the Ecological Sanitation Project commonly known as EcoSan, implemented by Kampala City Council.

"The EcoSan project has really saved us the laborious compost manure making process. It has taught us the safe use of urine as manure and to us the elderly; it is a wonderful experience because it requires minimal labour.

It also repels pests such as Aphids which damage vegetable leaves," says Ms Mukasa. "So, at no extra cost, my vegetables are healthy and attract a better price now," she adds.

"Human urine for example contains a bulk of nutrients and it is a quick acting fertiliser which if recycled can boost farm productivity," says Dr Onesmus Ssemalulu, a soil scientist with Kawanda Agriculture Research Organisation.

"Under normal circumstances, an adult person releases 11 grams of nitrogen/urea, 1gram of phosphorus/super phosphate, 2.5 grams of pottasium in urine and 1.5 grams of Nitrogen, 0.5 grams Phosphorus and 1.0 grams of Potassium in feaces per day. Why waste all this?"

Dr Ssemalulu was part of the team that worked closely with a group of maize and vegetable farmers in Kyanja parish, in Nakawa division using urine as manure.

The farmers' yields tremendously improved and this was partly due to the commendable levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium among other major nutrients that the urine deposited into the soil.

"Each litre of urine manure constitutes 2.3 grams of Nitrogen, 0.06 potassium and 1.6 phosphorus," he explains.

Patrick Makhosi, also a soil scientist with Kawanda Agricultural Research Organisation confirms the efficacy of human urine as a fertiliser. He says that applying urine once every week for at least two months will more than double the yield of vegetables.

This should however be done alongside proper agronomic practices such as timely weeding. The urine should be diluted with water at a ratio of 1: 9 and applied to the plant, where the stem touches the ground. In the case of maize plants, dilute the urine with water at a ratio of 3:7 and apply it close to the plants at least once every week for two months. The size and number of maize cobs will significantly improve.

"Our experiments were carried out on 5 ft by 20 ft plots and maize cobs increased from 36 to 72 cobs per plot. This translated into Shs7,200 compared to Shs1,800 from the control plot," Makhosi notes, pointing to proper agronomic practices as having greatly contributed to the yield improvement.

Improved sanitation

The five-year EcoSan pilot project commenced in 2002 to promote the use of Ecological Sanitation toilets as one of the strategies to improve the sanitation standards and health conditions of people living in poorly sanitised areas of Kawempe, Rubaga, Nakawa, Makindye and Kampala Central divisions.

This was done by constructing and demonstrating the proper utilisation of ecological sanitation toilets which can aid the closure of the loophole that has for long facilitated poor sanitation and loss of the much needed nutrients found in urine and faecal matter.

The EcoSan toilet is designed in a way that facilitates the separation of urine and faeces whenever one goes to the toilet. This is intended to ease and speed up the process of managing the excreta, to make it safe for recycling purposes. Empowering communities to sanitise the urine and faecal material for use as manure was identified as the best way to close the loophole.

But many of the people living in the project area do not have land on which to undertake farming activities so as to utilise the EcoSan manure. This is why the project identified and linked farmers out side the project areas to EcoSan users within the project area and facilitated them to access and use the manure.

"Finding use for the excreta and empowering the people to properly sanitise it before use is one of the cost effective means of improving sanitation and health. It also boosts agricultural productivity," Margaret Azuba, the Agriculture Officer of Kampala City Council and Co-ordinator of the EcoSan agricultural activities says.

"Linking up with farmers outside the project area was the best way to achieve our desired goal because unless the excreta is used, the EcoSan toilet technology may do more harm than good.

Actually, EcoSan toilets minus product use would take us back to square one especially in terms of sanitation". Nezikokolima group is one of the farmers groups that were linked to EcoSan toilet users in Kawempe division.

The group often mobilised urine from EcoSan toilet users in Kalelwe and Kamwokya and under the guidance of the EcoSan project staff, the farmers demonstrated the use of urine on different crops.

"Whenever we brought the urine, we would keep it in tightly closed containers for at least 14 days to facilitate decomposition and the death of disease causing pathogens, making it safe to both the users and the plants on which it is applied," Jessica Kalema a councillor from Mukono Town Council and also a member of Nezikokolima Farmers Group says.

Nutrient source

Jane Mugerwa, one of the EcoSan toilet owners and users in Kamwokya 1 Parish said that she uses the urine generated from her toilet on her banana plants in the backyard garden and in her banana plantation at Vvumba parish in Luwero District.

"My banana plantation in Vvumba was seriously affected by the banana bacterial wilt. I am trying to rehabilitate it by observing the recommended agronomic practices of which soil fertility improvement is part.

"So, I am applying the urine to restore the nutrients and the results so far are promising. I am now waiting for Kampala City Council to tell us the best way to use the faecal manure and I will apply it too. Probably, the plantation will improve even much faster," says Ms Mugerwa.

Henry Mugerwa, the health supervisor of Kampala City Council allays fears that produce fertilised with urine is not hygienic.

"It is safe to consume them, once you apply the manure following the recommended instructions," he says, adding that the results of the six-months study conducted by Kampala City Council Health Department in collaboration with Makerere University's Micro-biology department under the Faculty of Public Health and the Soil Science department under the Faculty of Agriculture, indicated that properly sanitised urine and faecal material is safe for use as manure.

"Actually, two weeks after the urine has been passed out and kept in a tightly closed container, all the disease causing pathogens will be dead. Keeping the urine in tightly closed containers raises the pH in the urine to a level where disease causing pathogens cannot survive. And for the faecal matter, the most stubborn pathogens, the ascaris die off with in a period of four to six months," says Mugerwa.

For purposes of eliminating any doubt and managing the attitude problem, we recommend six months of faecal stay in a closed sanitisation chamber which is well ventilated to enhance evaporation and drying of the matter.

It is advised that wood ash is added whenever one finishes defecating. The tissue used and the ash absorb the humidity to not only eliminate odour and flies but also speed up the drying process. So, at six months, the faeces are totally hygienic and will have turned into soil, ready to apply.

According to Azuba, by the closure of the Ecological Sanitation Project in September last year, experimenting with the use of faecal material on farms had not yet been done because the manure had not yet reached the usable stage.

"We arranged with Makerere University's faculty of Agriculture to undertake the experiments on our behalf and establish the right ratios to be applied on to the different crops.

We intend to disseminate the findings to our partners as soon as possible," she says. At the same time, Nezikokolima Farmers Group has also started vaccinating their pigs against swine fever by giving them human urine once in a while.

According to Nalongo Tyaba, the Communications Officer of the group, they learnt about this treatment from their fellow farmers during one of the farmer to farmer extension visits. After careful considerations and learning about the precautionary measures, they resolved to try the idea.

"It is effective. Actually, since we started using the urine, our pigs have survived several attacks of swine fever that killed many of our neighbours' pigs who do not use it," Tyaba says.

Jessica Kalema, the secretary of the group said that the good results realised since they started using urine on their crops and animals have encouraged them to mobilise funds from amongst the group members, to facilitate the construction of an Ecological sanitation toilet for one of the nearby schools to supply sufficient quantities of urine.

Later, as funds allow, each of the members will construct one in their respective homes to cater for the gap that may be created when schools close for holidays.

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