Abuja — The Nigerian government said it subsidizes the cost of fertilizer, but some farmers say they never see a discount, paying as much as $40 a bag. In the Niger Delta region, some chicken farmers are offering a solution. They say they are turning their "waste into wealth" by selling chicken manure for less than a few dollars a bag.
Alice Umukoro is a vegetable farmer in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Fertilizer, she said, is supposed to be for sale for about $16 at a government-subsidized price.
But subsidized program never makes it to her village, she said. Sometimes she can buy fertilizer that was purchased at a subsidized price in the village market from someone who bought it in the city. But the price is marked up, she said, and it is not always available.
For a long time, Umukoro said, she could only harvest a half-bucket of okra and a half-bucket of tomatoes every two days. Now she harvests five times that much.
Her secret is simple: she buys bags of chicken droppings from local poultry farms for sometimes as little as 30 cents a bag.
Chicken farmers say they also benefit from the arrangement and sell for low prices to encourage vegetable farmers to come clean the manure out of their farms.
Mathias Ojakovo is a poultry farmer in Delta State who has about 3,000 birds. He said he makes about $25 a month selling chicken droppings to local farmers. Larger farms, he said, can make as much as $100 a month.
"The size of your farm determines the amount you get from waste. What I see is most of these local farmers do prefer the local waste compared to the fertilizer that government has given to them. Because why? There's not sufficient money for the government [fertilizer] so they go for the local ones,."
But specialists say chicken manure to grow vegetables is trickier than using packaged fertilizer. For example, crops can burn if the manure is not composted long enough, said Okeoghene Eboibi, a senior lecturer at Delta State Polytechnic.
"The farmers need to be properly educated to know how to apply these fertilizers. Because when you get the farm droppings in a rough state there it contains some acidity," Eboibi stated.
In 2012, the Nigerian government launched a program to expand the number of farmers who actually get the subsidized fertilizer, which was then less than 11 percent. The government now sends text messages to millions of farmers with vouchers and instructs them where to pick up their subsidized fertilizer, substantially reducing the amount of corruption in the system.
Officials say 60 percent of farmers benefit from the subsidy program. But in Africa's most populated country with more than 160 million people, there are still a lot of farmers searching for fertilizer -- and turning to the chickens for help.
Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta.