News & Media
News and Media
Farmers in Niger use urine collected in composting toilets to fertilise their fields, as part of a pilot programme in eight villages.
Ecological sanitation can address two major problems at once in the world’s poorest regions.
Dwindling phosphate rock supplies pose a serious threat to long-term food security around the world. Already, phosphate prices are volatile and prohibitively high for many poor farmers, and many communities don’t have access to chemical fertilisers at all.
But viable, often low-cost alternatives are available. One, animal manure, is a major resource that can be used more extensively and efficiently. Another, especially for subsistence farmers and for very poor urban populations, is human waste. Arno Rosemarin, of SEI’s EcoSanRes programme, is involved in several projects to help communities tap this valuable resource.
A URINE-DIVERTING COMPOSTING TOILET.
Human urine is an effective fertiliser, rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. One year of urine from an adult can support agriculture over an area of about 300 to 400 square metres, and as demonstrated in recent trials in villages in Niger, it actually works better than commercial fertilisers. Treated human faeces and wastewater sludge can also be used as fertiliser.
In an ideal world, Rosemarin notes, urban agriculture would be receiving nutrients from the cities it supports. But there is a long way to go before such systems are in place.
At present, over 700 million people in 50 countries consume food from land irrigated with untreated or poorly treated sewage – a major cause of diarrhoea and other foodborne illnesses. This practise will increase as cities become larger and the need to produce food increases. If such systems were designed from the start for agricultural reuse, Rosemarin says, the spreading of pathogens and parasites would be reduced.
ONIONS GROWN WITH ORGANIC-MATTER FERTILISER ONLY AND WITH ORGANIC MATTER AND URINE (LEFT).
As part of the Millennium Development Goals, he notes, governments and nonprofits around the world are working to provide adequate sanitation to the 2.6 billion people who lack it.
“This is a great opportunity to address two major problems at once,” he says. “With smart planning, we can build sanitation systems that are just as clean and safe as the North’s flush toilets, but which don’t just dispose of waste, but rather refine, recycle and reuse it.”