Uganda: Farmers find that human urine is an effective fertilizer (The Monitor)

March 10, 2008
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Jane Mugerwa has found an innovative and inexpensive way to revitalize her banana plantation. Her crops were affected by a disease called banana bacterial wilt and she knew that better soil management, including improved fertilization, was necessary to manage the disease. But she learned that costly chemical fertilizers weren’t required – in fact, good fertilizer was as close as her backyard latrine.Like an increasing number of Ugandan farmers, Ms. Mugerwa is now adding human urine to the soil where her crops grow, following research that revealed it to be a safe and effective fertilizer.

Human urine contains many minerals that are beneficial to plants, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Researchers in many parts of the world have found that it can double vegetable production yields – working as well or better than chemical fertilizers.

The Kampala City Council Health Department recently worked with public health and agriculture experts at Uganda’s Makerere University to test the safety of urine fertilizer. They found that human urine should be fermented in a tightly sealed container for two weeks before it is used. Any disease-causing pathogens are destroyed during this time.

The city council used this information to launch a project aimed at improving sanitation in parts of Kampala while providing fertilizer for farmers in nearby rural areas. Ecological Sanitation toilets – specially designed to separate urine from solid waste – were installed in some urban areas.

Members of the Nezikokolima Farmers Group in Mukono District received the urine. They learned to store it for two weeks and dilute it before using it to fertilize their maize and vegetable crops. The urine fertilizer was applied every week for two months.

Cissy Mukasa is one of the group members who tried the new fertilizer. She said it was much less labour intensive than traditional manure fertilizer, which was important to her and other elderly members of the group.

She also said that the urine fertilizer repels aphids that damage vegetable leaves. This makes her vegetables look healthier, and allows her to sell them for a better price.

The Nezikokolima Farmers Group is so pleased with the results of urine fertilizer that they plan to buy an EcoSan toilet for a nearby school, thus ensuring a good supply of urine. The members also plan to save money to construct EcoSan latrines by their own homes.