Emmanuel Nshakavyanka knew his land was exhausted. As it gradually lost fertility over the years, his banana trees produced less and less. He could not find enough manure to rejuvenate his plot because there are almost no cattle in the Bugama region of eastern Burundi where Mr. Nshakavyanka lives.
So he decided to make his own compost. He explains: “Planting bananas without fertilizer is like rain in the desert—a waste of resources. Then I had the idea of starting a composting system which only needs a small amount of manure.”
Mr. Nshakavyanka starts his compost by digging pits, which he fills with chopped banana trunks, dry plant residues, ash, and a small amount of animal manure. Finally, he covers everything with straw to keep out air and sunlight and accelerate the composting process. Mr. Nshakavyanka says, “It takes about four months for the manure to be well-rotted and ready for use.”
Now that he uses compost, Mr. Nshakavyanka gets bigger harvests and earns more money. He is proud of his work. Before he started applying fertilizer to his field, his banana bunches weighed only five to seven kilograms and sold for only 2,000 francs [$1.17 US].
He says: “My first harvest after applying fertilizer yielded bunches of bananas weighing 30 to 40 kilograms, and I could make as much as 7,500 to 8,000 francs [$4.37 – 4.66 US]. In the second year, I harvested bunches weighing between 50 and 80 kilograms which sold for between 13,000 and 17,000 francs [$7.57 – 9.91]. Today, I can say I am rich.”
Many small-scale farmers in eastern Burundi are now making their own compost. They are keen to repair the damage caused by soil erosion by adding compost to their fields.
Clémence Niyonzima farms in the same area as Mr. Nshakavyanka. She was inspired by his success, and now makes her own compost.
Mrs. Niyonzima says: “Mr. Nshakavyanka taught us his system about two years ago. I have six compost pits. I use the compost in my two fields of beans and one [field] of groundnuts. I [now] harvest four tonnes of beans, whereas before I could harvest only one.”
Mr. Nshakavyanka is confident that he can sell his increasingly high-yielding crops. He explains, “I have linked up with a local merchant who buys all my produce at a reasonable price. I do not need to transport my crops to market as he comes himself to pick it up.”
The merchant, François Hakiza, is well-known in the area. He says: “These bunches of bananas are good. I sell them to restaurants in Ruyigi province, and they are all very satisfied.”
Mr. Nshakavyanka used his increased profits to buy a dairy cow. He hopes to buy more land soon and branch out into cattle ranching.
This article was originally published on March 30, 2015.