Republic of Guinea: Farmer uses kola leaf compost to regenerate infertile land

September 26, 2016
A translation for this article is available in French

Lemine Camara is fighting to restore his soil. It was damaged by many years of overusing or incorrectly applying chemical fertilizers.

Mr. Camara recalled his late mother’s advice that the leaves and stems of the kola tree were good natural fertilizers. So he experimented by making kola leaf compost for his one-hectare field of yams in the Koba sub-prefecture of western Guinea.

To produce the compost, he asked all 25 members of his family to gather fallen kola leaves from the plantations around his village. Then the family dug 30-centimetre-deep pits across his field. Mr. Camara says: “We filled the holes with the leaves we collected, and covered … [the holes]. We watered the pits regularly to help decomposition and after 90 days, we planted each one with enough yam cuttings for a one-year harvest cycle.”

It was a lot of hard work, but the results are encouraging, and Mr. Camara is hoping for a good harvest. He smiles as he inspects his crop, saying, “If the land is poor, strong sunlight will turn the leaves yellow. But if the leaves are green, as you can see here, then the soil has regained its fertility.”

Mr. Camara is extremely proud of his work. He says, “Look here at these 20 yam plants. The leaves are completely yellow for the simple reason that this part of the field did not get any compost.”

El Hadj Daouda Camara is Mr. Camara’s eldest son. He is proud of his father’s success. He says that the land the family rejuvenated had been long abandoned.

In Guinea, farmers near the ocean fertilize their soils with the silt deposited over large areas of coastline after high tides. But it’s a long way to the ocean for inland farmers like Mr. Camara. El Hadj says: “Local farmers are geared toward small-scale production, but my father has just challenged them to do better. When he decided to reclaim this plain, no one believed that he would succeed.”

Koba has long been one of Guinea’s main kola-producing areas. But the recent Ebola outbreak closed border crossings, which stopped trade with Senegal, Guinea’s largest kola export market. Kola producers were unable to sell their produce, and much was left to rot. Mr. Camara’s success with yams may inspire his neighbours to switch crops.

Hassanatou Bangoura is Mr. Camara’s wife. She tried the same experiment with compost in a small area where she planted sweet potatoes. With a smile, she says, “I harvested 10 100-kilogram bags, which I am currently selling at the weekly market in the village.”

Encouraged by Mr. Camara’s success, more and more farmers are using kola leaf compost to restore the fertility of their soils. For his part, Mr. Camara wants to dig compost pits on a larger piece of land. After all, he can count on his family to work by his side.

This article was originally published on March 9, 2015.