Malawi: Farmers increase maize harvest by using chicken droppings as fertilizer

October 10, 2016
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It’s four in the morning, and an alarm rings loudly inside a small iron sheet-roofed home in Chitukula village, 25 kilometres north of Lilongwe. Mabuku Kamzati wakes up abruptly from his deep slumber and tells his wife that it is time to get to work. Today is the day they will start applying chicken manure on their three-acre field.

Mr. Kamzati is using chicken droppings as a fertilizer because the price of chemical fertilizer has skyrocketed.

He lives near a company called Central Poultry which breeds, rears, and sells chickens. Local farmers buy chicken droppings from the company and use them as fertilizer in their maize fields.

Mr. Kamzati explains, “I am applying chicken droppings in furrows before making ridges in order to improve soil fertility. I cannot manage to purchase expensive fertilizer for my field.”

Currently, a 50-kilogram bag of fertilizer costs about $33 US. Mr. Kamzati says his three-acre field needs about eight bags, which would cost him more than $260. But he can buy chicken by the truckload for $138 US, which includes transport to the field.

Mr. Kamzati started using chicken droppings as fertilizer in 2014. He explains, “I learned from other farmers in my area that they were not applying chemical fertilizer, but they were harvesting more maize by just using chicken droppings as manure.”

According to Mr. Kamzati, chicken droppings are giving him a bumper harvest, and much better yields than previous years, when he struggled to apply chemical fertilizer. He says, “With chemical fertilizer, I used to harvest about five ox-carts full of maize from three acres, but this year I harvested 12 ox-carts.”

He says his maize is also growing faster than when he used chemical fertilizer.

Alfred Chipindo is the government extension worker in Dedza district. He says farmers might benefit more from using chicken droppings as fertilizer if they apply it for a number of years. He adds, “The good thing is that, apart from restoring soil fertility, the chicken dropping manure improves soil structure—unlike chemical fertilizers.”

Robert Chiwaka is another farmer from Chitukula village. He convinced Mr. Kamzati to start applying chicken droppings as fertilizer. He explains his method: “The chicken droppings are mixed with rice husks and chicken feed that falls down when chickens are feeding. My field has been overused and it lost fertility. But since I started using this manure, I have seen great improvements in yearly yields.”

Mr. Chiwaka says that farmers in his area use buckets to spray the chicken droppings in furrows. They often apply the fertilizer early in the morning, so they don’t lose some to the wind.

Yelemiya Layoni is the chief in nearby Chinkhota village. He stopped using chemical fertilizer and now relies on chicken droppings. He says the droppings are good because you only need to apply them once every growing season. He adds, “It does not require a lot of labour because it is applied once before making ridges, compared to chemical fertilizer where you apply twice.”

But the cost of chicken droppings is increasing because of demand from nearby communities, which worries Mr. Layoni. He explains: “In 2014, we used to buy chicken droppings loaded in one tipper truck at 50,000 kwacha ($68 US), and in 2015 we bought at 70,000 kwacha ($100 US), and this year the price has increased to 100,000 kwacha ($138 US). I am afraid that the manure might become expensive like chemical fertilizer one day such that we will also fail to afford it.”

Mr. Kamzati is grateful he has learned about chicken dropping fertilizer because now he has surplus maize that he sells for extra income. He says: “Now money is not a big problem in my family because I can afford to sell maize, which never happened before. I have managed to build the iron sheet house and am able to send my children to school.”