Madagascar: Farmers use bat dung fertilizer to increase long-term yields (RFI)

September 11, 2017
Une traduction de cet article est disponible en Français

In Madagascar’s highlands, vegetable farmer Jean-Baptiste Ramarison is gradually switching from chemical fertilizer to organic manure. And not just any kind of manure: he’s using a product made from bat droppings.

Mr. Ramarison started using bat fertilizer, also called guano, 10 years ago. It’s cheaper than chemical fertilizer, and Mr. Ramarison finds his vegetables stay fresh longer when he uses organic methods. But he continues to use chemical fertilizer on some of his crops.

He explains : “For cauliflower, I use both types of fertilizer. The chemical fertilizer helps the seeds grow quickly, and the guano is better for the leaves and soil. The chemical fertilizer makes for faster growth, but it’s expensive. I save money by buying guano.”

In Madagascar, more than 60% of the land is suitable for growing crops, but less than 10% is cultivated. Chemical fertilizers are used less commonly than in Europe or Asia.
Erick Rajaonary is an entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to make money helping Malagasy farmers increase their profits while enriching the soil. He wants his organic fertilizer to be the best on the island—or even the African continent.

Mr. Rajaonary is known as “Bat Man” because he owes his success to these small flying mammals. In 2006, he began producing organic fertilizer made from bat droppings collected from caves. His company, called Guanomad, now controls 30% of the fertilizer market in Madagascar.

Mr. Rajaonary explains that his guano fertilizer is made of decomposed bat dung mixed with acidic soil. It takes 20 to 30 years for the dung to decompose to the point where its nutrients are fully available to plants.

The company operates in about 120 caves, located primarily in Madagascar’s southwest and mid-west. The company currently produces about 20 tonnes per day. In peak years such as 2008-2009, production reaches 80 to 100 tonnes per day.

At the current rate of production, these caves have enough bat droppings to supply the company for more than 130 years. But demand for guano may not match supply, as some farmers are struggling to make the transition to organic agriculture.

Mr. Rajaonary says that, while guano is cheaper than chemical fertilizer, you need more to fertilize your crops, and so it ends up costing the same amount. He says the biggest change farmers notice when they switch to guano is long-term productivity: “The difference is that the first year, the yield is better using chemical fertilizer. Guano is the opposite. Over the years, productivity increases. Unfortunately, farmers do not reason like that. They think in terms of immediate profitability.”

Mr. Rajaonary wants to develop Madagascar’s organic farming sector, and if he has to start by conquering foreign markets, so be it. He already does half his business abroad, and is preparing to launch a fertilizer designed specifically for Côte d’Ivoire’s organic cocoa sector.

Mr. Ramarison plans to continue his transition to organic agriculture—as long as his customers are also willing to make the switch.

He adds: “In the future, I think I will only use organic fertilizer because I know it’s better for your health. Plus, the vegetables keep better. But I’ll have to find buyers. The chemical fertilizer makes the vegetables look good. At the market, that’s what people are looking for.”

This story was adapted from a report titled “Madagascar: de l’engrais biologique à partir des déjections de chauves-souris” published by RFI. To read the original article (in French), please see: http://www.rfi.fr/emission/20170905-madagascar-engrais-biologique-partir-dejections-chauves-souris

Photo credit: RFI / Sarah Tétaud