Nelly Bassily | April 14, 2008
On Dismas Nsabimana’s farm in northern Burundi, the soil is infertile and the weather unreliable. Fertilizer, therefore, is an absolute necessity. But chemical fertilizer has become far too expensive. Sometimes, it is impossible to find. Organic alternatives like manure and compost are also hard to come by. As a result, Mr. Nsabimana went for more than one year without a crop to harvest.
The answer to his problem came from a surprising place – the tiny shells that surround rice grains. Rice bran is a part of the hull that is typically removed during rice processing. It has become a popular fertilizer in parts of Burundi. Mr. Nsabimana said that rice bran is not as effective as chemical fertilizer, but it was effective enough to save his crops.
The Burundian province of Ngozi is densely populated, and all available farmland is in use. Farmers cannot afford to let their land go fallow, a process which naturally restores soil nutrients. Nor is there much grass or livestock to produce organic fertilizer. So, when chemical fertilizer became so costly that farmers who used it could not turn a profit, rice bran was a welcome option.
Rice bran contains three key nutrients required by plants – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It sells for about 100 Burundi francs per kilogram (less than 10 American cents, or 0.05 Euros), during the growing season. At this price, farmers can buy 20 bags of rice bran for the cost of one bag of chemical fertilizer.
Désiré Sabushimike operates a rice hulling machine and sells rice bran. His only customers used to be farmers who fed the product to cattle, swine, and chickens. But over the past year and a half, farmers have been jumping at the chance to purchase rice bran for their fields.
Farmers apply rice bran by hand. Since the outer shells are unevenly crushed by hulling machines, the rice bran decomposes at varying rates, adding nutrients gradually to the soil over time.
Étienne Barinakandi is a research officer who studied the effectiveness of rice bran as fertilizer at the Institut des sciences agronomiques du Burundi. He summed up the effectiveness of rice bran this way – on a piece of land which would produce 100 kilograms of beans with chemical fertilizer, you could grow 70 kilograms of beans with rice bran. In Ngozi province, farmers like Mr. Nsabimana feel this is much better than nothing!