Sawa Pius | February 23, 2015
Fifteen young people got together in 2011 and formed the Shirembe youth group in Bukura, Kakamega County, about 400 kilometres northwest of Nairobi. They decided to make money by planting trees, keeping poultry and doing odd jobs such as cleaning marketplaces.
Then in 2013, a sugar company offered to train the group on how to produce compost from farm and food waste. Compost made with these materials is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, nutrients which are essential for agricultural crops.
The group is now producing good quantities of what they call ‘environmental conservation manure,’ or ECM. This fertilizer is inexpensive to make, and consequently cheap for farmers to buy – much cheaper than imported fertilizers.
Dennis Bulali is the leader of the group. He says ECM is highly beneficial for farmers. The organic compost matures in just one and half months. It can be made from crop residues and household waste such as maize and bean stover, grasses, vegetable peelings, and ashes from cooking fires.
Mr. Bulali says, “By producing ‘environmental conservation manure,’ [we] also help to conserve the environment and reduce cases of [plant] disease. This manure improves soil quality.”
Dr. Mary Anyango is an expert in horticulture. She says that organic fertilizers like ECM are much better for soils because they provide organic matter, or humus. Also, unlike chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers do not make soils more acidic.
The young people’s group prepares a flat surface on which to build their compost pile. They arrange the materials to be composted in layers. The bottom layer contains sticks and other slow-decomposing materials which allow moisture to drain from the pile. Then they add layers of plant residues, and cover the pile with soil. Finally, they insert a stick about one and half metres long deep into the pile.
They use this stick to monitor the temperature inside the decomposing pile, and to stir the contents as required. Mr. Bulali says: “You pull out the stick and touch it. If the stick is hot, it means decomposition is going on well. But when it is cold, it means the decomposition is not taking place.”
Dennis Bulali is a member of Shirembe. He says the composting process needs a kick-start. While it’s possible to buy kick-starters in farm supply shops, Mr. Bukali says that most wet animal manures contain enough beneficial bacteria to get the composting process started.
When the composting process is complete, the group members mix the pile thoroughly. Then it’s ready to use.
Farmer Rosemary Onyango was impressed with how her tomatoes, kale, and onions performed after she used ECM. The compost is also affordable. A kilo costs only 50 shillings (55 U.S. cents). Mrs. Onyango can buy just enough for her needs, rather than purchasing a whole sack of fertilizer from the farm supply shop. She explains: “I was spending 3,500 shillings [$40 U.S.] for a sack of NPK fertilizer, but now I don’t buy any fertilizer from the agro-vet shops.”
Farmers are often too busy to make compost, or experiment with new ways of making it. Mr. Bulali says the young people have started to build compost piles on farms as a way of marketing ECM to potential buyers. He explains, “We go to the farmers and prepare the manure. When they see [its] benefits, they are in a position to buy [it] from us.”
Photo: Dennis Bulali demonstrates how the stick is used in the compost pile. Credit: Sawa Pius.