Senegal: Homemade organic manure fertilizes soil, boosts income

| October 26, 2020

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Souleymane Diao farms in the Casamance region of Senegal. To boost his harvest, he makes organic fertilizer with a mixture of straw, cow dung, and water. He adds a layer of straw and cow dung, then water and tramples it until it is well-mixed and compact. He adds more straw, dung, and water and mixes again, repeating until the compost pile is one-metre-high, then covers it with a tarp. One month later, the natural fertilizer is ready to use. Mr. Diao also uses “zero grazing.” He encloses a one-hectare space and allows eight to 10 cows in every night. The animals mix their dung and urine with grass as they move. After several months, the space is fertilized and Mr. Diao sows his crops.

Kolda is an agro-pastoral zone in southern Senegal with good rainfall. Here, one farming activity supports another. For example, cattle dung and poultry droppings are priceless for crop farmers. Farmers fertilize their soils with composted manure made from animal excrement. The composted manure is organic because it’s composed of natural materials.

Souleymane Diao live in Velingara, one of the communes in the Casamance region, and has been farming for 20 years. He grows cotton, groundnuts, cassava, and sorghum on his six acres of land. To boost his harvest, Mr. Diao makes organic fertilizer.

e prepares compost using a mixture of straw, cow dung, and water. Mr. Diao cleared a four-square-metre space to make the compost. First, he adds a five-centimetre-deep layer of straw and cow dung, then adds 200 litres of water and tramples the materials until they are well-mixed and compact.

He then adds the same quantity of straw, dung, and water and mixes again. He repeats this until the compost pile is one metre high. He then covers the pile with a tarp that he secures with large rocks. Then he leaves the mixture to rot. It’s a good idea to occasionally turn and mix the pile until it is ready to use.

Mr. Diao explains, “For a month, the mixture rots and turns into natural fertilizer. It can last up to eight months. With this amount, I can fertilize half a hectare of land.”

Mr. Diao uses another method of fertilizing his soil called “zero grazing.” During the dry season, he clears a one-hectare space, which he encloses. He allows eight to 10 cows in to spend the night there, and the animals defecate.

He explains: “In this case, we do not add grass because [the cows] are there. We don’t add water either. The urine of the cows replaces water. And when they move, the animals naturally mix the dung and grass with their hooves. After several months, the place is fertilized and we cultivate there directly.”

Penda Traoré manages a vegetable field in the village of Dianabo, seven kilometres from Kolda. Because Mrs. Traoré uses organic compost as fertilizer, her onions, peppers, chilis, cabbage, okra, and other vegetables are popular with people in the area. Like Mr. Diao, she uses animal dung. But she uses a different method.

She explains: “In my field, there is a water basin that works with a solar panel. I dig a big hole in front of the basin. I fill the hole with the dung of local cows, sheep, goats, and chickens. I mix it before adding a layer of ash. I cover the ash with leaves from the rubber tree (also called Apple of Sodom). Finally, I cover the hole with straw. And I begin watering.”

Mrs. Traoré waters the mixture morning and night. Every three days, she lifts the straw to mix the compost. She explains, “Over time, the mixture becomes hotter and hotter. And after a month, it’s like a furnace.” This indicates that it’s almost ready. Once the composted manure cools, it’s ready to use.

Alpha Kane is an extension agent at SODEFITEX, which supports the development of the cotton industry in Senegal, particularly in this region of the country. He says that one advantage of these methods of making organic composted manure is that with a good dose, a farmer can fertilize his field for three years. But the farmer needs to apply at least two tonnes of composted manure per hectare, and the fertilizer won’t last as long where soil is degraded and infertile.

However, Mr. Kane admits that the process of making composted manure is labour-intensive, making it more suitable for small-scale farmers. If a farmer has more than 10 hectares, the amount of labour and dung needed may be too much.

The biggest advantage for farmers might be that the cost is low. Mr. Diao rears livestock and grows crops, so for him, composted manure is free. His cows produce all the material he needs.

For Mrs. Traoré, the cost is lower than purchasing fertilizer, and her profits are also larger. Occasionally, she buys bags of chicken droppings, but at a low price—just 500 FCFA per bag ($0.90 US). She can harvest her vegetables quickly, and local hotels buy her vegetables because they prefer organic produce. So she sees nothing but benefits in using composted manure as fertilizer.

This article was produced with the support of the Belgian Development Cooperation, Enabel, and the Wehubit program.