Implementing innovative technology to tackle barriers in utilising human waste derived fertilisers in Sub Saharan African agriculture

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment

Abstract

Agriculture is a major sector in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) and provides employment to many people. It is not only a source of livelihood but also their way of life. Many of them are subsistence farmers and need to ensure that the crop productivity is as optimum as possible. One factor that influences crop productivity is the use of suitable amount of fertilisers. This is not a guarantee as many other factors influence crop productivity such as irrigation, climate, pest/disease/weeds, soil organic matter and crop varieties. However if all other factors are optimum then fertiliser applications can play a major role in influencing crop productivity. A challenge in SSA is that chemical fertiliser prices are expensive which results in low application to the farm. The available options to supplement the low application of chemical fertilisers are to use organic amendments such as crop residue, livestock manure, biosolids and compost. Biosolids that is used in the developed country comes from a treatment plant and treated to an acceptable standard that is safe. However this is not the case in most parts of the SSA. An available option in SSA is faecal derived material from dry toilets in settlements. This faecal matter when treated to safe standards through processes such as composting can be utilised as a valuable fertilisers needed for crop production. Whilst there is general understandings that faecal matter derived fertilisers (FDF) are beneficial for crop productivity, there are perception issues that curbs its full potential. In addition there could be variation between different batches of FDF depending on the feedstock being utilised. This also reduces the reliance on its use as fertilisers in addition to the earlier perception issues due to unpleasant odour and nature of faecal matter.

This project is timely as it offers technological solutions that tackle the challenges explained above and can potentially increase the use of FDF and instil confidence amongst farmers. The aim of the proposed project is to demonstrate the feasibility of deploying technology based solutions in SSA to test and evaluate FDF to overcome barriers in using it in agriculture. The proposed technology will be supported by translational and knowledge exchange so that its implementation can be effective at ground level and be widely accepted in order to tackle existing barriers in implementing its use in agriculture. The proposed technology is a simple paper based method that can be used to determine nutrient content (particularly nitrate and ammonium) in FDF. This project will also explore the option of a mobile phone App that is being developed as part of another project for the ease of end-users such as farmers. Whilst this method is simple and can be effective, steps will be taken as part of this project to ensure that the precision and accuracy of this tool does not compromise any information gathered on the nutrient status of such fertilisers. This project will also engage closely with end-users such as farmers and agronomists through workshops and seminars so that any doubts can be clarified through effective communication.

This project will also provide a tool which end-users can use to determine landbank that is suitable to receive FDF. In this way the land can be used efficiently and coupled with the mobile phone App which can inform on how suitable the fertiliser that is being applied. This can be a win-win situation which can not only provide a solution for sanitation (through safe disposal and treatment of faecal matter into fertilisers) but also tackle food security through potential improvement in soil fertility and crop production. There will be close engagement with end-users to ensure that willingness to accept the use of such technologies. The outcome of this project will be very valuable in improving the socio-economic status of farmers and rely more on renewable sources of fertilisers to practice sustainable agriculture.

Planned Impact

- Farmers can use the tool to improve the use of waste derived fertilisers and reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers

- Farmers can benefit from reduction of input cost in running their farms

- Water authorities can have better control on quality of rivers since there can potentially be lesser nutrient runoff from over application. However caution has to be exercised not to do the same with waste derived
fertilisers. This can be tackled with efficient user of the mobile phone App to determine nutrient quality of waste derived fertiliser

- Software developers who provide solutions related to decision support systems that can be deployed using geospatial information

- Waste management companies can potentially use the tool to determine nutrient status of the biodegradable fraction of waste streams

- Social scientists can use the tool to communicate the benefits of effective sanitation system on community health, well-being and food security

- Agronomists can use the tool to support their advice to farmers in terms of fertiliser applications. This can be extended to application of nutrient status of soil prior to application of any waste derived fertilisers

- Non-governmental organisations operating in various developing countries can utilise similar technological approaches with relevant adjustments to suit the local context

- Sanitation venture companies operating in Sub Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America etc can adopt a similar approach to valorise faecal derived materials

- Charity such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that embraces concept of circular economy with a particular focus on Bio-Cycle can showcase the outcome of this work and adapt to other relevant context that
involves recycling wastes of biological and degradable origin

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This study explored the use of an in-field tool that is based on a colorimetric method using a paper strip which is then enumerated using a mobile phone App. The specific analytes for that we focused on are nitrate and phosphates. We found that the paper strip worked best for nitrates. We also found that farmers are receptive to use of new technology but it will be more effective if this is communicated through a trusted sources such as the farm extension officer or a lead farmer in a community.
Exploitation Route The next steps will include finalising the working conditions of the paper strip and the detection ranges that it can be used in an accurate manner. In addition there will also be a knowledge exchange component which will include communicating and interacting with the farmers to ensure their acceptability on use of such technology.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description GCRF Cranfield University allocation
Amount £16,875 (GBP)
Organisation Cranfield University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 07/2019
 
Title Adapting Quantofix Strip Testing for Soil Nutrient Analysis 
Description Using the existing technology of Quantofix Nitrate Strips and Akvocaddisfly that are designed for assessing available nitrogen in liquids, This research developed and verified a method of extraction and testing for soils and Human-Waste Derived Fertilisers. This method was developed so that it could be done quickly in-field in farms in Sub-Saharan Africa using minimal equipment. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This research method will be published in journals and papers so that agronomists are able to use the testing method to assess nutrients in the soil in the future. 
 
Description Live soil map for precision nutrient management 
Organisation AgroCares
Country Netherlands 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have identified suitable farms in Kenya (particularly in Embu which is approximately 130 km from Nairobi) that receive faecal derived fertilisers in collaboration with Sanergy. We are using the Lab-in-a-Box (LIAB) tool (supplied by SoilCares) which is a combination of Mid Infra-Red Technology and X-ray Diffraction to scan soil samples as a mode of analysis to determine key parameters such as organic carbon, pH, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and texture. We will develop a live soil map which will integrate the information from LIAB with climate, soil, landuse information that can inform farmers of the 'live' nutrient status before each horticultural crop will be planted. Since the turn round of crop rotation is very frequent in a season, a live soil map will be essential to inform the farmers of the 'live' status of the soil in order for them to manage their fertiliser applications more accurately.
Collaborator Contribution SoilCares provided the Lab-in-a-Box technology and Sanergy gave access to farmer contacts to facilitate collection of soil samples.
Impact Not available yet
Start Year 2019
 
Description Live soil map for precision nutrient management 
Organisation Sanergy, Inc.
Country Kenya 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have identified suitable farms in Kenya (particularly in Embu which is approximately 130 km from Nairobi) that receive faecal derived fertilisers in collaboration with Sanergy. We are using the Lab-in-a-Box (LIAB) tool (supplied by SoilCares) which is a combination of Mid Infra-Red Technology and X-ray Diffraction to scan soil samples as a mode of analysis to determine key parameters such as organic carbon, pH, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and texture. We will develop a live soil map which will integrate the information from LIAB with climate, soil, landuse information that can inform farmers of the 'live' nutrient status before each horticultural crop will be planted. Since the turn round of crop rotation is very frequent in a season, a live soil map will be essential to inform the farmers of the 'live' status of the soil in order for them to manage their fertiliser applications more accurately.
Collaborator Contribution SoilCares provided the Lab-in-a-Box technology and Sanergy gave access to farmer contacts to facilitate collection of soil samples.
Impact Not available yet
Start Year 2019
 
Description Conference Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Findings from the research will be presented at 2 national conferences in April: an Early Careers Researcher Conference for the British Society of Soil Science, and Cambridge Global Food Security Symposium 2019. It is expected that this will provide the opportunity to engage in discussion about the findings and identify areas for future research with researchers in a similar field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.globalfood.cam.ac.uk/events/cgfssymposium2019
 
Description Presentation of technology and results to participants 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact As part of the engagement process, results were presented back to study participants in Kenya and Ghana. In Kenya, the soil testing technology was presented to a farmers association of horticultural farmers using organic human-waste derived fertiliser. The group had 15 participants. At a group meeting the soil testing results were presented back to the farmers as well as the technology itself. This enabled the researchers to get further opinions about the technology and to build a relationship that enables trust and participation in further research. Results from the research and further plans are now communicated through a WhatsApp group as a way of keeping easy communication. In Ghana, results were communicated through the extension officer to inform farmers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019