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Inside farmers’ new ‘craze’ for organic fertilizer

Animal manure, sourced by a farmer in Katsina.

There’s a new, growing fad among farmers, which has seen the repurposing and enrichment of manure with other elements, into what is termed ‘organic fertilizer’. There are pros and cons to this popular trend, and Daily Trust Saturday takes a closer look.

Dauda Bako, 43, is a farmer who has seen the benefits of using manure to replace chemical fertilizer. “The yields are tremendous and second to none,” he said. “But the problem is getting enough manure to cover a hectare. That’s a huge task,” he added.

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But perhaps, while he is keyed into the use of organic material to fertilize his farm, he is unaware that there are small and medium enterprises which produce the popularly-called ‘organic fertilizer’ in commercial quantity, and at varying prices, sometimes cheaper than the chemical kind.

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The difference between organic and synthetic fertilizers, illustrated

Manure is organic matter derived from animal waste, green plants, or compost, used to improve soil structure to enable it to hold more nutrients and water, and become more productive.

Bako, whose farm is located along Lafia-Doma road, uses chicken droppings, rice husk, cow dung, and compost to keep his soil active with required nutrients. These are, ironically, some of the main ingredients of the commercially-produced organic fertilizer.

Bako tells Daily Trust Saturday that it takes a lot of commitment, “But you can reap the benefits for three to four years straight, and you cannot compare synthetic fertilizer to it in any way.” The farmer revealed that this year, he harvested over one tonne of Egusi melon, roughly 12 bags of 110kg, from a less than one hectare, because of his fertilizing methods, utilising manure and other organic components.

“I sold each bag at N75,000 and got N900,000, two weeks ago. Regular synthetic fertilizer wouldn’t have given this much. People think I use magic, but when I was bringing the manure to the farm, they thought I was wasting my time. By the end of July, I will start sesame seeds on the same land, and that manure will still be there to help the crop grow,” Bako smiled.

Like Bako, many farmers are also deploying ‘organic fertilizer’, with the trend rising fast. But one problem remains: Access to manure – particularly chicken droppings and cow dung – is becoming more challenging. This is because, while some poultry farmers are selling the waste from their farm houses, others deploy them to their own grain farms.

“It is only Fulani herders who allow people to carry dung from where they settled, if it is not on someone’s farm,” Musa Ashiki told Daily Trust Saturday. “I almost got myself into trouble with a farm owner when I attempted to get cow dung from his farm where the Fulani settled.”

Beside droppings from poultry farms and cow dung, there are other sources of manure which farmers now take advantage of, even though it has been in practice for a long time: Rice husk. With increased local processing activities around rice, some farmers who live around those areas are using motorcycles and trucks to move the husks to their farms.

But manure application is common with mostly the smallholder farmers who have moderately-sized farmlands, anywhere from 1 to 2 hectares. “If you have ten hectares and above, where will you get the manure to cover the farm? This is more common with people who have small farms,” said Sani Mohammed, a farmer in Masaka, at the outskirts of Abuja.

Manure: What you need to know

According to Washington State University Extension, “Manure contains valuable plant nutrients, like nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and sulfur (S). Manure nutrients come from the feed that the animals have eaten. In fact, most of the nutrients that animals eat end up in their manure. For example, more than 75% of the nitrogen and more than 65% of the phosphorus that young neutered male cattle eats will be passed into the manure.”

“Poultry manure contains the greatest amount of nutrients, while horse manure has much less nutrients.”

The university advised that for farmers to get the most value from manure, apply it close to planting time. Applying manure at this time makes it less likely you will lose nutrients through leaching, or washing away of nutrients, and run-off. If you lose nutrients, the manure loses value, and a farmer could harm nearby groundwater.

It also said fresh manure breaks down faster than composted manure. “Poultry manure breaks down faster than manure from horses, cattle, goats, and other animals. In general, the more nitrogen that manure contains, the quicker the nitrogen is released.”

What to consider before application

The extension department of the university warned that “applying too much manure may reduce crop yields and can lead to nitrogen filtering into wells and aquifers. Similarly, Hunter Follett and Robert L. Croissant US soil experts warn that continued heavy applications of manure “in one location can reduce yields. Heavy applications result in germination damage and growth reductions caused by high concentrations of ammonium and soluble salts of potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium.”

The researchers also advised that “proper, timely manure spreading and soil incorporation preserves nutrients and decreases potential pollution. Spreading should be as uniform as possible to prevent local concentrations of ammonium and other inorganic salts that can reduce germination and yields.

“Piles or windrows of manure in the field should be avoided. Incorporate manure into the soil as soon as possible to avoid loss of nitrogen by volatilization.”

Daily Trust Saturday checks show that a number of production outfits of organic fertilizer have sprung up in Nasarawa, Kaduna, and Kogi states. There is a particularly sizeable one along the Abuja-Jere road, a little distance after Bwari.

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