Nothing to waste

  • Producing fertiliser from urban waste and chicken litter can lay the groundwork for organic agriculture in Nepal
Nothing to waste

Oct 29, 2014-

Fertiliser crises are commonplace in Nepal and often attract media attention for the lack of supply, poor quality, and inadequate subsidy. While demand for inorganic fertilisers is 700,000-800,000 metric tonnes (MT), only 25 percent is imported through formal channels and the remaining enters the country through illegal sources. Nepal spends $1.27 million annually for formal import, using a significant amount as subsidy from government coffers. The fertiliser future, thus, looks bleak as prices are rocketing, the scope for domestic production is limited, and returns on investments in fertilisers for farming are declining. Therefore, there is a dire need for an alternative and sustainable fertiliser vision for Nepal.

Waste potential

There has been, however, a gradual increase in the trading of imported organic fertilisers. Also, recent increases in exports of some organic crops from Nepal and growing awareness among farmers about the value of organic fertilisers for soil fertility and health have been drivers for demand. Organic fertiliser is an entry point for organic farming. And recent developments in the establishment of organic fertililiser industries, such as those producing Biomal and vermi-compost, can play a pivotal role for organic initiatives in Nepal.

Nepal has a significant volume of organic waste to be used as raw material for organic fertilisers. Engineering processes for production are developing rapidly and investors in Nepal are eying opportunities. The country need to tap this opportunity to resolve long-standing fertiliser issues. For this to progress, a unified national vision is required for the development of an alternative fertiliser industry. The road map for this industry should incorporate aspects of production, quality control, certification, and marketing and should ultimately deliver economic benefit to growers in a sustainable manner. Realistic plans, grounded in good organic fertiliser technology, along with practices based on comparative advantages, will underpin the vision of organic Nepal in the longer term.  

Based on the current demand for fertilisers and the availability of raw materials for alternative fertilisers, I would like to propose a 20-year vision for alternative fertiliser development as a substitute for inorganic fertiliser at the rate of 5 percent import substitution per year. A coordinated effort between government agencies, businesses, industries, and research will be required to facilitate industry development, monitoring, coordination, and guidance as per the roadmap for alternative fertiliser development.

This road will include biofertilisers (focusing on micro-biological fertilisers), use of legumes and non legumes for nitrogen fixation, green manure, soil nutrients conservation, and adoption of methods that improve crop nutrients use efficiency and returns to growers per unit of organic nutrients used for cropping. Currently, there are encouraging developments in vermi-composting (using worms for organic waste) and granulation of chicken manure into granulated fertiliser, leading to commercial production in Nepal.

Worms and chicken

Cities in Nepal produce 893 MT daily of biodegradable waste, which is the equivalent of 65,168 dry tonnes a year. The wastes contain nutrients, and with an estimated 2.91 percent nitrogen in the waste, the total nitrogen in urban waste is estimated to be 1,898 tonnes, equivalent to 4,126 tonnes of urea, along with a range of other macro- and micro-nutrients. Urban organic waste can be successfully recycled by vermi-composting and some commercial scale production is already taking place, such as at Everest Vermitech Centre and MADE Nepal, with many producers in Chitwan and other parts of the country.

Through the vermi-composting process, compost recovery is 20-25 percent and produces rich fertiliser. With 75 percent of nitrogen in vermi-compost available in the first season, 250 kg of vermi-compost is adequate for a seasonal crop of six months or 500 kg/ropani for a full year of farming with only organic fertiliser. One kg of organic manure per square metre is a manageable amount to sustain soil life and farmers’ livelihood.

Similarly, there are 85.591 million chickens in Nepal, generating 161,937.6 MT of manure annually, equivalent to 31,684 tonnes of urea, plus 10,561 tonnes of phosphorus and other macro- and micro-nutrients. The value of this urea alone is $7.8 million.

However, the use of poultry manure in agriculture is limited largely to the horticultural industry. Wet and composted poultry litter is expensive to transport due to its bulky nature from the higher moisture content, coupled with bad odour and contamination with faecal-borne pathogens. But granulated poultry fertiliser has been released in the market as Biomal and distributed in Nepal through a network of distributors and retailers. Large-scale crop trials are underway for verification and demonstration of the effect of Biomal on the soil and plants. The industry is looking for opportunities to expand granulation facilities to other parts of Nepal, one in each current development region so that poultry raw materials can be properly utilised and transport distance minimised.

Replacing inorganics

It is evident from current research that the complete recycling of urban waste and poultry industry waste combined can produce enough alternative fertiliser to replace current inorganic fertilisers. Other large sources of organic wastes are dairy cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, aquaculture, abattoir, meat and fish processing, food processing, human sludge and wastes, and other bio- degradable wastes from industry, public and private sector office spaces, households, agriculture, and forestry. There are opportunities to recover and recycle all available organic waste to replace inorganic fertiliser by up to 70 percent of current use if all available waste is completely recycled.

Bio fertilisers, microbial fertilisers, soil and nutrient conservation, and harnessing symbiosis can generate another 25 percent, making the organic fertiliser option a feasible alternative for Nepal, provided the technologies for organic fertiliser are well developed and commercialised. In this perspective, the early prototype and demonstration models that are being operated in Nepal for vermi-compost and granulated poultry litter are pivotal for the initiation of a vision to develop an alternative fertiliser industry in the long run, putting in place a solid foundation for organic Nepal.

Bhattarai is a research fellow and senior lecturer at Central Queensland University, Australia

Published: 30-10-2014 09:22

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