The Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) is facing considerable challenges because costs of fertiliser keep skyrocketing, pushing the total cost of AIP to unthinkable levels. If there was a time we should, as a nation, think innovatively about ways of finding alternatives to imported fertiliser—that time is now.
In 2015, I wrote about a certain gentleman, Mr Kazanga, the proprietor of Ndatani Animal Feeds Company, having experimented with chicken manure which he pelletised into organic fertiliser. He was producing the organic fertiliser at his factory along the M1, just after the roadblock close to Bunda Turn-off in Lilongwe. This was done out of the desire to find an affordable and sustainable alternative to chemical fertilisers.
Said Mr. Kazanga: “There are no raw materials with which to manufacture fertilisers in addition to the fact that there is currently no expertise in [chemical] fertiliser manufacturing in Malawi. Agricultural production will, therefore, continue to face challenges unless home grown solutions are found.”
Experimenting with organic fertiliser, therefore, made much sense. The situation, insofar as importing chemical fertilisers is concerned, has not changed since that time. In fact, things have gotten worse as many factors have consipired to push chemical fertiliser prices beyond what even the relatively well-to-do Malawians can afford.
Mr. Kazanga, a Bunda graduate, also noted that chemical fertilisers do not address the critical problem of nutrient defficiency in the soils. Malawian soils are deficient in organic matter and key plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. As a result, yields are meagre.
Organic matter is essential for the improvement of the soil structure and retention of soil moisture, attributes which inorganic fertilisers do not have. Most agriculture experts worry that Malawi’s soil problems are heading for a crisis. Malawi, therefore, needs to seriously revitalise its soils. And this is where organic fertilisers come in.
Large doses of inorganic fertiliser application are not sustainable not only in light of high costs, but also their soil degenerating effects. Long-term fertiliser use also degrades the environment by releasing into the atmosphere greenhouse gases such as methane.
Ndatani Animal Feeds Company piloted the manufacturing of organic fertilisers using chicken manure and maize bran as raw materials. The chicken manure was to contribute nitrogen and organic matter while the maize bran would contribute phosphorous. These raw materials were crushed into mash in a hummer mill then mixed before being pelletised.
The final product was pelletised chicken manure fertiliser. The pellets were applied to maize fields using (both irrigation and rain-fed) dollop method and twice during the growing season. First application was made soon after germination while the last application was done after 42 days.
The results that Ndatani obtained from the maize crop treated with the pelletised organic fertiliser were comparable to the yield from a crop treated with chemical fertiliser. The cost of the former was half that of the latter. The results indicated that pelletised chicken manure could indeed be a sustainable alternative to the imported inorganic fertilisers in Malawi. It would be affordable, effective and easily accessible by both commercial and subsistence farmers who can subsequently make a significant impact on the economy.
The sustainability of this project is guaranteed by the availability of raw materials locally—chicken manure and maize bran. As a knock on effect, poultry farmers would have an expanded income base since their manure would now be sold as raw material for fertiliser manufacturing. At a national level, this innovative idea would significantly reduce AIP cost while improving the texture and fertility of our soils.
The response from the public had been poor and, therefore, Ndatani discontinued the manufacturing of the organic fertiliser. By this time, there should have been manufacturing points in different parts of the country. The users themselves would have been appropriately sensitised on the benefits of this alternative fertiliser and we should already have had a substantial uptake of the locally made fetiliser. Government should have come in to promote the implementation of this home grown solution to our perennial headache that is imported fertilisers.
This column would like to appeal to both the public and the authorities to take this innovation seriously as the pelletised chicken manure organic fertiliser has the potential to reduce hunger and poverty and can address the many challenges facing our agriculture today.
We have relied on external fertiliser suppliers far too long. There is no harm in searching within and promoting innovations like the one pioneered by Ndatani Animal Feeds Company.