To revive dying plants in the Republic of Niger, scientists are using a mineral-rich, inexpensive and easily accessible fertilizer – human urine.
A team of researchers from Niger, the UK and Germany are combining Oga, aseptic urine, with organic fertilizer to boost yields of pearl millet panicles, a hardy, fast-growing summer crop.
The mixture was tested on farms from 2014 to 2016 and showed a 30 percent increase in yield compared to farms that did not fertilize with urine.
The only downside, according to farmers using the new fertilizer, is the smell.
One farmer said in a video: “The only problem is that the smell isn’t great.
“I always cover my nose when applying urine and that’s not a big problem,” he continued while wrapping a scarf around his nose and mouth.
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To revive dying plants in the Republic of Niger, scientists are using a mineral-rich, inexpensive and easily accessible fertilizer – human urine
Located in West Africa, Niger is suffering from intense droughts due to climate change, resulting in crop deaths and starvation.
The problem is so extreme that in 2014 farmers had no choice but to use dangerous black market pesticides when nothing else was available.
However, science has stepped in to provide a safe and affordable option.
Although the idea of using human urine to fertilize plants sounds gross, it has been used for thousands of years due to its nutrients — phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium — found in commercial fertilizers.
The mixture was tested on farms from 2014 to 2016 and showed a 30 percent increase in yield compared to farms that did not fertilize with urine (control).
The research team, led by Hannatou Moussa of the National Institute of Agricultural Research of Niger, added a modern twist to the ancient practice.
Working with a group of Niger women, Moussa and his team taught the farmers how to properly disinfect and store urine.
Women dominate agriculture in Niger, with about 52 percent of farms run by women.
Scientists began their work by renaming urine Oga to eliminate the negative connotation of the term “urine.”
The next part of the experiment divided farms in the area into two groups — one using traditional fertilizer and the other Oga from 2014 to 2016.
“To convince farmers to test and use Oga, the project team encouraged farmers to combine Oga with organic waste and manure in the first and second year of the project,” the team said in the study published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development .
A total of 159, 288 and 234 practical tests were carried out in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Data collected from the farms showed that those that had been fertilized with Oga produced, on average, 30 percent more grain than the traditional farms.
The researchers note that the differences were so large that other women in the region began to emulate those in the experiment, the team said in a press release.
The only downside, according to farmers using the new fertilizer, is the smell. A farmer said in a video: “The only problem is that the smell is not very good. “I always cover my nose when applying urine and it’s not a big problem,” he continued
Two years after the experiment, they found that more than a thousand female farmers were using oga to fertilize their crops.
There are differences in attitudes between the countries where urine-based fertilizers have been tried.
The acceptance rate is very high in China, France and Uganda, but low in Portugal and Jordan.
Because urine is not normally a major vector of disease, it does not require extensive processing for use in agriculture.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends letting it rest and it is also possible to pasteurize it.
Once collected, the urine has to be transported to the fields. But the procedure is still expensive.
Various techniques make it possible to reduce its volume and concentrate or even dehydrate it.