Between The Soaring Cost Of Fertilizer And Human Urine

By Abachi Ungbo

As the price of fertilizer levitates beyond the reach of farmers in Nigeria; it then goes without saying, that urgent step needs to be taken in addressing the disturbing challenge. However, human urine remains a good comparison to the chemical fertilizer that we are all accustomed to- Though, it’s bound to leave not a few really squeamish.

Allow me to momentarily digress- But for the prohibitive cost of fertilizer food production would have edged a notch at least owing to the huge interest indicated by many to try their hands on farming this season. The place of fertilizer in agriculture is well established- it replenishes lost soil nutrients effectively increasing crop yield and agricultural productivity.

For the umpteenth time, the price of the farming input has gone sky high. It has more than double reaching an unprecedented pitch. According to a report, the price grew to about 30% at the start of the year after the 80% surge recorded in the preceding year. This has effectively actuated a cut back on the size of the plan many had earlier made.

However, a mix bag of factors have been implicated foremost is the Russia-Ukraine war. But then fertilizer availability and affordability has always been a vexed issue which is emblematic of government’s failures and missteps in service and developmental goods delivery – It’s well-known that fertilizers are always lost in a confusing maze of corruption leaving the end users to swim or sink.

It was quite a heart-wrenching sight of neglect as I travelled through some farming communities lately. The inhabitants appear content though tinged with helplessness over their condition. Our exchanges betrayed their concern over the capacity of their source of livelihood to hedge them against the harsh economic reality. The prices of fertilizer seem to be at the centre of their uncertainty. They are completely bent out of shape by the situation.

Our food supply chain is activated by the production activities of the small scale farmers that are scattered across the country who hardly get appropriate reward for their gut busting activities after spending unstintingly for the inputs they deploy.

We now have a huge crisis in our hands with the soaring price of fertilizer. It means higher production cost which will ultimately be transferred to all of us in the prices of food. By implication, food prices will continue to make an inexorable upward trajectory in the face of asphyxiating economic crunch. About 80% of household income is spent on food which may have informed the mass appeal to farming to counter the disproportionate expenditure.

Now, human urine is on its way to the list of organic fertilizers available for use. Not a few researches have proved its potency and there is a growing global acceptance. Here in Africa, I was pleased to see what an entrepreneur in Uganda is doing with urine which has attracted global attention. Researchers in Niger Republic and their counterpart from Europe have been working on human urine to fertilize the crops and the soil. So far, it has been a roaring success! In fact, Swedish researchers are on the techniques of drying up urine into chunks then into powder then pellets that will fit into farming equipment

The idea of human urine as fertilizer isn’t novel- historians have described it as a valuable commodity used extensively by different civilizations in the past. In fact, the Romans are known to have deployed urine for a multiplicity of uses that included fertilizer so much so that it became a source of tax- Emperor Nero initiated the tax but was reversed as a result of public outrage. However, his successor- Emperor Vespasian who came after a civil war reintroduced vectigal urinae, urine tax in Latin having met an empty treasury.

The human urine is rich nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium the minerals/nutrients locked in chemical fertilizer which is a result of urea, the organic component in the urine. Interestingly, human urine has the advantage of reducing environmental pollution unlike the chemical fertilizers.

The government and researchers need to turn their attention towards alternative sources of cheaper and environment friendly fertilizers to our farmers bearing in mind the impact of the prohibitive cost of the input on food production. Soaring food prices isn’t just about food security challenges but also national security. Human urine is free resource and readily available and could be optimized.

Abachi Ungbo: [email protected]