Farmers turn to dumping sites for ‘fertiliser’ despite dangers

Mr Stephen Ondeje at a dumping site in Nyamware village in Suna East sub-County, Migori, on Sunday. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

A walk around Nyamware, in Suna East, Migori County reveals an emerging trend among farmers fearful of the high cost of fertilisers. With some deliberating quitting farming as a result of expensive farm inputs and low yields, farmers here have now turned to garbage in estates and shopping centres instead of fertiliser.

Almost all the farms in most homesteads are littered with all manner of decomposing urban domestic waste, including the non-biodegradable. However, in the garbage are crops that are growing and looking green and healthy.

When The Standard visited the village at the weekend, a group of farmers was offloading a huge pile of garbage for their farms in readiness for planting maize.

They carefully removed broken bottles and few plastic waste and mixed the rest, including polythene papers, with soil. Not even the pungent smell from the decomposing waste deterred them.

Moments earlier, the farmers had been scrambling for a huge pile of waste from a temporary site pit near Posta Grounds in Migori town. Despite the threats that polythene has on the environment, the farmers have found a way to place them next to their crops’ roots to help in retaining water.

To them, where some lambast Governor Mr Okoth Obado’s administration for poor solid waste management and failing to keep the town clean, they have seen an opportunity to transform their farming fortunes with waste.

This is despite experts warning that the waste may be dangerous to human health and also affect quality of produce.

Mr Stephen Ogweno, one of the farmers, told The Standard they opted for the urban domestic waste because of their nutrient content that serves a similar purpose as fertilisers. He claimed tough economic times had pushed them to think out of the box.

The maize farmer said organic wastes that add nutrition to soils formed a huge chunk of the wastes they collected, and had been key in improving the growth of their crops at a time most of them could barely afford to buy fertiliser.

“This is our new style to boost our production. We have been facing huge challenges to purchase fertiliser and our farms do not do well if one does not use fertiliser,” he said.

According to Mr Ogweno, the growers have been collecting garbage from around the town and dumping them in their farms to rot and transform into organic manure.

Growing fast

He claimed that all the crops they had planted with the decomposing waste grew fast, as was the case with those aided by fertilisers.

In his 10-acre farm, fresh and decomposing waste were evident. In one, plastics and polythene bags from a fresh pile of wastes dumped on his farm were evident.

“We collect garbage from town and bring them to our farms. The only one that is giving us a challenge is garbage that is still fresh, and also handling broken bottles,” he said.

He said he first used the wastes about two years ago when the prices of fertilisers started skyrocketing. This year, however, more farmers joined the use of garbage as manure.

In Migori, the situation has now resulted into a scramble for the lucrative wastes.

Mr Ondeje point at his maize plantation at his farm at  Nyamware Village in Suna East sub-County Migori. Ondeje Uses waste from the market instated of fertiliser [Courtesy]

Some of the farmers even pay private garbage collectors to raid temporary dumping sites and collect wastes for their farm.

Mr Joseph Opiyo has been getting domestic wastes from one of the private waste collectors in the town at a cost. “Every Friday morning we wait for supplies of garbage. There is a county dumper truck that also offloads part of the waste for us,” said Mr Opiyo.

According to him, at times the farmers travel to Rongo, which is more than 20km away, to look for waste. “I just wish there was a way we could transport the garbage from Kisumu’s infamous Kachok dumping site, which has loads of waste,” he says. Although the government has announced new subsidies on fertiliser, the new prices are only benefiting farmers sourcing the commodity from National Cereals and Produce Board depots and are yet to reflect on the various agrovets that sell fertiliser.

A spot check by The Standard in some of the agrovets selling fertiliser established that a 50kg bag of DAP fertiliser was retailing between Sh4,000 and Sh5,000.

Proposed prices

According to the proposed subsidised prices released by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mr Peter Munya about a week ago, farmers will buy every 50kg bag of DAP at Sh2,800, CAN at Sh1,950, UREA at Sh2,700, NPK at Sh3,000, MOP at Sh2,500 and Sulphate of Ammonia at Sh2,500.

Farmers claim the high price of inputs is what has now pushed them to the solid wastes.

The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) however says the use of such waste for farming is posing a disaster.

According to Mr Tom Togo, a Nema director, although the wastes also contain organic manure, their safety is not guaranteed.

“The wastes may not be safe and should not be used unless tested. They are always mixed with dangerous chemicals that can even harm human life,” he said.

Mr Togo said the dangers of the wastes exceed the obvious dangers that plastics have to the environment adding that human life could be at a risk as a result of the wastes.