Peeing on your food plants can be considered a crude and wacky gardening hack these days, although the practice has proven beneficial for thousands of years.
But our modern delicacy has forced gardeners and farmers to resort to expensive fertilizers to supply their crops with the much-needed nutrients found free in our pee.
Yet some of the farmers who need these extra nutrients the most often don’t have access to fertilizers. Many farmers, such as those in remote areas of the Niger Republic, face depletion of soil nutrients in addition to harsher weather conditions and struggle to produce crops.
Thus, a team led by the researcher of the National Institute of Agricultural Research of Niger, Hannatou Moussa, sought to resuscitate this ancient practice, which is used in certain parts of Asia, consisting in using pee as fertilizer, with some modern twists of course, like sanitizing it to keep everyone safe.
A group of Nigerien women volunteered to help Moussa and her colleagues test urine fertilizer on their farms. In these arid lands of sub-Saharan Africa, women contribute a greater share of the labor for food production than men, but they do not have control of the land or resources, nor easy access to water. ‘information.
These women often end up with the most nutrient-poor fields on which to grow a regional staple cereal – pearl millet (Cenchrus americanus).
First, the women named the fertilizer product Oga, which translates to “the boss” in the Igbo language. This was to help break down social, religious and cultural barriers to open discussions about the use of human urine.
The volunteers were then divided into two groups – the first continued to use their traditional farming methods, while the second applied Oga, with and without animal manure, to their experimental plots after receiving training on how to safe to use.
The manufacture of industrial fertilizers generally involves intensive extraction of minerals containing phosphorus and potassium. Burning natural gas at high temperatures sequesters much needed nitrogen from the air we breathe – in one of the most CO2– intensive chemical reactions. Among other things, plants use these three elements for photosynthesis.
Yet our urine is full of phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen already in an easily accessible form.
Also, compared to our poo, pee is relatively sterile when it leaves our body thanks to the ammonia it contains. Simply passively store the cartridges at temperatures between 22-24°C (71-75°F) for 2-3 months. enough to destroy remaining pathogens which can withstand long periods in acidic liquid.
Women were therefore trained in this disinfection process and how to dilute the resulting Oga for use. For the first few years they applied Oga in combination with organic manure, and when that was successful they were motivated enough to try Oga on its own.
Over three years (2014 to 2016) and 681 trials, those who used Oga experienced an average 30% increase in pearl millet yield. The difference was so clear that many other women in the area started using Oga.
“Oga is a low-risk, low-cost fertilizer option ready for dissemination in sandy Sahelian sites with low millet yields,” the researchers said. written in their diary.
If we also used this product in industrialized countries, it could not only increase crop yields and reduce the fossil fuel intensive resources needed to grow them, but also make our more sustainable sanitation systems too. Groups in Sweden, USA and Australia are also planning to use urinary fertilizers on a large scale.
“Millions and millions of dollars a year are spent trying to treat our waste before it ends up in receiving waters for acceptable nitrogen and phosphorus criteria,” said environmental health researcher Cara Beal. at Griffith University. told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation earlier this year when discussing possible Australian trials.
“But if we can close that nutrient loop, that would make a lot of sense in terms of sustainability, circular economy and protecting our planet a little better.”
Two years after the experience in Niger, more than a thousand women farmers had started using Oga to fertilize their crops.
This research was published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development.