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Nepalese Farmers Collect Human Waste to Produce Organic Vegetables

Nepalese Farmers Collect Human Waste to Produce Organic Vegetables

Kathmandu -- Jeevan Maharjan has a different approach to human waste -- he considers it as wealth. Rather than flush it down the toilet, the 47-year-old Nepalese farmer collects it to spray on his crops.

Nepalese Farmers Collect Human Waste to Produce Organic Vegetables

"It's three times better than chemical fertilizers," he said, referring to yield of his fruit and vegetable crops after using human fertilizer compared to more conventional methods.

As he walked across his 27,000 square feet of land in Siddhipur Village Development Committee on the outskirts of the capital Kathmandu, Maharjan said his method of fertilizing is nothing new.

He described it as an "age-old tradition," passed down from his parents, though he says the approach is now more efficient and clean.

Taking a few quick steps towards his ecological sanitation -- or ecosan -- toilet, Maharjan explained how it works. The urine and feces are stored in separate airtight compartments of the toilet, he said, for later use on the land. The urine is kept for about two weeks before it is used, while the feces, which is turned into manure, is used every six months.

Nepalese Farmers Collect Human Waste to Produce Organic Vegetables

According to Janardan Khadka, a soil scientist at Nepal's Central Horticulture Center, "It is important to secure the urine container for two weeks to a month to reduce the risk from bacteria and other germs."

He said that urine can be used safely and the health risk associated with it is generally low.

Khadka, however, pointed that users should be careful during source separation at the toilet as fecal cross contamination of urine could increase the health risks.

"It is best to mix urine with compost for best results," he added.

The World Health Organization's guidelines for safe use of wastewater, excreta and greywater also underscore a mix of multiple health and safety measures.

It states: "Wastewater treatment plus a withholding period to allow pathogen die-off prior to harvest plus good food hygiene plus cooking of food may be sufficient to reduce health risks adequately."

Nepalese Farmers Collect Human Waste to Produce Organic Vegetables
Nepalese Farmers Collect Human Waste to Produce Organic Vegetables

Maharjan, who collects about 100 liters of urine from his family's toilet each month, said for every liter of urine, he mixes three liters of water and sprays it over his land where he cultivates seasonal vegetables and fruits.

Hari Krishna Upreti, senior scientist at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council's (NRC) Botany Division, said urine was surprisingly rich in nutrients.

According to Upreti, a liter of urine contains up to 0.9% nitrogen, 0.12% phosphorus and 0.26% potassium These elements -- collectively known as NPK -- helps regulate the plants' metabolism and contains enough protein for them to grow.

People have started realizing the value of urine. It can do wonders in the farm, and it's absolutely free.

"A person urinates an average of 550 liters per year," he said. "So this produces some four kilograms of nitrogen, which is equivalent to eight kilograms of nitrogen-rich urea."

Maharjan said at the market his vegetables are considered organic which helps them fetch a higher price.

After finding out about the agricultural application of urine in Maharjan's farm, his neighbors followed his lead.

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