Agriculture is a major industry in Africa. Not only does commercial farming in Africa feed populations around the world, but domestic agriculture supports rural communities too. However, droughts and extreme weather conditions can have a disastrous impact on farming, especially in water-scarce countries.
Two solutions to help Africa’s agricultural sector come from unlikely sources – sanitation and food waste. A large portion of farmers in Africa are smallholders that support their families and direct communities. These farmers often struggle to get access to fertilisers and irrigation. This is where food waste and sanitation come in.
Sanitation and food waste as a source of nutrients
Access to sewer systems is scarce in Africa; most homesteads use onsite sanitation and natural filtration in the form of septic tanks and runoffs. This effluent and wastewater is a valuable source of nutrients that can benefit farmers. It contains nitrogen, phosphorous and a number of other elements that are necessary for plant growth.
By treating sewage at the source, not only can farmers benefit from the fertilising byproducts, but they can also prevent the toxins from effluent from harming their families and water sources. Where onsite treatment is not possible, municipalities should find ways to provide these valuable nutrients from wastewater treatment facilities.
Food waste is also a valuable source of nutrients that will benefit crops. Composting is a common way to turn organic food waste into fertiliser for plants. Many rural communities already use food waste for their crops, so this method is more feasible and cost-effective than sanitation.
Connecting the sectors can develop a circular economy
By addressing these sustainability issues and connecting agriculture with waste and sanitation, African countries can create circular economies. This prevents the unnecessary loss of resources as valuable waste is reused and re-circulated back into the economy.
This creates sustainable business models and farming practices for rural African farmers. Instead of letting their food waste and effluent rot in the environment, farmers can gain from reusing the nutrients in these waste sources.
Local governments and the private sector also have a role to play in setting up these circular economies. By helping local farmers, businesses can benefit from tax rebates and charity incentives. The government will also benefit from increased support in these communities.
Researchers have already proven that Africa is well-suited to these types of systems. The benefits of converting food and sanitation waste into fertilisers for agriculture have been studied in-depth by researchers. There are even examples of these systems working in African countries, such as Malawi.
The farming communities will need education and training, however. When it comes to treating hazardous sanitation waste, the farmers will need to learn how to do it properly in order to avoid soil contamination and disease outbreaks.
The circular economy model reduces costs and unlocks value. Food waste and sanitation are two major sources of waste that could benefit African farmers in rural communities. They can provide farmers with nutrients and remove the need for expensive fertilisers. Compost and nitrates in effluent can be harnessed for the benefit of remote communities and the agricultural industry.
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