Stochastic cost-benefit evaluation of animal and human waste manures against chemical-based fertilizer.
Whose business is agriculture? It is everyone’s business. I am particularly passionate about Agriculture and have been in various forms under the name Morgan Farms since 1995 I have made series of observations about our use of fertilizers and how they supposedly enhance the output of our produce together with its downsides.
The value of my study challenges the conventional view about the efficacy of fertilizers. My focus is on chemical-based fertilizers. The kernel of my argument is that; organic waste; especially from plants, animals, and humans can give us bumper harvests while immunizing us against the harmful effects of the use of chemical-based fertilizers. In this write up, I will inter-use the word fertiliser to both the decomposed natural manure as well as the chemical-based fertiliser but with remarks in brackets to distinguish the two. Consequently, I invite contributions from my readers to help promote the use of decomposed manure against the use of chemical-based fertilizer even as we mark this all-important day in the annals of our country. To begin with, why stochastic? Well, I am assuming new ways of saving our foreign exchange reserves to help sustain the value of our local currency, the Ghana Cedi. Using decomposed dead plants, animal and human wastes, as manure (fertilizer) to feed our plants will increase our life span and enhance survival as compared to the use of chemical fertilizers.
The stochastic phenomena here suggest that the continuous use of chemical-based fertilizer can adversely affect the health of Ghanaians at the expense of the exporting country. It can also affect our foreign exchange negatively. Therefore, dead plants, animals and human waste must be preferred, in our circumstance. For some time now, I have been pondering on a few thoughts as we celebrate the 38th Farmer's Day.
This has taken me to look at the ways that may promote our well-being and those that may negatively constrain us. I therefore pen this brief article aimed at evaluating the pros and cons of the use of locally made natural manures and chemically based-imported fertilizer against the backdrop of our health, foreign exchange, employment, and our ecosystem.
Empirically, agriculture has been the major contributor to human survival, vis a vis, food, meat, poultry, fish, and water, to mention but a few. And even though there have been many times of famines due to inadequate rainfall, people largely depended on agriculture no matter how scanty the harvest may be to feed a larger populace. At some point during the reign of Joseph as the second-in-command (Genesis 41:41) to King Pharaoh, crop production was regarded as more prominent and valuable than land and buildings. Undoubtedly, Human life stands supreme over all earthly treasures. Therefore, Joseph created a long-term agricultural policy and infrastructure to combat the food crisis during the years of famine (Genesis 41:46-57).
Consequently, people had to give away their lands in exchange for grains and bread (Genesis 47:13-26). Infrastructure and logistics are key in agriculture. Also, efficient and effective management of our water bodies for irrigation purposes cannot be taken for granted. But when we allow our water bodies to be depleted by deforestation or destroyed through mining, the cost to us in both the short term and indeed the long term cannot be over emphasized-it will be devastating Ghana, it is no gain saying that our current consumption of fertilizer-related foods and drinking of polluted water have the tendency to cause many people to suffer severe health problems ( if not already happening) due to the poor management of these two essential commodities.
Therefore, when we sit in our offices and ignorantly claim we consume more vegetables and fewer carbohydrates, as a way of living healthy and also pride ourselves of drinking bottled water as a matter of prestige, we must not forget that the rivers that are used to manage these essential commodities are mixed with chemicals. Even the borehole water suffers ‘somewhat’ from rivers that are embedded with chemicals because rainfalls fill these rivers and they overflow their banks unto the land and thereby feed the lands with chemical-based water that ultimately affects plantations and drinking water so it is not enough to think you eat so-called hygienic vegetables and drink bottled water without having to consume certain quantities of processed chemicals.
Our general health is being damaged by chemicals that are used in mining (the illegal mining may seem worse but the so-called legal mining has not done any good either), all of which affects our water bodies. Your children, whom you claim you so much love is not exempted from consuming chemically related foods and drinking polluted water. But, as a law and policymaker, you can spare yourself and your children’s lives if you become wiser today than you have previously been. Because the short-term riches you make from paying a deaf ear and given a blind eye to your call as a law and policy maker, implementer, and perhaps the person causing such harm to society as well as the police officer failing to duly arrest and prosecute such perpetrators, all-inclusively creates health issues to everyone.
Decomposed plants, human and animal waste as manure vis a vis Chemical-based fertilizer: Manures are obtained from decomposed dead plants, and human and animal waste, and they provide essential nutrients as sustenance to the crops. They are natural in nature and possess less or no harm to the plants even as human beings consume these plants and their produce. Fertilizer, on the other, has a chemical substance that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in plants, and its produce can affect the health of humans when consumed over time.
The use of fertilizer has become the order of the day in agricultural management in Ghana. Both edible and non-edible plants are sprayed with all kinds of chemicals. There are so many types of chemical weed killers used against ‘unwanted weeds’, one of them being Weedicides. Weedicides do not only destroy or kill earthworms and insects on the ground that are meant to leave castings as a valuable form of fertilizer to the soil and the crops but instead, tend to destroy the fertility of the land. Weedicides are harmful to ecology. The lives of birds are affected as they feed on the grounds and indeed the weeds. Frogs eat insect pests which are useful to agriculture because they help to control mosquitoes and maintain our rich soil, but they are largely affected or killed through the application of Weedicides.
The entire ecosystem together with human lives keeps is damaged as a result of the toxicity of herbicides. And the impact on our aquatic ecosystem against fishes, in particular, must not be discounted because a large number of fishermen use DDT, Dynamites, Carbides, and other dangerous substances to kill fishes so that they could float on the sea for an easy catch. Although these substances are seemingly banned in Ghana, they find their way conveniently into the country and are used without fear or threat at the expense of the lives of everyone (educated and non-educated, rich or poor, politicians or non-politician) as long as one eats fish. Equally, Ghana imports large quantities of chemical-based fertilizers that are used to manage all kinds of crops.
Some of these farmers are quite ignorant about their efficacy, and so they feel they derive plenty of harvest from the use of chemical-based fertilizer. But what is the cost-benefit to human health to earnings from such so-called plenty harvest? Nitrates are some of the ingredients that are used to produce fertilizers and even though plants can reasonably absorb such harmful nitrogen when consumed over time by humans, can have detrimental effects on our lives, because of their chemical substance. I remember driving from Washington DC in 2014 to my residence in National Harbour, Maryland, when I saw vast quantities of human waste, or dung, being processed and converted into manure.
Suddenly, I thought to myself, why can’t African heads of state encourage their citizens to produce manure as opposed to importing huge amounts of fertilizers that are gradually killing its inhabitants? Besides, why spend so much foreign exchange only to make the few importers richer at the expense of the lives of almost the entire nation hope someone from the authorities of the government through the ministry of agriculture can come out bodily to educate farmers about the use of natural manures against the use of chemical-based fertilizer, even if it has to cost his or her job, but for the betterment of human life please do it. For that is more godly than concealing the truth and promoting the wicked.
Australia, as a developed nation, uses equipment that ‘blast’ human waste and convert it into manure (call it natural fertilizer). The product from the process is odourless biochar which is used as fertilizer among other things. At Morgan farms, our pig wastes or dung are mixed with wood shavings and mechanically processed. The result of which is valuable and odourless. This finished natural fertilizer (manure) provides safe and high nutrients than a chemical-based fertilizer.
An agricultural sector that is well managed by the government can help create reliable employment to reduce migration of youth from the rural sector to the urban sector thereby reducing potential social vices such as crimes and over-population that tend to create social disorders and communicable diseases. More social incentives and financial support are needed to motivate the farmers and to attract the private sector to divert their interests into agriculture.
The prices of cocoa and other crops have been appalling over the years, and continues to remain so. Payments of cocoa have turns into the issuance of chits instead of cash or payments into bank accounts. Farmers are seen to be poor instead of being rich. Traders have been taken undue advantage of farmers, and governments deprives them of their rights to earn a decent income for their hard work. The standard of living of farmers appears to be lower than the average standard of living of a trader. And the probability for them to die early from simple ailments is higher than the Average corporate working-class person. This causes many of them to result in regular alcohol intake. Instead, farmers are supposed to be treated as part of the private sector in Ghana, but many are not recognized and respected, even at the highest level.
Until recently that the private sector has engaged in the bio-gas business of using a perhaps very small amount of human waste in Ghana for the production of biogas, the entire human waste (faeces) is made to permanently go waste, and yet we import, at the peril of our scanty foreign reserves. Most of us know the strides Egypt is making in agriculture amid its foreign exchange earnings. Egypt invented a system of canals that they dug to irrigate their crops. They also built gates into these canals to control the flow of the water. And they have various sizes of reservoirs to supply water to their agricultural areas in case of droughts. Egypt, an almost 95% desert land can export a range of crops and vegetables into Europe to earn foreign exchange. But farmers in Ghana always have to pray for rainwater for a bumper harvest. In Ghana, there are perhaps more rivers and streams than in many other countries on the African Continent.
These waters can be used for irrigated farming. But instead, we use them not and rely on rainfall every year for our agricultural purposes. So, in a particular year that we do not receive enough rain, then we suffer acute price increases caused by an increased in quantity demand against the decrease quantity supply. Alternatively, the traders speculate for price surge but to the disadvantage of the farmers.
Ghana needs to protect its water bodies from the few greedy money-hungry people who, for the purposes of extracting gold and other mineral resources from the ground do all they can to destroy our water bodies. It is possible that someday, if not in our generation, generation yet unborn may benefit from clean water bodies with a government that may seriously introduce a nationwide irrigated farming system to boost agriculture in Ghana, that largely depends on manure for fertilization. Indeed the benefits of using animal and human waste as fertilizers (manure) to using imported chemical-based fertilizers are far-reaching and overwhelming.
Therefore, both the private sector and the government are encouraged to think deeply about the downsides of imported chemical-based fertilizers and instead look graciously into domestically produced manures that fertilize our plants in healthy ways than the chemical-based fertilizer. We will then save lots of our foreign exchange and improve our Gross Domestic Product, thereby improving our National Income earnings and consequently increasing the per capita income of every Ghanaian. This can only happen if/when we reduce or avoid the importation of chemical-based fertilizers and instead use locally processed animal and human waste. Indeed, when our per capita income is improved, each and everyone’s standard of living will get better.
Agriculture will then become the source of our longevity; healthy foods and water for healthy life. Having been in a few businesses ranging from fish Mongering to operating a Grocery store and real estate, to owning different companies within the financial and education sector, both home and abroad, agriculture, for me, is still the most soothing, heartfelt business I have ever indulged in. At the age of 62, it is even more rejuvenating, therapeutic and godly. To the youth, it is without a doubt that finding capital to venture into agriculture, which is very capital intensive can be discouraging, but don’t give up. Start small and in partnership, work towards a brighter future. One of our recent governments reasonably enhanced the salary scales of both the public and civil services persons, although there were some unfinished businesses.
The question remains, which government will take steps to improve the lives of farmers by paying them the worth of their labour? Such government will have a lifetime legacy. Again, to the youth, endeavour to venture into the agricultural business, because you have less to do with regulators such as SSNIT and TAXES since most of your workers will be on a piecemeal payment model. (Each person will work a by-day system with a relatively shorter period of not more than six months). And the competition in agriculture is horizontal and not vertical to destroy your business quicker than expected.
Your products will ultimately be sold even if it is sold cheaply for lack of road infrastructure to cart your goods into the market or even during a bumper harvest when crops have become very cheap. You are more likely to break even in the most difficult economic periods when you are in the agricultural business than in trading, which seems like a fast-track venture in Ghana. With regard to the typical buying and selling of goods and services (fast, fast business) when your local currency takes a nose dive, your entire capital may vanish or dwindle due to the depreciation of the currency, since Africa continues to depend on other foreign currencies. Awareness of all Agriculture Stakeholders:
This is a call to Ghanaians with all hands-on deck from both the private and governmental agencies including, but not limited to lawmakers and other policymakers to ensure agriculture becomes the top-most priority in Ghana if, really, we want to become a sustainable economy someday, perhaps not by 2030 as it has over the years become a mere cliché and gimmicks in the political arena.
Our human lives matter most, therefore, care must be taken to reduce drastically, the importation of chemical-based fertilizers and instead, the use of mechanically processed (if we cannot afford industrialization) animal and human waste manures to boost our agricultural produce in a healthy manner. Many people are walking-dead because the chemicals we consume are more than what our organs can take. Many people get sick these days and yet have no idea what is wrong with them. Many die shortly and yet find no authentic cause for their death.
The answer largely lies in what goes inside us; food and water but these have largely become chemically based. Whatever we import, no matter the beauty of its decoration or the so-called safety instructions and packaging, remember the multi-national organizations out there are in for a big-time profit and not necessarily your health, and Africa is one of the convenient continents to drop cheap and unregulated products for our consumption.
The cost-benefits of using decomposed plants, and animal and human waste processed into manure for use on our farms against imported chemical-based fertilizers cannot be over-emphasized. It may initially cost us time and money for research, and implementation but the long-term benefit to human lives is incomparable. We may never be able to go back to organic farming in large-scale production.
Nonetheless, we can use both animal and human waste to boost our agricultural produce and healthily make adequate gains rather than fast-tracking our farm produce through imported chemical-based fertilizers. In areas where there are no streams or rivers, digging deep into the ground will provide us with adequate water to irrigate our produce, by running plastic pipes throughout the entire farmland. Every nation must use its natural resources for economic development.
Healthy agricultural produce is primal to healthy living and longevity of life. One of the principal businesses of law and policymakers must be to encourage healthy water bodies and locally processed animal and human waste for use as fertilizers. Irrigation farming is non-negotiable for a developing nation such as Ghana to achieve a sustainable economy in the 21st Century. We can help sustain the value of our currency if we reduce the importation of chemical-based fertilizer and encourage the production of manures locally. Agriculture is every Ghanaian business.
The more we produce, the more we can export to increase our foreign reserve thereby sustaining the value of our currency. And let us work together to protect what we consume. Our health and for that matter, our lives depend on what goes inside us.
Happy 38th farmers’ and fishermen’s day.
Authored by Rev. Obed Danquah Morgan Farms
(Overall Best District Farmer, Gomoa Central, 2022.)