Rubbish revives Mbale region

A compost-processing plant in Mbale, along the hilly slopes of the Mt. Elgon region in Uganda, is helping to boost declining crop yields through organic farming and aiding environmental conservation by cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.



"Here we are turning garbage into fertilizer instead of leaving it to rot, emitting methane," Rhoda Nyaribi, an officer at the project, told IRIN.



Rubbish, Nyaribi said, is a big contributor of methane gas emissions. Methane traps heat in the atmosphere, warming the Earth's surface. Human activities such as farming and other land-use changes supplement the natural levels of these gases.



The Mbale plant, which is funded by the World Bank and managed by the Uganda National Environment Management Authority, under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), is helping to provide cheaper fertilizer - about 15 to 20 tonnes per day - to farmers.



The CDM allows developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply by financing emission-reduction projects in developing countries, where costs are lower.



A kilogramme of the dry compost manure sold at the plant costs 100 Ugandan shillings (about US$0.04) compared with USh3,000 ($1.30) for a 500ml foliar fertilizer spray.



Farmers come from as far as northern Uganda to buy the manure, said Nyaribi, adding that the sales help sustain the project.



Improved fertilizer availability is expected to boost food production in areas where crop yields have been adversely affected by declining soil fertility.



The Nabika Village, in Mbale, is one such place, according to 65-year-old farmer, Wasagani Wambale.



Wambale says his two-hectare field is now producing half the banana, potato, tomato and onion crops it did in the past.



"This place [Nabika] was wonderful. I could harvest 150 bunches of bananas on average from each hectare but in the late 1990s my crop yield started falling," he told IRIN.



"The banana quality got bad; the suckers starting growing stunted and even the vegetables didn’t do well."



In the past, his crop earned him on average USh300,000 (about $140).



Agriculture and environmental officials attribute the poor yields to, among other causes, deforestation, which, spurred by a rising population, has exposed the fertile top soils to erosion.



Field terracing and the use of manure and compost as well as crop rotation are being encouraged.



"This is the best way farmers can sustain their production," said Joseph Wesuya, an official with the African Development Initiative, a community-based environmental conservation organization.



According to Bernard Mujasi, a Mbale District official, the compost project, established in January 2010, is also helping to clean up Mbale Town.



"We have lorries collecting [organic] garbage in the town and market places. This garbage is taken to the compost plant for producing the compost fertilizers," said Mujasi.



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