New plant to deliver a safe nutrient-rich fertilizer made from recycled waste
With considerable fanfare, including speeches by government ministers and extensive press coverage, an alliance of public and private sector partners has launched the JVL Fortifer Compost Plant in Accra, Ghana. Based on research carried out by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the plant will contribute importantly to improving urban sanitation and thus reduce serious threats to human and environmental health, while at the same time helping boost farm productivity through improved soil fertility.
A joint venture between the Tema Metropolitan Assembly (TMA) and Jekora Ventures Ltd., this is the country´s first public-private enterprise dedicated to producing an affordable new organic fertilizer FortiferTM. In the next year, Jekora is committed to market 500 tons of the product, investing US$90,000 of its own funds in plant operations and maintenance as well as product commercialization. Made through processing of human and other organic waste, the product is a safe, nutrient-rich compost, which the plant will sell in powder and pellet forms.
As demonstrated by extensive field trials, FortifierTM improves the yields of common grains, like maize and rice, as well as vegetable crops, including okra, tomatoes, pepper, cabbage and lettuce. To manufacture the product, the plant will treat 12,500 cubic meters of fecal sludge – waste contained in the septic tanks of household and public toilets. This is the amount generated annually by up to 100,000 people. The plant will also recycle 700 tonnes of pure organic food waste, segregated at its source to prevent contamination from other solid wastes.
The final product, technical process and public-private business approach resulted from more than a decade of research at IWMI, which in recent years has advanced this work through the IWMI-led CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). Working with local and international partners, IWMI started the research with a pilot plant in Kumasi, Ghana, culminating in development of the certified FortiferTM product. This work received support through grants from partners in France, Switzerland and other countries, including most recently the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, governments of Canada, the UK and Ghana as well as the CGIAR Fund.
The compost plant does not require sophisticated or expensive technology and expertise. Its success depends rather on a viable business model, which IWMI and its partners have refined over the years at the Institute’ research-for-development hub in Ghana. Building on this experience, IWMI researchers are also promoting the approach in Asia, as part of a wider effort to achieve more circular economies in the developing world.
Taking human and other household waste, the plant filters and dries this material on beds of sand. Next, the dried sludge is mixed with organic food waste or sawdust and “co-composted” for 3 months. This involves regular heaping and turning of the material as it decomposes. Heat generated in the process kills any pathogens in the waste, giving a product that meets the safety standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for reuse of human excreta.
TMA provided land for the treatment plant and will ensure steady supplies of fecal sludge, while also monitoring plant operations. In addition, working with the Ghanaian NGO TREND (Training, Research and Networking for Development), it has helped engage with public authorities to obtain environmental permits, approval by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and certification of the fertilizer product.
Pilot trials suggest that the waste recovery process can generate enough income to earn a profit, which researchers expect will attract further public and private investments to help cover the costs of waste treatment, creating more benefits for society benefits through reduced pollution.