Two birds with one stone: Using compost to tame fertilizer price hikes and increase yields sustainably


Farmers in the Amhara and SNNP regions of Ethiopia have cut their expenditure on fertilizer by half after training on compost preparation and use. Compost improves soil structure and provides a wide range of nutrients for plants, adding beneficial microbes to the soil, and increasing crop yields. However, many farmers struggle to produce high-quality compost due to a lack of organic materials, and inadequate knowledge on the proper ratio of carbon and nitrogen-supplying raw materials, with others desisting completely due to the odour released in the composting process. To address these issues, SAA-Ethiopia provided farmers and Extension Agents (EAs) in the Angacha and Meket districts with hands-on training on how to improve compost preparation using Effective Microorganisms (EMs).

EMs are a blend of naturally-occurring beneficial organisms, primarily lactic acid bacteria, photosynthetic bacteria, and yeasts that can be used as inoculants to boost the beneficial microbial population and diversity in the soil ecosystem for sustainable crop production. Compost preparation with EMs speeds up the decomposition of organic materials by 5-6 times, while reducing the release of odors.

Since 2021, SAA has trained 46 (12 women) EAs, and 244 (67 women) smallholder farmers in the Amhara and SNNP regions on compost preparation using EMs. The farmers are reporting sustained yields even after replacing half of their inorganic fertilizer needs with compost, which is consistent with most studies on compost in Ethiopian showing that organic fertilizers can replace up to 50% of inorganic fertilizers. For optimum yields, the trained farmers apply 4 MT of compost per hectare alongside half of the recommended inorganic fertilizer rate (50 Kg NPS and 50 Kg Urea per hectare). The amount of compost produced by the trained farmers has been used to substitute approximately 3.5 metric tons of inorganic fertilizers valued at USD2,403 based on the current price of USD 68.66 per 0.1MT.

Using compost in combination with mineral fertilizers is an Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) system that SAA promotes for increasing soil fertility and reducing environmental hazards. This makes composting an important component of regenerative agriculture, which help farmers reduce reliance on inorganic fertilizers.

Retrieved from SAA E-Newsletter, issued in May 2023 with Focus on Ethiopia

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