From waste to value: Meet the Malawian man who collects human urine to make fertilizer

Abu Mubarik May 05, 2022
Photo credit: DW

Worldwide, industrial fertilizers dominate the market and they are expensive compared to organic fertilizers. The Russian-Ukraine conflict has also compounded the global supply of fertilizers as the two countries control at least 30 percent of the market.

However, in Malawi, entrepreneur Goodfellow Phiri is turning waste into value by collecting human urine to make fertilizer. While his initiative pre-dates the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it will help farmers in his community not to really feel the effect of the war regarding the supply of fertilizers.

According to DW, his initiative has helped transform the lives of local farmers in the capital, Lilongwe. In addition, it is paving the way for more environmentally friendly agriculture, one that is not injurious to the environment and allows for continuous farming.

Using human urine as a fertilizer is not new as it is rich in phosphorous, nitrogen, potassium and trace elements that plants need. It is also cheaper for Malawian farmers. A twenty-litre bucket of Phiri’s fertilizer sells for about US$8, whereas a fifty-kilogram bag of chemical fertilizer costs about US$30.

Phiri, 64, has been collecting human urine for almost 10 years now from his urine-harvesting plant in Lilongwe. People pay at least $60 cents to use one of his two urinals located at Nsungwi Market in Area 25. He told DW recently that he collects 20 litres of urine each day.

“It might seem like a small quantity, but you have to dilute it with water ten times, so it turns into 200 litres,” he said.

Phiri stores the urine in airtight containers for a week before processing it in tanks. He noted that the processing helps remove the urine “smell” so as to make handling more comfortable.

A farmer who has been using Phiri’s organic fertilizer told DW that it is very unique and he has made a good harvest since using it.

“This [organic] fertilizer is very unique, unlike the chemical fertilizer,” James Isaac said. “As you can see on this maize field, I have only used this fertilizer. We apply the fertilizer liquid in holes, just like we do with the chemical fertilizer. I have made good harvests in the past few years, unlike when I was using chemical fertilizers.”

Besides helping farmers and making profits from selling his urine fertilizer, Phiri’s initiative has also helped residents, who fill their buckets with urine and give them to Phiri for money. The Malawian entrepreneur’s urine-fertilizer idea started off as a small family business called “Urine for Wealth” but the business has grown and now gets funding from NGOs.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 5, 2022


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