- By Jamie Shea
The biophysical environment of the commune of Bangangté, an area of 800 sq km in Cameroon that is home to 200,000 people, presents numerous difficulties to its inhabitants. The soils are ferralitic, which means they are extremely sandy and contain minerals such as aluminium and iron. This, combined with a rugged relief, makes the land unsuited to agriculture – yet agriculture is a source of livelihood for 80% of the population.
A local solution means local action in this region of Africa. Using human urine to increase agricultural production helps local communities make the most of their farmland, so that they can make a living in spite of harsh climatic and soil conditions. Local communities are thus treating urine so that it can be used as natural fertiliser.
This initiative is considered to have social and environmental benefits. It prepares children for a new sort of job in a region with high unemployment and also teaches them to limit the use of chemical fertilisers that have been used by many farmers. This means the practice allows the Commune of Bangangté to address climate change at a local level.
Before this initiative officially started, people in the commune were using chemical fertilisers, and exposing themselves to various sorts of illnesses, as well as having to pay for the fertilisers. The treatment and use of urine has the potential to solve issues related to hygiene, insalubrity and agricultural production in public spaces such as schools and markets. Using contemporary ecological toilets in such an environment has helped to modernise the population’s entire approach to sanitation and to let it adapt to adverse conditions.
There were also difficulties in introducing such facilities into public markets
Despite the transfer of competencies from the state of Cameroon to decentralised regional authorities, there are still no well-defined policies or strategies for sanitation, and further political commitment is required. Of the 60 schools that have applied to construct modern ecological toilets, only 10 have so far managed to do so. Additional efforts are required to equip the remainder.
Nevertheless, these modern ecological toilets have had significant positive results in curtailing open-air defecation and environmental pollution in school areas. They have also greatly encouraged the collection, storage and processing of urine and the conversion of faeces for agricultural use in Bangangté and nearby villages.
The initiative comes as the commune pushes for the construction of modern ecological toilets in its whole territory. However, a few difficulties remain. For instance, in schools, some students’ parents were unwilling to accept the new, complex practice of separating and making use of human waste. This was resolved by demonstrating both the positive sanitation outcomes and the effective results for agriculture. There were also difficulties in introducing such facilities into public markets. These were addressed by involving members of the markets’ management committees and offering training in latrine management. Some religious schools lacked the funds to maintain the new structures, so the commune stepped in and got local craftsmen to help. Finally, processed urine sometimes got stolen, so storage facilities had to be guarded – a sign of the positive impact treated urine had on farmland and its consequent value.
These practices are easily replicable, so they are available to anyone who wants to increase soil fertility and fight against the constant rises in fertiliser prices and pollution of the natural environment. The positive outcomes are as follows: post-education training for young people to address unemployment; setting up a mechanism to make use of urine as fertiliser across local communities; and promoting the practice through targeted communications campaigns. The project is being conducted within the framework of the ATPC (Total Sanitation Supported by Communities), which takes into account all elements of sustainability and contributes to climate adaptation in a region where climate change affects crops dramatically.
The commune of Bangangté has understood that human waste management and the promotion of agriculture can go hand in hand. It has therefore decided to contribute naturally to the protection of the natural environment by transforming human waste into resources. A person produces between 25kg and 50kg of faeces per year, and this can fertilise 300 to 400 square metres of agricultural land.
Bangangté’s compost operation is already highly successful and has received a national prize for excellence
The project is essentially a revival of a traditional practice. Our forefathers, in their permanent quest for yield, created cesspits in the corners of their plots of land. After filling them with earth and leaving them for a year, they placed plantain offshoots in the resulting compost. From these they could reap an entire crop. Faeces are more effective as a fertiliser when they have a lower carbon content, and carbon is naturally released when they are left in a pit as part of an ecological sanitation process. Like this, and through the processing of urine for hygiene, potentially harmful waste products are transformed into resources that add essential nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – to cropland.
Momentum has been generated by the municipal executive since 2007 in the communal development plans of 24 planning units. Of these, 22 focused on water and sanitation issues using funding for the implementation of the vast ‘Sustainable Management of Water and Sanitation’ MODEAB Water-for-All project and its sanitation component. The commune now has the human, financial and material means to transform and recover waste on a durable basis and also to benefit the 80% of its population who depend on agriculture.
Bangangté’s compost operation is already highly successful and has received a national prize for excellence in local management and development. Today, the recycling of human waste is underway, and the result used in the production of maize, plantain and beans. The next project will involve a waste-disposal centre, where sludge will undergo biological treatment so that the percolate can be used as a humidifier for composting biodegradable waste in the dry season. This will provide further opportunities for full-time employment, as well as improving the quality of the compost. These actions to recover, transform and make use of human waste will continue to offer a substitute for chemical fertilisers. They will thus give Bangangté an effective weapon in the fight against climate change and engage the whole community in the process of sustainable development.
This article is from Friends of Europe’s discussion paper ‘Cities – the new policy shapers in the energy transition’, in which international experts, policy-makers and entrepreneurs report from cities and regions all around the globe acknowledging cities’ evolving and prominent role within the energy transition. Cities are teaming up, creating coalitions and sharing knowledge on the most advanced and innovative solutions to tackle climate-related risks.
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