Properly managing our organic waste can dramatically enhance our environment and provide vital by-products for agriculture. Unfortunately the reality now is that most of the organic waste we generate from our homes, offices, workplaces, farms, factories and markets end up in our drains and open spaces and subsequently washed into rivers, streams, lakes and lagoons. This accumulation of organic waste in our water bodies lead to excessive aquatic plants and algae growth. Over time, decaying aquatic plants and algae eventually kill off the waterbody ecologically. Already, many streams, rivers, lakes and lagoons near our urban areas are dead. Many water sources and water bodies within the landmarks between Accra and Tema are dead!
Portions of major rivers running through major cities have become sewers. The environs of the Densu Estuary have become a waste dump with waste directly poured into the lagoon and mangroves! One can now see leachate from old dumps around Weija and Oblogo in the Ga South flowing directly into the Densu River downstream of the Weija Lake.
Waste is dumped indiscriminately and when the rains come, they are washed into our water bodies. Additionally, faeces from septic tanks and other traditional pit latrines are being indiscriminately disposed into water bodies. There are many dysfunctional sewage treatment systems in Ghana. Some major institutions like hospitals, universities, hotels and high occupancy offices have their waste running directly into the nearest drain and/or water body untreated. The use of septic tanks also contributes to this problem because when emptied their “cargo” is dumped untreated.
Organic waste everywhere is constantly in a process of decomposition into its basic elements of water, carbon dioxide and nutrients which is recycled to plants and animal life via the nutrient and carbon cycles. We live in the tropics where the combination of high temperature and moisture speed up the decomposition of organic matter; and the recycling of nutrients is fastest. Unfortunately, our drainage system consisting mainly of gutters transports both liquid waste and runoff including all the decomposed organic matter into the nearest low land which ends up in our water bodies, thus disrupting the natural nutrient cycle.
Our environment is unique. The vegetation is lush during the rainy season. This might lead us to think our land is fertile. The irony here is that any attempt at farming on these same lands yield very little. Our farmers remain extremely poor and the youth are abandoning farming in droves. Many attempts by all our governments since independence at improving farming have all been failures. State Farms established soon after independence were all monumental failures. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, there were policies in place to encourage senior public servants to venture into commercial farming by making subsidised farming equipment and other inputs available to them. These attempts by our elite and experts including my own father at farming produced abysmal results. At best only the first year’s harvest was good. However, subsequent cropping of the same land resulted in decreasing yield. The use of inorganic fertilizer did not produce any significant improvement. On the contrary it worsened the problem of pollution of our waterbodies. Looking back, my father pursued his farming by the book. He prepared well before starting. He (dragging his family along) visited nearly every Agricultural Research Institution in the country many times before he started his farming. He had the best researchers of his time to test the soil and advise what to plant. He worked closely with the richest entrepreneurial businessman of his time; Mr Robert Ocran of Mankoadie fisheries who at the time was developing the biggest farm in Ghana. They assembled the best team to run and manage the farm.
It did not work!
So what was wrong? All the best attempts at farming have produced abysmal results. Our current government has announced a new initiative “Planting for Food and Jobs” to address our agricultural challenges. It is important that we understand why the previous attempts all failed before diving into this new initiative.
“Look deep into nature and everything will be clear” (Albert Einstein).
We need to understand our environment to get our Agriculture working well. I will recommend to readers of this article to google and read/watch on YouTube the work of Allan Savory. Fertility and growth in the tropics and other hot areas are dependent on a complex symbiotic relationship amongst plants, animals and other macro and micro- organisms.
Some of the things we studied in school about farming are not quite true. We were taught that black soil is an indication of fertile soil. This is complete nonsense. Plants do not require soil for growth much less black soil as anyone who has studied hydroponics and aquaponics will know. What plants need for growth is LIGHT mainly from the sun, the right ambient TEMPERATURE, CARDON DIOXIDE, OXYGEN, WATER AND NUTRIENTS.
The world has been in existence for billions of years due to the recycling of organic matter (normally explained by the nutrient cycle, carbon cycle and the water cycle). This process is fastest in the tropics; it is a symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. The reason our farms fail after the initial harvest is because the nutrients leach out very quickly from our soils. In the process where the land is cleared of plants and the soil laid bare in our hot tropical environment, a lot of the beneficial organisms vital to the natural recycling of nutrients are lost to the soil. The heavy rains we experience means more nutrients are leached out of the soil even before the crops germinates.
Within our cities and towns, we are piling up our organic waste into landfills from where all the nutrients drain into the rivers; disrupting the natural cycle that has sustained the tropics for billions of years.
With the huge growth in human population and humans by far becoming the dominant species on earth, the way we manage our waste will be crucial to the future sustainability of the world.
In 2008, this writer launched with the Ghana Institution of Engineers; The BIOFIL® Toilet System which rapidly processes human waste into its basic components of nutrients and water by mimicking and optimizing the natural tropical process in a box. In the past few years the system has been further developed and enhanced with support from the BILL & MELINDA GATES foundation and the DUTCH Government. We at Biological Filters and Composters limited (BIOFILCOM) have developed our very unique Rainforest wastewater treatment system which allows complete recovery of nutrient from wastewater sources for plants’ uptake thus closing the nutrient cycle.
The sight of human waste all around us is not a pleasant one and so is the nauseating stench from our gutters. The waste around us is without question unhygienic to our society. Organic/human waste in our environment can and should be treated in a way that is beneficial to the community.
The results of BIOFILCOM’s research and development efforts promise the following:
The treatment of organic waste within our environment and homes;
The provision of flush toilets in every home at an affordable price;
The recovery of nutrients from wastewater for the greening of the environment; and
The return of fish to all the heavily polluted waterbodies
In the coming months, BIOFILCOM will be working with community leaders and young entrepreneurs to setup sustainable businesses of managing liquid and solid waste from our homes. Hundreds of very profitable and sustainable farms will be established that utilizes piles of organic waste from poultry and pig farms, piles of organic from our markets and indeed organic waste from any institution that generate large quantities to grow crops, trees and flowers.
At BIOFILCOM we believe every home in Ghana should have a toilet within the next five years. Join us to achieve the vision.