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Updated Mar 19, 2020

At Nsungwi Market in Area 25 of the Malawian capital Lilongwe, Goodfellow Phiri oversees two urinals charging MK50 (US$0.07) to use. Here, Phiri gathers the collected urine to transform it into an organic fertilizer for his crops. The sixty-two-year-old farmer, like many small Malawian agriculturalists, have in recent years been turning to non-chemical fertilizers for both cost reasons and soil health.

Phiri’s Urine for Wealth initiative began eight years ago, when he connected with other farmers and convinced them to make the switch away from commercial-grade chemical fertilizers. Local farmer James Isaac, who uses Phiri’s urine-based fertilizer, told Deutsche Welle that his crop yields have been much better since he stopped using chemical fertilizer.


Why It Matters

Using urine in farming is not a new innovation. It’s a great source of potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients that soil needs to replenish itself after a harvest. It’s also vastly cheaper for Malawian farmers: a twenty-liter bucket of Phiri’s fertilizer sells for about US$8, whereas a fifty-kilogram bag of chemical fertilizer costs about US$30.

Malawi is not alone in the general issue of rising costs and dependency on chemical fertilizers, many of which are imported. For farmers, this leaves them spending most of their income just to keep stocked with enough fertilizer for the following year’s crops. Organic fertilizers like Phiri’s have the benefit of being locally produced and thus improving personal income for individual farmers and reducing operating costs. A transition towards organic fertilizers would also, on a national level, help make countries like Malawi less dependent on foreign companies and the global market for their agricultural sectors, paving the way for greater employment and higher crop yields to weather setbacks caused by climate change, which has been hitting southern Africa more aggressively this past decade, with more frequent droughts and erratic rainy seasons.

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