New research finds the potential of waste reuse for small farmers worldwide

Safe, nutritious fertilizer pellets made from processed human waste at a trial site at Buet, Dhakar, Bangladesh © IWMI/Neil Palmer
Safe, nutritious fertilizer pellets made from processed human waste at a trial site at Buet, Dhakar, Bangladesh © IWMI/Neil Palmer

30 August 2017 - By championing the possibilities of waste - food, agro-industrial and even human - a grant funded by IFAD and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has supported food security and sustainability across the world. From 2011 to 2015, the Resource Recovery and Reuse project – implemented by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) under the CGIAR Water, Land and Ecosystems research programme – analysed 110 waste-recovery businesses in order to establish guidelines for assessing, implementing and scaling up similar programmes. Now, the project’s findings are generating donor interest and encouraging small businesses globally to take advantage of the water, nutrients and energy found in waste.

The main innovation of the Resource Recovery and Reuse project was to demonstrate that sanitation work and waste management - traditionally dependent on public subsidies - can be profitable. Its research found that waste-reuse businesses could increase cost recovery, generate profits and recover resources to improve soil nutrition, crop sustainability and climate resilience.

For urban dwellers in developing countries, waste reuse businesses can provide incentives to collect and process the 30 to 60 per cent of waste that remains untreated by municipal services. For rural people - and smallholder farmers in particular - these businesses create jobs and provide inputs such as organic fertilizer that can boost food security and sustainable agriculture. Waste reuse programmes also create a closed loop for rural-urban linkages: the water and nutrients that enter urban areas through agricultural products can be returned to rural areas through resource recovery.

The project analysed 60 empirical studies from 24 countries and developed 21 generic waste-reuse models with potential for implementation in developing countries. The researchers then tested these models through feasibility studies in Bangalore, Hanoi, Kampala and Lima and published their results in the public domain. The project provided financial support to more than 20 postgraduate students working on related research questions, and its findings are continuing to guide investment decisions in waste reuse businesses.

So far, the project has catalysed follow-up grants from the SDC and the European Union worth over US$2.8 million, and CGIAR’s Water, Land and Ecosystems programme has listed sustainable rural-urban linkages with a focus on recovering and reusing resources in urbanized ecosystems as a flagship programme for further funding and research. There are also plans to integrate business models from the projects with business school curricula to instruct future leaders in resource recovery and reuse.

The project’s findings are also fostering public-private partnerships. In Ghana, Jekora Ventures Ltd is planning to establish a co-composting facility in the Yilo-Krobo Municipal Assembly to annually transform 5,000 cubic metres of faecal sludge and 300 tons of organic solid wastes into 200 tons of safe pelletized compost. A wastewater treatment plant is planned in Kumasi to produce catfish in well-treated wastewater and reinvest the profits in the maintenance of the plant.

Meanwhile, the project’s research has resulted in collaboration with the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program to conduct feasibility assessments for different waste reuse business models in Maharashtra and Kerala states in India. The Government of Sri Lanka has signed a memorandum of understanding with IWMI to pilot a waste-to-fertilizer facility in Kurunegala and analyse how to increase cost recovery in its 110 compost stations across the country. The research findings have also been incorporated into the government-led Market Gardening Development Support Project that IFAD is supporting in Benin.

This story was originally published in IFAD’s 2016 Annual Report.