Farmer-made fertilizer doubles vegetable yields in rural Bangladesh

Home gardening plays an essential role in rural Bangladesh by providing access to fresh and varied food and thus contributes to reducing undernutrition. Gardens can also help families to earn a small income through sale of surplus produce. However, yields in backyard gardens are often low due to degraded soils. Also, many families lack financial resources to buy fertilizers, and the manure they collect from cows is mostly used as fuel for cooking.

Could there be a solution?

The FAARM project in rural Bangladesh promotes year-round cultivation of garden crops with high nutritional value. To tackle the problem of low soil fertility in home gardens, the project team started the BUNCH project in cooperation with the Ithaka Institute to test whether soil fertility could be improved by a farmer-made fertilizer.

This fertilizer is based on biochar, a carbon-rich material which can be produced for free by any farmer in Bangladesh from rice straw, leaves and other harvest residues using the so-called Kon-Tiki technique. Biochar can be mixed with animal or human urine to become an odourless and potent organic fertilizer.

To know more about Biochar and how Bangladeshi farmers have taken it up, read our earlier LANSA blog.

How it works on the field

A total of 134 participating families in 18 villages tested the new method in designated home garden areas of 4 to 10 m2. One half of the plot was fertilized with a root-zone applied urine-biochar substrate and the other half in accordance to traditional garden practice (which is mostly either cow dung or nothing).

Farmers tested the biochar-based fertilizer on two winter crops (cabbage and kohlrabi) and three summer crops (pumpkin, bitter gourd and ash gourd). In the plots where the urine-biochar fertilizer was used, the overall yield for all crops more than doubled (+112%) and the crop quality judged by the farmers improved by 65%, compared to plots with traditional village practice (see Figure).

This success was achieved without any additional costs for the farmers apart from the time to prepare the organic fertilizer.

Figure: Fruit yield and quality increase of organic biochar-based fertilization compared to farmer control (134 home garden trials)

What next?

The villagers were very satisfied to see the positive results and expressed their intention to continue with the new practice of making and using their own organic fertilizer. Several trial participants even decided to rent and cultivate additional land and started to grow garden crops professionally to earn an increased income for their families.

Thanks to follow-up funding from the Dutch Food and Business Applied Research Fund, we are currently scaling up the new fertilization method to all FAARM intervention villages and will hopefully extend it to many more in the coming years in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

Hans-Peter Schmidt and Sabine Gabrysch
Friday, April 6, 2018

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South Asia Focus

Funded by UK DFID

This research has been funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK Government’s official policies



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