Malawi’s ‘Miracle Mineral’ For Africa’s Future

Remember the mineral Phosphorus you learnt in high school and thought had no use. Well, this mineral is assisting farmers in a country in Africa to grow their business. Phosphorus has been the bedrock of farmers in Africa.  To lay hold of this mineral, farmers depend on the expensive fertilizer for food production. However, this may be changing as Malawi has come to the world’s rescue.

In Blantyre, Malawi, some farmers have found ways of eliminating fertilizer for an alternative from moist organic matter like corn stalks and chicken manure.  This is a thermic compost pile and not the ordinary backyard compost pile. For these farmers, one disappointing harvest results in misery and hunger.

Many African farmers are left at the mercy of the soil to produce what can feed them and still give them good products for sale. In Africa, it is a matter of survival.  For those who are not farmers, they get the brunt of this reality in the scarcity of farm produce resulting in an inevitable hike in the prices of farm produce.  Most soils in the continent are inherently poor, while erosion, urbanization, or bush burning has wasted many fertile grounds.

To grow a bumper harvest, nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen are required. But the most important for the plant early life is phosphorus. Lack of phosphorus leaves vegetables and plants with little yield and stunted growth. That means phosphorus is vital in Africa.

To help farmers, it has been discovered that most soils in Africa, especially Malawi requires something better than mineral fertilizer.  The sub-Saharan Africa and Malawi soils are acidic. When you add phosphate, its ions bind with aluminum or iron oxides and leave the plants starved.

This is what many farmers in Africa are facing, fertilizer seems to have lost its potency on their soils.

How is Malawi tackling this acidity?  Some of her farmers have resorted to solubilizing. Solubilizing simply means freeing phosphorus and other nutrients and releasing them to plants. They make use of compost, manure, and mulching. These materials are more accessible compared to fertilizer.

The people focus on sanitation, and discourage dumping of refuse illegally.  They are trying to prove that with compost, farmers can enjoy bountiful harvest and have their harvests sold at an affordable rate.

Compost comes from people’s organic waste that is accessible and valuable. It may not be easy for them to create awareness for everyone in Malawi, but they are doing amazing works with their discovery.

These farmers are gradually creating drying beds for fecal sludge, which makes up a part of the finished compost. They receive the rest from market waste like spoilt vegetables and fruits, and chicken manure. When they produce enough compost, they will be able to sell it to farmers.  The good news is that many small farmers will not buy from them; they will learn how to produce their composts when they see results.

While few farmers do this compost on a small scale for their gardens, they have not been able to achieve tremendous results on large scale. If these farmers can prove that this compost works better for farmers, the demand for mineral fertilizer will drastically reduce.  The cost of food in the market will reduce equally and farmers can make more profit from their harvests.