Composting Gains Acceptance Among Senegalese Farmers

For many years prior to 1982, the Senegalese government subsidized the cost of imported chemical fertilizers. The same farmers that were once able to purchase these fertilizers eight years ago at the low cost of 80-100 CFA/ kilo(12-13 cents/lb )no longer can, and are realizing that they must seek alternative methods to replenish their soils and fertilize their crops. Rodale International, based in Thies, Senegal has been working with village farmers, adapting techniques of compost production for the Sahel. Crop residues that used to be burned are now being collected, composted and returned to the soil, providing a source of nutrients to increase crop yields, soil tilth, drainage, and rebuild the badly depleted soils.

The project began in 1987 in the village of N'gombel and originally focused on assisting farmers with the traditional method of manure application. Traditionally farmers deposit manure on top of the soil and spread it out, without turning the manure into the soil. This method is somewhat inefficient as many nutrients are lost through exposure to the sun and air.

The first adaptation to the traditional method that the Rodale team suggested was the technique of pit composting. Lining the pit with cement, or bricks, prevented sandy soil from contaminating the compost, and reducing it's quality.

Three years later the project has been refined and adapted with the help of the Senegalese farmers to suite their resources and work schedules. Three methods of composting are being advocated by the team. Of the three, the most widely promoted is wet-season composting which uses very little labor and requires only rainfall as a water source. The two other methods are designed for the dry season; both require hand watering and more labor than the wet season compost. The focus of the program is on wet season composting, as it is the most economical use of resources.

The composting schedule is a function of the cropping calendar, as availability of crop residues dictates when composting can be done. Crop residues are available when the field crops are harvested, which in Senegal is October through December. The rains begin in late June and continue through late September.

Three Techniques

The rainy season method is used primarily on field crops by farmers who have a shortage of water. This method uses the least amount of labor, but is the most time consuming. A pit is dug to a depth of one meter. The length and width of the pit depend on the amount of available resources (manure and crop residues). To provide an annual production of compost, two pits are required. In sandy soils a cement or brick lining is needed in the pit to prevent the sand from weakening the compost mixture. This is not necessary in clay soils.

During the harvest months, crop residues and manure are used to fill the pit in alternating layers . The pit is covered with straw, crop stubble, grasses or plastic. Covering the compost prevents water loss, and protects the compost from the effects of the sun and contamination by windborn sand.

The compost remains untouched for approximately six months until the rains activate the composting process in late June. Wet season compost is not turned for two reasons, labor is at a scarcity at this time of year, and the duration of the process makes turning unnecessary. The final product is ready in late September at the end of the rainy season but is kept covered in the pit until the planting season in June, eight months later.

The method is time consuming and takes about 18 months, this is why it is advisable to have two pits and have compost ready every year.

The two dry season methods are very similar: both have substantial water and labor requirements, and are more appropriate for gardening. For the first dry method, a pit is filled with crop residues and manure during the harvest period. As soon as the pit is full, water is added. The compost is turned every 15 days, and is ready after 45 days. Villagers are taught to assess the humidity content of the compost. If the compost has the texture of dry sand it needs water. If the compost can be formed into ball, it has sufficient water.

The third method is for those who require very large quantities of compost. The method itself requires a great deal of organization. Three pits are dug, the first pit is filled with crop residues and manure during the harvest. When it is full, water is added and the compost is covered. 15 days later the compost is moved into the second pit, and the first is refilled. The process is repeated every15 days. Finished compost is available 45 days after the initial batch was started, and more compost becomes available in 15 day increments.

On-Farm Trials

Field trials are being conducted in one village, M'boufta, to determine the reaction of millet to varying applications of compost. Four farmers are participating in these trials, each trial consists of three treatments. The size of the treatments depends on the size of the farmer's land; plots sizes are either 10X10M, or 10X20M.

The three treatments are: a control plot, which receives no compost, a second plot which receives 2t/ha every two years(200g/m2), and a third receives a single treatment of 2t/ha once.

At harvest measurements were taken of the dry weight of the millet heads, the weight of the grain, and the number of heads. Soil and compost samples were recently sent for analysis, as of yet the results are not yet available. More samples will be taken every two years to assess changes in soil fertility.

Training Methodology

Composting is not a new technology in Senegal, but with the critical need for soil amendments as a catalyst, combined with the methodology of the Rodale approach, the message that compost production is a viable technology is reaching farmers. Farmers in several villages have seen the results and understand the potential of compost as an agricultural tool that they can use.

The composting procedures are taught through a series of village meetings that include members of the surrounding community. The training sessions usually involve as many as10 villages, with two representatives from each village. Technicians from other private voluntary organizations such as World Vision and Plan International have also attended the trainings. All meet at a "host" village. Participation of the "host village" is much more extensive during the training sessions than that of the representative villages as there are more people on hand and the women also take part. Women are integrated into the project by being the responsibility of providing water for the compost. In West Africa providing water is traditionally a woman's job.

The first visit is primarily to establish contact with the village, it also allows the team to assess the potential of the village, and to learn what the available materials are. In a village meeting, the team discusses soil fertility, the health benefits of composting (of not having stagnant waste water around, and piles of manure for flies to breed in) nutrient cycling, and the uptake of minerals from the soil by plant growth and crop removal.

The village builds a pit according to given dimensions. The team selects the site, near a well. In preparation for the second meeting 3 barrels of water (600 liters) are needed, the participation of the women is also promoted.

The compost pit is filled during the second visit. The team works with the village until the pit is 2/3 full. The village members then complete the work on their own. The third visit is to see what the farmers have done, and to demonstrate how to apply the compost to the field.

The fourth visit is to compare the yields of the composted and uncomposted millet. This comparison is instrumental in convincing the villagers of the efficacy of the compost.

The team has found excellent cooperation from the villagers. Without the availability of subsidized fertilizers the farmers know that they must take action to increase their declining yields. The ability of the village leader to organize the villagers to participate in the meetings influences the degree of success of the project.

At present Rodale Senegal has compost projects in Tatane Toucouleur, M'boufta, Koumpentoum, N'gombel, and Maka Ndiaye. The team also plans to conduct a training in the village of Sindian in the Casamance region. All of these villages use the wet season method except M'boufta, which uses the dry season method with one pit.

For more information contact:

Rodale Senegal
B.P. A237
Thies, Senegal