In whose interests is Government banning organic manure?

BY SHADRACK MUYESU

Regulation 30 of the Food (Food crops) Regulations 2018 prohibits a grower from using human faecal matter and raw animal manure for the production of food crops. It is a curious provision.

The Ministry of Agriculture says that the regulations are aimed at addressing the various challenges in the food crops industry thereby boosting food security and enabling President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda. An alternative view is that far from achieving this aim, the regulations not only cripple the small farmer; they threaten food security in the long term and come at a great cost to the environment. In fact, the real winners here are capital interests. 

Raw animal manure falls in the category of organic manure. Gross it may be, numerous studies show that this type of manure has a greater positive effect on the soil compared to fertilizers. In relation to crops, while positive results may be initially slow to arrive, they are greater and more sustained when they do arrive. What is more, organic manure poses no danger to the environment, as do fertilizers. On the contrary, it actually improves the soil.  If we may look at some of these studies:

Faisal Mahmood et al acknowledges that intensive cultivation with extreme use of chemical fertilizers increases crop productivity. They also note that chemical fertilizers disturb the agro-ecosystem and pollute soil and water quality to a great extent. To harness the benefits of chemical fertilizers while reducing the harm, they recommend a combined application of organic and inorganic fertilizers. Per their findings, this remains the surest way of guaranteeing nutrient recovery, plant growth and ultimate yield without destroying the soil.

In a study dubbed (the) Effects of Organic and Inorganic Manures on Maize and their residual Impacts on Soil Physico – Chemical Properties, Faisal Mahmood et al compared the effects organic and inorganic manures or a combination of both would have on crop yield. Their findings showed that growth and yield of maize increased the most when fertilizer was used alongside organic manures and that, while fertilizers also increased crop yield, sustained use led to an increase in soil acidity. Organic manure not only reduced acidity, it also led to a lower soil bulk density. The more acidic the soil, the more difficult it will be for the plant to absorb certain nutrients. Poor iron intake for instance causes the leaves to be yellow.

On their part, Xiangyang Liu and Guangxi Ren, Yan Shi of the Qingdao Agricultural University found that organic manure cultivation promotes all-ground growth, improves  root vigour as well as the leaf net photosynthetic capability and overall yield. Therefore, reasonably using organic manure improves quality and yield, improves the soil structure and protects the environment.

Their study was titled The effect of organic manure and chemical fertilizer on growth and development of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. From the title, it compared the effects of using organic manure and chemical fertilizer in Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni cultivation. Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni is a sugar plant. Through this experiment, they make fundamental studies on the effect of organic manure to vegetative growth, economic yield, photosynthetic rate and the content of rebaudioside A (RA) and stevioside (STV) in leaves.

Their conclusion was that, while more benefits manifested in the crop subjected to fertilizer at the early stages, the crop exposed to organic manure produced more and was more nutritious in the long term. In other words, while there was faster development where fertilizer was used, the development slowed and crop subjected to manure took over in terms of yield. Initial slow growth was blamed on the slow decomposition process of organic manure.

The final study by Si Ho Han et al is titled The Effects of Organic Manure and Chemical Fertilizer on the Growth and Nutrient Concentrations of yellow poplar in a Nursery System. In their final paper, the authors begin with a general comparison of chemical and organic manure. They say that, although chemical manures are relatively inexpensive, have a high nutrient content and are easily absorbed by plants, the use of excessive fertilizer can result in a number of problems such as nutrient loss, surface water and ground water contamination, soil acidification or basification, reductions in useful microbial communities and increased sensitivity to harmful insects. Further, while organic manure has a number of shortcomings including low nutrient contents, slow decomposition and different nutrient compositions depending on its organic material, compared to chemical fertilizers, it has benefits due to the balanced supply of nutrients. These include, micronutrients, increased soil nutrient availability due to increased soil microbial activity, the decomposition of harmful elements, soil structure improvements and root development and increased soil water availability.

The sum of their findings was that organic manure originating from livestock by products and sawdust not only promoted the growth of yellow poplar it also improved soil conditions. They recommended that organic manure be used in nursery seedling production systems.

The invisible hand of the cartels

From this comparison, a couple of truths come to fore; the first is the critical role played by agricultural extension officers whose duty it ought to be to guide the use of manure. The second and most important is the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using manure as government would have Kenyans believe. Which begs the question, in whose interests is Government working when banning the use of organic manure?

Illicit fertilizer trade is a billion shilling industry in this country. Until now, the modus operandi for fertilizer cartels has been to generate news of fake fertilizers and instigate arrests and confiscation of cargo allowing them to operate solo during the planting season. As we speak, there is an ongoing case where the legitimacy of three, 500 tons of OCP fertilizer worth some Sh300 million is in issue.  Investigators claim that it had traces of mercury. Curiously, the Director of Public Prosecutions told the Court that samples of this fertilizer taken by investigators showing that it had mercury had been destroyed. Even more surprising is how the DPP, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Kenya Revenue Authority joined forces in vehemently opposing any plans to retest the fertilizer. The DPP has ignored four court orders to this effect.

Appearing in the matter, Paul Muite SC gave away a copy of the cartels playbook when making application for retesting. According to the lawyer, the charges were nothing beyond a trade war between cartels who did not want cheap fertiliser to reach farmers and wanted to edge out OCP Kenya Ltd which imports cheap fertiliser from the market.

“The real fear is that OCP Kenya’s fertiliser is cheap and will retail at Sh2, 500 (per bag) with high productivity rate of up to 20%. If it was to be used, there would be no need for subsidised   fertiliser which retails at Sh3, 500 per bag” said Muite.

The biggest beneficiary of this fraud is the Export Trading Group.

The Food (Food crops) Regulations 2018 and the currently suspended Diary Industry Licensing Regulations 2018 are clear testimony of the power markets have in a capitalist society. Ideally, Parliament is supposed to consult widely yet act in the best interest of the citizens. But lobbyists have taken over. With powerful individuals in government having business interests in food production, disingenuous laws like the aforementioned regulations shouldn’t come as a surprise. Favorable policies are for those who can pay.