In the distant past, farmers in Nigeria were able to use earth-friendly farming practices such as crop rotation, letting land lie fallow, etc., due to the fact that the pressure on land usage was much less and there was less pressure from the market sources. However, in the last years that has changed. Population growth and over-utilization of land has resulted in depleted land. The outcome of this is that there is a great demand for chemical fertilizer. This creates two difficulties: the soil is not regenerated, and the cost of chemical fertilizer is very high for the average small farmer. HVCF together with a youth group ENACTUS from the Kaduna Polytechnic has introduced two micro technologies to address these problems. One is the introduction of composting and the second is the use of a natural pesticide known as SUPA-4. Composting involves allowing natural products, both animal and plant, to decompose and create humus which can be used in place of chemical fertilizer. SUPA-4 using a combination of ordinary plants, what many would call weeds growing in the wild, to make a powder that effectively wards off food pests such as weevils. Both methods can be labour-intensive, but in an economically difficult time, labour is often preferable to having to pay high prices for what nature has provided free of charge.
You speak of introducing composting. Is this not an old technology?
Yes, it is, but unfortunately it has not been used for many years, and for young farmers, it is not something they have known because they have grown up with chemical fertilizer. So they have to both experience how to do composting and also to see how it can make a difference to the soil.
Does composting actually work?
Yes, it works. Comparing two crops of maize, for example, where one used compost and the other chemical fertilizer, it is easy to note that the one using compost looks more healthy and produces a rich harvest. In addition, composting puts nutrients back into the soil, thus it is not needed yearly whereas fertilizer adds no nutrients to the soil.
Do you advocate then for only compost?
No, we do not, for a number of reasons. Many farmers are not able to have enough compost to use for all the area which they have farmed; many do not have the raw ingredients in sufficient quantity to produce good compost. Therefore we also teach farmers how to use chemical fertilizer in the best way possible. However, we continue to encourage them, especially the women, to use compost as much as possible because they can get a good yield despite the fact that they generally do not have the same access to funds as the men and therefore find it more difficult to buy chemical fertilizer.
What is this SUPA-4 you speak of?
SUPA-4 is a powder made up of equal portions of three ‘weeds’ which are dried and another portion of ground hot pepper. These four, when mixed, are spread or mixed in with crops to ward off destructive pests.
What makes this SUPA-4 special?
First of all, it is locally available. Once a farmer learns how to make it, that farmer can find all the ingredients locally. A second aspect is that the mixture is not poisonous. When chemical insecticide such as is available in the market here is used on crops, e.g., a bag of beans, those beans cannot be used for months until the effect of the poison is gone. With SUPA-4, all that is needed is to wash the beans. They can be eaten on the same day as the powder was used. Washing cleanses it away, and there is no poison residue to remain.
Is this SUPA-4 available in the market?
No, it is not in the market. There are people who have learned how to make it on their own, but it is not yet produced in commercial quantities.
In the heading, you mentioned organic farming and the earth. Why did you join the two?
All farmers know instinctively how important nature is for farming: the soil, the rain, the sun, the seasons, etc. But at times, in the everyday struggle for livelihood, we forget that there is a balance and order in everything. If we do not keep that balance and give nature the proper care, we will experience many bad effects. E.g., if we continue to cut trees without planting, soon the soil becomes hardened by the hot sun, top soil is washed away by wind and heavy rains, and the heat is not absorbed by trees so we experience hot temperatures. If we are in an area where there are trees, immediately we can feel the coolness created in such a place by the shade of the trees. Organic farming tries to maintain the balance between our needs and the needs of the earth.