Appeal: The revolutionary human compost that has changed the face of farming in Mozambique

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The Independent Online

So remote and impoverished is the province of Niassa after decades of colonial neglect and civil war, that some locals describe it as Mozambique's Siberia. Yet the village of Matimangwe, 2,300 miles from the capital Maputo, is a place where the demands of beating hunger and disease have merged with innovation to dramatically transform organic agricultural practices.

So remote and impoverished is the province of Niassa after decades of colonial neglect and civil war, that some locals describe it as Mozambique's Siberia. Yet the village of Matimangwe, 2,300 miles from the capital Maputo, is a place where the demands of beating hunger and disease have merged with innovation to dramatically transform organic agricultural practices.

At the centre of this transformation is the EcoSan, a latrine system in which human waste is harnessed into a compost that villagers say is 100 per cent more effective than conventional fertilisers in ensuring sizeable harvests.

When WaterAid, through Estamos, its water and sanitation partner in Niassa, introduced the idea of ecological sanitation to Joaquim Ajibo, he and many villagers in Matimangwe were sceptical. They thought it tantamount to eating their own faeces and drinking their own urine.

But as Mr Ajibo and others realised the benefits of the safe handling of excreta, their doubts disappeared. He said: "The latrine compost is far more effective than the artificial fertilisers which are too expensive anyway and beyond our reach."

Mr Ajibo, 27, vividly recounts growing up in a village amid daily deaths and despair from disease and a lack of proper nutrition, sanitation and clean water. That was until WaterAid and Estamos introduced the concept of ecological sanitation to the sprawling village of more than 2,500 people, helping to revolutionise organic farming.

It took a £10 investment to build Mr Ajibo's EcoSan, half of which was donated by WaterAid via Estamos in the form of cement and a plastic sheet. The remainder was Mr Ajibo's contribution in the form of bamboo poles and traditional ropes he fetched from the bush to complete his latrine.

On completion of the EcoSan, all the human waste excreted into the pit latrine by his family and other villagers became properly managed resources that put the village on the road to sustainable food sufficiency and development. Diseases spawned by the stinking, fly-infested traditional latrines were consigned to the past.

Harnessing the latrine compost is a simple matter. Once a hand-dug latrine is filled and soil and ash are added, it is covered for up to eight months while the family moves on to the next pit.

During the composting process, harmful pathogens in the faeces die off due to lack of moisture. What remains is a rich humus which is used in the fields to boost food production.

Mr Ajibo is proud of how the EcoSan has transformed his life. He said: "It's properly covered and attracts no flies and bugs. It offers good sanitation and if properly managed it virtually means no diseases here.

"There has been a marked improvement in diseases caused by improper sanitation since we introduced the latrine."

He says the greatest benefit is the value that the latrine has brought to agriculture, by dramatically increasing harvests, as better quality crops are produced from the rich nutrients in the compost.

Omar Salimo, Mr Ajibo's partner in a farming association of 50 villagers, said: "Maize, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers particularly do extremely well under this kind of composite. Once the soil has been well fed with the compost, these crops just spring up from the soil and grow very fast. It is truly amazing."

Before the introduction of the system, the association could barely produce a harvest to feed their families from the four hectares they tilled, using artificial fertilisers. But thanks to the human waste compost, their holding is now 14 hectares of high value and quality crops using humus from the 20 latrines that WaterAid has helped to build.

The benefits are clear to see. Lush green leaves of maize and lettuce blanket vast swathes of earth where the compost has been used. Where it had not, crops had wilted into a pale yellow colour with no hope of recovery.

Mr Salimo said: "We are now not only able to produce quality crops for our subsistence, we are able to sell the extra ones and raise money to sink wells for clean drinking water and buy school materials like books and pens to help our children go to school."

Chief Bonoman Oman's goal is now to ensure that a latrine is built for each of the families in his village. "Our goal is more latrines - no deaths, more food," Mr Oman said.

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