'Future of fertilisers is in the loo'

Human urine the answer to rising prices, depleting raw material reserves  

The discussion over the use of human urine in agriculture may have provided comic relief during the recent Legislature session, where legislators made fun of the very concept.

But for soil scientists and those working in the fields of food safety and water conservation, the subject assumes prime importance, especially because of the growing concerns over the nation’s food security.

With fertiliser prices sky-rocketing, added to the depleting reserves of raw materials, use of human urine/liquid fertiliser is the way forward, says, Dr C A Srinivasamurthy, department of Soil Sciences and Agricultural Chemistry, University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Bangalore.

Studies across the world have shown that use of human urine in agriculture has provided yield which is on a par or higher than the yield from the use of chemical fertilisers. Human urine has appreciable amounts of nutrients – Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potash (npk), which are extensively used in agriculture.

Srinivasamurthy and his research associates, who put this concept to test, have established that human urine is also more effective than cattle urine in agriculture.

With funds from Arghyam (Rs 23 lakh), the Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden and UNICEF, New Delhi, the University has been carrying out field studies on the short term and long term impacts of the concept since 2006. The department - which started its research on a one-acre farmland in Doddaballapur - was rewarded with a bountiful yield of banana and maize.

Subsequent studies on 10 crops in the years 2009-10 and 2010-11 have shown that use of human urine produced better results than chemical fertilisers and cattle urine.

Experiments conducted

The experiment was conducted on crops like finger millet, aerobic rice, tomato, ladies’ fingers, brinjal, cow pea, soya bean, field bean and French beans, in the university premises. The scientists collected urine in their own department by modifying the toilets, apart from using cans of urine collected in a school in Doddaballapur.

Dr Srinivasamurthy said just 30 pc of the urine from the Indian population can help the nation save hundreds of crores of rupees, as it would be utilising 7.8 million tonnes less of fertilisers.

In March, the varsity department will moot this concept before agricultural officers and scientists during the Zonal Research Extension Programme and they will decide its future.
Srinivasamurthy said a change in mindsets and attitudes is crucial.

He said that though Nitrogen and Potash could be harnessed from the atmosphere and sea water, respectively, harnessing Phosphorous had posed a challenge.

“India has low grade rock phosphate reserves and it is going to run out of concentrated forms of Phosphorous in about 50 years. Added to this, rock phosphate has multiple uses. Also, large deposits of phosphate rocks and other sources are located in politically sensitive spots in the world. The real issue of food security in future will be dictated by global Phosphorous trade,” he said, adding that depletion of world rock phosphate reserves and increasing fertiliser prices will force us to adopt new holistic sanitation concepts.

The major challenge now is to convince the government about this concept. “Unfortunately, the government hasn’t been too receptive of this idea yet,” he added.

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