What if global hunger could be alleviated just by wasting less and finding value in what is tossed out as garbage? In Ethiopia, SNV is working towards just this, whilst also helping smallholder farmers develop commercial opportunities to reap more money from organic waste.

According to FAO, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the global volume of food waste is estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes, and 1.4 billion hectares of land—28 per cent of the world's agricultural area—is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted. With so much effort and energy invested in growing and producing food, it seems sensible that every part of what is produced can be utilised in some way. Under the Graduation with Resilience to Achieve & Sustain Development (GRAD) programme, SNV is linking red chili pepper farmers with National Fertiliser Manufacturing Plc to use farm waste and produce a valuable organic fertiliser.

National Fertiliser Manufacturing Plc converts green waste from state farms: damaged fruits and vegetables from bulk buyers, husks from coffee processors, wood waste from producers, and residues from tanneries and abattoirs located around Addis Ababa. The result is a fertiliser that is a greener alternative to typical chemical fertilisers - urea and Di-ammonium phosphate (DAP).

“It’s a great example of waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill being put to good use,” says Rutta Firdissa, SNV’s horticulture value chain advisor. “Nutrients get recycled, emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced, more parts of foods being grown are used while, at the same time, proving to be a viable, commercial business.

Under the brand name ‘ORGA’, the organic fertiliser tests high in the valuable nutrients needed in soil for farmers to get good yields: phosphorous, nitrogen, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese and sodium.  It also helps improve the texture and moisture-holding capacity, air circulation and fertility of the soil.

GRAD is a five-year, USAID-funded project led by CARE Ethiopia. It aims to increase by $365 per year the income of 50,000 chronically food-insecure households, and thus graduate them out of the government’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) category. SNV provides technical assistance on value chain development and demand-oriented agricultural extension systems. Red pepper is one of the value chains selected, and in high demand as it is an essential ingredient to Ethiopia’s popular dish berberé. 

Nearly 8 million PSNP households have been receiving government transfers of cash or food during dry-weather periods since the programme’s inception in 2005. While the emergency relief saves millions of lives, it has failed to protect and support livelihoods and assets. Therefore, the government set up GRAD. SNV supports households in two regions and five target woredas (districts) to earn income from the production and marketing of red pepper thereby helping the PSNP households graduate to better self-sufficiency.

“Most of the unions and co-operatives tasked by the government with the distribution of fertilisers are located in productive woredas, not in the food-insecure woredas with high numbers of PSNP households”, says Rutta Firdissa. “But, also, ORGA fertiliser distribution has its limits. The raw material is found in Addis Ababa, so that’s where the company established its factory, again not close to our working areas”.

To boost the value chain in food insecure areas, SNV has provided various platforms for National Fertiliser to promote its product, and provided technical advice to demonstrate the effectiveness of ORGA fertiliser on red pepper farm fields.  “The results are convincing,” notes Firdissa, “but now we need to get more farmers enthusiastic before the local agro-input dealers will start supplying it. That’s our next challenge.”

Food production starts with good soil, and quality organic fertilisers enrich and nourish soils more effectively and sustainably than chemicals. “We need to start taking care of our soils which take care of us,” Firdissa said, noting the UN has designated 2015 as International Year of Soil. “Red pepper has a good market, but production needs to be boosted in sustainable ways. Producing organic compost from its waste, and then using it to enrich the soil for better yields, is a good example of reducing food waste, increasing farm income, and helping people get out of chronic poverty.”

Root to stem, turning waste to worth