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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 13:56 GMT
Nigeria's dirty business
Dumping ground in Kano
Human excrement is dumped in the open
By Sam Olukoya in Kano

Human excrement has become a precious commodity in Kano, the commercial capital of northern Nigeria and one of the largest cities in the country.


We smell it, but we try to bear it

Trader Isa Idi
Here there are people who make a living selling it and there are of course ready buyers who get full value for their money.

Many people use pit toilets in their houses, and when they fill up, the human waste is emptied into drums.

After that, pick-up trucks transport the drums to the outskirts of the town, where the human waste is emptied from the drums into the open.

All day, one pick-up truck after another comes to deposit its contents, but at night, the scenario is different.

Traders

People who trade in human excrement such as Isa Idi come to collect the foul-smelling substance.

Isa Idi on a donkey
Isa Idi delivers waste to farmers
"We collect the excrement here for sale. When we collect it, we sell it for money and we collect the money. We sell a measure for between 50 and 60 naira (about 50-60 cents) and collect the money," he said.

Donkeys play an important role in this trade. The traders stockpile the human waste on their backs for the long journey to the market.

The market here means villages outside Kano, where peasant farmers who cannot afford the cost of other forms of fertiliser use human excrement as an alternative.

Husaini Audu, a peasant farmers in the village of Bunduawa, buys human waste for use on their farms. He says this makes his crops grow better.

"Human waste is very good for farming. I say this because people apply it on their farms and we see the result.

"For example, you can see that farm there, they applied it on the farm, but they did not apply it on this one. You can see that, that farm is more productive than this one here, the crops there are growing better. This is how we judge its effectiveness."

Stench

The cost of human waste, though, is not immune from inflationary trends he says.

Crops in Bunduawa
The finished product: Healthy crops in Bunduawa
"The price has been going up because the traders go through a lot of hardship before they can collect it and bring it here," he said.

One hardship the traders go through is the stench they are confronted with when they collect the human waste from the dump sites.

I asked Isa Idi whether those who come here have lost their sense of smell.

"We smell it. We smell it, but we try to bear it," he laughed.

Anyone like Isa Idi who can bear the stench will go laughing to the bank for, despite the stench and the rising cost, the farmers still find the commodity far cheaper and more readily available than other forms of fertiliser.

The poor disposal of human waste in Kano guarantees a steady supply of the commodity to the farmers.

More harm than good

But environmentalists and health experts, such as Doifie Ola of Environmental Rights Action, says this poor disposal system in the city is doing more harm than good.

"It is wrong at this stage of our nation's history that you have such a crude method of waste disposal, giving rise to such hazards like dysentery" he said.

"Humanity has grown over the years and at each stage, man has found a way to domesticate nature and advances have been made, you will expect that a town as civilised as Kano ought to have reached that level of advancement."

For now, the buying and selling of human waste in Kano continues.

It is likely that someday, a better waste disposal method will be found.

When this happens, it is sad to imagine that people like Isa Idi, the trader will be out of a job while farmers like Husaini Audu will have nothing to use on their farms.

See also:

30 Jul 99 | Africa
Children high on sewage
02 Oct 00 | Africa
Dirty protest at Ghanaian paper
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


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