Ghetto youth turns human waste into compost manure

Saturday March 27 2021

Adam Kakooza mixing the manure with rice husks. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE

By George Katongole

Kamwokya is one of Kampala’s most notorious slums, a place for drugs such as marijuana and unsightly shanties with unhygienic conditions. 

But there are solutions, as a youth group in Kamwokya is demonstrating. Kamwokya slum is not only congested with people, but also their garbage.
Adam Kakooza is the team leader of Innoveight Hub, a social enterprise with development and entrepreneurship models engineering sustainability practices by using technology and innovation to empower young people.

According to Kakooza, this means generating a lot of humanure which finds its way into public space.
“With this high number of people there is no proper way of handling waste. You find that everyone dumps waste everywhere which creates health effects,” he says. Kakooza says the garbage is a serious public health threat that leads to diarrhoea, cholera and food poisoning because many slum dwellers eat on the streets. This situation led Kakooza and eight friends to do something to clean up the human waste which is normally disposed of in water channels.

“We saw an opportunity to make our community clean and also create employment among ourselves,” Kakooza said.

Birth of an idea
Humanure can increase agricultural yields and improve soil condition by providing nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in a less soluble form than farmyard manure and artificial fertilisers. Humanure are also preferred because they remain in the soil for longer and are less prone to leaching into groundwater or run-off. The manure also contains more organic matter than artificial fertilisers.

The community composting project in Kyebando-Kisalosalo is part of an initiative aimed at providing skills training in plastic recycling, waste management, urban gardening, aquaponics, and other activities to create income generation for unemployed youth living in slums. 


According to Kakooza, the idea started in March 2019 when GiveLove Foundation trained an Innoveight team member in Karamoja on Container-based Sanitation (CBS) approaches, including organic waste and humanure composting. Kakooza says that this was an appropriate solution to pit-latrines in an area such as Kamwokya where the water levels are high.

GiveLove later installed a compost toilet system at Lisa’s Care, a residential place for disabled polio survivors in Kamwokya. Based on the success of the project and high demand for the compost toilets, GiveLove expanded its skills training programme to Kyebando where they constructed a second community-managed compost centre at Your Space compound in June 2019.

Later that year, GiveLove trained 20 youth in compost site management. Kakooza says the compost teams have composted more than six tonnes of compost collected from Lisa’s Care, Ghetto Research Lab, City Future Gardeners — a community-based gardening and recycling project, Your Space Community Centre — which operates two public toilets and Colombia Base — a group of community activists collaborating with GiveLove.

Kakooza now has 20 youth directly employed in the waste collection and curing process.
Once collected, the manure is brought to the community composting site in Kyebando for processing.

Composting process
According to research, human waste can spread harmful diseases. To Kakooza, this demands careful handling of the humanure.


Human waste mixed with sawdust delivered at the community composting centre in Kyebando-Kisalosalo to make manure. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE

He says the manure is carefully transported to the composting site in containers without spillage before they are emptied into a large compost bin. Technicians compost the humanure by integrating the mass with dry cover material. 

A thick layer of dry grass is added on top of the fresh material after all of the containers are emptied to act as a “biological roof” to keep flies out and keep the moisture inside the pile. All of the black water used for cleaning the containers is added to the compost bin as well as food scraps and kept at a stable temperature of about 35-40 0C.

“When setting up a compost pile, the main concern is to prevent groundwater and surface pollution from leaching. The composting cages are constructed in a way that prevents any runoff of black water,” he says.

Regular monitoring of temperatures is carried out by taking records that include the date when the piles were opened and when they will be closed.
The treatment accomplishes two things: it makes the sludge stinks less and it reduces the amount of pathogens in the bio-solid. 

There are understandable concerns from farmers and consumers about pathogens, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and other hazardous organic chemicals in human waste. 
The majority of nutrients in human excreta are in urine – if uncontaminated by faeces it’s relatively sterile and can easily be used on crops with little treatment.

The idea is in the toilet.
According to Kakooza, compost toilets function like a conventional sit-down flush toilet except that the toilet user covers their waste with sawdust after use instead of flushing with water. Other cover materials can be, rice hulls, or sugarcane bagasse. Small 20-litre compost toilets are fitted inside the toilets.

Mature compost

When the compost pile is in balance, it creates an ideal environment for beneficial microorganisms and fungi to flourish. 
Such a composting process works like digesters because microorganisms compete and feed off each other.

This composting process and metabolic activity of the microorganisms generates high heat levels that can reach 65.50 Celsius and higher. This process is called hot composting.
He says that the first priority is to eliminate disease-causing pathogens to make it safe to use in agriculture or even landscaping.

“Immature compost produces phytotoxins that are toxic to plants. Good quality compost takes time to mature and cure,” he says.

While Kakooza is optimistic of the various benefits the compost has, he is aware that many people would frown at the idea of eating vegetables fertilised with humanure. Public opinion, Kakooza notes, is mixed when it comes to biosolids – but from his experience it is a sustainable approach.

From one pile about one tonne of manure can be harvested. Samples are sold for Shs15,000 for a five-kilogramme pack while 10 kilogrammes go for Shs28,000.
Trials are already underway at KCCA farm Kyanja where the manure is being tested on vegetable production. “We have had a lot of support from farmers during this period,” he says adding that what awaits them is to create awareness and produce safe humanure.

Kakooza says that elsewhere the volume of humanure produced is increasing, making more fertiliser available for agriculture.
“Farmers need more options and this is what we want to do in order to make farming affordable,” he says.