A Chinese firm is poised to begin construction in Uganda on Sukulu Fertilisers, East Africa’s largest organic fertilizer plant (“Uganda to open East Africa’s largest organic fertiliser plant,” 2018). The firm, Guangzhou Dongsong Energy Group, will open the plant in its industrial complex in Uganda’s Tororo District. The firm also won mining rights in the nearby Osukuru Hills where an initial feasibility study suggested that there is over 75 million tons of phosphorite, among other rare earth minerals (“Uganda’s largest mining venture in 30 years to open in October,” 2018).
The Sukulu Fertilisers development has been framed as an initiative to improve Ugandan soil quality, agricultural livelihoods, and food security. There has been some discussion concerning a subsidy program whereby the Ugandan government would offset 50% of the market price of fertilizer produced to make it more affordable for smallholder farms (Musisi, 2018). And interestingly, there is (unpublished) news that the plant has also been purchasing treated sludge from the Lubigi wastewater treatment plant in Kampala, Uganda. The production of excreta-based compost at the scale possible at the Sukulu plant, an estimated 300,000 tons of organic fertilizers per year, would be able to transform the entire country’s feces to a beneficial product.
Ugandan farmers have demonstrated a willingness to pay more for an excreta-based compost than a comparable fertilizer type on the market, and even more, if the excreta-based compost has been certified (Danso, Otoo, Ekere, Ddungu, & Madurangi, 2017). Given the persistence of soil infertility and prolonged drought seasons in Uganda, as well as the fact that 80% of the population depends on small-scale agriculture (Hågerup & Persson, 2018), the accessibility of locally-made, affordable, and high-quality compost represents an incredible opportunity for the improvement of Ugandan agriculture – and perhaps provide a driver for improved sanitation in the country as well.
Cynically, one could suspect that the Chinese firm is more interested in mining – and exporting – the phosphorous reserves. Given the global decline in phosphorous, the plant in Uganda represents a type of security for Chinese agriculture. Optimistically, however, we can say that this new firm heralds the widespread production of excreta-based fertilizer with favorable implications for both sanitation and agriculture.
Danso, G., Otoo, M., Ekere, W., Ddungu, S., & Madurangi, G. (2017). Market Feasibility of Faecal Sludge and Municipal Solid Waste-Based Compost as Measured by Farmers’ Willingness-to-Pay for Product Attributes: Evidence from Kampala, Uganda. Resources, 6(3), 31. https://doi.org/10.3390/resources6030031
Hågerup, T., & Persson, E. (2018). Shit Matters! Assessing sociocultural barriers and opportunities for upscaling adoption of human faeces derived fertilizers in central Uganda. Retrieved from http://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=8946908&fileOId=8949534
Musisi, F. (2018). Sukulu fertilisers set to hit stores soon. Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.monitor.co.ug/Business/Prosper/Sukulu-fertilisers-set-hit-stores-soon/688616-4848328-5ltjyh/index.html
Rose, C., Parker, A., Jefferson, B., & Cartmell, E. (2015). The characterization of feces and urine: A review of the literature to inform advanced treatment technology. Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology, 45(17), 1827–1879. https://doi.org/10.1080/10643389.2014.1000761
Uganda’s largest mining venture in 30 years to open in October. (2018). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://ugbusiness.com/5811/ugandas-largest-mining-venture-in-30-years-to-open-in-october
Uganda to open East Africa’s largest organic fertiliser plant. (2018). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/business/Uganda-Osukuru-organic-fertliser-plant/2560-4680816-44m54dz/index.html
 The estimated fecal dry mass produced per person per day is 128 g (Rose, Parker, Jefferson, & Cartmell, 2015). Multiplied against the estimated population of Uganda (42.86 million in 2017) for a year, this comes out to about 500,000 tons. It can be assumed that there is some (estimated 30%) loss of mass throughout the composting process such that the mass of incoming material is greater than the outcoming material.