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Excessive food waste inspires production of green fertilizers in Botswana

GABORONE, (The Southern African Times) – For this time of the year, Marang Community Junior Secondary School (CJSS) is oddly serene.

The outcome of deserted classrooms, staffrooms and walkways is a deafening silence, a painful reminder that we are living in unprecedented times in which governments find themselves compelled to implement early school closure strategies in the fight against COVID-19.

Other than a handful of goats waiting for Cavin Rowayi to leave his project site so they graze on his trees, there is no sign of life at the rear end of the school. Though the Environmental Club students that usually assist him and his team with producing green compost manure/fertilizers from food waste have since gone on a COVID-19 imposed holiday, Rowayi is not discouraged as he is intent on reducing Botswana’s production of methane gas.

“We are a consuming nation, we eat a lot, we produce a lot of food waste daily from hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and households. The waste management authority cannot cope with collecting waste from our households alone,” said Rowayi, founder of Green Habitat Botswana.

What inspired him to address environmental issues such as climate change and global warming came across on the same day when two landfills were ravaged by fire.

“That got me thinking. I did some research and found out that food waste contributes to methane production which is a greenhouse gas. The research also revealed that this waste can be recycled. That’s when my love for collecting food waste and using it to produce organic manure started,” he explained.

In November last year, his passion project received funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), but production started in January this year, as COVID-19 had delayed the process.

“We have collected close to 2500 kg of food waste from different places in Gaborone so far. And we have received truck loads of landscaping waste from landscaping companies, which we mix with the food waste in our production,” he said, adding that production is underway with the help of the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resource (BUAN), so they are still to harvest.

The large volumes of compost anticipated will be donated to the agriculture department of Marang CJSS, while another batch will be donated to backyard gardeners in the local area through the help of the Village Development Community (VDC).

“This is to promote the use of the organic compost by farmers and other people who are into horticulture. The aim is for local residents and other local citizens to see the worth and value of compost in agriculture and reduce the use of toxic fertilizers,” said Rowayi.

Despite the anticipated success, Cavin Rowayi decried the government’s lack of political will in the role food waste recycling can play in reducing the country’s contribution to global greenhouse gases, and the locals’ inability to realise the worth of food waste.

An interview with Wiston Modise, a professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Botswana, revealed that the weak public-private partnership, the public’s lack of knowledge on the hazardous effects of waste, and the lack of environmental pollution control monitoring and enforcement measures targeting potential producers of waste worsen the issues.

The few laws that are there are not implemented, he said. “A waste recycling industry is also not in place. Having a waste recycling plant can help us know the diversity of waste being recycled.”

As long as this is the case, Botswana is always going to be faced with pollution challenges of litter, fibre, construction remains, rubble, tree cuttings, scrap metals, chemicals, sanitary, clinical and households waste. Uncollected waste tends to find its way into drainage systems, causing sewage flooding into highways, pathways, and public spaces. Waste is hazardous to health and is attributed to issues of low birth rate and cholera, to name a few challenges, in various countries, Modise said.

What worries him even more is the little information available about the quantity of solid and liquid waste produced and processed in the country.

Modise believed there is a need for introducing a comprehensive economic incentive for managing waste in Botswana, in terms of recovery and recycling activities.

To this end, he urged non-governmental organizations, the private sector, scientists, academics and politicians to come together and intervene in a situation that not only affects the environment, but is a threat to health, the economy, wildlife, animals and vegetation. 

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