Improving natural resources and ecosystem services

Fertilizer pellets made from processed human waste. Bangladesh: Neil Palmer/IWMI

When waste becomes an asset

CGIAR is working to develop solutions that reduce urbanization’s impact on ecosystems, including downstream rivers and aquifers, by safely converting human waste into a resource that benefits farmers, improves sanitation and reduces methane emissions. CGIAR staff helped introduce the first large-scale plant that converts fecal sludge, rich in nutrients and organic matter, to fertilizer. Situated in Accra, Ghana, this public-private partnership will use 12,600 m3 of organic waste a year to produce 500 tonnes of fertilizer powder and pellets for agriculture, under the trademark ‘Fortifer’. To meet different crop and soil demands, Fortifer can be enriched with various nutrients. Fortifer is a safe and officially permitted product, giving similar or higher yields than inorganic fertilizers, while also maintaining soil health. Market research revealed that there would be strong demand for such an organo-mineral fertilizer among farmers, far beyond West Africa.

Zero-till wheat reduces inputs and raises farmers’ incomes in South Asia 

Sowing wheat directly into unplowed rice fields increases productivity, while using less energy and irrigation water. Working with the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia, CGIAR has been promoting this zero tillage method in India. A recent study showed that farmers in Haryana state can save approximately US$79/ha and increase net revenues by $97/ha using the technique. Another study, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, showed that zero tillage produced an average yield gain of 498 kg/ha (19%) over conventionally sown wheat. Wide-scale adoption of zero tillage could play a major role in making Bihar self-sufficient in wheat.

Monitoring deforestation

Terra-i is an open source, online system developed by CGIAR and partners, which combines satellite images and number-crunching to track deforestation in near real-time. With images updated every 16 days, it can distinguish between recentand historical deforestation back to 2004, giving an accurate picture of forest clearance and the massive carbon dioxide emissions this generates. It is also helping policymakers and scientists to identify different drivers of deforestation, from crop and animal agriculture to mining, road building and urbanization. A team of US scientists used Terra-i to identify anomalies in deforestation trends to support claims that drug traffickers in Central America were buying and clearing areas of forest, and then selling them, as a way of laundering money. Terra-i has been adopted by the Peruvian government as its official deforestation early warning system. Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are expected to be early adopters of the system in Southeast Asia.

Feeding animals with climate-smart Brachiaria grass 

Brachiaria is a tropical grass that is valuable as animal fodder, with the positive side effects of reducing nitrous oxide production from pastures and nitrate pollution of groundwater. A major CGIAR project developed Brachiaria varieties that tolerate drought and waterlogging. The benefit from biological nitrification inhibition (BNI) in soil from older pastures of Brachiaria humidicola grass, improved the grain yield and nitrogen use efficiency of the subsequent maize crop in field studies in Colombia. Integrated breeding programs supported by the private sector resulted in improved climate-smart Brachiaria hybrids being planted on over 650,000 ha in some 50 countries, mostly in Latin America, but also in East Africa and Southeast Asia.