Of organic waste, environment and food sufficiency

·Promoting sustainable development goals in Ghana

Of the courses that I took in my first year university education in the United States – in the early 1970s – one in particular resonated with me. Titled “Living in The Environment”, the seminar was such an eye opener that I kept the textbook which cost US$15.55 in those days. In a topic, “Ecological Waste Management and Recycling,” the author, G. Tyler Miller, Jr., noted: “Instead of overloading aquatic systems [with] rich sewage effluents, these plant nutrients should be returned to the land (forests, parks, and croplands) or to aquaculture ponds as fertilizer.”

Miller noted that waterless toilets not only saved water but also reduced the need for more and more expensive sewage treatment plants. He cited “the Clivus Multrum waterless toilet” widely used in Sweden which uses bacteria to break down human and kitchen wastes which form a dry, odourless, solid material that can be removed every year or two and returned to the soil as fertilizers. [The solid waste is collected through a structure with a latch in the basement floor].


Ephraim Amu the agriculturist

In the context of fertilizers, I recalled the biography of Ephraim Amu, titled “AMU The African” authored by Fred Agyemang. While Amu was known famously as a composer and a musical genius, little did we know that he was a keen agriculturist at the Akropong Presbyterian Training College. The biographer noted that Amu used “unorthodox” means to increase the yield. The author wrote: “being the tutor in charge of agriculture and college gardening, [Amu] would ask the Kru boys who removed the college ‘night soil’ or toilet pails to put the filled pails at a place from where the students could carry them away to manure the college farms.”

Amu’s manuring method “increased the output of food for the college garden. More cassava, beans, pepper, bananas, garden eggs, spinach, cocoyams and yams were grown and harvested by the students year after year. More ‘operation feed yourself’ farming effort was encouraged and this increased the output of foodstuff at the Akropong College in the 1930s.”

Kweku Anno, KNUST alumni

Properly managing our organic waste to dramatically enhance our environment and provide vital by-products for agriculture brings to mind the agricultural scientist, Ing Kweku Anno, educated at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). He once wrote: “Unfortunately the reality now is that most of the organic waste we generate from our homes, offices, workplaces, farms, factories and markets end up in our drains and open spaces and subsequently washed into rivers, streams, lakes and lagoons.

“This accumulation of organic waste in our water bodies lead to excessive aquatic plants and algae growth. Over time, decaying aquatic plants and algae eventually kill off the waterbody ecologically. Already, many streams, rivers, lakes and lagoons near our urban areas are dead. Many water sources and water bodies within the landmarks between Accra and Tema are dead!”

On the larger national scale, he lamented: “Portions of major rivers running through major cities have become sewers. The environs of the Densu Estuary have become a waste dump with waste directly poured into the lagoon and mangroves! One can now see leachate from old dumps around Weija and Oblogo in the Ga South flowing directly into the Densu River downstream of the Weija Lake.”

Save the environment

Concerned about the rapid destruction of the environment, he said: “Waste is dumped indiscriminately and when the rains come, they are washed into our water bodies. Additionally, faeces from septic tanks and other traditional pit latrines are being indiscriminately disposed into water bodies. There are many dysfunctional sewage treatment systems in Ghana. Some major institutions like hospitals, universities, hotels and high occupancy offices have their waste running directly into the nearest drain and/or water body untreated. The use of septic tanks also contributes to this problem because when emptied their ‘cargo’ is dumped untreated.”

He explained that “Organic waste everywhere is constantly in a process of decomposition into its basic elements of water, carbon dioxide and nutrients which is recycled to plants and animal life via the nutrient and carbon cycles. We live in the tropics where the combination of high temperature and moisture speed up the decomposition of organic matter; and the recycling of nutrients is fastest. Unfortunately, our drainage system mainly of gutters transports both liquid waste and runoff including all the decomposed organic matter into the nearest low land which ends up in our water bodies, thus disrupting the natural nutrient cycle.”

Anno’s practical products

Anno cautioned that since Ghana’s vegetation is lush during the rainy season, “This might lead us to think our land is fertile. The irony here is that any attempt at farming on these same lands yield very little. Our farmers remain extremely poor and the youth are abandoning farming in droves. Many attempts by all our governments since independence at improving farming have all been failures. State Farms established soon after independence were all monumental failures. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were policies in place to encourage senior public servants to venture into commercial farming by making subsidised farming equipment and other inputs available to them.”

Anno’s BIOFILCOM’s research and practical efforts has resulted in various methods and products that convert household and industrial wastes into useful products that sustain the environment while adding yield to any agricultural effort including horticulture and fish farming. Note two of his environmentally safe designs in the pictures.

treated domestic water
Treated domestic waste water for vegetation
stand alone toilet
Efficient stand-alone toilet systems

[To be continued]

 Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

A happy healthy new year to all teachers.

· Some contributions from readers in year 2017

Teachers training to prepare electronic lesson notes 

Happy New Year to all readers of this column, and many thanks for the feedback and comments. I particular appreciate contributions from readers who stepped away from the crowd into that intimate space where, driven by the need to share insights, have on occasion offered their personal experiences. The following contributions by readers are noteworthy:

Resistance from parents

“I believe our leaders and players in education will make notes to formulate policies that will steer us from where we are. I work with World Education as a District Coordinator overseeing Complementary Basic Education (CBE) Project in the Sene East District of Brong Ahafo Region. This project targets children who are in the age range of 8 – 14 yrs.

“Even after we have taken these children – who are school drop outs – through 9 months of preparation to get them transition to formal schools, we are met fiercely by the resistance of some parents that they are only to help them trade, farm and fish. As for formal schooling, it is not part of the reason for their birth. At a time you are discussing 4th industrial revolution in digital technology, there are some teachers, pupils and students who are clearly not aware where the world has gotten to.”

Using smartphones in schools

“Thanks, for your contribution to Ghana’s educational system. I agree with you that the use of smart phones and tablets in schools will enhance teaching and learning and reduce the burden on teachers. Fifteen year olds in the US are developing apps and employing adults. We don’t have to stifle the creativity of our teenagers.”

On that same subject, another reader wrote: “Good morning: my take is that teachers may be disconcerted with the amount of knowledge available to students per smartphones which they themselves don’t command. I however think the issue of equity is real for rural schools. How do we address this divide? That said, I don’t think our youth should be left behind in this digital age. In any case a good number of these kids already own smartphones. Will the provision of good computer labs help?”

How to handle mistakes

“When I started using pen in my primary school, and I made a mistake, I would try hard to erase it before submitting it to my teacher. Sometimes, I used chalk to clean my mistake but it later reappeared. So I began to use saliva; it worked, but only to leave holes in my books. My teachers then used to beat me for being outrageously dirty. But all I tried to do was cover my error.

“One day, a kind hearted teacher who loved me so much called me aside and he said, ‘Anytime you make a mistake, just cross it and move on’. He said further, ‘Trying to erase your mistake would only damage your book for nothing’. I told him in protest that I didn’t want people to see my mistakes. My loving teacher laughed and said, ‘Trying to erase your mistakes will make more people know about your mess, and the stigma is for life’. Have you made some mistakes in life? Cross it over and move on. Don’t expose yourself by trying to cover your mistakes. Better things are ahead of you. Good Day.”

Weep not. Rejoice

[I recall a column in which I wrote that the very sight of run-down public schools – without suitable toilets for the nation’s children – even in the regional capitals, made me weep. And I asked if this is what Ghana’s so called independence over the past 60 years has come to! Such horrific experiences have brought me to tears. From my village Tutuka school of Class One – in the mid-1950s – to St Peter’s, Kumasi, up to Form Two, there were no toilets. And to think children were still so deprived of the very basic human needs! A reader must have felt my pain, when they wrote:]

“Weep not my brother. Each word you write etches your soul into the eternal fabric of our national consciousness. So rejoice I say. Rejoice!” [Frankly, that assurance was a great relief. We are only human, aren’t we?]

Empathy for the victims

“Thank you for this straight forward plea for empathy for the victims of Ghanaian greed and misery. I know how hard it is for African politicians and their bureaucrats to take the plight of our youth and disadvantaged groups in our society seriously! We shall continue to patiently remind them until we die! I know why you continue to write. It’s one of the few options left for compassionate people.”

Aloof leaders

“A very big problem affecting this country is that most of our leaders send their wards to high schools abroad without even visiting the schools in this country. They visit the schools occasionally (to be tokenly visible on the first day at school, speech and prize giving day, world teacher’s day, etc). So how can they identify the obstacles affecting the schools? They don’t copy what they experience better into our country to foster improvement and development.”

Need for electronic lesson notes, etc

I recall the benefits of my first personal computer in the mid-1980s when I taught in Los Angeles, California. Not only did it help with my schemes of work / weekly forecasts, and lesson notes, the ability to save and retrieve work effortlessly made me a much better and enthusiastic teacher. And the results showed when I was asked to coordinate a Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) program.


The author leading a teacher training session

In training teachers, I stress that if computers were being used by some teachers as far back as the 1980s, what excuse do we have to not use them today, in this digital age?

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com