Good sh*t: how human poo transforms agriculture and preserves the environment

by Amref Health Africa

Upon arrival at the faecal sludge treatment plant in Busia, Kenya, we are greeted by rows of neatly aligned brown mounds of organic material sheltered beneath a wooden structure. At first glance, it looks like several tons of rich gardening soil are stored here; nobody would think for a second that what lies before us is, in fact, dried poo!

These brown mounds are the final phase of the human waste treatment and transformation process undertaken at the Busia plant. The fecal matter has initially been collected from various sites including hotels, schools and households within the town and surrounding counties. Upon arrival at the plant, it has undergone a series of treatments, passing through three specially designed vertical and horizontal-flow wetland systems that decontaminate and separate the liquid and solid components.

Solid waste  (food and vegetable scraps) is delivered at the Busia plant by the County Government of Busia after having been collected from local markets and other garbage disposal points.

In the final phase, the treated waste has been mixed with other organic municipal waste, through a process known as co-composting. “We collect fruit and vegetable scraps from local markets and other garbage collection points twice a week and then process it together with the solid human waste, all this organic matter then decomposes, dries and matures over several months”, explains Charlotte Mong’ina Maua, who oversees the plant for FINISH Mondial, a Dutch Government-funded programme, in collaboration with the County Government of Busia. The final product, a nutrient-rich compost, will serve as organic fertilizer in agriculture.

Global momentum grows for the circular sanitation economy

What is happening in Busia is emblematic of a broader trend gaining traction in recent years. Transforming human waste into a valuable resource for the agricultural and energy sector is experiencing an unprecedented boom, to the point that some dub it a new multi-billion-dollar economic opportunity. “Every day, vast amounts of human waste are just carelessly dumped without giving further thought to its potential. We have thought of faecal matter as waste material for so long, it’s quite a revolution to see it as a resource”, comments Pamela Bundi, who heads up the FINISH Mondial programme in Kenya.

In Kenya, we still have many non-sewered areas, which would particularly benefit from this type of collection and transformation of human waste

Globally, it is estimated that human waste has the potential to provide 50 million tons of fertiliser, which would account for 25% of the current global demand for fertilizers. “Co-compost is a climate-smart technology and contributes to greater food security. It has been proven to enhance soil nutrient and water retention, thereby improving soil fertility, without relying on harmful chemical fertilizers”, adds Bundi.

There are other environmental benefits too: when human poo is not stored or collected properly it emits methane and nitrous oxide, gases which are a major contributor to climate change. A recent meta-analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from non-sewered sanitation systems shows just how damaging unsafe sanitation practices are to the environment.

Workers at the Busia plant piling co-compost into mounds and packaging for sale.

Expanding Horizons: From Farmers’ Schools to Research Centers and Beyond Busia

In Busia, the plant has already treated and transformed 997 tons of human waste in its first two years of operation. Although the co-compost is currently utilized solely on the adjacent experimental farm, plans are underway to market and distribute the product commercially. Charlotte Mong’ina Maua is enthusiastic about the prospects: “The co-compost product has been tested twice in both long and short rainy seasons and applied on a variety of crops, with a wonderful harvest. Sensitization is ongoing through site demonstrations, farmers’ field schools, and exhibitions. We are currently in the final phases of the certification process and then the product will be on the market.”

FINISH Mondial plans to replicate the model of the Busia plant in other regions of Kenya and beyond. “The Busia facility was designed with maximum cost-efficiency in mind, using readily available low-cost technologies, which makes the design highly replicable”, explains Pamela Bundi, “In Kenya, we still have many non-sewered areas, which would particularly benefit from this type of collection and transformation of human waste.”

In the meantime, the Busia plant, in addition to its ongoing operational functions, will serve as a learning platform, showcasing its innovative model and hosting training for a diverse set of stakeholders. It could also soon couple as a research centre, further enhancing its role in promoting and advancing the circular sanitation economy.

The Busia faecal sludge treatment and transformation plant is a public-private partnership between FINISH MONDIAL Kenya, the County Government of BusiaBusia Water and Sewerage Services Company, the local Solid waste and Fecal sludge collectors and the international NGO’s WASTE and AMREF.


Grace Okwisa

Content by:Anja Bruschweiler

The article was first published on

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