100% recycled: Our work on irrigation water

Head of Business Development Tycho Vermeulen has been working closely with the Safi Sana team in Ghana to ensure that there is a clear market for the water produced in our factory.

Safi Sana is well on the way to ensuring that 100% of the waste we collect in our factory is recycled into useful end-products. With the solid matter being turned into natural gas and electricity, and the leftovers into compost, we still needed to find a sustainable use for the water produced in our factory. Our program with Via Water helped us to develop a suitable concept, while the Vitol Foundation has been helping us to devise a way to re-use this water as irrigation water for the local farmers.

Irrigation water is a challenge in many developing countries, including in the delta area of Ashaiman. Many ditches contain waste water from poor sanitation or due to waste being dumped upstream. This water is then used by farmers, who scoop water from a ditch over the crop using a bucket, for manual irrigation. The work is labor-intensive, ineffective, and leads to high risks of food poisoning. Helping the growers with clean irrigation water not only increases their yield, but also gives them more time to organize their supply chain, reach more customers and generate more income.

Helping the growers with clean irrigation water not only increases their yield, but also gives them more time to organize their supply chain, reach more customers and generate more income.

Just like our compost, the irrigation water produced in our factory has real potential to improve farmers’ production. The water contains a number of plant nutrients, so when it is used together with our compost, farmers will only have to apply some additional nitrogen and side-elements to produce a healthy crop. This concept needed to be tested and proven in the field before being rolled out to farmers, so we planted a test field and monitored growth and yield to calculate the eventual business case for both growers and Safi Sana. Our test field was planted in February and has yielded its first crop.

With regard to the first lessons learned, while the cultivation has gone as expected, there are still two main areas that we need to pay close attention to. Firstly, on ensuring that all the pathogens in the water have been killed; secondly, on refining our irrigation technology to make it more robust. Slow sand filtration is proven to be a successful method if done properly, and our first setup was likely not ‘slow’ enough. By using finer sand, and possibly more filters, we can make the water stay in the sand for longer to ensure it is safe to use.

We will continue working on these issues over the coming months before we scale up. Once we have done so successfully (and combined a bit of treated rain water with the water produced from our factory), our factory in Ashaiman will be able to service 1.5 hectares with clean, reliable irrigation water.