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Perceptions of farmers towards Treated Sludge (Biosolids): Jordanian Badia case study

Written by Yaman Attar, on 7 April 2021

The application of treated biosolids in agriculture can be an effective measure to fertilize soil in farming communities around the globe. Biosolids are recovered from the sewage treatment process. Science asserts that this material contains nutrients similar to animal manures, consequently having potential to replenish organic matter in the soil. However, due to Jordan’s cultural and social settings, the use of biosolids is not entirely embraced by farmers, deeming biosolids unsafe and carrying a lot of pollutants, according to the study: Farmers’ Attitudes Towards Treated Sludge (Biosolids) use in Agriculture: Evidence from Jordanian Badia, upon which this story was written. The report illustrates farmers’ attitudes towards biosolids and efforts to improve its reputation and promote its use in Jordan.

This story is based on the results of the aforementioned report prepared by the Socio-economic Studies Directorate - National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) in Jordan, in collaboration with the International Center of Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Jordan and based on data provided exclusively by Dr. Boubaker Dhehibi (ICARDA) and Dr. Masnat Al Hiary (NARC) to IHE Delft, examining Al Majeddyeh farming community located in the Jordanian Badia. 

The main report is conducted by Masnat Al Hiary, Boubaker Dhehibi, Ala Al Awaideh, Omamah Al Hadidi, Mira Haddad, and Stefan Strohmeier as part of the project Tracing Soil Amendment Impacts of Processed Wastewater Sludge on the Rehabilitation of Jordan’s Agro-pastoral Areas (TRACE Rehab).

Main findings

To begin, Jordanian legislation forbids the use of biosolids, according to Dr. Dheihibi and Dr. Al Hiary, who also emphasised the importance of collecting additional data on farmers’ perceptions on the use of biosolids which will later aid in developing policy proposals to include scientific data and evidence.

The project TRACE Rehab has conducted soil fertigation experiments in the field with the local community’s active involvement. However, the local fertilizer application was entirely compost-based, used by the vast majority of farmers in the country – thus, no biosolids products were applied in the village. 

Furthermore, caution and product quality assurance are essential to build and maintain trust – scientific evaluation and discussion on potentially harmful effects are essential to continuously enhance and adapt to the safety standards, put by Dr. Strohmeier. He also continues that enhancing the local perception of soil fertility issues depends on local farmers’ openness to producing compost at the Household (HH Compost) and green manure fertilizers. This openness will be measured by an accumulation of reports conducted and to yet to be conducted by TRACE Rehab project.

The study examined the general perception of biosolids of Al Majeddyeh village’s local population, which is primarily a livestock farming community where agriculture is the main work field for most of its residents. Surveys were conducted among 20 local farmers whose collective perception entailed that land application of treated biosolids is harmful, and the majority of the farmers were not in favor of using them for several reasons such as:

1- They mistrust the suitability of treated biosolids.

2- Concerns on the consumed product (transfer of disease), which links farmers’ perception of biosolids with the lack of purity and hygiene, making it, in their view, dangerous to animals who eat the grass and humans who consequently consume animal products. This view, according to Jordanian experts, is highly driven by the Islamic Sharia.

3- Lack of knowledge on biosolids’ properties, advantages and disadvantages of biosolid use in agriculture

4- Farmers refrain from using treated biosolids as they are viewed untrustworthy, next to concerns on the use of these materials in the production of crops for human consumption

5- Livestock, including sheep and goats, do not graze barley in lands treated with biosolids, and they do not eat if there is a smell coming from the material. 

Most farmers who participated in the study have mentioned that factors influencing fertilizer purchasing decisions are the fertilizer’s safety, nutrient content, organic matter, water holding capacity, recommendations from trusted sources, suggested volumes to apply, price of the fertilizer, and knowing someone who used the fertilizer.

Additionally, the survey revealed that all respondents did not use treated biosolids before. In terms of accepting manure mixed with biosolids, most of the respondents refused manure mixed with biosolids, and only 20% accepted this mixture.

Briefly in numbers

In regard to the use of treated biosolid as a soil improver in agricultural land, data shows that 35% of surveyed farmers mention that it definitely does not improve soil, 25% answered ‘No’, 25% ‘do not know’, 10% ‘much’, and 5% ‘very much’.

Sixteen farmers, 80%, did not think that biosolids can be used for all crops, while 20% believed that it can be used for all crops. For ‘how much are they willing to pay for treated biosolids’, 70% selected nothing, 15% will pay 1/4 the price of animal manure, 5% will pay half of the price of animal manure, 5% of respondents will pay the same price as animal manure, and 5% don’t know.

It is essential to point out that the actual work conducted so far within the project is done on the level of rangelands for soil and grazing and has nothing to do with crops.

Scientific evidence and Jordanian lawmakers

Findings presented in this study by the TRACE Rehab project are valuable to Jordanian decision-makers to help the project promote the use of treated biosolid as fertilizers and soil conditioners. The Agriculture and Extension Services in the Jordanian Agriculture Ministry are encouraged to demonstrate a model experimental farm that could be an excellent opportunity for the agro-pastoral communities to see the benefits of treated biosolids in agriculture; Dr. Dhehibi asserts.

Ms. Mira Haddad from ICARDA also supplements Dr. Dhehibi’s statement by mentioning that legal regulations under the Ministry of Agriculture do not allow the use of biosolids in rangeland, while in contrast, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation allows the use of biosolids restricted to specific quantities and quality, as this ministry is in fact the responsible authority of all wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and biosolid treated types in Jordan. Ms. Haddad concluded that the Water Authority Law No. 18 for 1988 states that the Water Authority of Jordan (WAJ) assumes all responsibilities and authorities related to water and wastewater in Jordan. WAJ's mandate also includes the management of WWTPs and hence any product of WWTPs. However, the Law does not include any explicit provisions regulating the means of sludge disposal and/or biosolids' production for disposal or reuse. 

Calling for stakeholders’ meetings with Jordanian lawmakers and consequently providing certifications by Jordanian lawmakers on the use of biosolids based on scientific evidence is therefore a desired next step.

Dr. Dhehibi and Dr. Al Hiary confirmed that non-governmental stakeholders play a role in ensuring new legislation. After accumulating scientific-based justifications, the next step will be a stakeholders’ meeting bringing together governmental and non-governmental institutions to present their evidence and convince policymakers after thoroughly implemented research. So far, there have been 5 research projects on biosolids conducted in Jordan by ICARDA (see the end of story), including one with GIZ in which they are working on a business model to call for a meeting with other stakeholders to examine results. Later, and quoting Dr. Dhehibi: “to inform the government about the methodology used in developing these reports where scientific evidence is vital to translate any policy plan into law”.

Promoting the use of biosolids

The report defines that biosolids can be promoted by launching awareness programs regarding their benefits and making their use more acceptable by farmers. Their acceptance can be gained by improving their perceptions of biosolids’ land application, which can be ensured by holding training workshops and conducting surveys about the efficient application of treated biosolids.

Dr. Dhehibi described launching education campaigns as easy to do once the legislation takes place and allows biosolids’ use. Experts call for a set of recommendations towards reaching previously mentioned goals of promoting biosolids by enlightening farmers on the benefits of treated biosolids and improving farmers’ perceptions of its land application. Providing farmers access to technical, economic, regulatory, and institutional information and training them for the safe and effective use of treated biosolids. Raising public awareness by holding training workshops and conducting surveys about the efficient application, and continuing laboratory testing to identify possible impacts of biosolids on their farmland and the environment.

Conclusion

Farmers’ perceptions on the application of treated biosolids are dominantly negative due to numerous factors, including mistrust and concerns for transmitted diseases. The vast majority of surveyed farmers did not approve of its use and pointed out that the current uses non-fermented manure for cropland, and pasture is popular due to its availability. 

Furthermore, the role of scientific research in providing evidence that biosolids compost will be used to make the land fertile is crucial to convince Jordanian lawmakers of the usefulness of biosolids, later to be translated into law. This effort can only be achieved by continuous scientific research and the participation of different key stakeholders.

Finally, awareness campaigns can be organised to ensure farmers’ inclusion on biosolids’ advantages in rangelands soil fertility improvements once the proposed policy becomes a reality. 

 

You can read more about this study here and acquire more information on different reports prepared by the project Tracing Soil Amendment Impacts of Processed Wastewater Sludge on the Rehabilitation of Jordan’s Agro-pastoral Areas (TRACE Rehab) in Jordan here.

Get access to the Socio-Economic Survey Questionnaire Instrument here.

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