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Converting urban solid wastes into compost forms will have social, economic and environmental benefits; and helps to reduce GHG emissions


Summary / Résumé

With rapid increases in urban population in Ethiopia  and in developing countries of the world especially Africa, large amounts of organic solid wastes (UOSWs) are generated every day causing social, economic, health and environmental problems threatening the sustainability of cities. They are also sources of potent GHGs. But, UOSWs are trouble making materials the way they are being handled currently. Otherwise, they are invaluable materials which can be converted into useful products. Compost is the immediate useful product that can be obtained from UOSWs. The question is how can it be done? For obvious reasons, the job can’t be done by government alone. Thus, there must complementary strategy of doing it. Making compost production from UOSWs a business activity is one strategy of meeting the challenge. Meaning, private sectors and groups can be engaged in compost production and selling business. The compost product will be sold to rural farmers and for customers of urban agriculture. With this strategy, there will be several opportunities such as job creation to Youths and Women, income generation, GHG emission reduction etc. Moreover, the business will be permanent as UOSWs which is a feedstock for compost production are available all the time.

This proposal outlines a business plan to engage unemployed Youths and Women in production and marketing of compost from UOSWs. It is seen to be started as a pilot project in three sub-cities of Addis Ababa (AA), Ethiopia. Piloting the project requires the following key actions.

  • Organizing unemployed Youths and Women into groups comprised 50 people/group in three sub-cities of AA
  • Identifying financial sources and securing money.
  •  Offering intensive training of groups on compost production techniques.
  • Availing compost production and storage sites.
  • Creating markets for compost products.

Based on lessons and experiences obtained from piloting work, approaches for scale up of this business plan will be developed.

What actions do you propose? / Quelles actions proposez-vous?

Key Message: Nutrients lost from rural agricultural soils through various path ways including nutrients being exported to cities must be replaced if we want to ensure the sustainable productivity of our soils, ensure our survival and ensure circular economic growths of cities.


With unprecedented increases in urban population in Ethiopia and in other developing countries of the world, there is increasing concern that large amounts of urban organic solid wastes (UOSWs) are generated every day and dumped in landfill and open sites causing environmental, social, and economic and health problems. Especially, UOSWs are increasingly becoming source of potent GHGs and pollutants adversely affecting sustainability of cities and health of urban communities. To this end, we have witnessed last year or so in Beijing, China that people to be starved of clean oxygen to breath due to high level of air pollution over Beijing city caused by pollutants and GHGs generated from urban and industrial wastes. People were buying industrially produced clean oxygen and breathing it to get relived of polluted air. What happened in China and elsewhere in the world teaches us that we value little for something like clean air which we get it easily and free? But we start to value such wonderful gifts of nature when there is limitation in quantities and qualities of such life supporting materials. Thus, cities will remain sustainable provided that they fulfill all life support systems like clean air and water, sustainable and safe energy sources etc. to its inhabitants.

Thus, it is crucial that sources of pollutants such as UOSWs are properly managed and disposed. At this juncture, it is worth to note that UOSWs are causes of diverse types of problems the way they are being handled currently. Otherwise, they can be converted into useful materials like compost. This is because UOSWs account for the largest proportion of urban solid waste (USWs) which is rich in plant nutrients that can be recycled back to fertilize rural lands. Currently, more than 350, 000mt USWs are generated/yr in Addis Ababa (AA) city and 60 % which is UOSWs, equivalent to 210, 000 mtt of UOSW/yr. From this amount approximately, 105, 000 mt of compost can be produced. If we consider nitrogen (N) as example and assume this compost contain 1 % N, it contains approximately 1050 mt of N which is equal to 2282.6 mt of urea. If we assume the current world price of urea to be $400/mt, Urea-N fertilizer worth of $913,040 can be produced/yr from UOSWs which is being dumped in landfills and open sites currently in AA city, causing several problems. N is mentioned here only as an example but there are other nutrients in compost too. On the other hand, increasing costs of fertilizers are limiting their uses to adequately replenish nutrients lost from rural farming lands in Ethiopia and in Africa in general leading to depletion of soils organic matter (SOM) and nutrient reserve resulting in declining crop productivity. Especially, SOM is one of key factors for fertilizers effectiveness. Thus, SOM content should be increased by applying organic fertilizers including compost. If not, even markets for fertilizers will be at stake in Africa in future. Thus, compost from UOSWs should be produced and applied to rural soils not only for the purpose of replacing nutrients exported to cities but also to increase SOM contents. Thus, there should be a mechanism in place that ensures these purposes.

Organizing and engaging unemployed Youths and Women in the business of converting UOSWs into compost (compost business) that will be sold to fertilize soils of rural areas or so is one approach to bridge the existing gap between urban and rural areas with respect to nutrient flows. Compost business will also serve as source of employment and income to unemployed Youths and Women and private sectors.

Main goals’ of the project:

  • To empower and engage urban unemployed youths and women in compost business so that jobs will be created to them.
  • To design self sustaining and lasting solution to urban solid waste disposal.
  • To contribute to pollution and GHG emission reduction efforts in cities.
  • To ensure bidirectional flow of nutrients exported from rural areas to cities back to rural areas contributing to combating nutrient depletion in rural lands.
  • To encourage policy makers to create enabling environment for this project.
  • To indicate important actors and define their roles to the pilot project.

To realize goals and impacts of this project, the following key actions need to be taken:

Bench marking

Currently, there is indication that private sectors are getting in compost production business from UOSWs. For instance, a private firm called integrated bio-farm enterprise (IBE) is engaged in compost production and selling business from UOSWs in AA city. IBE produced 265.8 mt of compost from 534 mt of USWs and sold in 2006; and earned a profit of US$36, 752. Thus, this project shall capitalize on the experiences of IBE (

Establishing project piloting professional task force (PTF)

This project is envisaged to be launched as a pilot project in 3 sub-cities of AA which will be selected based on established criteria. Then PTF drawn from relevant stakeholder organizations will be established and will be responsible to implement all key actions of this pilot project, starting from organizing unemployed Youths and Women into compost business groups (CBGs) until CBGs become self standing and self sustaining enterprises which may take 3-5 years. Ministry of environment, forest and climate (MEFC) is proposed to host PTF and shall be responsible to lead the pilot project.

Awareness creation and training of urban residents and waste pickers on USWM

Piloting sub-cities should ensure organic (UOSWs) and inorganic solid wastes (ISWs) are collected separately at sources and then assembled at village levels in separate containers from which UOSWs will be transported to landfill sites where it will be used to produce compost. This requires awareness creation to urban residents, organizing and training of solid waste pickers’ etc. Moreover, currently, there are communal USW discharging containers at predetermined locations in villages in AA which are used to transfer all kinds of solid wastes. Thus, it is crucial to have two waste discharging containers side by side labeled one for disposal of UOSWs and another for ISWs to which residents shall transfer sources separated USWs accordingly.

Organizing and establishing CBGs

In selected sub-cities, unemployed Youths and Women will be identified and organized into groups comprising 50 people for compost business purpose based on predetermined criteria. This needs to use the existing city and sub-city administrative scheme in AA where this project is seen to be piloted. Modalities and regulations being used currently in Ethiopia for establishment and administration of micro-enterprises will be adopted for this purpose.

Training of established CBGs

After CBGs have been established, the next step will be to offer intensive training to CBGs on compost production techniques and methods from UOSWs, its handling, packaging etc.

Sites and facilities for compost production and storage

Parallel to the above activities, in collaboration with sub-cities administrations, sites for production and storage of compost from UOSWs near to existing landfill sites should be availed to CBGs. Moreover, facilities such as shovels, watering canes, respirators, special clothes, sacks, storehouses etc. should also be fulfilled ahead of starting compost production.

Quality control and certification

Composts from UOSWs can be a source of disease and pollutant heavy metals if they are not well prepared and regulated. Thus, the quality of compost products shall be monitored and certified. The good news at this point is that Ethiopian standard authority in collaboration with Ministry of agriculture (MOA) is currently in the process of developing standard specifications for organic fertilizers quality assurance and certification purposes. Thus, compost produced by CBGs and any other organization will be subjected to quality assurance and certification before being used.

Demand creation for compost   

Compost produced by CBGs should be sold and should have sustainable markets. Thus, it is important to create markets for it. Rural areas could be big and sustainable market for compost from UOSWs. But it is important first to create demand among rural farmers before they start buying it. At this juncture, the good news is that MOA developed 10 years national soil fertility and health strategy in 2017 and production and marketing of compost from UOSWs is described as a key component of the strategy. Hence, MOA will develop and implement detailed marketing strategy for compost products from UOSWs. Thus, until large and sustainable markets are created, compost produced by CBGs will be sold to existing urban agriculture market in AA. Information found in Zurbrügg and Sinha (2006) will be used in developing marketing strategy for compost.

Financial resources

To organize and establish CBGs; and for piloting this project, financial resources are required. Youths and Women embraced in CBGs also need seed money to subsidize them until the business starts generating income. Thus, it is a must that financial sources are identified, money secured.

D-base and information sharing

We will created portal on our academic support for Africa web site ( dedicated to documenting & share information on important aspects of the project to stakeholders and any interested users. Please, visit the web site.

Monitoring and Evaluation of the pilot project 

Contribution of this project to GHG emission reduction due to conversion of UOSWs to compost will be calculated following 2006 IPCC guidelines. Moreover, successes of this project in terms of job creation, income generation etc. will be evaluated by using indicators.


Which types of stakeholders are involved, in which way? / Quels types de parties prenantes sont impliqués, de quelle façon?

Some key actors required for launching of this pilot compost business plan along with their responsibilities are described below.


  • The governments of Ethiopia shall create enabling environment for successful piloting of this project.

    Ethiopia has already Solid Waste Management Proclamation No. 513/2007.But it needs to be revised

     to include some missing points.


  • Play leadership role in bringing all relevant professionals from different stakeholders’ institutions together so that they will organize unemployed Youths and Women in the selected sub-cities in to CBGs based on predetermined criteria.
  • Together with other relevant stakeholders, organize and offer training on compost production, marketing etc techniques.
  • Contribute financial resources to start compost production.


  • Avail land near landfill sites to the CBGs for production of compost.
  • Contribute to awareness creation to urban households (HH) on handling of wastes.
  • Develop a mechanism whereby organic and inorganic solid wastes are source separated  at

      HH levels aggregated at village levels and disposed in separate landfill sites.

  • Contribute material and financial resources etc.


  • Assign relevant professionals to involve in organizing CBGs.
  • Involve in preparation of training materials and delivery of training to CBGs
  • Work on demonstrations of benefits of compost to farmers in rural areas.
  • Develop mechanisms for marketing of compost products.

Microfinance enterprise

  • Shall provide money on credit basis to CBGs

Ministry of Urban Development and Construction

  • Participate in offering training to CBGs
  • Contribute material and financial resources
  • Design compost production sites from UOSWs


How could the actions be scaled up at the neighborhood or city level? / Comment serait-il possible d'augmenter la portée des actions à l'échelle des quartiers ou de la ville?

The following enabling environments which are crucial to scale up and out of this business plan shall be created:


Ethiopia has already solid waste management proclamation No. 513/2007 that encourages proper management of USWs. But it needs to be amended to include some statements such as leading policy statement “Urban solid wastes are important national resources that can be converted into useful products and hence shall be treated accordingly”. Therefore:

  • Proper handling, sorting, recycling and reuses of products from USWs should be encouraged.
  • Individuals, private firms etc. engaged in picking, sorting, recycling etc. of USWs including in compost production and selling business should be encouraged and recognized.
  • Uses of compost from organic fraction of USWs by rural famers and others should be encouraged.

Laws and Regulations

Laws and regulations that:

  • prohibit open disposal and burning of USWs
  • prohibit generation of electricity by burring USWs
  • Recognize and protect individuals, cooperatives, private firms etc. involved in waste picking, sorting, recycling etc.(Information in: shall be used.

  • Define roles and accountability of urban societies, HHs etc. and
  • For establishment and functioning of compost product quality monitoring and certifying authority shall be drafted and approved (Already on the way and to be approved soon).


  • Tax exception of individuals, private sectors etc. who will be engaged in USW business.
  • Allowing duty free import of materials required for solid waste recycling, compost production etc.  
  • Creating markets for selling of compost products from UOSWs.

With enabling environment created and the piloting work successfully accomplished, the next step will be scaling up and out of this business plan to neighboring cities of AA and to cities outside Ethiopia. The scale up and out plan will be designed and implemented based on, results, lessons and experiences gained in the course of piloting this project. Scale up and out work will also employ combinations of tools and approaches which include publishing results from piloting work of this project in Journals, policy brief and working papers so on, promotion and dissemination of results through online platforms such as web sites and social Medias, promotion through workshops and visit of project sites, mass media such as TV, Radio and News papers.

What impact will these actions have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change? / Quels impacts auront ces actions sur la réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre et l'adaptation aux changements climatiques?

Currently, in many cities of developing countries including Ethiopia, emissions from solid wastes in the land fill and open waste disposal sites is the main source of GHGs. Especially, landfills are the major sources of potent GHGs which include as methane and nitrous oxide (Kennedy et al., 2009). This is because USWs in landfills are subjected to anaerobic decomposition process which results in the production and emissions of high amounts of these gases. On the other hand, compositing of organic materials including UOSWs is aerobic process in which production and emissions of potent GHGs including methane and nitrous oxides are significantly decreased compared to emissions from landfills. In line with this, Babel and Vilaysouk (2016) compared GHG emissions from municipal solid wastes under different scenarios in Vientiane, Lao PDR and found that composting of municipal solid wastes without separating into organic and inorganic fractions decreased total GHG emission by 41 % over emissions from landfills. According to the same authors, separation of organic and inorganic fractions followed by composting of organic fraction decreased GHG emission by 47 % over that emitted from landfills.

Moreover, applications of compost into soils increase its C sequestration ability (Biala, 2011). Compost increases SOM content and then improves the soil physicochemical properties and serves as a source of nutrients to crops resulting in increased productivity of crops and trees which in turn leads to increased C sequestration. The above information and similar other information in  literature present strong evidences that composting of UOSWs, in addition to its social, environmental and economic benefits, it is important means of GHGs emission reduction from USWs. Thus, when this project is fully implemented in AA, GHGs emission from UOSWs will be decreased by 47 % or more over the current scenario.

What are the other environmental, economic or social benefits? / Quels sont les autres bénéfices environnementaux, économiques et sociaux?

Following are some benefits from implementing this project:

Environmental benefits

  • Decreased pollution air and water pollution in AA resulting in health living environment.
  • Compost production from UOSWs in cities like AA and its application to fertilizer rural soils will change the current unidirectional flows nutrients to cities from rural soils into closed loop and will benefit both parties.
  • Significantly contribute to GHGs emissions from accumulating wastes

Economic benefits

  • It will serve as permanent source of income to people involved in compost business and to all people who will involve across the value chains from production, marketing and transport of compost up to last deliver to users.
  •  Demand for more and more land to establish new landfill sites will be decreased.
  • Save annual national spending on fertilizers import.
  • Municipality will save a lot of money from its annual budget for deposal of solid waste
  • Compost into rural soil will increase SOM content and serve as source of nutrients for crop production  rural soils.

Social benefits

  • With high unemployment rate in AA, empowering and engaging unemployed Youths and Women in compost business will create jobs for them.
  • Compost production out of UOSWs will decreased disease, insect pests, rodents etc resulting in improved health of urban residents.
  • Clean and beautiful living cities
  • As this project is a decentralized USWM system (decentralized composting), it   enhances and improves environmental awareness of the beneficiaries. Source segregation by the residents reduces the volume of solid waste earmarked for disposal effectively and increases the value of recyclables
  • Decentralized composting option is labor-intensive, generates employment and- given the low labor costs - are more cost-effective. Such options enhance income and job opportunity for the poor, socially deprived, informal workers and small entrepreneurs and provide ideal opportunities for public- private partnerships

What are the most innovative aspects and main strengths of this approach? / Quels sont les aspects novateurs et les principales forces de cette approche?

Some of the innovative aspects of my proposal include:

  • I proposed a mechanism through which opportunities will be created out of problem (UOSWs) such as jobs for unemployed Youths and Women, income to all those who will involving across value chains of compost production up to deliver to end users.
  • Designed a method by which plant nutrients exported to cities from rural areas to be back to fertilize rural soil by then closing the current open cycle which will ultimately contribute to sustainability of cities and rural areas.
  • Indicated most effective ways of pollution and GHG emission reduction in cities and increase carbon sequestration in rural areas.
  • I designed self sustaining and lasting solution to managing USWs which will be applicable anywhere.
  • Indicated an approach that will bring all relevant stakeholders along with their roles together towards effective USWM nurturing culture of partnership.
  • I proposed  is  a decentralized USWM (compost business plan) system which is well  suited for  the waste stream,  climate,  and  social  and  economic  conditions  of  low and middle-income countries.
  • I proposed decentralized composting systems of USWM which is less technology dependent. Low  cost, locally  available  materials  and  simple technology can be used.
  • Most important is that lessons obtained from piloting this project will be used to convince policy 

    makers so that they will give directives to stop generating electric city by burning  USWs.


What are the proposal’s projected costs? / Quels sont les coûts projetés de la proposition?

Estimated budget for piloting this project in three sub-cities of AA is shown in crude form below.

  • Estimated cost for organizing unemployed Youths and Women into CBGs =US$5000/group X 3 groups  = US$ 15,000.00
  • For training of CBGs on techniques of compost production, handling etc. = US$5000/groups x 3 groups = US$15,000.00
  • Estimated cost  for purchasing of materials required for compost production= 5000/group x 3 groups  = US$ 15,000.00
  • Estimated cost for preparation of compost production site = US$5000/group x 3 groups = US$ 15, 000.00
  • Estimated cost for professional committee members ( For fuel, transport etc.) who will be engaged in establishing  CBGs = US$ 6000 = US$ 9000.00
  • Subsistence allowances for people in CBGs until they start to generate (1 Year) income from selling their products = US$ 50/person/month for one year x 50 people/group x 3 groups = US$ 90, 0000.00

Total budget estimated for piloting this project = US$ 159, 000.00 

Note:  Cash Flow statement, income etc. of envisaged business plan will be worked out later.

Source of finance for the project

I propose the following key stakeholders to contribute some proportion to the estimated total budget of the project:

  1. AA Municipality  shall contribute 30 % of the budget
  2. MOA shall contribute 15 %
  3. MFEC shall contribute 15 %
  4. Creditors shall cover 20 % of total budget as loans to CBGs
  5. AA residents and organizations shall contribute 10%
  6. Donors who have concerns over deteriorating environment shall cover 10 % of the budget.


What are the potential challenges or obstacles? / Quels sont les défis ou les obstacles potentiels?

Insufficient enabling environment

Even if Ethiopia has solid waste management proclamation that encourages proper management of USWs, it misses some points and need to be amended to make it more enabling for USWs collecting, sorting, recycling, compost production etc. processes, inclusive and encouraging for private, public, cooperatives etc. engaged and interested to engage in USWs management business.

Insufficient commitments of stakeholders  

Even if full commitments of stakeholders are critical for success of any project, the reality in the ground proves that it is still weak very low. Same problem is likely to happen to this project. One way of overcoming this challenge is to capitalize on high commitments of some stakeholders who will be there naturally. But lasting solution to present weak partnership among actors of a particular project is to change the mind settings of world people through awareness creation, training, education etc.

About the authors / À propos des auteur(e)s

The author is currently working as an associate Professor of soils science in college of agriculture, Hawassa University, Ethiopia. He holds PhD degree in soil science from Kastesart University, Thailand. He has over 25 years of extensive teaching and research experiences in soil science, natural resources management, environmental science etc. He published more than 27 articles in peer reviewed Journals. He also published more than 15 proceeding, working and policy brief papers.

The authors  also involves in supervision of graduate students working for their PhD and MSc degrees in disciplines of soil science, agronomy, soil microbiology etc.

Professional Membership status

  • Member of Ethiopian society of soil science (ESSS)
  • Member of Researchgate web site with > 8000 reads
  • Member of LinkedIn web site with > 1700 followers

References / Références

Babel S and Vilaysouk X (2016): Greenhouse gas emissions from municipal solid waste management in Vientiane, Lao PDR. Waste Management & Research 34(1): 30 –37.

Biala J (2011): Short report: The benefits of using compost for mitigating climate change. Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW. website:

IFPRI (2010): Fertilizers and soil fertility potential in Ethiopia: Constraint and opportunities for enhancing the system, working paper, Washington

IPCC (2006): 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, Prepared by the National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme Japan: IGES, Vol. 5, pp. 6-40.

Integrated Biofarm Enterprise (IBE) (2007): Solid Waste Recycling in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Making a business of waste management.

Kennedy, C., et al., Methodology for inventorying greenhouse gas emissions from global cities. Energy Policy (2009), doi:10.1016/

Nigatu R, Sundaraa RD, and Bizunesh Bogale BS (2011): Challenges and Opportunities in Municipal Solid Waste Management: The Case of Addis Ababa City, Central Ethiopia. J Hum Ecol. 33(3): 179-190.

Sabiti EN (2011): Utilising agricultural waste to enhance food security and conserve the environment .African J. Food, Agric. Devt. 11 (6): 1-9.

Sánchez A, Artola A, Font X.,  Gea T, Barrena R, Gabriel D, Ángel M, Monedero S, Roig A, Cayuela ML and Mondini C (2015):Greenhouse gas from organic waste composting: Emissions and Measurement.  In: E. Lichtfouse et al. (eds.), CO2 Sequestration, Biofuels and Depollution, Environmental Chemistry for a Sustainable World, Springer. Pp. 34-64.

Wassie H (2016). Review of soil fertility interventions in Ethiopia. Research finding report submitted to Fertile Ground Initiative (FGI), WUR, The Netherlands (Unpublished).

Zurbrügg C. and A.H. MD. H. Sinha (2006). Decentralised Composting for Cities of Low- and Middle income Countries: A user’s manual. Waste Concern, Duebendorf.