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  • Writer's pictureJon Ferguson

Bio-Fertilizer Production in Colombia

RioSierra, a co-designed project managed by ECOTIERRA and Red Ecolsierra, recently began the production and distribution of bio-fertilizer throughout the region of Northern Colombia. The use of bio-fertilizer amongst farmers continues to grow, due to the environmental sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and potential to improve soil health, crop yields, and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Red Ecolsierra has been very entrepreneurial in the past creating partnerships with Apisierra, a honey cooperative, acquiring a warehouse and small-scale facilities to transform coffee and honey, and experimenting with the production of organic bio-fertilizer and pesticides.

As a result of this collaboration between organizations, Granja BioAgricola was established to produce bio-fertilizers. Granja BioAgricola delivered approximately 700 tons of fertilizer for use in 2022, with an expected production of nearly 1200 tons for 2023.

Wetting and aeration of the compost

What is Bio-Fertilizer?

Bio-fertilizers are made from natural, renewable materials and rely on the action of microorganisms, which are naturally occurring. They are considered to be more environmentally friendly than synthetic fertilizers, which are made from non-renewable resources and can have negative impacts on the environment. Bio-fertilizers are often less expensive than synthetic fertilizers and can be made on farm using locally available materials. They also have the potential to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers, which can save farmers money in the long run. These naturally produced fertilizers can improve soil health by increasing the biodiversity of microorganisms in the soil, which can lead to better nutrient cycling and water retention. Bio-fertilizers can improve crop yields by providing essential nutrients to plants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and by promoting growth-promoting compounds. They can also suppress plant pathogens, which can help to reduce the need for pesticides, and are commonly used in organic farming to maintain soil fertility and improve crop yields without the use of synthetic fertilizers.

Quality Control

How is Bio-Fertilizer Produced? Bio-fertilizers are made by fermenting organic matter, such as plant or animal waste, with microorganisms. The resulting mixture is then applied to the soil as a fertilizer. In coffee production, bio-fertilizers may be made from things like coffee pulp, green waste, or animal manure. These materials are fermented with microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, which break down the organic matter and release nutrients that can be taken up by the coffee plants. The bio-fertilizer can be applied to the soil either as a liquid or a solid, depending on the specific product and the application method used. These fertilizers can be a good option for use with coffee plants in a wet environment, as they can help to improve soil health and fertility, as well as promote plant growth. Because bio-fertilizers are made from organic matter, they can help to improve soil structure and increase the amount of humus in the soil, which can help to retain water and improve drainage. Additionally, the microorganisms present in bio-fertilizers can help to break down pollutants and other harmful substances in the soil, making it safer and more nutritious for coffee plants. Furthermore, bio-fertilizers can also be effective in providing the plants with essential nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, which can help to improve the growth and yield of coffee plants. However, it is important to note that bio-fertilizers should be used in conjunction with other management practices such as proper drainage, adequate soil preparation and good crop management to achieve the best results. The microorganisms used to ferment the organic materials are typically bacteria or fungi that are known to fix nitrogen, solubilize phosphorous, or produce growth-promoting compounds. The organic materials are mixed with the microorganisms and left to ferment for a period, usually several weeks to a few months. During this fermentation process, the microorganisms break down the organic materials and release nutrients that can be taken up by plants. The resulting product is a liquid or granulated bio-fertilizer that can be applied to the soil. Some examples of microorganisms used in bio-fertilizer are:

  • Rhizobia: These are nitrogen-fixing bacteria that form symbiotic relationships with leguminous plants such as soybeans, peas, and beans.

  • Azotobacter: This is a genus of free-living nitrogen-fixing bacteria that are commonly used as bio-fertilizers.

  • Azospirillum: This is a genus of nitrogen-fixing bacteria that can also increase plant growth and productivity.

  • Mycorrhizal fungi: These are fungi that form symbiotic relationships with the roots of plants and can improve nutrient uptake and water uptake.

  • Phosphate solubilizing bacteria: These are bacteria that can solubilize insoluble phosphates and make it available to plants.

Coffee pulp can be made into a bio-fertilizer. Coffee pulp is a byproduct of coffee production and is rich in organic matter, making it a good source of carbon for microorganisms. The coffee pulp can be fermented with microorganisms such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and phosphate-solubilizing bacteria to make bio-fertilizer. The coffee pulp can be mixed with water and other organic materials, such as animal manure or other plant waste, to provide a source of nutrients for the microorganisms. The mixture is then left to ferment for a period of time, usually several weeks to a few months, during which the microorganisms break down the organic matter and release nutrients that can be taken up by plants. Additionally, coffee pulp also has a high content of potassium and nitrogen, which can also be beneficial for plants. After the fermentation process, the resulting product is a liquid or granulated bio-fertilizer that can be applied to the soil. BioAgricola offers two main products, FertiSierra Growth and FertiSierra Production. FeritSierra Growth is a mineralized organic soil conditioner enriched with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to help stimulate early root development and growth stages. FertiSierra Production is a mineralized organic fertilizer enriched with potassium and other micronutrients which focuses on improving flowering and fruit production, along with increasing crop yield. It's important to note that before using coffee pulp as bio-fertilizer, the farmer should test the pH level and nutrient content of the coffee pulp and consult with an expert to make sure it is safe to use and appropriate for the crop.

Storage warehouse

Who uses Bio-fertilizer?

Bio-fertilizers produced through the RioSierra project are purchased by producers within the Ecolsierra network. In Northern Colombia, bio-fertilizer is primarily bought by coffee farmers. However, other crop farmers such as bananas, cocoa, and citrus may also use bio-fertilizers. They are likely to buy bio-fertilizer from local suppliers or distributors, who obtain the bio-fertilizer from manufacturers or processors. Some suppliers may also produce their own bio-fertilizers on-site, using organic matter sourced from the local area.

Bio-fertilizers are becoming increasingly popular among coffee farmers in Northern Colombia because they offer an alternative to chemical fertilizers and can help to improve soil health and reduce the environmental impact of farming. Additionally, some coffee certifying agencies like Rainforest Alliance, UTZ and 4C, require the use of bio-fertilizers as part of their good agricultural practices to be certified. It's important to note that bio-fertilizers must be used with care and under the guidance of an expert, since they are living microorganisms and can have negative effects if not used properly.

Overall, bio-fertilizers are used to improve soil health, increase nutrient uptake, and promote the overall growth and yield of plants. They are also used as an alternative to synthetic fertilizers, and to promote sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices.

Distribution of bio-fertilizer

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