Howard (Memorial) Lecture 2009

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                 Transcription of “The Howard Lecture” 2009                       



Given at the Venue of the University of Coventry for International visitors to the Royal Show from Nigeria, hosted by ‘Grow Africa’ in the interest of ‘going organic’.


Our Group, New Directions Foundation, has been formulated over the last fourteen years and is under the umbrella of the Grow Africa Project.


This lecture was delivered based upon the response to the previous speakers, namely Prof. Phil Harris (Grow Africa) and John Loxham (New Directions Foundation) and taking into account the language barrier with the Nigerian audience.


Good morning, My name is Richard Higgins and I am a graduate of the Royal Berkshire College of Agriculture. I am the son of a Somerset farmer and I grew up in farming until I lost interest at a time when farming was not so profitable in England. Then a friend introduced me to the works of Sir Albert Howard, where they are held at WyeCollege, in Kent. So we went down forthwith and began to study this literature.


And I have here one ‘world classic’ The Waste Products of Agriculture’ which we have reproduced in India. And it says in here the history of what has gone wrong in agriculture since about 1840. The out coming of Leibig’s theory and his title Chemistry in its Application to Agriculture and Physiology began in effect the beginning of the chemical fertilizer industry. Farmers believed that all that was needed to replenish soils was certain amounts of  NPK and  that would increase yields satisfactorily. But, the health of the populations of the world began to decline at this time due to the use of chemicals, and degenerative diseases were on the increase.


Previously Howard’s research went back to China , Korea and Japan where they were using sustainable farming techniques, as Mr. John Loxham was presenting, by recycling everything. They had the densest populations on the planet – up to 3,000 people per square mile, with nothing imported – nothing brought in and nothing went out. They survived without diseases. They didn’t have cancer. They didn’t have the diseases that we have today.


So we have all been hearing on the British media these days – You are what you eat –

Nutrition comes from food, it doesn’t come from pill supplements, they are largely passed through the body. We need nutrition form good food…. So our lectures go into the discussion of nutrition in food…..

But at this point we are going to talk about Eco San, which is the generally accepted term for the recycling of human waste (Showing Slide 1) which is very popular in Sweden and the term was developed by the Danish or the Swedish and so we are using this term for what Howard originally trialled by recycling the wastes of the prisons, the military, hospitals and schools – even in England this was done to some degree, and they had great success.


This author, Sir Albert Howard, was the origin of the formation of the Soil Association. He was the cause of the formation of the Soil Association. His work has now been lost in time being locked up in reference libraries. Prince Charles, whom I have met at Poundbury (September 2006), knows the works of Sir Albert Howard. He understands the philosophy behind this system of agriculture. It has been forgotten in time due to modern chemical production and the influence of water management companies etc., it has all been lost. And how much nutrition is being lost by the cycle of effluent that is going out of the chain?.. This is agreed upon by the director of the Soil Association Patrick Holden, who is a friend of mine.


So, as far as Organic Farming goes, of course, by the standards today it (human effluent) can’t be introduced because of the element of heavy metals coming in from towns and cities. But in a rural situation as in Nigeria; and many African countries have a rural population, around 76%. And so they don’t have the facility to take up monoculture or meet the cost of machinery – which they don’t have. So it is not needed. What is needed is mixed farming. Mixed farming will produce fertility in the land without having to use chemical fertilizers with or without Eco San. So this is our Double Spearheaded approach to the agricultural problems in Nigeria. The young farmers can become automatically Organic simply by manufacturing compost from the waste materials that are growing everywhere. You have vast tracts of land that are not producing anything. They can produce a green crop – known as ‘Earth’s Green Carpet’ as Howard called it. The earth is always growing something – if the land is growing something; it is good land. That green crop can be harvested and turned into fertilizer in 90 days. And you have to employ animals; because Howard said that societies that do not employ animals in their system – their agriculture will not last very long.


So, by this system, we can turn animal manure into seven fold of the original manure by this composting. Seven times the amount of manure comes out of the system. We did this research in India (1996) in this book; which I’m sure, you will find very interesting. We encourage you to purchase copies. (Showing book) All the black and white plates is work that was done 70 years ago and disease free crops were produced with no chemical fertilizers whatsoever and even without fossil fuels. In fact tests were done on a field scale which is way beyond laboratory and plot experiments such as the research done at Rothamstead for the benefit of agriculture.

The field scale trial was done by putting down a line down the field and one half was grown with Howard’s system and the other half was grown with chemicals, without a large amount of pesticides. When the pests came they stripped the field right down the line.    

Now this is not myth. I have shown Dr. Ken Ife (Grow Africa) the trial gardens  I have at the High Canons Estate in Hertfordshire. [There is also another site at the Capel Manor College run by a colleague of mine, Ramsay Shewell Cooper (Chairman of the Good Gardeners Association) and  whose father wrote a number of books on the subject and who founded the Thaxstead Horticultural College]. These two demonstration gardens show that by changing your agricultural technique and applying this (compost) material in the right way, which is very cheap to make –  you won’t use any more labour on the farm than you would use anyway-  you will produce a material, that applied in the right way, can avoid pests and disease. —Now that is staggering by any ones concept of agriculture! But we have proven it to be done. In fact it was done at the Royal Show in 1948, where they set a plot out along the same lines on a small scale. And the onlookers couldn’t believe the results – that there were no Cabbage White butterfly, bringing the caterpillar that eats brassicas on the one side of the plot. That doesn’t occur. I sat on the lawn with Dr. Ken Ife and watched the butterflies coming into the walled  garden for half an hour or so and then they fly over the wall again (without landing on the brassicas) We have seen that. Also fungous disease, slugs and pests, which the Soil Association use various organic chemicals against. We don’t need any chemicals with this system. So the costs are reduced, reduced, reduce and the profits goe up and up and up.

Your fertility will increase, not only double, but it can also treble. Cotton yields in India were trebled by Sir Albert Howard.


(next slide) This is an Eco San housing development, which we have the technology to build out of recycled polyoils. This is oils from Sun Flower seed, Olive oil seed and (Jatropha etc.,) They can be turned into plastic (panels) and built into (hexagonal) panel houses which I have seen in our Newcastle factory. And the surrounding ground is allocated for agriculture which can grow crops for that community. Not that it should go into Organic Farming, at all, because the legislation isn’t there. But that community, each block is 400 people, can sustain itself on this amount of land without any inputs from outside.  And they will have excess from the communal waste, made into compost combined with the other green wastes. They will have excess material – so they can sell it at a profit.


So (next slide) it’s all about, as John Loxham was saying, Dry sanitation. Here we have a Swedish foot plate model (pointing) which is a urine separator. That is the key to sensible waste management as far as sanitation is concerned. We have to separate the two. Because if it remains wet it becomes anaerobic and it will then smell. That’s the point John was making about municipal sludge – it’s a very smelly business and that is because it is kept anaerobic. So if we keep it dry, from the beginning, the toilet system in the house, it does not smell. And this system  has a micro-organic flush, using the finished material. This material is so active it contains billions of micro organisms in one salt spoon full. It is so active that it immediately absorbs all smell. Other compost toilets that have been built in Africa have various different ventilation arrangements. Some have large vent pipes going up the back of the house, solar contraptions to evaporate the urine and reduce the amount of sludge, but we are not trying to do that.

We are using both fractions in human waste as a catalyst in the manufacture of fertilizer which is optimum. (C:N ratio 10:1)  Sir Albert Howard also originally discovered the idea from his research in India where he noticed a belt around every Indian village where there was a belt of extreme fertility, where the crops grew bigger and this is where they went for toilet. This was the convenient system years ago, not composting, but a crude method of disposal that they found suitable at that time. Sir Albert’s research also went further back into time, which is recorded in the book by Dr. F.H. King ‘The Farmers of Forty Centuries’, that’s ‘farmers of four thousand years’ and in that title it can be found that as far back as 4,700 years the Chinese were practising the art of composting human waste and other waste materials and making fertilizer.

They would keep their compost in pyramid shaped heaps in the street outside their houses and they would be covered with a layer of mud, which would dry in the sun and it would show if anyone had broken into it,  to steel it. This was their ‘Food Security’ and they didn’t import anything and they fed the densest populations on the planet.


Now we  are faced with dust bowls in America because of extensive chemical farming and the tendency is spreading across Europe. Many places are becoming more dry, more arid. Water levels are receding. The moisture that falls is not held in the soil. Flash floods occur and the water  just runs off the surface taking away soil particles with it. What they need is humus in the soil. This is what is being missed by all the Agricultural Colleges of the world. They are not teaching people how- to- make this material. This has been going on for years and why has it been forgotten? Because of the expansion of the chemical industry, which can seemingly get round the problem (of food production) without it. But simply we propose that indigenous farmers can now learn this. We propose an Agricultural College in Nigeria – the first one where the youngsters can again learn this science again. Dr. Ken Ife, he can remember when he was a youngster at school they had heaps of compost that had to be turned. The heaps were there. So this is not an invention that is new to Nigeria or to any country. It was done all over the world a long time ago and it has all been forgotten.


So, (next slide) keeping sanitation dry is the secret. And this is the process where it is put through our particular Hot Box system where other wastes from the community gardens and farms are collected and added to the system in a manner that Howard describes were previously being ‘collected religiously’. All manner of things can be added to the composting system. In hot climates people eat of leaf plates – these can all be rehydrated and put back to the earth – cardboard – waste paper – another huge waste issue along with all market waste can all be recycled in the composting system and all turned into a top quality compost in 90 days. Now this compost has four times the value of cow dung. It is four times more valuable. And the quantity is seven fold. (That is what you can produce by the Howard-Higgins system of composting which incorporates the new Hot Box for hygienic composting of human waste.)

(Next slide) This is the Eco San system in house showing the foot plate separator, made in China. The urine (which is non pathogenic) can be sterilized to kill the Helminth eggs that can be found present in tropical regions. And then it can be added to the fermenting heaps as an irrigator, saving valuable water especially at the first stage when the moisture level should be kept up to 50% . Compost in this country (England) is talked about by the Compost Association of which I was a member and many other different groups who don’t know how to make compost like this. They are putting into their systems wood from coniferous trees and  the way the process it, they produce a material that is not fertilizer. It is a soil conditioner. Coniferous wood is poisonous to earth worms and cannot therefore make a fertilizer in 90 days. But here in Nigeria you have deciduous wood which is very good…


That is the problem in the UK where all the gardens have evergreen trees and shrubs and in vast quantities it is collected and put into the various composting schemes. But this will not produce fertilizer. Sulphate of Ammonia also kills earthworms. So we can make Nigeria Organic automatically without the need (at present) for registration. Without having to apply for registration for those who cannot afford it or find it too complicated, by just not using chemical fertilizers. I was hearing yesterday, at the Show, that Nigeria imports 630 million pounds worth of chemical fertilizers every year…. We can save you a lot of money! You have the area, you have the land, you have the man power (employment) to produce fertilizer. All that has to be done is scale up and distribute this fertilizer. Community groups, farm co-operatives these are certainly the way forward to produce crops that can be sold on a larger scale. Certification may then easily come from that, because all certification really means is that you are using materials that are from an organic source. In England Farmers can’t get enough manure because they grow mono crop farms. So they (The Soil Association) allow, now and again, ‘Oh you can bring in manure from a non organic source,’….. but that’s not strictly organic;…. but it’s allowed. Otherwise he can’t produce.

Therefore if we turn Nigeria into ‘Organic’ by producing fertilizer from her own waste products of agriculture we can then satisfy the needs of the whole country. And all farmers will be able to produce abundantly. And they will all be able to lower the necessity for heavy machinery. This is a huge asset because you don’t need the heavy machinery. You need Low Till and Zero Till cultivation. And how is this possible? Farmers say ‘how is this possible? Because every year we plough up the soil, to aerate it , break it down again over winter, so the roots can get in’ –No, this is not true!  This is simply not true. What is Nature’s organism that performs the action of the plough? – This was enunciated by Sir Albert who wrote an introduction to a book with Charles Darwin – ‘The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the action of the earth worm.’ Oxford University Press 1945. Without the humble earthworm we, none of us, would be here. So by Natures Divine arrangement the earthworm can create five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and eleven times more potassium than that found in surrounding soil.

There’s your NPK – without any endeavour, without any importing or buying. And fertile land has been found to contain 16 million earthworms per acre. This is extreme fertility. This is land in good heart.

 And then you will be increasing your soil quantity. In China, in the canal colonies, they built the land higher; it got higher over the years. Organic farming can reduce soil by 5cms over 40 years. Organic farming can loose soil Nicholas Lampkin, 1991 – the most respected author today on organic farming. I met him at a  conference in Belgravia and he had to concede that even organic farms are loosing….So the idea is… that a good farmer will replenish to his land all the wastes of farming and living that are usually either burnt or thrown away thus he will increase the soil and increase the nutrition of the population.

‘Healthy citizens, are the wealth of a nation’. – Sir Winston Churchill.

So, this is what we are achieving – whether you use Eco San in your farming or not.

We suggest that you use it in the sustainable Eco San communities that we plan to build, then that community, will alone use the material, so it won’t get confused with organic farming, because it’s not registered yet; although it would be a good goal to aim for because it uses effluent from a non contaminated source. There will be no heavy metals going into the system from a rural community.


This diagram (next slide) shows the temperature graph from building the compost heaps in the right way by getting the right carbon/nitrogen inputs. This is what we teach to the students and then the temperature rises on a daily basis and the thermophilic bacteria at a certain temperature (will digest the cellulose.) Sometimes we get 70 degrees Centigrade. Human pathogens are destroyed at a relatively low temperature over a period of one day. Our system remains this hot for seven days. Then it naturally decreases. This is what it is meant to do – falling gradually approaching the fifteenth day when it is turned and again the temperature rises facilitating the second type of fungus to proliferate. This is the problem with all the commercial composters in this country – they purchase enormous machines such as Straddlemasters to ride over numerous concrete bays of material,- going up and down, turning it again and again ‘to keep the heat up’ wasting fuel, wasting machinery – you do not need to do that. It is the wrong thing to do. You keep the temperature up here (pointing). You allow it to decrease, as it naturally does over 14 days, so at the first turn a second fungus will kick in. The temperature will rise slightly again and go down again. You only have to perform two turns for a good mulch and three turns for a finely dividable highly nitrogenous fertilizer – that is immediately digestible by the root hairs of plants. This is how the soil is not overworked. By expecting the soil to digest a green crop, in a hot climate, by green manuring, Howard writes, ‘is hardly worth the candle.’ Because of the unreliability of rainfall; there is not enough moisture to break down the green crop. And you are expecting the soil to break this down and grow a new crop at the same time. That is soil exhaustion. That doesn’t produce good nutrition in crops. A good farmer, a good gardener, will take as much care over his manufacture of manure as he will over his crops. This is the ancient knowledge of the East.

The Eastern peoples didn’t have the diseases we have today and they were much stronger than people today and lived much longer. The recent problems we have seen on the media at this time is that man’s fertility is dropping. This is because of food, poor nutrition in food. Fertility is down an alarming amount and in some places it is down 50%. This is a disaster. Chemical farming is destroying nutrition in food. And how is this. It is also to do with the cultivation technique (used by the chemical farmers) Every time you plough the soil you loose and destroy the transforming fungus in the soil known as mycorrhiza. And that is the fungus in the soil – you can see if you dig the soil – white strands. That is the fungus that transfers nutrition in the soil to nutrition in the plant.

So it is essential that you maintain that fungus to obtain optimum nutrition. And the nutrition from crops grown like this has been analysed by one group in this country that is chaired by Ramsay Shewell Cooper – The Good Gardeners Association – ‘education through nutritional research’ and they have analysed in the laboratory and found that food grown in this way is found to contain ten times the anti-oxidants and many more times minerals, vitamins and proteins than found in conventional organic food. The link is not destroyed through the digging and ploughing of western farming. You plough the soil you loose 20% of the carbon every year that has accumulated. Every year – gone. Moisture – gone. Why do you need to irrigate so much? Moisture gone through ploughing. If you do the low till or zero till system, which is possible on an agricultural scale, by getting the land in the right condition. You see gardeners and farmers sometimes with huge arrangements for irrigating and spraying water. But this is the wrong approach. When you grow a plant you may have to ensure it has enough water to start with because the roots are very small but as they grow bigger  the roots should be encouraged to go down where they will get their water from the sub soil, from the lower regions in the soil. Then you hardly have to irrigate at all. You will save huge amounts of water and machinery.


So Soil Fertility, you can get it in the first year. Low till, Zero till means elimination of pests and diseases. Even an air borne blight like phytophthora infestans can be prevented in potatoes. Now this is highly debatable today because people have lost this knowledge. It was all recorded many years ago.


So SOIL FERTILITY equals FOOD SECURITY. (next slide)


Crops can be doubled and trebled – in Howards time a bunch of bananas could be doubled in size and the size of each banana could also be doubled. And peach trees were producing huge peaches. Incredible yields were achieved.

And it’s called (next slide) the Intensive system of agriculture, rather than the extensive system. The western farmers went to America in search of new lands. He took vast tracts of virgin land that had accumulated fertility over thousands of years from prairie and forest. But it could only last for so long because they were not replenishing. Then the dust bowls appeared and by the 1930’s three fifths of Americas agricultural land  had been destroyed. And that is an absolute disaster for the “leading nation of the world.”

So we need to look at the Oriental Systems of Agriculture rather than the occidental.  Howard said “I have learnt more from studying the Oriental indigenous farmer than I have from all the science laboratories of the west.”


So (next slide) my summary of Sir Albert Howard’s life and work; is this statement:


“Pests and diseases are only attracted by the inefficient”


This to me is the ultimate agricultural statement.


Thank you very much, now we are open for debate – questions please.










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