In a world where people are scrambling to make money by hook or by crook, a country which came up with a genius plan to do this years ago was Peru.
A tiny western country in South America, Peru began filling its coffers by selling Guano. Guano is the poop (read: excreta) from seabirds, bats, and seals. An excellent source of potash and nitrogen, its popularity as a natural fertilizer spread like wildfire.
Its discovery in 1802 on Chincha islands off Peruvian coast brought agriculturalists around the globe at the doorstep of Peru. Guano also saw its use in manufacturing explosive devices. It was a product so close to the hearts of the early inhabitants (Incas) of the region, that anyone seen killing the birds was awarded a death penalty.
The Guano mania
Apart from Peru, many Caribbean nations also produced Guano around that time. However, the quality that came from Peru was unparalleled. In the late 1800s, most of the country’s GDP came from the sale of Guano, touted as “a gold mine” by many.
This mania snowballed mainly because it was an era of agriculture. With the boost of agricultural production owing to Guano, America increased its import, despite booming prices.
Seeking opportunity in monopolizing the product, Peru raised the prices. Irked by this, USA Congress passed the Guano Islands Act, 1856 to annex any Guano deposits discovered by them.
The state of affairs today
Even today, hundreds of laborers engage tirelessly to collect these pungent droppings into sacks, without any protective gear.
The country refrains from capital-intensive techniques to pick the droppings, lest they disturb the birds. Illegal trade and bird-hunting have taken a toll on the bird population of Peru, where birds are dwindling in large numbers. Apart from anthropological factors, the bird population is also affected by climate change.
Although many natural fertilizers dominate the world market today, the Guano remains expensive due to its extraction cost, owing to its labor-intensive techniques.
Sustainability of Guano is one of the main cause of concerns in the present era, where ecological conservation is put on the back burner for material gains. With over-exploitation, the world could lose these birds soon.
Let us hope that the world will act before it’s too late to revive the magnificent creature.