Bird Dung Means Business on Peru Island

(AP Photo/Martin Mejia) :: Workers collect birddung known as guano on Asia Island in Peru, Friday, June 20, 2008. Guano is used to make some of the world's finest organic fertilizer. It's collected for domestic use and for export as it is a favorite for organic gardeners in the US, France and Italy.

Updated: 8/5/2008


It's a dirty job, but people love to do it.

Workers toiling 24 days a month loosen, scrape, sift, filter and bag bird dung to make some of the world's finest organic fertilizer — known as guano.

They work in a chilly breeze with the pungent smell of must, salt and ammonia on the Isla de Asia, one of 22 islands where thousands of birds create industry and employment simply by defecating.

''It's fun, everybody does something,'' said Lucho Moran of Lima, grinning as he moved sacks of guano by cable onto a barge. ''It's busy.''

Other workers say the job pays well, and they eat free.

Unfazed by the odor and grit, 100 to 150 men work 12-hour days that begin with breakfast at 3:30 a.m.

Workers wear powder from the ruddy dirt like uniforms as they hurl pickaxes into the soil and shovel raw dung, known as ''guano bruto.'' They collect on average 77 tons (70 metric tons) of guano a day.

Then they sift it over metal mesh to extract the smaller particles that make the grade for fertilizer, which is then bagged and piled onto barges headed to the port of Pisco.

Most guano is used in the fields of Peru, where it costs a fraction of chemical fertilizer.

But about 20 percent is shipped to France, Italy and the United States, said operations manager Cesar A. Teran, where it is a favorite among organic gardeners.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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