Sep 11, 2018

Restoring soil health with organic compost

Last summer, we shared results from a research project that was taken on by master’s students at Cranfield University. The students compared the efficiency of SOIL’s organic compost, Konpòs Lakay, to commercial grade chemical fertilizers available on the market. This comparison was used two core Haitian crops: tomato plants and moringa trees.

When the preliminary results were made available last summer, we were excited to share that the plants that were grown in soil with SOIL’s agricultural grade compost had actually out performed their counterparts that were grown using traditional chemical products.  Now that the final results have been released, a couple of other important findings regarding Konpòs Lakay’s nutrient use efficiency and long term soil health are now available. What did we learn?

Restoring the Soil for Years to Come

When comparing fertilizers, it’s important to look at how easy it is for the plant to access the nutrients (often referred to as nutrient uptake). As it turns out, Konpòs Lakay not only makes desperately needed nutrients highly available for immediate plant uptake, but it also provides a variety of other nutrients, like ammonium nitrogen, that, though less immediately available for consumption, contributes towards replenishing soils in the long term.

We’ve seen that research typically recommends the use of a blend of chemical and organic fertilizer when working on rebuilding nutrient-poor soils. Why? The chemical amendments gives an immediate boost that facilitates a robust first harvest, but they don’t provide any of these nutrients that support long term soil restoration or agricultural production. Organic soil amendments like Konpòs Lakay provide critical long-term support to the plant, restoring the soil for the crop cycles in the seasons to come. Over time, when the soil is restored to its full potential, chemical fertilizers will not be needed at all!

Increasing Nutrient Uptake and Absorption

Nutrient uptake is not the only important indicator of fertilizer efficacy, it’s also necessary to analyze nutrient absorption. The difference between nutrient uptake and absorption gets a little complicated, but a helpful way that helps think about it the difference between eating and digesting. What’s the point of eating a lot if you can’t digest your food in a way that allows your body to use it? Nutrient use efficiency (NUE) is an indicator that looks at both the ability of crops to absorb nutrients from the soil as well as the efficiency with which they convert those nutrients into plant growth and crop yield.

The Cranfield University research using moringa trees showed that, even when compared to chemical fertilizers, Konpòs Lakay significantly improves NUE, especially at lower concentrations. This means that the less compost is used, the more efficient it is! Once again, we see that too much fertilizer is not a solution to poor soils, just like overeating is not the solution to malnutrition.

One other cool takeaway from the final results? The tomatoes that used Konpòs Lakay ripened faster than those grown with chemical fertilizer!

Researching the agricultural impacts of Konpòs Lakay is one of our favorite things to do, and we hope you’ll stay tuned next month for upcoming results that are on their way from radish experiments conducted by our dear friends and research partner at UC Merced!

Jun 13, 2018

New Research Shows the Safety of SOIL's System

SOIL is committed to fully treating 100% of the wastes from each and every household EkoLakay toilet – and we take that responsibility very seriously!

Our treatment process has been developed alongside global experts and exceeds standards set by the World Health Organization for the safe treatment of human waste. Once the collected waste from the sanitation service has been treated and transformed into compost at one of SOIL’s two composting sites in Haiti, we sell the compost, Konpòs Lakay, across the country with a guarantee that it’s pathogen free. But how do we know?

Ensuring Pathogenic Die Off

SOIL tests for pathogens two times throughout composting transformation process, which takes between six and nine months to complete. After the first two months, we test the decomposing waste, and if it is found to be pathogen-free, it moves on to complete the transformation process in windrows. Then, before being sieved and bagged for sale, we test the compost one last time. But instead of testing for every type of pathogen that could potentially be present, we test for what are referred to as indicator pathogens, or pathogens that are more resistant than others. This means that if those pathogens have been killed off, we can be confident that the rest of the weaker pathogens have also been eliminated.

For bacteria, this indicator is E. coli. This bacterium is naturally present in intestines, where it’s harmless, but it becomes pathogenic in other parts of the digestive system. E. coli is highly concentrated in feces, and contrary to what many people might anticipate, it’s actually much more resistant than other bacteria, like the one that spreads cholera. For helminths, or worms, the indicator we use is Ascaris. It is endemic in Haiti, and causes an intestinal disease called Ascariasis. Whereas most labs in Haiti can easily test for the presence of E. coli, Ascaris eggs prove to be more of a challenge. The labs here are capable of identifying the presence of Ascaris eggs in a sample, but there aren’t any that can assess whether or not the eggs are viable. Yet this viability is what’s important when you’re testing whether or not a worm has been killed off by the thermophilic stage of the composting process.

Partnering with the CDC and Eurofins to Test Konpòs Lakay Compost

In 2015, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) conducted research on SOIL’s composting process to determine if these pathogens, E. coli and Ascaris, were efficiently eliminated by these thermophilic conditions in the compost piles. The results demonstrated that all pathogens were eliminated within 16 weeks of treatment. To put that in perspective, SOIL’s process currently lasts a minimum of 27 weeks.

Due to the difficulty of regularly sending samples abroad, SOIL has since then focused on regularly monitoring E. coli presence in the compost, while relying on the findings from the CDC study when it came to Ascaris elimination. But, as a research and development organization working to develop open source solutions to the sanitation crisis, SOIL is dedicated to continuously gathering rigorous data, as we’re able, to test the efficacy of our treatment systems. So, when Eurofins generously offered to test new samples for us, we of course said yes.

The Results Are In

SOIL is pleased to report that the Eurofins labs found no viable Ascaris worms in the Konpòs Lakay compost sample they analyzed. This means they had all been successfully killed off through the composting process and that Konpòs Lakay compost can be safely added to soil to grow plants and food alike without any risk to public health.

We’re hopeful that a Haitian lab facility will soon be able to test for helminth, or worm, viability, but in the mean time we will keep testing for E. coli throughout the process and are committed to sending our compost to international labs at least once a year.

Jun 13, 2018

Towards a Sustainable City-Wide Sanitation Service

Let’s call it the “fill your container challenge,” (which, let me assure you, is quite different from the ice bucket challenge. You would not want to dump these containers over your head). Over the past two months, 16 of SOIL’s EkoLakay sales staff were competing as a part of two teams to see who could install the most toilets in Cap Haitien.

The goal we set out to achieve during the competition was 42 newly installed EkoLakay toilets in both March and April, which is an installation rate more than 100% higher than last quarter’s average rate of 20 toilets per month.

Each person on the sales team received a bonus of 100 Haitian Gourdes for every new signed contract they secured. For Axilus, this meant a bonus of 1700 gourdes, or about $25 USD. Axilus told us that he alone was able to sign 17 new families onto the service by speaking with his friends and family members who didn’t have a toilet in their home and explaining to them how an EkoLakay toilet would improve their health and safety, all the while protecting the environment. For SOIL, each family that signs a contract to join our sanitation service means that we are delivering more social and environmental impact, which is our ultimate goal.

How did it go? The Fort St. Michel team won the challenge with 57 new installations, followed by Avyasyon’s 42. All in all, this puts us at 99 new families that now have a safe, dignified in-home toilet as a result of the competition. That’s a win for team SOIL!

Though there is no challenge planned for May, but we do have some other tricks up our sleeve as we continue to work to increase installations and, in turn, access to lifesaving sanitation. The mobile payment service that EkoLakay uses, MonCash, has generously offered SOIL swag in the form of water bottles and T-shirts, which we will use to incentivize clients to sign up for the EkoLakay service and pay with MonCash. Though there has been hesitation to joining EkoLakay’s service over the past quarter as a result of our new mobile payment requirement, early analysis has shown that customers who successfully adopt MonCash actually pay more consistently and we have faith that the technology will catch on. Check back to the blog next month to learn more about how it’s going!

There will be more incentives for the sales team in the future because they love bonuses, SOIL loves impact, and our customers love their container-based toilets. We may not spend every month taking photos of ourselves filling up poop containers for fun, but, rest assured, we will continue to install toilet after toilet until we’ve created a city-wide sanitation service.

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.