Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti

by SOIL
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
Generating Organic Compost for Farming in Haiti
EkoLakay service truck
EkoLakay service truck

SOIL provides EkoLakay sanitation services to households in the city of Cap-Haïtien on Haiti’s northern coast and we are currently providing this essential service to nearly 2,000 households, impacting over 11,000 individuals.This past year alone, our sanitation and composting staff collected and treated over 500 metric tons of waste from the communities we serve and produced 170 metric tons of compost through our ecological waste treatment process.

Do you know how the service works? 

For new potential household customers, the EkoLakay journey begins when an individual expresses interest in wanting to join the service. SOIL’s sales team then sets up a visit to the potential subscriber’s home to determine if the household has adequate space to accommodate a private toilet. Although our container-based sanitation (CBS) toilets are small and mobile, they do require space and must be protected from weather if placed outside. 

Once space feasibility is demonstrated, a contract is signed by both parties and fees are collected from the new customer for toilet installation and the first month of EkoLakay collection service. Next, toilet installation is scheduled and during the installation visit, household members are shown how to use and maintain their CBS toilet. 

The EkoLakay toilets are equipped with a sealable container that holds up to five gallons of solid excreta and a one gallon jug that receives liquid waste through a urine diverter. Users manually dispose of the urine via infiltration into the ground (reducing the volume and weight of excreta that must be transported) and leave full containers of waste in designated pick up spots outside of the home for collection. Each week, collection teams exchange the full containers of waste for empty containers and fresh bonzodè (organic cover material).

The EkoLakay team uses 3-wheeled motos with modified beds (affectionately referred to as “Poop Mobiles”) to carry full containers to a transfer station in TiLari. Twice a week a flatbed truck transports the full containers from the transfer station depot to the waste treatment facility outside of Cap-Haitien in Limonade. Clean, empty containers are brought back to the TiLari depot to be filled with cover material. 

The staff at our waste treatment and composting facility Mouchinette, work together to empty, wash, and return clean containers to the Ekolakay service team. The waste treatment team are currently using two methods for composting waste treatment: 1) our traditional bin method, where waste is emptied into large bins to begin the ecological and thermophilic process of composting and 2) our new pilot windrow method, where waste is emptied into windrows. The waste begins the process of breaking down and is monitored until all pathogens have died off. This is a natural, ecological process that takes 6-9 months (using the bin method), or approximately 3 months (using the windrow method) before the compost is ready for market. 

Once the collected waste from the sanitation service has been treated and transformed into organic, agriculture grade compost we sell the end product, Konpòs Lakay, across Haiti with a guarantee that it’s pathogen free. (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.) 

Konpòs Lakay helps farmers increase their agricultural harvests and is also proving to be instrumental in restoring ecosystems and mitigating against the impacts of climate change through increased soil water retention, restoration, and carbon sequestration. This means that with every sack of compost that SOIL sells, Haiti is becoming a little more resilient to droughts, floods that wash away topsoil, climate change, and food insecurity.

SOIL’s holistic, full-cycle sanitation model demonstrates positive impacts across the entire sanitation value chain to support livelihood opportunities, public health, environmental protection and restoration and access to basic human rights. SOIL’s customer approved, accessible and affordable service model has enabled us to provide essential sanitation services to vulnerable urban households, many who have previously not been able to access a safe sanitation option prior to joining the service. We are incredibly proud of how far we have come and are excited to continue to grow this life-saving service to reach more families and households in the coming years.

Compost
Compost

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Windrow test trials
Windrow test trials

Over the past year, the SOIL research team began experimenting with windrow composting, as a method for making our waste treatment and composting process faster. The goal of the research was to improve the efficiency of the composting process in order to be able to accommodate more waste at our site, as well as decrease operational costs. After months of trials, we are excited to share our latest update on the research!  

What’s Windrow Composting?

Windrow composting involves emptying containers of waste (and bagasse) collected from households on SOIL’s service into a pile on the ground (and elongating it into a row) as an alternative to the lined bins we currently use for composting. Following the emptying process, the windrows are turned at least once a week to increase aeration and decomposition to facilitate treatment and transformation of the waste into compost.  

The Experiment

For the purpose of this experiment, SOIL’s research team collected data from 7 experimental piles between May and December 2021, looking at a range of parameters such as maturity age, yield, and quality. Each pile was formed directly on the ground, and covered with non-woven geotextile to maintain humidity and prevent vectors. After 10 days during which the pile temperature rises and kill pathogens, the piles were turned twice a week for a month. After a month, the piles were turned once a week until maturity. Based on visual evaluation by the team, the piles were also watered on demand to maintain desired moisture and humidity levels. After completing the first round of research, the experiment was duplicated again to verify results.  

Results

From these experiments, SOIL obtained some incredible results:  

  • Windrow piles are ready in half the time. Windrow composting produced mature compost in 3.2 months on average compared to at least 6.5 months with the standard bin process.
  • Compost yields increased by 20%.
  • And, according to the site supervisor’s visual inspection, the compost produced through windrow composting has a higher quality with finer particles, and a richer color than the compost produced through bin composting.

 Additionally, with this research, the team has realized that turning the windrow piles early on makes the process less difficult for the composting team: gasses and heat do not accumulate as much at this stage, and the waste is not as compacted. 

Furthermore, these results indicate that we could potentially scale up the EkoLakay service and reach SOIL’s objective of 8,000 households in the service, without having to obtain more land or build a new site.  

Windrow vs Bin Composting

This experiment has allowed SOIL’s team to gain important insight into the benefits of windrow composting in comparison to our current method of bin composting. Overall, SOIL’s comparative cost analysis shows that bin composting is more expensive than windrow composting – regardless of whether we use a fully manual pile turning process, or invest in mechanical turning equipment. The reduction in treatment time and minimal infrastructure requirements makes manual windrow composting 57% less expensive at our current scale, and to 64% less expensive at our goal of 8,000 households. The ability to mechanize turning the piles comes with a larger up-front cost, but it is estimated to substantially reduce total costs further once established.  

What’s Next

The research team is now moving forward to scale up the project. A transition plan has been developed to phase-out bin composting without having to disrupt the waste treatment service, and we hope to start operating with windrow composting before the end of this year. Once the transition begins, we’ll look into optimizing the turning frequency to maximize results and minimize costs, while also looking into turning equipment to reduce labor. In the meantime, SOIL’s research team is working with an ergonomics consultant to improve bucket emptying processes to ensure that this process is effectively designed using a human-centered approach that minimizes any risk to workers health and safety.  

The SOIL team is excited about implementing the new treatment methodology as a result of this research and the potential it has for our service and the future of waste transformation. SOIL is dedicated to a zero-waste system that can both help protect Haiti from waterborne illness and support more resilient soils that can help Haitian farmers avoid the negative impacts of droughts and other climate events, while increasing food security. We are proud to be a part of the movement to build a greener and more resilient future for Haiti, and we look forward to sharing more updates with you soon! 

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When SOIL first started building our composting waste treatment facility in the northern Haitian community of Mouchinette  in 2012, the only thing on the property was a big mango tree. Since then, the SOIL team has completely transformed the site into a beautiful, efficient, and highly productive composting facility. Now, alongside that original welcoming mango tree, Mouchinette is a flurry of activity, with SOIL team members working hard to empty containers, turn and nurture the compost, and maintain the growing facility.  

In 2019, we expanded the composting site to accommodate growth of households on the service – which meant nearly doubling the size of our waste treatment operations! Our teams were now safely collecting nearly twice the amount of pathogenic waste from the communities using EkoLakay toilets, as well as doubling the amount of restorative, agricultural-grade compost being returned to the soil. We’ve gained a lot of experience over the years that has informed our operational efficiency and SOIL is proud to be operating the safest and most efficient composting facility since we began transforming waste in Haiti in 2006, and Haiti’s Ministry of Environment thinks so too!

In Haiti, environmental law dictates that all major projects such as waste treatment sites, should get approval before construction. However, this law was passed in 2015 when BNEE, (Haiti’s National Bureau of Environmental Assessments) was created, and our site was already operational then, and therefore we were never required to obtain pre-approval. However, we hate to miss out on an opportunity to strengthen environmental systems, and maintaining a close, working relationship with the Haitian government ministries is very important to us at SOIL, so we knew that we wanted to get BNEE’s approval of our waste treatment operations.  

In November 2019, SOIL began connecting with BNEE about our interest in getting their certified approval for our waste treatment site in Northern Haiti. BNEE suggested they come visit our site in Mouchinette and meet with a few compost clients to evaluate our environmental impacts, in addition to an Environmental Impact Assessment that was performed by SOIL’s MDE-approved consultant. However, due to insecurity in Port-au-Prince, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the audit date was repeatedly rescheduled, until we were finally able to make it happen the first week of October 2020.  

The environmental audit was a success and the BNEE team was impressed by our composting waste treatment  site operations and moved by the testimonies of the compost customers they met. During this audit we were able to gather feedback from some of our compost clients who are using Konpòs Lakay for their agricultural production. One customer, who produces coffee plants in the mountains south of Trou du Nord, noted that “before using Konpòs Lakay, 3 months of drought would destroy his plants for the year, and it would be a massive loss.” But, since using SOIL’s Konpòs Lakay, the plants have been able to survive drought for much longer periods of time. At the time of the visit, it hadn’t rained for over 7 months, yet he was still able to do a first harvest and ensure next year’s planting season, with more beans still growing on the plants!                  

In the end, we were pleased to finally be approved by BNEE, and after a succession of government changes, political unrest, more COVID-19 delays and more political unrest that delayed the paperwork after the audit, we finally received the formal certificate almost a year later!  We’re proud to do this critical work in Haiti and showcase the enormous potential for innovative and positive environmental impact. The SOIL team is thrilled at the progress we have made over our 15 years in operation, and we’re looking forward to continued environmental impact. We are committed to transforming the sanitation crisis in Haiti, restoring ecosystems, and improving livelihoods alongside government agencies, local community leaders and our incredible SOIL family!

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Transformation has always been one of our core values – transformation of wastes into resources, of disempowered people into community advocates, of exploited landscapes into lush, productive gardens. We are a population of over seven billion people, living in a world with increasingly scarce resources. Yet, we at SOIL know that there is one resource – often overlooked – that is perpetually available: human waste. For us, human waste isn’t waste at all; it’s sustainability, it’s nutrients, its ecological power. We’ve been demonstrating the immense potential of human waste since 2006 and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!

For centuries, people have been using human waste as a precious commodity for soil fertilization around the world. In fact, night soil, the term given to the human waste product, has had entire economies built around it as a means for sustainable agriculture production from Asia to the Amazon. Human waste is not only extremely accessible and in abundance, it also harnesses immense potential for nutrient recycling. According to Borgen Magazine, on average, humans produce about 640 billion pounds (240 billion kilograms) of fecal matter and approximately 3.5 billion gallons (1.98 billion liters) of urine a year. This excrement contains valuable nutrients, and when safely treated, can be transformed into fuel, fertilizer and so much more. Waste-to-resource models, like SOIL’s, are becoming widely accepted in order to recycle local nutrients and utilize sustainable, ecologically-based models.

In Haiti, the SOIL team has spent more than a decade creating an ecologically responsible approach to sustainable sanitation using a waste-to-resource model for urban communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, natural disasters, and groundwater contamination. Our compost end product, 150 tons of which has been generated over this past year, will go on to increase local food production, support reforestation, sequester carbon, nurture soil stability, and support local climate resilience efforts. We’re working to transform world views around human waste and we’re proud to advocate for all of the other incredible transformative projects around the world!

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Over the last six months, SOIL has made exciting and significant progress in expanding access to dignified and reliable sanitation for vulnerable communities in Haiti.  In order to continue on this upward trend, we at SOIL are working hard to produce innovative approaches to support our growth strategy to accommodate more households on the service and the additional increase in waste to treat.  

To help with our strategy, we are once again partnering with the Human Centered Design experts atKreativ Konsum and Kompotoi. The creative design team, has worked with us on a number of projects to improve efficiency for our staff and process throughout the entire sanitation chain – which is why we are excited to collaborate once again, this time with a particular focus on our composting process.

SOIL’s research team is in the process of brainstorming and researching new ways to make the composting process faster so that we’ll be able to treat more waste at SOIL’s composting waste treatment site in Mouchinette, at a more reduced cost.

By reducing the time needed to treat and transform waste into compost, we will be able to treat waste for more families within our current waste treatment site. – Job, SOIL's Waste Treatment Site Manager

SOIL is currently focusing on improving the aeration environment for the waste-to-compost process in order to speed up the overall transformation time of the final compost end product. In order to do so, we are testing out 3 different aeration options to better evaluate the conditions for improved efficiency. 

The first test is using a narrower bin for the compost piles.  In theory the narrower the compost pile, the easier it is for oxygen to circulate through it.The second test is using pierced pipes installed in a regular compost bin so that air can flow through and in the pile. Finally, SOIL is working on a much more ambitious experiment using an alternative composting process with windrows. Instead of SOIL’s usual bin process, we will test placing the waste in a windrow on the ground. With this approach, we will be able to turn it more often (multiple times a week) to help the material decompose faster, in turn reducing the overall transformation time, resulting in mature compost within 3 to 4 months as opposed to our current 7 months process. 

With these new tests and increased aeration, SOIL could potentially be able to produce even better-quality compost in a shorter amount of time.  However, we are only in the early stages of these new experiments and will continue to observe and gather data before evaluating whether this process can be implemented at a larger scale. Stay tuned for an update in the year ahead!

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Organization Information

SOIL

Location: Sherburne, New York - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @SOILhaiti
Project Leader:
Eliza Parish
Sherburne, New York United States
$6,687 raised of $48,000 goal
 
105 donations
$41,313 to go
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