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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

As SOIL continues to grow and expand our services in Haiti, we recognize the need to keep improving our operations efficiency, deepening our research, and exploring what others in the sector are doing. We love visiting our container-based sanitation and composting friends around the world, because it gives us a chance to see firsthand what else is going on in the sanitation sector. While back in her home country of France, SOIL’s Compost Program Advisor and Waste Management Engineer took a trip over the border to Switzerland to visit Kompotoi, a mobile dry composting toilet service for the eco-conscious.

Kompotoi’s toilet service provides an interesting window into the operational components of other container-based toilets, and also highlights the desire among the world’s wealthiest countries – on the opposite end of developmental spectrum from Haiti – to seek a more ecologically sustainable solution to sanitation. Kompotoi's director, who previously worked with SOIL this past year on a Human Centered Design project, provided SOIL with a full tour of the toilet workshop and independent composting site to help SOIL better understand Kompotoi’s business model and how they operate.

According to Kompotoi, their customer base is quite broad, and the service is used by everyone from private customers to larger corporate clients needing to service public places and events. The Kompotoi team gave SOIL a tour of the workshop where the toilet units are built, cleaned, and stored. Kompotoi’s toilets are built higher off the ground to allow for the use of larger containers, requiring less frequent collection. Each Kompotoi toilet is also equipped with a men’s urinal. Similar to SOIL’s bonzodè, the cover material used as the “flush” in our water-free household toilets, Kompotoi uses a straw pellet cover material that is easily available in Switzerland.

The independent composting facility (Kunz Baumschulen AG) is primarily used to treat green waste (grass cuttings, branches, leaves, etc.) along with a small component of human waste collected from the composing toilets.  Mechanization, using a large compost turner, is a critical component to the composting operation, allowing for minimal labor required and a much faster treatment and curing process. The compost team noted that the microbes in the compost pile require a lot of oxygen, so with the enhanced mechanization, they are able to easily turn the piles every day to make sure they never run out of oxygen and keep working at maximum efficiency to decompose the waste in a matter of only weeks. Thanks to this process, the compost is ready to sell after 6 weeks of almost daily turning.

It’s incredible to see the innovations around the globe all contributing to a shared goal: sustainable sanitation solutions using ecological processes. While the same type of mechanization might not be a feasible solution in Haiti, SOIL is working to identify similar low-tech and low-cost alternatives that could help us turn compost faster. Supporting job opportunities and promoting job efficiency is critical to our business model and as a social business, we love to learn from others in the sector to understand methods for increasing efficiency, while also finding solutions that are applicable in Haiti.

We’re so thankful for our global thought partnerships and want to say a big thanks to the team at Kompotoi and Kunz Baumschulen AG for their work and for welcoming SOIL and sharing their knowledge on composting processes.

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A couple of months ago we sat down with Marckindy, SOIL’s Composting Supervisor, to talk about his work, his connection to SOIL, and his thoughts on the role sanitation and compost can play in Haiti’s future. Marckindy has been a part of the SOIL family since his first internship in 2012, and he’s known of SOIL for even longer through his brother, Job (SOIL’s Composting Manager). A condensed version of his interview follows, translated from Haitian Creole into English. We hope you enjoy getting to know Marckindy as much as we enjoy getting to work with him!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to work with SOIL?

My entire family is from Northern Haiti – I grew up here and studied here. Through my brother and SOIL’s activities in and around Cap-Haitien, I’ve been aware of the organization for a very long time. When I was completing my studies in agronomy, I spent several months working with SOIL as an intern and completing a research project comparing the effects of SOIL compost and other compost options on local peanut species. After I received my degree I came back to volunteer with SOIL and was then hired on as an Agricultural Research Assistant, a role I played until the conclusion of SOIL’s Agriculture program, when I applied and was hired to be the Composting Supervisor.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Every day starts with planning for me. I am a supervisor, so my main responsibility is coordinating and overseeing activities for my team and ensuring that all of the data we collect is correctly entered into our tracking system. I am responsible for entering most of the data we track, from temperature readings throughout the compost piles, to the record of when each pile is turned, to recording how many containers are coming into the compost site and getting emptied, and many more.

Each day has its own activities, as well. For example, we only empty containers from Monday to Wednesday, in line with the [EkoLakay] collection team schedule, and on Thursdays we sieve finished compost. We typically only turn piles one or two days a week, though we don’t have specific days when we do it.

I also seem to spend a lot of time replying to emails!  

What is the impact that SOIL has in Haiti, and how does it relate to agricultural sustainability?

Programs like SOIL’s can strengthen communities, because they are adding in something useful that can make a positive impact. The compost SOIL produces allows farmers to make their land and their work more sustainable. It also helps to protect the environment and make it healthier by reducing soil salinity and increasing its stability and resilience.

I believe this work is important because it helps make people aware of some of the issues we are facing, and also offers solutions to help resolve those issues. People in the community see our work as extraordinary – we hear “chapo ba” (“hats off”) often on the job. Every person at SOIL values the work, and through our work we touch every person in the community.

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Haiti’s local food systems have been hit hard by the worsening political and economic situation in Haiti, with ongoing challenges for farmers trying to get their food to markets, and for families facing devastating price increases. As a result, food scarcity has worsened in Haiti for some of the country’s most vulnerable communities. Though the underlying problems are complex and stem beyond degraded soils alone, the growing challenges for local farmers and families struggling to put food on the table is a strong reminder of the critical need to invest in efforts to increase local production.

By treating and transforming waste into organic agricultural-grade compost, SOIL’s teams continue to help cultivate local production while simultaneously restoring soil health, saving water, and supporting rural livelihood opportunities across Haiti – one bag of compost at a time.

One of SOIL’s long-time compost customers has been using SOIL’s lush compost since 2016 to support their agriculture projects in Haiti. Over the years they have purchased more than 2,000 bags of SOIL compost from our Cap-Haïtien composting facility. With it, they have improved the soil quality in gardens all across the country that are run by community members who grow, harvest and sell what they’ve produced.

Ismael started working for the organization as a technician agronomist and is now the coordinator of their gardening program. Read the interview with Ismael below to learn more about the impact that SOIL’s agricultural-grade compost is having in gardens all the way from the Artibonite river valley to Grand Anse to the capital city of Port-au-Prince!

Continued Use and Benefits of SOIL’s Compost

 “SOIL is an organization that produces an organic compost that we tested and found [to be of] good quality. We don’t need to look for another product anymore! We only support the organic agricultural system which is what the nature has offered us. Consequently, there will be no harmful effects on people’s health. All of our technicians report back to us of the good quality of the SOIL compost. The proof is in the [healthy] development [they’ve] observed in the plants. The quality of the product is what has kept us as a customer.” To learn more about the long-term benefits of SOIL compost application to increased harvests in Haiti, explore the research here.

Using Compost to Improve Health and Grow Food

“One of the biggest problems in the country is the fact that we use products that have secondary [harmful] effects on health, but SOIL came with this product that improves public health [and] strengthens the ecologic balance …. It is very important, it keeps the environment safe. The compost helps by preserving the soil health whereas the chemical products destroy the microorganisms. As a consequence, the presence of organic fertilizers helps in amending the soil. If there were more organizations that produce such fertilizers at a higher scale, more people would use it.”

We love hearing stories like this from our compost customers! At the end of the interview, Ismael also mentioned his hopes for SOIL. He said he hoped that SOIL would have success in producing and selling larger quantities of compost because it will help “Haiti to have less people consuming food products from other countries that are not good for [our] health.” We hope so too and we look forward to seeing how their newest garden in Port-au-Prince will flourish in the months to come!

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Photo Credit: Monica Wise
Photo Credit: Monica Wise

Lucny Joasil, better known to everybody as Tidou, has been connected to SOIL for more than a decade. He first met SOIL Co-Founder and Executive Director Sasha Kramer in 2008 when SOIL was looking to hire Haitian Creole-English teachers and translators. That was Tidou’s initial role with SOIL and over the years he has moved into new positions with our team, each time taking on more and more responsibility. Now, he’s the Assistant Composting Supervisor at SOIL’s waste treatment site outside of Cap-Haïtien.

Reporting directly to SOIL’s Composting Supervisor Job Etienne, Tidou helps collect data, supervises composting activities, oversees materials, and supports the enforcement of strict safety protocols at the facility. “Thanks to the efforts of the SOIL team,” Tidou shared, “dangerous material is safely transformed into a resource. I believe that our job is very important for both the families who use the EkoLakay toilets, but also for the environment.” Tidou went on to share that “all of Haiti and its people benefit from what we do.”

What does a typical day look like? “At the very beginning of the day, the whole team meets to assign the activities. After that I provide workers the necessary tools and I start supervising and participating in any of the activities that are carried out. For example, I ensure that entering containers are placed in front of the right compost pile, that those containers are later emptied into the pile, properly washed, and dried. One of the tasks that I must accomplish every morning is filling up the water tank to have water available for washing facilities and to keep the compost piles wet. Finally, after every hard-working day, I am happy to go back home to my family with my 3 kids.”

Not only does Tidou play a critical role ensuring the sanitation provision for thousands of people in northern Haiti, but he and his family of five are themselves proud EkoLakay customers.

When we asked him what keeps him going in his work in the sanitation sector, Tidou explained that “what we do is extremely important to improve the communities. In the future, I expect that as sanitation issues are improved, people in the community will have better lives [with] less disease.” We hope so too and thanks to the commitment and drive of Tidou and the other 70 members of SOIL’s team, SOIL’s partners, and the communities we work alongside, we’re a step closer every day.

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SOIL Waste Treatment Facility in Northern Haiti
SOIL Waste Treatment Facility in Northern Haiti

Over the last year, SOIL has captured and safely treated 450 metric tons of waste that could have otherwise gone on to contaminate aquatic ecosystems and groundwater sources. The over 92 metric tons of compostproduced during this time has instead been returned to the soil to restore ecosystems and improve agricultural livelihoods in northern Haiti. As SOIL works towards an ambitious expansion of the reach our household full-cycle sanitation service in the coming years, expanding infrastructure at SOIL’s composting treatment facilities helps us develop the capacity we need for this growth. And that’s just what we have been up to!

A New Composting Unit for SOIL in Northern Haiti

Early this spring, SOIL broke ground on the construction of a new compost unit and we’re pleased to share that the project is complete! The new composting unit includes compost bins where waste is treated, platforms for turning the compost, and protective roofing. What does this mean for SOIL? The new compost unit means that SOIL will be able to:

+ Provide safe sanitation services to 120 new households(that’s about 720 people)

+ Produce nearly 15 additional tons of compost annually

+ Save more than 125,000 gallons of water annually

The first batch of waste is well on its way through the treatment process in the new compost bins and after six to nine months, the waste will be fully transformed into agricultural-grade compost that will be sold to support environmental restoration, reforestation, and agricultural development.

Growing Better

The new infrastructure at our treatment facility was modeled after an improved design we first tested out at SOIL’s composting site in Port-au-Prince in 2017. Since that time, SOIL has further invested in better purchasing and inventory practices and made improvements to the construction process. Thanks to this and a closer involvement of SOIL management in the direct supervision of the construction process, we were able to reduce direct costs by 23%.

Although our sanitation service is already one of the most cost-effective models for providing safe-sanitation globally, continued cost reductions are important for helping us create a service that can be rapidly scaled in the coming years.

Getting to Work to Expand our Reach

Following the completion of construction, SOIL’s sanitation teams have been on a roll installing new toilets in Cap-Haïtien to ensure these bins are put to good use. We hope you will continue to follow along as we work to broaden the impact of our live-saving and regenerative sanitation services.

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Organization Information

SOIL

Location: Sherburne, New York - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SOILhaiti
Project Leader:
Leah Page
Sherburne, New York United States
$3,935 raised of $48,000 goal
 
93 donations
$44,065 to go
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