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

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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In rural areas of Haiti, agriculture production and farming are important occupations for many people. Agriculture is Haiti’s main industry and makes up over 60% of the workforce, with main global exports including mangoes, coffee, papayas and spinach. However, food production can still be quite challenging for many farmers due to depleted soils and periods of drought. Additionally, years of foreign intervention and policy have forced Haiti to rely heavily on cheap global imports for food supply, which has distorted the market for some crops, leaving the supply chains within and into Haiti fragile. This limits access to good sources of food for many Haitians.

In light of these challenges, it is increasingly important to look at innovative ways to strengthen food supply chains and replenish overburdened ecosystems within Haiti. Fertilizer use in Haiti has been a common practice to increase land productivity and crop yields. While chemical fertilizer applications do increase crop yields, they do not nourish long-term soil health and create resilient ecosystems in the same way that organic soil supplements can. In fact, each application of chemical fertilizer depletes the soil, making the next year’s harvest more challenging. Compost has the opposite effect, building up the soil’s health and increasing its resiliency and yield capability year over year. SOIL's Konpòs Lakay model was designed to support soil health through the transformative process of recapturing nutrients from human waste, creating an agricultural grade compost from the waste treatment process, and using the compost to revive depleted soils. 

SOIL’s compost is sold to local farmers and other stakeholders in the ag sector to help grow food and support agricultural production, from urban farm initiatives to reforestation projects.  We recently spoke with Mary, one of SOIL’s compost customers and a resident of Saint-Rapheal, a municipality located about 63 kilometers from Cap-Haitien. Mary has her own garden and uses SOIL’s compost for its beneficial results to her soil and crops. According to Mary, "the compost is of very high quality, and is completely and properly composted." Mary believes that SOIL’s compost is an important tool for Haiti’s ecosystem and food production development: "people need to be educated on the importance of compost and how it can help them grow their food," she said. We agree! If you’re interested in learning more about compost and what it can do, check out this 2018 New York Times Magazine piece featuring longtime SOIL friends John and Peggy.

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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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Organization Information

SOIL

Location: Sherburne, New York - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SOILhaiti
Project Leader:
Eliza Parish
Sherburne, New York United States
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