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

Every bag of compost we sell is a step towards a greener, more resilient future for Haiti. To help us improve SOIL’s compost marketing and sales and to grow the reach of our lush, organic soil amendments in a country with dangerously degraded soils, we track the reach of our compost meticulously.

As we crunch the numbers and work to incorporate the learnings into our strategy moving forward, we have four interesting findings to share about compost sales trends this spring:


+ Though we have a large, loyal customer base of clients that buy a bag of compost here and there to help their gardens grow, more than half of SOIL’s compost goes on to support the success of larger agricultural and reforestation projects.


+ In Port-au-Prince alone this year, we have sold more than 1,000 bags of Konpòs Lakay compost! That’s nearly 20 metric tons of organic fertilizer that’s already in the ground nurturing soil health throughout the country.


+ SOIL’s teams in Cap-Haïtien are going to have to help us keep up with the demand for compost sales in Port-au-Prince by sending some of the compost produced in the north to fill orders in SOIL’s Port-au-Prince office.


+ Every year, SOIL establishes a set of key performance indicators (think tons of waste treated, tons of compost produced, and tons of compost sold) to track our impact. We actually reached our ambitious goal for compost sales for this fiscal year an astonishingly four months early!


These successes and insights into how and when sales happen will help inform our approach in the months to come as we strive to expand our impact. An enormous chapo ba, or tip of the hat, to SOIL’s hard working compost teams for making it all possible and to our supporters in and out of Haiti for being a part of our efforts.

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Though there’s ongoing debate about the extent and proximate cause of the challenge, what is clear is that Haiti’s mountainsides are deforested to dangerous levels and the country’s farmers struggle to produce enough to feed its people, in part due to depleted soils. As a result, most of Haiti relies on expensive imported foods, a factor which contributes to a cycle of poverty for both the country’s farmers and its people. 

This drives us at SOIL. And it’s why we work tirelessly to treat and transform waste into high-quality organic fertilizer, branded locally as Konpòs Lakay. Our compost is loaded with all of the nutrients needed for healthy plant development, and it’s also rich in organic matter that allows it to simultaneously rebuild topsoil and fight erosion. Researchers have shown that SOIL’s compost increases the capacity of soils to hold water, too, meaning that heavy rainfall is absorbed more quickly and that soils are more resilient to periods of drought.

The more compost we sell, the more impact we have on rebuilding soil health, increasing agricultural productivity, and growing resilience to the impacts of climate change. And, we’re excited to share that our most recent compost sale is a big one! SOIL just sold 39 tons of our organic soil amendment to AVANSE, a USAID-funded agricultural program that works in partnership with local governments in Northern Haiti. They are working on establishing 25 tree nurseries across the region to grow cacao and moringa trees. Thanks to the help of SOIL’s compost, they are hopeful that the 250,000 seedlings that their teams are planting over the coming year will produce healthy and robust yields.

To learn more about research that was conducted last year on the impacts of SOIL’s agricultural-grade compost on moringa tree growth, don’t miss this blog – and be sure to check out the latest research on the adaptive and mitigative impacts that SOIL’s compost is having on soils across the country.

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The compost that SOIL produces through our urban ecological sanitation service is a safe and organic, agricultural-grade soil amendment that restores the health of soils and helps Haiti’s farmers produce more food. It also, as of recently, helping students in schools across the country learn how to garden.

The Haitian Ministry of Education (MENFP) has begun actively promoting agriculture across the country’s schools, by asking that each of them has at least one standard garden maintained by staff, students, and parents alike. And guess what? They’re using SOIL’s compost in the educational gardens!

The MENFP is hoping to introduce students to plant and animal production while encouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship. The project aims to improve food security in the country by increasing the supply of fresh food to school cafeterias, but also by empowering the younger generation to have the tools they need to know how to grow their own food. By involving not just the students but also their families and the school staff, they hope to expand the program’s impact as well as the potential future technical innovations in the agricultural sector.

To launch the project, last month the MENFP bought almost three metric tons of SOIL’s Konpòs Lakay compost, which was distributed in a number of schools across Haiti. SOIL’s compost has shown incredible benefits to plant growth and soil quality, so we’re excited about its potential to kickstart healthy and productive gardens.

Happy gardening, students!

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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!

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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.

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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
$3,945 raised of $48,000 goal
 
94 donations
$44,055 to go
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