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

The following guest post is by Tucker, who took the above photo of SOIL’s waste treatment site in northern Haiti, where he spent time with SOIL last week. Here is what Tucker has to say about the experience:

I first encountered ecological sanitation in a little town in the south of France, where I lived on a ecological family farm for a year. An off-the-grid cattle and mule farm atop a windswept and water-scarce plateau, the family made every effort to consume conscientiously and close resource loops wherever possible. Naturally, we used dry toilets and composted the humanure. The more I learned about the ecological benefits of dry toilets, particularly in the context of my own water-stricken home of California, the more interested and excited I became to participate and help promote a change in our relationship with waste, all kinds.

Once back in California, I set out to start a composting toilet business, seeing it as both a great and novel opportunity as well as a vector for educating my local community. It has certainly been an enlightening road and I was fortunate enough to come across the good work of SOIL one day while researching open-air composting operations around the world. Before I learned what SOIL was doing in Haiti, I had never thought too seriously about the problem of global access to sanitation. Learning more about the challenges the world faces in this regard, with as much as a third of the population living without access to a toilet, I realized that ecological sanitation was about much more than amending the resource-thirsty systems and habits of the developed world — it has just as much to do with promoting and providing responsible sanitation options for everyone. After all, ecology is not only about our relationship to the natural world, but also our relationship to one another. Even in the highly-developed Bay Area region of California, access to sanitation is by no means a given, a fact made evident by the recent public debates around homelessness and the free provision of services like showers and toilets to so-called tent cities. So, with my interest in dry toilets redoubled, I reached out to SOIL to see about coming to visit their container-based collection and composting operation. They were kind enough to invite me to their office in Cap-Haitien for a week.

My visit was itineraried/chaperoned by Claire, who met me at the airport, gave me a tour of the composting facility, office, and garden, and answered all my creole questions. Both at the main office and at the waste treatment site Mouchinette, the majority of the SOIL team are Haitian, which speaks to the organization’s commitment to establishing a truly sustainable operation that is well-integrated into the community it serves and supports.

Given my interests, I spent most of my week working at Mouchinette in order to see how the composting process was managed. Dawning hospital scrubs, a facemask, gloves, and rubber boots, I worked alongside the men and women who unload and empty the humanure into large bins; wash and sanitize the buckets; process and prepare the cover material for each household; and manage the composting from initial deposit, through several turnings, to final sifting and storage.

Tucker and SOIL at the waste treatment site

I also spent a day with the collection team, going around the city to gather full buckets and drop off empty ones. My visit coincided with a heavy rainstorm which ended up flooding many of the city’s streets, including a good portion of the neighborhoods serviced by SOIL. Even with flooding waist-high in some areas, the SOIL collection team made good on their commitment to provide reliable access to ecological sanitation. The container-based toilet design proved its utility in the heavy rain, keeping the human waste from contaminating the environment.

All in all, my visit to Haiti was eye-opening and inspiring. One of the more thought-provoking aspects of the trip was the amount of plastic refuse littering the streets and waterways of Cap-Haitien. Many products regularly consumed in the city are packaged in plastic, and without widespread trash and recycling services, most of the waste ends up accumulating in the environment. SOIL is a great model for an organization that is leveraging a waste stream to create economic opportunity and promote healthier, cleaner living in Haiti. I hope they inspire others around them to take on similar projects, and I am sure that their efforts in educating the public about ecology, health, and the environment will help a great deal.

As for me, I am back in California where I continue to work on my composting toilet project. In 2017 I plan on visiting at least two other organizations involved in ecological sanitation: the Rich Earth Institute in the northeastern United States, who collect and process urine for fertilizing crops; and Nature Commodes in the northwest, who are running the country’s first and only portable composting toilet business. Someone in the waste recovery industry recently described ecological sanitation as a frontier — it certainly feels like it — and I am excited to continue exploring and sharing with all the good people and organizations involved in paving the way.

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This week, we’re mixing it up with a guest post by Gina, who recently reached out to SOIL to arrange a field trip for a group of students who live nearby the SOIL office.  Take it away Gina!

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of touring the SOIL organization with some students from the Have Faith Haiti Mission. As part of our summer program, students are learning about recycling, compost, gardening, and being environmentally conscious. They were intrigued that waste could be reused in a beneficial way. This meant SOIL would make for a great addition to our studies.
Student visitors at SOIL

We were warmly welcomed by Jimmy when we arrived with our group. He introduced the students to the idea of ecological sanitation. Our students were able to examine the specialized toilets that enable waste to be reused. They learned how waste and compost positively effects soil and plant growth. We were able to tour the garden which was a drastically different plant oasis compared to the streets of Haiti. Students saw the equipment used in the process of reusing waste, toilets being made, and compost that resulted in the hard work. The SOIL employees patiently answered the many thought provoking questions from our fascinated students. I am now bombarded with interest in starting our own garden, purchasing their toilets, and returning for future visits! I would highly recommended purchasing your own compost from this amazing organization or visiting with students of your own.

Thanks, Gina! We truly enjoy teaching about Ecological Sanitation! If you’d like to bring a group to visit SOIL, please visit this page to sign up.
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We love looking at the effect of compost on agricultural production, and we love it when other organizations take an interest too! This time we have teamed up with Caribbean Flavors and Fragrances S.A. (CFF), a Haitian company in Port-au-Prince that manufactures essential oils, and the Sustainable Lush (SLush) funding program through the handmade cosmetics company Lush.

This agriculture experiment focuses on vetiver, a robust plant whose roots contain an essential oil that CFF extracts and Lush incorporates into many of its cosmetic products. Vetiver (scientific name Chrysopogon zizanioides) is a perennial bunchgrass perhaps not quite as well known as its fragrant cousins lemongrass and citronella, but it is gaining in popularity. Vetiver is also often used as an erosion control plant as its deep roots can maintain soil on stiff slopes, where rains often cause topsoil erosion. Haiti is the first producer of vetiver oil in the world, and its quality is recognized as one of the best.

Over the next year and a half, we will be looking at vetiver production in three different experimental sites – two SOIL sites and one CFF site, as soil quality is one important aspect of vetiver oil quality. Each of the sites contain parcels varying four different amounts of compost: 0, 25, 50, and 75 tons of compost per hectare. At one of the sites we are also looking at the effect of a bean species intercropped with the vetiver, which will bring much-needed nitrogen to the soil.

Not only will it be interesting to see the difference in vegetative growth among the different vetiver plots, but also the resulting differences in essential oil yield and essential oil quality when we send harvest samples to CFF after 9, 11, and 13 months of production. We are only a few months into this experiment, but we look forward to reporting on the results of this experiment later on this year!

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In order to provide compost of the highest quality and ensure that we comply with the Haitian government’s requirements and WHO safety guidelines, we perform regular microbiological and physicochemical testing on each pile of compost produced in our sites.

Our lab in Cap-Haitien was previously testing all of our compost, including that produced in Port-au-Prince. That required significant logistical coordination to ship the samples across the country, sometimes by plane sometimes by bus, since the samples need to be processed in less than 24 hours to ensure the tests’ accuracy.

Recently, thanks to donations from the Palo Alto Rotary Club, IDEXX lab, and two individual donors, we were finally able to develop our lab capacity in Port-au-Prince so that we have a fully functioning lab in each office.

With a new incubator purchased by the Rotary Club and the Colilert® Quanty-tray System® from IDEXX, the Port-au-Prince lab now has the capacity to test for Total Coliforms and E.coli, a standard indicator of fecal contamination.

The Port-au-Prince team examines samples in our new lab!

The Port-au-Prince team examines samples in our new lab!

In order to kick-start the testing in Port-au-Prince, we organized a two-day training session with the five future lab technicians: Jean-Marie (Director of Composting and Agriculture), Jimmy (Sanitation Director), Lafalaise (Agriculture team), Hervé (Composting and Agriculture Coordinator) and Pierre Richard (Agriculture Research Assistant).

We first organized, sorted and cleaned the lab. We installed the brand new equipment: an incubator, a quantity sealer, a UV lamp, a scale, a blender and some lab glassware. We then reviewed the lab safety rules. After collecting samples at our composting site in Truitier, we processed them together, carefully following the testing protocol customized to SOIL’s compost. After letting the processed samples incubate for 24 hours, we were finally able to read the results and finish the training session with an exam for the participants that everyone passed successfully.

As Jimmy explained, “Before there was a lab in the Port-au-Prince office, we had many difficulties testing our beautiful finished compost. When the new Idexx machine arrived, we already felt really excited, but knew we would be even happier when we can start to use it after this training. It was a really important moment for the Port-au-Prince team. The training was a great collaboration between the two offices as we march towards progress for Haiti.”

We will now be able to perform routine testing of our compost in Port-au-Prince, which will be extremely helpful to extend our composting activities and sanitation services! Many thanks to IDEXX and the Palo Alto Rotary Club for their gracious support of these efforts!

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Old (left) vs. New (right) Compost Bags
Old (left) vs. New (right) Compost Bags

My apologies to the late great James Brown

Here in Port-au-Prince, our customers love Konpòs Lakay – in fact we recently sold out our stock yet again – but there is one regular complaint we were getting: What is with that bag? It’s true. For a product that is all about restoring health to the earth, made by an organization full of people who truly love the environment, it sure had unfortunate packaging. The 5-gallon plastic bags were thin and tore easily, so they were difficult – if not impossible – to reuse. Since our waste treatment site is inside the Port-au-Prince city dump, we know firsthand how terrible it is to send more plastic bags to the landfill. Even aside from the environmental impact, there wasn’t much to love about the packaging. The tiny (yet expensive) sticker didn’t leave us much room for helpful information. Furthermore, our customers aren’t used to calculating in gallons for agricultural products, so determining how many sacks they’d want to order frequently involved a lot of extra math. As with all things SOIL, we did plenty of research, testing, and planning, and now we’re finally ready to debut our new packaging! These new bags are:

  • More eco-friendly: the woven polypropylene bags are made from recycled plastic, are durable and reusable, and can even be re-recycled.
  • More Informative: the bag has helpful nutrient information and usage guidelines right on the label.
  • Bigger: the new bags now match other fertilizer/soil amendment packaging on the market, both in units (weight) and sizes (20-lb and 40-lb).

We’re pretty excited about them, and we think our customers will be, too! And even with all of these upgrades, there’s one thing hasn’t changed: rich, organic compost that’s rebuilding the health of Haiti’s soils!

Port-au-Prince SOIL team shows off the new bags
Port-au-Prince SOIL team shows off the new bags
Compost in the sunlight
Compost in the sunlight
Growing peanuts at the SOIL experimental farm
Growing peanuts at the SOIL experimental farm

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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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