Symphony of "Konpos" with SOIL

Today’s work was to visit the SOIL composting site at the city dump in Twitye to learn about the specifics of the humanure handling and thermophilic composting practices. The SOIL Twitye compost facility is located at the city dump. The company who run the dump lost its contract about 4 month ago. Since then chaos has ensued at the dump and around the SOIL compost facility. Mounds of rotting trash were deposited in haphazard spots and people without protective gear (many in flip flops, shorts and tanks tops and nothing else) sort through the putrid heaps for metal.



The heat, humidity, dust, muck, animals and smell was overwhelming to walk through. Piles of trash blocked the access road to SOIL’s site so we had to walk the last 1/3 mile to the site through the dump – literally climbing over the mountains of grim. Not knowing where we were going today, Sashwa and I carefully picked our way through the confusion in our flip-flops making sure we didn’t nick our toes on buried jagged metal waiting to strike. (It was our fault we were in flip flops, since SOIL staff had asked us to wear shoes but we didn’t understand that we NEEDED shoes! All is well that ends well.)

We made it to the SOIL compost facility, which was an oasis of shade, sweet smells, flowering plants, quietness, bird life, and organization. The SOIL agronomist, Jean Marie Noel, and the SOIL sanitation coordinator, Jimmy Louis, walked us through the precise composting system steps from family training and site set up, to waste collection, delivery and dumping and sterilization of drums at the compost site, the composting process and testing procedures. 
SOIL has developed a thorough and effective system that looks like this: A single family or a group of about 5 families request an eco-san toilet (there are a few public toilets as well, but that is a slightly different set up with a paid manager). They are trained on the why, what and how to use and maintain the toilet system – adding bagasse, or cane refuse, capping the 15 gallon drums and setting up fresh ones, preparing for the bi-weekly drum pick up, etc. Every other week, the SOIL team picks up full drums and drops off clean, empty drums and drums of bagasse.


The full drums are transported to the compost site that is divided into the “clean” and “dirty” areas (as based on Haitian governmental regulatory standards published by DINEPA) with sterilization stations in between and at the entry/exit of the whole sight. Staffers in gloves, boots, work overalls, and face masks dump the drums into the most active composting batch area with a layering of bagasse, sugar cane refuse. Drums are washed with plain water, given a chlorine water dip, and finally dried in the sun to complete the sterilization process.


Wood pallet walled, 2.5 x 3.5 x 1.5 bins are lined with about a foot of bagasse and then filled with humanure with bagasse in between each layer. Once full, the active piles are dated and sit untouched for 2 months. They are monitored to reach a minimum temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of one week, although piles often hit temperatures of 170 for much longer periods of time. Temperatures are recorded in 3 spots in the front, middle and back of the pile. The middle spot consistently show the highest temperatures, since it in the greatest mass area of the pile and is most insulated.


After two months in the first batch area, the pile is turned to a new batch area. The outer edges of the pile are carefully removed and relocated in the middle of the new pile so that any pathogens that might have escaped the heat will be treated in the next round. However, research has shown unturned piles will also test pathogen-free after a year of sitting. Piles are composted for 9-12 months and are tested for pathogens before finally being ready for use.


In Port-au-Prince, it typically takes 3 months to fill a bin from the humanure from the 20 collection sites currently in service. About 4500 gallons of waste is collected and composted each month. The finished compost is approximately a quarter to half of the total collected amount resulting in about 1125 to 2250 gallons of finished compost from each month of waste collected.

As a side note, I (Kendall) got married in the dump today. On the walk, a very animated young man straddling a giant trash truck yelled down to us to insist that I be his bride. Our new friend and translator, Jean Arnaud, quickly retorted that I was already his wife thus I was not available. Jean checked in with me to make sure this was okay and I agreed to a 10-minute marriage with an annulment when we reached the truck (since I am already happily married to Dave Henson). My marriage of convenience was great while it lasted – Jean is such a catch, even for 10 minutes!


After escaping the dump (covered in nasty, gritty, stinky grim), we went to the SOIL garden research site in Pernier about a half-hour outside of Port-au-Prince. It had been their original composting site established soon after the earthquake as part of SOIL’s emergency sanitation work. Over the next year so many people moved out of PAP and into the surrounding areas that neighbors surrounded the compost facility. Neighbors didn’t like living next to a composting site so after several community meetings, SOIL decided to stop composting there and only do compost/garden research.  They continue to use it as their research site, any looking at the optimal amount of compost for different crops.


After happily scrubbing ourselves with handi-wipes (sent with us by our nurse friend and mom, Suzette), we had a lovely Kreyol lunch of rice with a few beans in it, chicken in red sauce, and fried plantains. I had a tasty dish called Lalo, which is referred to as spinach. We saw the plant later in the day, but it is not the same plant we call spinach in the US. Ah, the frustration of common names! The internet has been down so we haven’t been able to figure out the Latin name. Anyone know?

For more information about the composting site in Port au Prince take a look at SOIL’s Blog.





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