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SOIL turns human waste into compost in Haiti

Rural residents of Haiti most easily see the benefits of composting human waste, says Sasha Kramer, the co-founder of SOIL.

By Olivia ArnowNourishing the Planet / August 27, 2012

A toilet is seen in a house destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The nonprofit group SOIL wants to compost human waste to use as a soil fertilizer.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/File

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Name: Sasha Kramer

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Affiliation: Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL)

Location: Cap-Haitien, Haiti

Bio: Kramer is the co-founder and executive director of SOIL, a nonprofit organization in Haiti dedicated to protecting soil resources by providing ecological sanitation services and turning human waste into nutrient-rich compost.

How did you found SOIL? Was your organization founded as a response to the 2010 earthquake?

I’ve been in Haiti since 2004 when I was finishing my doctoral research. With my work focusing on ecology and human rights, I came to realize that the most prevalent human rights abuse is the inaccessibility to basic services that we take for granted. I had a previous interest in toilets from a nutrient-cycle perspective so in 2006 we founded SOIL and our EcoSan initiative in Cap-Haitien. After the 2010 earthquake we expanded to Port-au-Prince.

RELATED: World Toilet Day: Top 10 nations lacking toilets

What are some ways SOIL’s efforts have benefited local agriculture?

Right now we’re in the beginning phases of distributing our compost to local farmers and thus far have used it in some small-scale gardens and in our very own experimental garden. Our blog highlights some of the crops we’ve harvested using our compost, like cabbage and corn. We want to show the community how to use it and how beneficial it can be before we market it on the larger scale.

We’re excited about potentially partnering with the Ministry of Agriculture and other organizations to make connections with Haitian farmers and distribute our compost. The average nitrogen use of Haitian soil is about 1 kilogram per hectare compared to 200 kilograms per hectare in the United States so we realize that small changes in the availability of nutrients in soil can have a profound impact on agriculture.

How has the community response been to your EcoSan initiative?

Most of the world is eco-phobic and particularly afraid of human waste because of its potential for disease, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how the community has responded. In rural areas people have a sense of the transformative power of nature but in the urban areas where we have installed our toilets it has taken a little more convincing. Our staff has worked very hard to demonstrate the power of compost to the community – once people have seen the final product they understand how truly transformative it is.

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