Nourishing the Planet's Saturday Series: An Interview with SOIL's Executive Director

Written by Olivia Arnow for Nourishing the Planet on August 25, 2012

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.

What are some ways SOIL’s efforts have benefitted 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.

How has SOIL implemented education initiatives to sustain compost production?

We are working with the community in Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince to teach individuals how to install the toilets, produce the compost, and use it effectively. We realize that we are a small organization but we would like to have an impact that goes beyond our size. We are working with outreach organizations in other parts of the country and also have several online resources on our website.

What is SOIL’s relationship with the Haitian government? Have you received any support or met any resistance?

We have primarily worked with the Haitian Sanitation Authority, recently founded in 2011. We’ve been lucky to have a good relationship with them from the start and appreciate their support and constructive criticism; they want to see us succeed but also want to make sure we have a strong plan. We agree with their approach and want to make sure we are doing things that are helpful to the community and the environment. We will not try to take on the whole country at once.

What’s next for SOIL?

We hope that five years from now we will no longer be implementing EcoSan initiatives, but will be working primarily as a consulting organization. We are currently developing a household ecological toilet that could be rented for a small monthly fee (US$1 to 1.50 per month), which would cover the cost of installation, waste collection, and compost production, which could then be used as a secondary revenue stream. We would demonstrate the household toilet on a small scale and hopefully train private entrepreneurs in the waste treatment business.

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