Press Release: SOIL Wins the UNCCD Land for Life Award to Support Soil Regeneration and Sanitation in Haiti
SOIL wins first place in the UNCCD’s Land for Life Award and will be receive $40,000 to support development of an integrated agricultural livelihood learning center and demonstration farm located near Cap-Haitian, Haiti.
Cap-Haitien, Haiti: – SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods), a leader in ecological sanitation, is proud to announce that they have won first prize in the UNCCD Land for Life Award 2012. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) developed the Land for Life Award to recognize initiatives that help secure the health and productivity of soil for the well-being of present and future generations. Selection criteria for the Land for Life Award included outstanding sustainable land management practices, enhancement or regeneration of lands leading to improved soil health, fertility and yield, reduction or mitigation of land degradation and the negative effects of drought in the drylands and creative policy measures fostering sustainable land management, soil regeneration, or drought mitigation through soils enhancement. This was the first year the prize was awarded.
SOIL’s Uses Ecological Sanitation to Support Soil Regeneration and Improve Public Health:
“Sanitation is seldom considered with regards to sustainable land management, but with over 250,000,000 cubic meters of nutrient rich human wastes being discharged into the environment on an annual basis, it is time that scientists and policy makers begin to consider the management of human wastes as an important driver in the development of global land management strategies.” – Dr. Sasha Kramer, SOIL Executive Director
SOIL was selected on the basis of their innovative linkage between human health and soil health. Since 2006, SOIL has been working in some of the poorest areas of Haiti to develop an integrated approach to the issues of inadequate sanitation, declining soil fertility and extensive soil erosion. SOIL has found ecological sanitation (EcoSan) to be an affordable and environmentally sustainable technology with which to simultaneously address these problems. EcoSan is a process by which wastes from specially designed toilet facilities are converted into safe, nutrient-rich compost that can be used to increase agricultural yield, improve the viability of reforestation programs and regenerate depleted soils.
A coordinated response to these problems is especially critical in Haiti, the only nation in the Western Hemisphere in which the majority of citizens subsist as small farmers. Over 60% of Haiti’s 8 million inhabitants live in rural areas and two-thirds of workers are employed in agricultural production. Yet 80% of these farmers cannot satisfy the basic food needs of their families, and the majority of producers can only depend on agriculture for less than half of their family revenue. Soil nutrients have been depleted from 200 years of harvests with minimal nutrient inputs. In the past decade, per capita food production in Haiti has dropped 20%, forcing the country to import 54% of its food supply. In addition, Haiti’s health indicators are the worst in the region, with a life expectancy rate hovering around 53 years of age and a significant incidence of childhood malnutrition (Republic of Haiti, 2004). Haiti, once known as the “Pearl of the Antilles” for its incredible productive capacity, is now a largely deforested landscape where the vast majority of the country’s inhabitants live in abject poverty.
Environmental degradation is both a contributing cause and consequence of poverty in Haiti and around the world as farmland is being progressively degraded, and, in many regions, food production has stagnated or even declined. This phenomenon disproportionately affects poor farmers, who seldom have access to fertility-enhancing agricultural inputs and are, therefore, dependent on ecosystem processes to maintain soil fertility. Without substantial inputs of organic matter to balance harvests, soil biological activity and nutrient availability are reduced and yields decline. Low soil fertility forces many small farmers to move to new land which, in turn, also loses fertility, or to leave their land in search of other work, fracturing the social fabric of rural communities and increasing urbanization.
SOIL strives to counteract the downward spiral of soil degradation and poverty by developing a working model for implementing ecological sanitation on a large scale across the country. By creating a low-cost, locally-produced supply of nutrient-rich compost, SOIL’s EcoSan projects help support soil regeneration while also meeting an urgent public health need. Only 12% of rural Haitians and less than 29% of those living in urban areas have access to improved sanitation facilities, by far the lowest coverage in the Western Hemisphere (UNICEF, 2010). This lack of access to sanitation is one of the key reasons that, when cholera first appeared in Haiti in late 2010, it quickly turned into an epidemic that has, thus far, claimed nearly 7,000 lives (PAHO, 2011). Even before the presence of cholera, diarrheal and other infectious intestinal diseases caused 5% of all deaths and 15% of deaths in children under five (PAHO, 2010). SOIL designs, builds and manages EcoSan toilets with the intent of increasing the number of people with access to this sanitation technology. There are currently over 20,000 people in Haiti using SOIL EcoSan toilets and many more accessing toilets that SOIL taught other organizations and community groups how to build. SOIL expects the number of EcoSan toilet users in Haiti to increase dramatically over the coming year as SOIL has recently started a project to build an additional 1,500 household EcoSan toilets directly and to support other organizations and sanitation-sector entrepreneurs as they build their own toilets. SOIL built Haiti’s first waste treatment facility and compost center in 2009 and has since gone on to install several more treatment facilities around the country. These waste treatment centers ensure that all wastes collected in Haiti’s EcoSan toilets can be safely treated in conditions that meet the highest standards of public health safety. At the current rate of use, SOIL is generating approximately three tons of compost each week, adding to the over 250,000 gallons of compost that are already being used in agricultural trials at SOIL’s experimental gardens and nurseries in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien or have been purchased by dozens of organizations around the country.
Award Funds Will Support Development of an Integrated Agricultural Livelihood Center:
With the support of the Land for Life Award, SOIL will open an integrated agricultural livelihood learning center, fruit tree nursery, and solar-powered drip irrigation demonstration farm near Cap-Haitian, on the northern coast. Serving the larger geographical area of northern Haiti, SOIL hopes this center can become a key resource for the thousands of farmers living in the area, as well as other NGOs and university students. The learning center aims to demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of EcoSan, particularly as it relates to regeneration of soil and increased soil productivity. In addition, SOIL envisions the center becoming a training ground for sustainable land management practices, a base from which to develop farm cooperatives, and a location for students and others to conduct research on composting and reusing wastes for soil regeneration and reforestation.
SOIL is a US 501c3 grassroots organization working in Haiti to facilitate the community-identified priority of ecological sanitation (EcoSan), where human wastes are converted into valuable fertilizer. EcoSan simultaneously tackles some of Haiti’s toughest challenges – providing improved sanitation to people who would otherwise have no access to a toilet and producing rich organic compost critical for agriculture and reforestation. Since building Haiti’s first EcoSan toilet in 2006, SOIL has gone on to become one of the country’s largest sanitation providers. Please join SOIL on Facebook (www.facebook.com/SOILHaiti ) or Twitter (@SOILHaiti) and pledge your support for sanitation and sustainable land management at www.oursoil.org.
Media inquires should be directed to Leah Nevada Page, SOIL’s Development Director, lnevada(at)oursoil.org.