Walk into your local supermarket, Trader Joe’s, and yes, even Whole Foods, and chances are that you will find produce from Mexico, Chile, or Peru. Other food products have ingredients from Brazilian farms. Buying local has become an oft-heard mantra, but is not always on the radar of many consumers. The situation is similar in Europe: more fruits and vegetables find their way to the table via Egypt and South Africa. Shipping food from abroad means increased energy consumption, not to mention the use of fossil-based fertilizers that are expensive and polluting, and create barren land in the long run.
The Dutch firm Soil & More International BV believes it has a solution. Working in Egypt, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and India, Soil & More builds and manages large-scale composting sites. The three-year-old company also runs emission reduction and carbon assessment projects, the revenues of which subsidizes its composting operations.
Composting is one of the most effective ways to prevent soil degradation, but farmers often avoid it because of time, costs, and effective fertilizer sales professionals. Soil & More’s process offer several advantages for farmers. First, it uses an optimized composting technology that the German-American scientist Ehrenfried Pfeiffer developed in the early 20th century. Starting with a “compost starter” full of a set balance of bacteria and fungi, this starter converts local plant and animal waste into compost within 5 to 8 weeks. By giving farmers a cost-and time-effective source of compost, farmers reduce their water usage, save money from using expensive petroleum-based fertilizers, and reduce environmental pollution as well as carbon emissions.
I met one of Soil & More’s soil specialists, Joris van der Kamp, at a conference in Amsterdam last month. I asked van der Kamp how receptive farmers were to his firm’s approach, and he answered:
More and more farmers, including conventional farmers worldwide realize that the way we treat our soils can not continue. Soils get depleted, face a strong erosion, have no resilience anymore against pests, diseases or extreme weather conditions, and face more severe problems because of the overuse of chemical fertilizer. Chemical fertilizers are in many countries highly subsidized, but the production of these fertilizers is highly energy intensive and the price of those fertilizers will rise with the energy prices. Farmers start working with us because they realize that this can not continue.
Soil & More is a corporation, not a non-profit. van der Kamp explained that the company’s philosophy is that economy, ecology and sustainable development can go together. The firm does not receive subsidies, and makes its profit off of carbon offset projects, including its operations at South Africa’s World Cup, where it is working on converting 95% of Cape Town’s green waste into compost. Case studies detailing the company’s work is available here.
Can wide-scale composting mitigate the effect of the growing importation of agricultural products? Share your thoughts.