Dutch Firm Increases Large-Scale Composting in Developing Countries

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.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

5 responses

  1. I don't think composting is going to offset all the emissions generated by shippings millions of pounds of food and beverage overseas.

    It is however a very important step toward increasing the sustainable nature of the agriculture/food business, and as you've noted does a few great things:
    1) reduces the amount of energy & water needed to raise our crops
    2) reduces farmers' dependence on pesticides
    3) reduces the amount of organic waste that heads to landfills
    4) enables us to move away from petroleum based packaging products and toward compostables (particularly for food packaging)

    For each of these reasons and more, Soil & More should definitely be commended for their work bringing large-scale composting facilities to developing countries.

  2. Soil and More are planning to convert 95% of Cape Town's GREEN waste into compost, not their total waste – that would be a great trick!

    Composting at the moment tends to be a bit bizarre because of the over-globalisation of supply. A substantial part of the trace minerals and nutrients in any compost that is applied to the land came from over the hills and far away. The aforesaid nutrients are not being returned whence they came, thus this contradicts long term sustainability principles. The relocalisation of supply should address this

  3. Good eye–I missed that word, and yes, it's Cape Town's green waste, not total waste. The reality is that more food is being grown and shipped–it's not ideal, but by at least encouraging farmers to compost instead of relying on petroleum-based fertilizers, it's a move to minimize their negative effects on the local environment.

  4. There is no question that composting, and the better diversion of urban green and food wastes, have a large role to play in addressing local and global food security issues. We are now at the mercy of the global energy cartels in order to eat. Composting offers a way to reduce our reliance on that.

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