Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beneficio, Systems Explanation: Vermiculture

As we continue the construction of the Coffee Processing, Training, and Quality Control Center (ie. beneficio), we will take a few moments to stop and break down individual systems to explain them in greater depth and discuss how they are related to the goals (quality, training, environmental sustainability) of creating the beneficio. First up: the vermiculture.

Coffee Pulp is normally left to rot in
large piles, polluting water sources 
Processing coffee conventionally causes a large amount of environmental damage, and one of the largest contributors is coffee pulp (the fruit of the coffee). This pulp, which must be removed soon after picking coffee to avoid damage to the coffee, is largely viewed as waste, and for good reason. If improperly disposed of, a pound of this waste contains as many environmentally damaging contaminants as a pound of human fecal matter. Left to rot and drain into water sources, it damages local wildlife and, worse, can work its way into the water systems that farmers use for drinking, washing, cooking, and bathing. However, there is another option: a vermiculture.

UMF Team member Gilberto
showing off a worm at the
UMF-IHCAFE training on
A vermiculture is a very simple idea: rather than allowing coffee pulp to rot, put it in an environment with controlled humidity and temperature and add worms to compost it (many readers with a green thumb will immediately recognize the ability of worms to help with decomposition). By shading the coffee pulp, protecting it from rain, and adding Californian worms (provided by IHCAFE), the coffee pulp gets composted. In doing this, coffee pulp transforms from a semi-toxic waste into an amazing organic fertilizer. It is only natural that, coming directly from a coffee plant, coffee pulp contains many of the nutrients required to grow coffee -- nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, boron -- in larger quantities than cow manure, pig manure, ash, and other conventional organic fertilizers. 

The vermiculture roof is
almost complete
Since this is a composting process, it takes approximately 3-5 months for coffee pulp to be fully converted into organic fertilizer. This process happens naturally, but adding worms (hence vermiculture) speeds the process and increases nutrient levels. Once fully composted, we will bag this organic fertilizer and make it available through our microloan program. This nutrient-rich fertilizer will be key as we work to teach farmers about the importance of improving soil health and decreasing the use of chemical fertilizer. Rather than using purely chemical fertilizers, farmers will be able to take a microloan for a mix of organic and chemical fertilizers. Not only does this organic fertilizer directly decrease the chemical fertilizer needed on fields, it can increase efficiency of chemical fertilizers if applied correctly (further decreasing chemical fertilizer needs). It will also increase organic matter and soil health, and will naturally create a slow release of nutrients to the plants (as opposed to the large, one-time nutrient infusion of pure chemical fertilizers).

Computer model of the finalized vermiculture
This is what UMF is all about, and an example of what we are trying to accomplish with this processing center:
  • Take a waste and make it productive (environmental sustainability)
  • Use it to decrease farmers’ costs and improve the health of their fields (training)
  • Increase quality and production of plants (quality)

This is just one of the many systems incorporated in the beneficio, so check back for in-depth explanations of the other systems,as well as construction updates.


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