Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Farmers use micro-organisms to recycle coffee pulp

Nelson Gamero talks to coffee farmers about micro-organisms.
On Oct. 25, UMF hosted a training session at its beneficio for coffee farmers to learn about micro-organisms and treating coffee pulp and coffee processing wastewater. The training, organized by the Honduran environmental organization UMA, was led by engineer Nelson Gamero of USAID-ACCESO.

UMF has been testing different ways to treat coffee pulp and turn it into organic fertilizer. Treating coffee pulp – the fruit that encases the bean and that is removed during processing – is an important way to reduce environmental impact in processing coffee. Untreated, this pulp is extremely contaminating to the environment. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of untreated coffee pulp contains contaminants equal to a day’s worth of human excrement. The water used in processing must also be treated: 1 liter of untreated processing water contains contaminants equal to 15 liters of urine. If all of the coffee pulp in Honduras were left untreated, it would be as if a 2.6-million person city had no form of waste treatment.

Coffee pulp and processing water can be recycled as fertilizer, but they must be treated first in order to keep from acidifying the soil, producing odor, and contaminating groundwater. Here are where micro-organisms come in. There are different ways to break down coffee pulp into fertilizer, which we outlined in a previous blog post. The least-expensive option, while it takes some work and time, can be done with local materials: home-made organic product composed of locally-grown micro-organisms.

Farmers prepare micro-organisms to treat coffee pulp.
“We must learn how to take advantage of the things that we throw away,” Gamero said. Farmers can find these micro-organisms simply by going up in the hills and looking under a pile of decomposing leaves, for example. Once gathering an initial collection of micro-organisms, farmers can grow more and keep them in an air-tight container. These micro-organisms could also potentially be used for black-water treatment, compost piles, and even as a digestive tea.

UMF will work with farmers in its microloan and training program to build on this training session during the coming harvest. We will be distributing micro-organisms, teaching how to properly use them to treat coffee pulp and wastewater, and working with farmers to implement this technology to decrease environmental impact of coffee processing in La Unión.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How to make organic fertilizer from coffee pulp

This past coffee harvest, UMF made its first steps toward producing an organic fertilizer from coffee pulp. Turning the fruit of the coffee cherry that encases the bean into an organic fertilizer helps us promote environmental and economic sustainability in coffee production. To give an idea of the importance of this, every kilogram of untreated coffee pulp contaminates the environment as much as a day’s worth of human excrement. It has been several months since we began treating coffee pulp from our processing plant, and we are excited to say that the fertilizer is ready to be applied.

There are several different ways to produce organic fertilizer from coffee pulp; the main two ways are through a vermiculture and through accelerated degradation by addition of micro-organisms. UMF did a trial of three different ways to break down toxic coffee pulp:

1) Vermiculture: 

We spread the pulp, gave it a few weeks for initial decomposition (when the temperature of the pulp and moisture content can be harmful to worms), and then added a bunch of California Red Worms, provided to us by IHCAFE. These worms eat and digest the coffee pulp, slowly breaking it down.

2) Commercial Organic Product: 

We sprayed the coffee pulp with BioAG, a commercially available, certified organic product of enzymes and micro-organisms. This product breaks down the pulp through a mixture of yeasts, sugars, and bacteria that digest the pulp.

3) Home-made Organic Product: 

With the same goal as commercial products, the home-made organic product is made using bacteria and micro-organisms found in coffee farms and then cultivated.

Gilberto and Martir take samples for soil analysis.
Each product has advantages and disadvantages. The vermiculture is relatively inexpensive (the only input is worms, which are readily available for free from a variety of sources) but requires close attention to maintain proper moisture levels. BioAG is the easiest of the three solutions, requiring only one application and no further care, but is relatively expensive. And the home-made organic product is very inexpensive, but requires a large amount of up-front work to prepare and replicate micro-organisms. It also requires a series of applications and works more slowly than BioAG or the vermiculture.

We took samples from each of the three trials and prepared them for soil analysis. These samples are on their way to the IHCAFE soil analysis lab where the three trials will be tested for macronutrients, micronutrients, and soil structure. Once we have these results, we will be able to compare ease of use, cost, and quality of organic fertilizer produced by each of the three methods.

Farmers learn about growing micro-organisms at a training
with UMF, USAID and UMA.
We are the first organization in the area to run a trial of a variety of forms of organic fertilizer production. This means that once we get soil samples back from the lab, we will be able to give informed advice to hundreds of farmers on how to best convert toxic coffee pulp into beneficial organic fertilizer.

We have already hosted a training session for farmers to show the different ways of producing organic fertilizer from coffee pulp.

We will post results from the soil analysis when they come back (generally 30-60 days), and we are excited to begin preparation for this year’s coffee harvest, when we plan to expand practical trials and research in coffee production. This will allow us to better assist farmers as they strive for better quality and environmental sustainability.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

San Carlos welcomes clean water into homes

The community of San Carlos celebrates the water system.
Strings of balloons hang from the dense branches of an old tree, shading the people of San Carlos as they listen to speeches by representatives of the community, municipality, schools and churches.

Down the road from the gathering, an electric pump pulls water from deep underground and sends it to a storage tank that sits on a hill overlooking the village. From this tank, clean water flows through a pipe system to serve each home in San Carlos, a village of La Unión. This is the reason for the balloons.

On Sept. 29, San Carlos inaugurated its water system, a project that was completed as a partnership among Unión MicroFinanza (UMF), Medical, Education, Training and Development, Inc. (METAD) and the community of San Carlos. The system gives consistent water access to the people of San Carlos, who previously used a hose to gather surface water that was often only available during rainy season. This was reason enough to celebrate. But this project will also improve health: the surface water on which the village previously relied was contaminated by sewage, coffee processing waste water, and chemical runoff from nearby farms. This is the first potable water system in the villages surrounding La Unión.
Tonito Ponce enjoys clean water from an underground well.

With training and financial resources from METAD, UMF helped direct the project from initial assessments by a water engineer to the finishing touches on the system. The village of San Carlos created a committee to ensure that the community was involved in decision-making from the start of the project, and they worked closely with UMF and METAD. The water committee is also responsible for system maintenance and continued education in the village about clean water use, hygiene and sanitation.

The speakers at the inauguration celebrated the benefits of a water system for the community, but one could see the benefits firsthand by walking to a nearby spout and filling up a glass of crystal-clear water.

Partners involved in the water project celebrate at the inauguration:
The community of San Carlos, METAD, UMF and the municipality of La Unión.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Villages celebrate new harvest after April’s hail damage

Youth from Chimizal attend the harvest celebration.
The floor of the church in Chimizal is covered with pine needles, and flowers decorate the walls. People from the village fill the benches and the aisles, joining a worship service of celebration for the recent harvest.

Months earlier, on April 2, a rare hail storm struck the villages of La Unión, hitting the villages of Chimizal, San Agustín and Lepagual especially hard. The hail, some of which was the size of baseballs, damaged hundreds of houses, contaminated water sources, and ravaged farmland. Coffee farms, which provide income for families, were heavily damaged, as were vegetable farms that provided food for families. As farm owners cut down on work in damaged fields, families who depend on this day labor were not able to earn money.

The roof of the church in Chimizal still bears signs of the hail.
Immediately after the storm, the president of Unión MicroFinanza (UMF) contacted the president of Medical, Education, Training and Development, Inc. (METAD) to discuss disaster assistance and relief for families whose sources of food and income had been destroyed. They became aware of severe food insecurity and starvation in the three villages, where 92 percent of the people usually live on less than $1 per day before the storm cut this income dramatically.

To address the immediate need caused by the storm, METAD sent funds to UMF to facilitate food purchase in Honduras, coordinate and train volunteers from local Catholic churches, and work with village leaders to distribute emergency food packets to families affected by the storm. The goal of the initiative was to serve as a bridge through the summer, providing necessary nutrition until the harvest of beans and corn in late August. 

In the church in Chimizal, we’re gathered with the community and Michelle Noordhof of METAD, who is visiting. Orlando, one of the village leaders, presents us with the fruit of the harvest that now sustains families in the village: beans, squash, yucca, and foods made from freshly-ground corn. Through the work of METAD, UMF and community leaders, 570 people received necessary food aid and are now celebrating the new crops and regrowth after the storm.

Orlando of Chimizal introduces Patrick of UMF and Michelle of METAD.