Posted by Lauren Ward in Explorers Journal on May 2, 2012.
Three National Geographic Emerging Explorers have teamed up for a one-of-a-kind project in Africa. Sasha Kramer of SOIL will integrate her group’s work transforming human waste into a valuable agricultural resource and Dino Martins’ natural pest control efforts into the farming communities in northern Benin where Jennifer Burney of SELF has installed solar powered irrigation systems. This collaboration is made possible by the Blackstone Ranch Institute which offers an annual challenge grant for the most innovative new projects proposed by two or more National Geographic Emerging Explorers.
Here are some highlights from the journey to date, written by SOIL visionary and Emerging Explorer Sasha Kramer for the official SOIL blog:
April 24, 2012 — Late last night and early this morning the SOIL team arrived safely in Cotonou, the capital of Benin, after a grueling journey across the world (more grueling for some than others). Anthony Kilbride (one of the SOIL engineers) and I had relatively simple itineraries, flying from Port au Prince to Guadeloupe to France on directly on to Benin. Bobo Magloire, our Sanitation Director, on the other hand was unable to obtain a French transit visa (a common struggle for Haitians) and had to fly from Port au Prince to; Panama; Havana; Madrid; Casablanca; Lome; and finally to Cotonou – a journey which took nearly 55 hours! Despite the challenging journey Bobo arrived in Benin looking as fresh as the moment he left Port au Prince. In his words he “feels that he has come home to the land of his great great grandparents.” Indeed, Benin was the birthplace of Haiti’s liberator Toussaint Louverture, who led the slave revolt which eventually defeated Napoleon’s army and made Haiti the first free black republic in the world, leading the way for the liberation of slaves around the globe.
Down the Toilet
April 25, 2012 — Today we had one of the highlights of our professional careers, or at least it was one of my finest hours. In an attempt to demonstrate the possibility of converting human waste into compost the SOIL team, together with our hosts ADESCA, paid a visit to the local primary school. But this was not your usual school visit. We were looking for proof that human wastes can be transformed into soil, and what better place to find that proof than deep in the ground in an old latrine.
Because the conversion of poop to soil can take at least a year, and we are only here in Benin for 3 weeks, we thought the best way to show that the process works would be to excavate an old latrine that had been closed for at least one year. After some research we learned that the local primary school had a set of latrines that have been sealed for the past 4 years. We went out on a limb and did something that we have never tried before, climbing down into a latrine and digging in to see what sorts of riches might await us.