Why composting is good for the environment: a permaculture training at Dar Taliba

By Pommelien da Silva Cosme, Communications and Field Officer, Global Diversity Foundation

 

“Alim, aman, amazir”–straw, water and manure in the Amazigh language–sum up our recent permaculture training at the Dar Taliba boarding house for girls. After several trainings on seed collection and vegetable planting, the Dar Taliba students are now learning more about how to take good care of the soil and improving its conditions. After all, healthy soil means healthy food (and healthy people)! And what better way to treat our soil than with compost?

Over the past few weeks, as part of our collaboration with local partners Radiant Design and Moroccan Biodiversity & Livelihoods Association in the ethnobotanical garden at Dar Taliba, we organised a number of trainings on how to make compost. Before diving into the practice of it, we gathered the girls for a group discussion about the process of making compost and its importance. Cécile from Radiant Design explained how compost feeds and enriches the soil, after which we asked the students if they had ever made compost and if they could name some of the ingredients used. Only a few students had made compost before (during our trainings last year or at home), so most of the girls were learning about compost as a way to maintain a healthy soil for the first time. “Composting is a way of giving back healthy and nutrient rich soil to the Earth”, Cécile said. “Whenever we harvest vegetables or clear weeds, we remove nutrients from the soil. Composting is an essential practice to keep our soil healthy and fertile, so it can provide us with nutritious food”.

To conclude the discussion, we listed a few benefits of composting:

  • it increases the quality of the soil;
  • it helps retain more moisture, and thus reduces the need for water;
  • it eliminates the need for fertilisers and pesticides;
  • it helps plants grow;
  • it is a sustainable way to reduce our organic waste.

After our discussion, we spread out in small groups to create one big compost pile. Although there are several ways of making compost with different ingredients, there are a few elements that are key: greens (rich in nitrogen), browns (rich in carbon), air and water. Green materials—in this case camel manure—provide protein for organisms such as earthworms, and are essential to break down organic matter into compost. While brown materials—such as straw—add bulk, are a food source for the microorganisms and ensure oxygenation of the compost. Having a good mixture of these two materials helps maintain the right amount of moisture and air, enabling microorganisms to break down the organic matter.

Lucky for us, the Dar Taliba students were not afraid to get their hands dirty! With guidance from Cécile and Dar Taliba director Jamila, they started creating their own compost pile by adding the following three ingredients:

  • Alim (straw)
  • Aman (water)
  • Amazir (manure)

Decomposition is a natural process that depends on diverse intrinsic factors and environmental conditions, so there is no magic recipe: each compost pile is unique! With that in mind, we applied a ratio of one part brown materials to one part green materials, with the objective of adapting the recipe if necessary. The girls will keep an eye on the compost to check if the recipe is working, and we look forward to seeing the results of their hard work in a few weeks! 

This project is part of our wider High Atlas Cultural Landscape programme, aimed at maintaining the unique flora and ecosystems of the High Atlas. Soil degradation, caused by different factors such as climate change, deforestation, overgrazing and use of pesticides, can harm these ecosystems and result in loss of local biodiversity and bad harvests. Through capacity building, such as these permaculture trainings, we promote sustainable practices that will support biodiversity conservation in High Atlas communities and enhance ecologically-sound local economies by combining traditional land and resource use with innovative approaches.