Day 716: Peace Corps Service - Composting Organics in Panama

Training a community member how to compost is one of the more important things Peace Corps Volunteers in Panama can do in their site hands down. Why? Everyday Panama is loosing soil fertility due to traditional agricultural practices such as slash and burn, ally cropping, and hillside farming. Most farmers here in Panama do not have the capacity or knowledge to manage and improve their soil, thus, they leave behind massive plots of land that are severely weathered (erosion due to water and wind) and unusable. The consequences of these actions are far reaching; from desertification (the Azuero Peninsula in Panama is a perfect example), natural disasters (flooding), and extinction of animals due to habitat loss.

Farmers learn about slow composting in Panama.

In Panama where 80% of campesinos (rural people, directly translates as peasants) are farmers or work in an area related to farming, what will happen if most of the land here is unfit for agriculture? You can make a difference one person at a time! Training a farmer how to compost is the first step because composting is not only a fertilizer, it is, in reality, TOP SOIL (with the exception of liquid composting)! When you compost, you are imitating the natural process of building and maintaining soil fertility.
These two paragraphs are the opening to "Composting Basics in Panama" a nine page document. It teaches volunteers three different ways (quick, slow and worm) to compost and gives the advantages and disadvantages of each way and how to teach the method to Panamanians.

Our compost pile in Panama is next to the kitchen.

Composting isn't something that is just for Panama. You could replace Panama with Iowa or any other state and it would still be one of the most important things to teach about soil conservation. Not only is compost great for soil concervation, but it also keeps organic waste out of landfills.

The internet and home and garden stores sell lots of compost bins, specific mix recipes and books of philosophies for how to compost. In the end if you put all your organic garbage in a pile outside, it will decompose. It is the nature of organics. All the books, recipes and plastic bins just help things move along faster. So there really is no excuse, if you have a spot of land to put a compost, get started. If you are a volunteer in Panama, email me or the SAS APCD and ask for the "Basic Composting in Panama" booklet.


  1. Interestingly, Seattle has passed something requiring that all take-out boxes from restaurants be compostable (no more styrofoam which was the material of choice). A definite cool move, but it would make more sense if more places actually had a compost disoposal cans.....I guess one step at a time

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