How the Worm Can Help Landfills and Sustainable Farming
High in the northern mountains of Guatemala, near the ancient city of Quetzaltenango, there's an unusual new venture that is helping transform the way local communities think about the garbage they throw into landfills. It's also reforming the way people think about nature's most industrious ecologist: the worm. María Rodriguez, founder of Byoearth is teaching women the value of the red wiggler worm and the use of vermicomposting to support sustainable farming. It's a concept she believes in passionately and is having increasing success selling to both local farmers and non-profit aid organizations throughout Latin America.
Vermicomposting uses worms, rather than chemicals to create fertilizer. It relies on methods that have always been available but are generally not used in the large-scale production of commercial fertilizer. Worms — rather than chemicals — eat the organic substances such as corn cobs, potato peelings, apple cores, etc. and convert the discards to nutrient-rich organic fertilizer. The process doesn't require synthetic compounds and works faster than that compost pile you have in your back yard.
But Rodriguez's business model does more than that. It helps lift struggling families out of generations of poverty by teaching women new skills they can use in their own communities. The region around Quetzaltenango is known both for its striking beauty and its staggering poverty. More than 50 percent of Guatemalans live in rural settings, and approximately 70 percent of those residents live in poverty. High infant mortality rates, malnutrition and poor access to education often create a vicious cycle of poverty for many of Guatemala’s rural indigenous families.
As in many developing nations, landfills in Guatemala have had a dubious role to play in the survival of the most impoverished. For those without money to purchase food, furniture and even shelter, they have often been a place of last resort. They are also a source of disease and risk for those who are forced to comb through community dumps for their food.
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Worm image via Shutterstock.