The composting project in Nombre De Jesus, Chalatenango, El Salvador was one of the big reasons I decided to study International Development in grad school–in addition to being one of the reasons I have such a deep admiration for the people of El Salvador.  Mecho, the mayor of the municipality had been at a conference in Brazil, saw a similar composting project in action, learned the basics, and believed that this would be something his municipality could do to improve their homes, health, and economy.

When I first visited Potrerillos in 2003 the project had been up and running for a little bit more than a year by the municipality’s youth.  In coordination with the municipality’s health promoters, who taught participating families how to sort their organic and inorganic waste, the youth collected the organic waste from the villages of Potrerillos and Nombre de Jesus and brought it to the composting site.  They separated, covered, turned, and later packaged and sold the final product: beautiful black organic compost.

Youth volunteers at the Nombre de Jesus, El Salvador compost site (2003).

Since then the project has grown so much that Mecho started a whole new branch of local government to run the project.  The composting project employs several people full time, instead of using bicycles, the staff has a large flat bed truck that they take to every village in the municipality weekly to collect organic and inorganic waste (the inorganic waste is packaged up and sent somewhere else for disposal).  The site has been expanded to meet the needs of the amount of waste collected and compost produced.  Local health promoters remind families of why collecting and sorting their trash is important: there is less illness in the communities, now that trash is collected instead of left lying in the streets or yards.  Families pay $3/month to have their trash collected; for some families this cost is too expensive, but most others have come to see it as a good investment for their future and the future of their community.

It is a good investment for Nombre de Jesus.  As the health promoters remind people, the community’s health has improved because of waste collection and because the foods that they are eating have been grown with fewer chemicals.  Employees of the composting site will also assure people that the composting project has improved the municipality’s economy: there is sustainable work to be done and the sale of compost to NGOs and individuals in El Salvador is supportive, especially as farmers in El Salvador are increasingly forced to rely on chemical fertilizers in order to produce a competitive crop.  Farmers in Potrerillos and Nombre de Jesus have boasted the effects of the organic compost on their crops and harvests, improving their families’ diets as well as their economic situation by selling better quality crops.

The composting project in Nombre de Jesus is an investment in the health, food security, economy, and villages of Nombre de Jesus that is unparalleled by most development projects.  It is also a beautiful commitment to the people of the municipality that they are a crucial part of the community and that the decisions their local elected officials make are made on their behalf, not to benefit from them, but to benefit them.

Alidio explaining the composting process.

Staff members sorting the compost (2005).

One of the compost piles at the composting project site in Nombre de Jesus, El Salvador (2005).

Cooking the compost--checking the temperature to see how quickly the organic waste is breaking down.

Showing visitors what the final product looks like, packaged and ready to sell.