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Food Waste Composting In The Bush

There is nothing quite like a sojourn in the African bush.

One day in the bush is worth 10 on the beach!

One theory is that our brains get reset from looking at straight lines for too long to seeing everything in curves, spikes and randomness -
a reason why mind mapping is better than a list when taking notes or learning things.

The other benefit is that this brings us closer to nature where we find a new found respect, amazement, joy and belief in being responsible for our natural heritage.

We'll sit over a fire in a boma talking about our wonderful sightings. Asking questions about why termites love building their cities under shepherd trees (and ponder the universal question about was it the ants that liked the tree or vice versa). We will tally up our bird lists. While being very very very jealous that a different group saw a leopard (and we just counted impala).

All the while eating our boerewors, steaks, chops, pap and salad.

But what about food waste?

On-site composting is absolutely key for any game lodge to confirm its eco credentials while also protecting the environment from which it delivers amazing experiences and is remunerated.

Not looking after this waste stream can be a disaster as was so well illustrated in
A Primates Memoir by Robert Sapolsky by Robert Sapolsky. In his book Sapolsky describes how the baboons he is stydying start dying from TB after eating contaminated meat from the waste dump.

Keeping waste in the open and in a waste area is not really an option. It will attract scavengers; and no one wants to tangle with a 50kg spotted hyena! We have heard of these amazing animals sauntering into camp kitchens, grabbing a waste bin and then walking out with it firmly clamped in its jaws!

Bokashi is a fantastic option as the process is to layer food waste in sealed bins. The microbes stop it from rotting and smelling. And as it does not rot the waste can be stored and then transported to compost site outside of the reserve.

Composting on-site requires a different strategy.

Bokashi fermented food waste can be trenched; fed to composting earthworms; or mixed with other organic waste to make compost.

In either case, an area needs to be secured behind a mesh fence which also needs to be secured 1m below ground to stop the diggers. While bokashi fermented food waste doesn't smell and won't attract scavengers it is better to be safe.

Our client
Mwambashi River Lodge on the Zambezi has been practicing worm composting with bokashi for over a year now. Food waste is pre-treated with bokashi which is then fed to one of their two commercial scale vermicomposting units. They use African Night Crawlers to process this waste as the worms are also key for fishing.

Their problem was not hyena, lion, jackal or monkeys but elephant. A specific one. Who, searching for edible berries, simply broke down the shelter containing the worm farms.


Composting in the bush can be a lot more interesting than composting in Sandton!

The other alternative is to compost in-vessel. Earth Probiotic provides in-vessel composting machines which can be located outside and be adapted for solar power. The Earth Cycler can process up to 5,000kg of food waste per month. The Heron IVC is capable of processing up to 2,000kg per day (depending on the size of the unit).

The advantage of in-vessel composting is that it is a closed process and therefore resilient to scavenging aticipty (but probably not elephants!). Processing rates can be controlled. And as it is off the ground, the risk of contaminating soil is eliminated. Best for the soil, for the animals and for the camp where it is located.

These machines are automated and can be solar powered and are thus ideal for camps located off-grid (as many are).

Additionally, these machines will process garden/landscape waste, wood ash (remember the bona!), cardboard and egg trays. So not only will a camp reduce its food waste risks it will also be able to process additional waste generated by guests and staff.

Processed compost can then be used in the camp landscape or even used to start a vegetable garden (again this will have to be located behind the fencing in the camp and so reduce it being grazed by kudu, zebra, warthog or even hippo).

Ultimately though, forging a solid wet waste management process is a key responsibility for operators in eco sensitive areas. Rotting food waste is bad for everyone; guests, animals and staff.

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