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The Problem

We are working with The Hunger Project in five remote mountain villages in the northern border region of Oaxaca. The Hunger Project has just completed a yearlong process of developing community plans for each of these villages. Their primary needs are to improve the water and sanitation situation in their communities.  Even though these communities are in the rain forest, during the dry season (3-4 months), there is no rain or nearby flowing water sources.  During the dry season community members, daily hike up to five hours (round trip) to obtain their family’s water. After water and sanitation, help will be focused on improving their ability to produce food and improve the yield of their coffee crop. Overall, this project includes rainwater harvesting, potable water and sanitation at the household level and rainwater harvesting for irrigation.  In addition, we will help them improve the yield of their coffee crop and possibly help them sell their crop directly to an international roaster.

Our Solutions

In collaboration with The Hunger Project and our partner Instituto de la Naturaleza y la Sociedad de Oaxaca (INSO), we will implement household rainwater harvesting, potable water, clean cook stoves, dry latrines, agricultural rainwater harvesting, and help improve their agricultural practices and coffee production.

Household Rainwater Harvesting

There are five basic components and one optional one to a complete system: roofing material, conveyance (gutters & downspouts), first flush filter, cistern (Rotoplas) and potable water treatment.  Because of the remoteness of the communities (up to a two-hour hike) the cisterns will be made from a series of Rotoplas tanks.  Our initial goal is to implement 20,000 liters of storage.  This, along with water recycling and reuse techniques, should bridge the three-month dry period for our target households.

Dry Latrines

In these communities we will implement two styles of dry latrines. These latrines can easily accommodate (designed) each household.  These systems were developed in Oaxaca by our partner NGO, INSO, and there are hundreds in successful operation.  Both designs utilize a “split bowl” toilet that separates urine and feces. The primary style is a two-compartment structure made of reinforced concrete and rock.  In this design, one chamber is used for a year (or until it is full) then it is sealed until the contents are fully composted (approximately 12 months).  The other style is a single compartment type and is based on a 200 liter plastic barrel that is used for one year (or until it is full).  Then the full barrel is removed from the base structure and sealed for one year to ensure the contents are fully composted.  A second barrel is placed in the latrine for continued use.

The resulting composted humanure is completely safe to handle and to use on human consumption agricultural products.

Clean Cook Stoves

The current cooking methods are primarily open fires within the house with thatched or vented metal roofs (to let some of the smoke out).  To implement household rainwater harvesting systems, the current roofing and cooking methods will need to change to metal roofs and clean-cook stoves.

There are two major advantages to upgrading the cooking stove.  First is health due to proper venting, second is the reduction in fuel use. 

Rocket Lorena stoves

We are improving on the current design of Rocket-Lorena style stoves, by incorporating insulated fire brick and other fire resistant insulated materials.  The substitution of these “high-tech” materials will greatly improve the cooking efficiency (less wood and faster boiling time).  We are working closely with Aprovecho and the University of Washington on the design and materials. Our goal is to have the insulated fire brick and other materials cut to size and assembled into a “kit” that will then be built on site. 

Gasifier stoves

In the future we hope to implement gasifier stoves because they have the ability to boil water very quickly and produce minimal pollutants. Gasifier stoves burn the volatiles in wood, not the wood itself.  The stoves produce a natural gas propane-like flame that is clean burning and very hot.  The stoves are designed to burn small dry wood and the resulting carbon can be used in soil augmentation, water filters, and composting latrines.  We are working with several technical partners to improve the lifespan of these new stoves before we implement them in the field.  The main advantage of having two types of stoves is the gasifier is for fast quick cooking and the Rocket-Lorena is for slower cooking and tortilla making processes.

Improving Agricultural Practices

Currently, these communities spend up to 50% of their income on imported food.  With improved rain harvesting, irrigation and farming practices, they could significantly increase their ability to grow and harvest many staple foodstuffs. This project would include rain harvesting systems, teaching improved irrigation and planting techniques, and soil augmentation practices (vermiculture, humanure).

Opportunities to increase the value of their coffee production and export

Once the basic human services are addressed (water & sanitation) there is the potential to greatly increase the profits and income from the coffee harvest.  There are several opportunities that we can help explore and develop. This is a critical step in increasing the communities’ efforts to advance.

  • Improving yields
  • Transitioning to organic, shade, fair trade certifications
  • Direct export market to US based roaster-distributor
  • Potential to roast on site
  • Direct distribution and retail Café in Oaxaca City




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