MED-Ina in Jordan supports Gold Sands, a vermicomposting farm project
Can you introduce yourself briefly, and tell us about your project?
I am Reham Al Mughrabi, civil servant, mother of 6, and my goal was to do an agricultural project. I started designing a system of hydroponics agriculture on house rooftops, with the aim of making them fully autonomous, intelligent and zero waste. From this point, as this system aims for zero waste, I searched for what can help the most with getting rid of crop waste, and I found that growing worms is a practice done around the globe and helps getting rid of waste while producing organic fertiliser that helps a lot in terms of environment
When and how did you get this idea?
During Covid times, we were very concerned about our food sovereignty, so I started with my own house self-sufficiency, and at the same time, I didn’t want to produce waste and be a burden on nature, because it is important for me to have a positive impact. Fun story: my daughter wanted some treats that came in small packaging and I said, “I don’t want to add burden on the environment”, and she replied “but what if we are the only ones who want to protect the planet? If we don’t buy them, other people will!” So, I promised her that when I’d start my own waste treatment plant, I would buy her the treats in small packaging. So I thought about the matter and I figured we can do this, even through individual initiative. From there I started working on this project, and I got the Vermicompost idea, not randomly of course: made my research, trained, networked with very cooperative Professors from Azhar University (Egypt), and people from Istanbul University (Turkey). They gave us information and scientific research, then I researched myself, bought the worms and started experimenting, and I decided that this project had to be implemented operationally.
We are now a 3-people working team, with an agriculture engineer in charge of daily management of the farm, a mechanical engineer in charge of HR and logistics, and 2 additional employees.
At one point, we met with the Minister of Agriculture who is interested in our project, because we have an environmental problem with livestock manure, especially cows, in Irbid, in getting rid of significant amounts of waste that attract insects, release CO2 and pollute water tables and wells. Our project appeared as a solution to retain this CO2, treat this waste and turn it into organic fertiliser, at a time when the cost of chemical fertilisers, especially based on nitrogen, has increased a lot. As you know, everyone is trying to improve in terms of gas emissions and global warming so there was a worldwide agreement on decreasing the production of nitrogen fertilisers, mechanically increasing their price, putting farmers under pressure.
Therefore, if the Vermicompost project succeeds, that will help the crops whilst being environmentally friendly, and that is one of our major focuses. That is why compost is called “black gold”: you help farmers that are the source of your food, which then grows into healthier and stronger products (which stay fresh for one to two weeks instead of 3-4 days); you help nature, water tables, climate…
We are backed by the Ministry, who is willing to help us throughout potential issues on the way. We are the first vermicompost farm in Jordan, so it requires authorisations or land use permits. We are going to build partnerships to raise awareness among farms on the potential benefits they could get from using our produce: saving money, growing plants that are more resistant to diseases, using fewer pesticides… We are even going to invite people to our farm to see how it works, to reassure them and help them change their practices and old habits, make them see that adopting this new way of producing is not a risk but an opportunity.
Farmers are usually the weakest link in the chain, because they directly suffer from increasing production costs. So we offer them to divide their production costs by 2, and increase the amount of healthy product with a high nutritional value, while reviving their soils that are currently suffering from heavy elements as a result of using chemical fertilisers. In addition, they will need less water for their crops, because vermicompost helps soils retain water, leading to 40% water savings in agriculture, a crucial element in a country like Jordan that has among the scarcest water resources in the world.
How did the orientation session and support by TTi help you prepare the pitching event?
Yazeed was our first entry point at TTi, very committed to providing our project with training, helping us towards success. We had sessions on project management, marketing, financial results, and we were assisted in preparing the presentation for us to channel the idea in the right way. The training was very important and useful, as we then won the prize, and reached our goal to convince the jury of the importance and viability of our project, in terms of environment, circular economy and finance.
How is the prize you won going to help your project, and what are the next steps?
First, finding the proper land, getting the required authorisations, and start the crop using part of the 10,000 euros we won, but saving some for wage costs before production yields some returns.
Second, contracting with farmers who are going to provide me with livestock manure, so I can start producing the compost, thanks to my central asset: worms, for which I could get a certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Third, raising awareness, in partnership with the directorate of agriculture, to raise awareness among farmers, giving them samples so they try it on our land or a small piece of their land, so they can compare and even provide us with early data for our own farm.
Fourth, marketing. Obviously, our compost packaging will be environment-friendly; we chose online marketing, we have an online page with customers already, because we had a small project with small amounts of products, and this helps us get some early feedback, which proved positive! We’ve already had about 50 people purchasing compost.
And then, we have a plan for further expansion, beyond project establishment, to be able to receive and treat more and more manure and produce more and more compost to supply all Jordanian markets. And who knows, we could also think about breeding increasing numbers of worms and use them as nutrition for poultry for instance. So, we have a large future vision, but right now we are staying focused on producing vermicompost.
What were you expecting from the TTi incubation that you benefitted from?
I can’t tell you enough how helpful TTi has been, with any enquiry we have; they help us think because you can’t brainstorm with yourself, so this external point of view was crucial to find better solutions. They could also help us establish partnerships with some organisations that could help us in the future, for scaling up for example: donors, clients…
How do you see your contribution to the efforts towards less waste and/or a more circular economy?
First,we treat significant amounts of waste, which, when accumulating, attracts flies, affects water tables and releases CO2. We make sure it does not contaminate water with heavy elements, we minimise its CO2 emissions thus helping to mitigate climate change, and we avoid flies. We turn it into vermicompost, which is an organic fertiliser. What do the farmers gain from it? First, they use less chemical fertilisers, leading to less heavy elements contaminating their soil. Second, their crops grow stronger roots, more resistant to diseases; therefore, they need fewer pesticides, because their plants have better immunity. Furthermore, vermicompost helps retaining water in soils, so that leads to irrigation savings, as the soil is naturally more vivid. And less contamination means fewer cases of human diseases including cancer. So the impact may not be entirely visible immediately, but in the long run it makes a huge difference on the entire society.