Tropical Composting 101


Written by Sean Koenig, ChangeStream Media Co-founder

In tropical places like Zanzibar, Tanzania, it is possible to turn yard waste, kitchen scraps and stove ash into fertile compost in just 18 days. ChangeSteam Media partnered with the Permaculture Institute of Zanzibar to share this method in a short video combining Swahili dialogue, English subtitles and clear visuals to reach the widest possible audience:

In countries with widespread subsistence agriculture and chronic malnutrition, throwing away compostable waste is equivalent to burning money. Here is the recipe for 18-day compost from the video:

Tools that will help:

  • Pruners or machete to cut branches
  • A rake or a broom to gather the yard waste
  • A bucket or wheel barrow to collect the waste
  • A pitchfork or shovel to mix the compost

Step 1. Gather your composting materials and place them in two piles:

  • High carbon pile (branches, dried leaves, ash, and paper trash)
  • High nitrogen pile (fresh green cuttings, kitchen scraps, and animal waste)

Avoid very large objects, like bones, logs or coconuts that will take too long to decompose.

Step 2. Build your compost pile in a shady spot. Place alternating layers from the carbon and nitrogen piles, starting with a layer of branches to allow air circulation. Water the pile as you build it. The ratio of carbon-rich to nitrogen-rich materials should be about 60/40, and the final size of the pile should be about a meter on every side to optimize air flow and temperature.

Step 3. Care for the compost pile. Mix the pile and water it and every few days to provide air, moisture and fresh material into the center of the pile. This is where the microorganisms digesting the waste are most active. Place a stick in the center of the pile to monitor the temperature. If it starts to get too hot, turn the pile so the microorganisms don’t cook themselves!


The Practical Permaculture Institute of Zanzibar runs Swahili-language workshops teaching sustainable agricultural practices like this composting technique. Visit their Facebook page for links to more online resources, to arrange a visit to their demonstration farm, or to sign up for a training.