At the end of August, the agriculture students at the Centro Educativo Jacoba Urriola Solís in Portobelo won 3rd place in the Regional Science Fair with a composting project we proposed and are now going on to the National Science Fair! The idea behind the project was to teach students an alternative method of composting using air pumps to facilitate the aerobic process that composting needs in order to convert organic waste into rich compost. We created an experiment with three groups of two buckets in order to see what frequency of air pumping was most effective in aiding the decomposing process with two different types of compost mixes. We wanted the students to take this to the Regional Science Fair to present to the public and they did just that, along with several other waste management projects that they did with Professor Wilfredo Aguilar and Professor Francisco Ábrego. The project turned out to be a good complement to the other two projects and the Centro Educativo Jacoba Urriola Solís won third place in the Colón Science Fair allowing them to move on to the National Science Fair in Panama City! They will continue collecting data to present a more complete set of results at the national stage.
Every year Panama holds a national science fair that is sponsored by the National Secretary of Sciences and Technology (Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología or SENACYT in its spanish acronym). High school students from across the country prepare science projects to be presented on a provincial stage, and if they score in the top three they move on to the national stage where they present their projects in Panama City to be judged by representatives from SENACYT. The students who score in the top three at the national competition can win them the chance to participate in an international competition. The national competition will be in October and Professor Wilfredo Aguilar and two other students will go to Panama City to present updated projects to the other participating students, teachers, and SENACYT judges who will be present at the competition. We are confident that Portobelo will represent Colón and the nation with pride, and I am excited to cheer them on the day of the competition. We are excited to continue working with the school in Portobelo and continue developing projects for the students to take charge of and learn from.
Using this project we are creating a link between the school and the Waste Management project we are developing for the district of Santa Isabel in Colón. The compost project in the school in conjunction with the other science fair projects will serve as a way to get students involved in composting and raise awareness of the importance of separating and composting organic waste.
A new stakeholder in Portobelo: Profesor Francisco Ábrego
Professor Francisco Ábrego is a new teacher this year at the Portobelo high school and he has been a great complement to Professor Wilfredo’s agriculture program. He is enthusiastic about his work and has brought many new ideas to the students, especially in the form of composting. Along with our Future Scientist composting experiment with the air pumps, the professor and his students presented about bokashi composting (a japanese compost recipe/technique) and effective microorganisms.
Technology Focus: Bokashi Composting
Bokashi composting is a specific mixture of organic ingredients that makes a potent compost. The ingredients are dried manure (chicken, cow, pig, goat, duck), soil, rice husks, and molasses (or sugar). Professors Ábrego and Aguilar along with the students are selling the bokashi compost to boost funds for the agriculture program as well as utilizing it directly to improve soil quality in the school garden.
Technology focus: effective microorganisms
Effective microorganisms are a mixed culture of naturally occurring bacteria and yeast that are thought to enhance the quality of soil, improve plant growth, and improve yield. It can also be used to clean out septic systems as well as an antibacterial cleaning solution that Professor Ábrego has tested in his uncle’s chicken coop in Veraguas. The scent of chicken droppings and animal smell was eliminated within minutes and in Portobelo they use it to clean their coops and rabbit cages.
These are all lessons in composting that the students can continue to do after they have graduated and we hope that they will pass on this knowledge to their parents and communities long after. And by connecting these projects with the projects we’re doing in Costa Arriba we can connect the students to the problems that are in the region and have them actively participate in the solution.