Interview with Maria Rodriguez – Byoearth

Shortly after the NCSU Worm Farming conference (in May) this year, I received very positive reports on the event from two separate worm-friends. Interestingly enough, both people seemed very impressed with a presentation given by a young entrepreneur from Guatemala named Maria Rodriguez. One of my friends even went so far as to connect me with Maria via email so that I could learn more about what she was doing.

Before I emailed Maria, I decided to learn more about her company, Byoearth, and was further intrigued to say the least. I didn’t waste any time asking if she would be interested in taking part in an RWC interview. Thankfully she accepted!

Can you tell us about your background, and how you became interested/involved in vermicomposting?

I was 20 years old and ending a career on business administration & tourism in Guatemala City. On a regular day, I received an environmental management course, and as we learned about the different opportunities there are to transform degradable waste, I heard “worms”. It was love at first “heard”, my heart pounded strongly because I had found the answer to my prayers, a unique way to connect my true passions, nature & entrepreneurship. From that day on, all I became interested in was worms and how to develop a professional business plan inspired by vermiculture & vermicomposting to end rural poverty in Guatemala. To do so, I participated and won a national business plan incubator that was promoted by Technoserve and USAID (2006). 

Please tell us about ByoEarth. What sort of organization is this, and what sort of projects are you involved in?

Byoearth is a social venture founded in 2007. We are a social business, whose profits are re invested to provide a social benefit, a vermicomposting and vermiculture scalable model for fringe rural / urban areas.
Therefore, Byoearth, is involved in sustainable development projects for Guatemala. One of these projects is based in Guatemala´s City garbage dump area, where more than 2,000 families face a daily struggle to survive with the trash that the city generates. Byoearth partnered with Fundación Junkabal to encourage women of this particular area to learn about vermiculture and the opportunity it brings to become entrepreneurs, provide an economic income to support their families and help the environment. The result has been surprising and we are now making other products out of waste, hand made bags with used plastic bags (for example). The project is called “Fertilize your future” and has been a light at the end of the tunnel for many women.
“Fertilize Your Future” (Abona Tu Futuro), is open to donations, volunteers and new ideas to scale up. The project was one of the presentations given at NC State University 10th annual vermiculture conference.

Is vermicomposting something a lot of people are aware of in Guatemala? Do you find that a lot of people are really interested to learn more about this field? 

Vermicomposting has been done in Guatemala for many years in coffee farms. Red worms came to our country approximately 25 years ago. Nevertheless, the industry has grown potentially for many reasons (in my opinion and experience). Most farmers, gardeners and plant growers are used to chemical fertilizers, not only they are available in stores but they expect to see fast results and performance. Another reason is that there is no notion on earth worm husbandry; so many projects tend to fail quickly. Over the past two years, many international and local organizations, given the food crisis we have faced as a country, have realized the important of worms and organic fertilizers so they are becoming more interested to learn more and to practice. The organic movement around the world has also impacted Guatemala and many people now see the value of organic products, urban orchards and many related topics, like vermiculture and vermicomposting. At the same time, it is important to mention that vermiculture with a social impact is really hard to find. Byoearth was born this way and it will continue to promote vermiculture in Guatemala and around the world with a training model that is accessible for the world´s poor.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced along the way?

I’m proud to say that I’ve never faced an obstacle that has stopped me from working, spreading my ideas or going forward. Nevertheless, I should mention that one of the obstacles that I’ve been facing along the way (even now a days) is trying to change peoples mindset on two concrete issues: 1. chemical fertilizing 2. recycling degradable waste. These obstacles are very particular but are part of our culture (in most cases), we have been thought to use chemical fertilizers and we haven’t been taught to recycle degradable waste. The interesting thing is that these obstacles become a challenge and to overcome challenges is exciting, especially when I’ve worked so hard to develop a social venture that will help me do so.

I understand you are using coffee pulp as a feedstock in your operation. Can you tell us a bit about this waste material, and how it is prepared (if at all) prior to feeding to the worms? What quantities are you vermicomposting?

I began my production plant in a family owned coffee plantation. 60% of the coffee bean is used as feedstock and each year we process 200 tons of coffee pulp with worms. Coffee pulp is an abundant byproduct in the coffee plantation and needs almost no preparation, since it naturally decomposes. We started using coffee pulp three years ago, and the farm had a big coffee pulp reserve from previous harvests. Over the next few months, we need to find another source of feedstock since our worm population is increasing as we speak and they are demanding more food.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? (future plans, other projects, ideas etc)

I am very excited to continue working with Byoearth that is scaling up organically and would like to welcome any ideas to upgrade production in urban and rural areas.
Also, congratulate your readers that believe in vermiculture and vermicomposting and encourage them to keep taking good care of their worms and to share the good news with their neighbors. We need a worm bin in every house!
Worm regards!

Byoearth Production Facility

Feedstock (coffee pulp) slurry

Coffee Pulp

One of Maria’s countless helpers

I’d like to extend my thanks to Maria Rodriguez for taking part in this interview. If you would like to learn more about Maria and her amazing company be sure to visit the Byoearth website.

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  1. Let me be the first to say “Hooray for Maria!” Your efforts are paying off! I so enjoyed your presentation at the NCSU Worm Conference – your slides of women and children living in the dump then moving to much better quarters by “worming their way out” brought tears to many of us. You are to be applauded! And a BIG Thanks to you, Bentley, for helping to further expose the program!

    • Kator
    • October 5, 2010

    Another great interview Bentley!! And a super untertaking by Maria – very impressive. Also,the annual NCSU Worm Conference looks interesting .. good presenters and tours depicted on the NCSU website.

    • larry duke
    • October 5, 2010

    Another great interview!And one from abroad too!
    I also learned something about coffee beans.I thought it was the whole thing,not the seed.Those outer casings look really good!Like thick grape skins.I’m sure we can’t find them here.But i was wondering if the worms eat them like that,or they go through another composting step?Seems like it would be too much in that state.Any info.? I know it says little preparation.But does it work like a windrow?Heat issues?

  2. Hello everyone! Very excited to read this interview and most of all to be part of Red Worm Composting, #1 fan :=)

    About our raw material: we use the outer part of the coffee bean, the red or purple fruit (also known as coffee cherry). On the coffee harvest, the bean inside the fruit gets separated and goes through a process until it is dried and then roasted (a really exciting process, your welcome to visit, it takes place October to February). So after this separation, what remains is the coffee cherry, that goes directly to a hole, where sugar and water filters naturally into soil and we dont contaminate any rivers). After two weeks, the bright red color turns into brown, ph level drops, and it is ready to be fed.

    • Kim from MIlwaukee
    • October 5, 2010

    What an inspiring interview!!! It’s great to see other parts of the world also working on a solution to waste management in a natural and economical way! And helping local women as well…wonderful!! I’m so excited! There’s hope for our planet!

    • Heather Rinaldi
    • October 5, 2010

    Kim–you wrote exactly what I would. Congratulations–I salute you Maria, and the women of Guatemala.

  3. Dear all, thank you so much for your inspirational words, you give me hope and courage at a challenging time 🙂 To be honest, the work at Fundación Junkabal with women living in the slum areas is just another reason to believe that vermiculture and vermicomposting are an excellent tool to fight over poverty and promote sustainable development. Nevertheless, vermiculture and vermicomposting is nothing without the support and courage of women and organizations that believe in simple but yet bright ideas…

    • John Duffy
    • October 6, 2010

    Thank you Bentley & Maria for the inspiring interview. What drew me into vermicomposting as a hopeful “interest” is rapidly becoming a passionate hobby/learning experience thanks to the efforts of people like you.Where there is faith, there is hope!

    • lucas
    • October 12, 2010

    Hola. Maria te felicito yo me encuebtro en el mismo proceso creando un lombricultivo con los vastagos del banano que sobran tambien en grandes cantidades. Quisiera ver como puedo contactarte para hacertew algunas preguntas referentes a lo que estoy haciendo y ver si tienes alguna informacion que me pueda ayudar

  4. Hola Lucas, me puede escribir a, también hemos producido con vastagos de banano y pues tienen bastante celulosa, lo ideal es triturarlo y compostarlo bien, porque tiene unas fibras bien largas que las lombrices no logran deshacer. Ahora, con el fruto y la cáscara del banano estarían felices sus lombrices!!

    Saludos desde Guatemala.

    • Alex Dowding
    • October 26, 2010

    Just wanted to say what a fantastic interview I thought that was. I found it incredibly inspiring, it may very well encourage me to adopt a similar approach to helping out my local community in rural South Africa, which also has endemic poverty. Just wondering, is it possible that grape skins could be fed to red worms? There is a large winery not far from me, which by the end of summer has piles and piles of grape skins lying around, which start to bio degrade and smell pretty awful! Not sure what they do with them at present, but I’m prone to guessing that they don’t use worms to recycle them.
    Keep up the good work in Guatemala Maria!

    • Iva
    • January 20, 2011

    that little helper of Maria’s looks like a Euro….does anybody else think so?

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