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close this bookResource Management for Upland Areas in Southeast Asia - An Information Kit (IIRR, 1995, 207 p.)
close this folder3. Soil and water conservation approaches
View the documentIntroduction to soil and water conservation approaches
View the documentBench terraces
View the documentComposting
View the documentContour tillage/planting
View the documentCover crops
View the documentCrop rotation
View the documentDiversion ditches
View the documentDrop structures
View the documentGrass strips
View the documentHedgerows
View the documentMinimum tilIage/zero tillage
View the documentMulching
View the documentRidge terraces
View the documentShifting cultivation
View the documentSoil barriers
View the documentSoil traps
View the documentWater harvesting


Compost is a type of organic fertilizer derived from the decomposition of plant and animal wastes. It is an excellent source of plant nutrients. Composting is common in homegardens. There are many ways to prepare compost (in a pit, above ground, in a field, near a livestock pen, etc.), depending on various socioeconomic and biophysical factors. The use of compost is a traditional soil fertility management practice throughout Southeast Asia.

Composting involves the decomposition of plant and animal wastes. The decomposition process involves bacteria, beetles and earthworms. Moisture content, an adequate supply of air and temperature control are important parameters for quality compost production.

A variation of this systems is practiced in the western highlands of Papua New Guinea with volcanic ash soils between 1600 and 2800 m. In this practice, large mounds of soil are built up and sweet potato vines, weeds and grasses are collected and placed in the center of the mound. These are left up to 10 weeks for the decomposition process to start. Then, the mounds and biomass are covered with soil, and sweet potato vines are randomly planted on the mound. Often, a second crop like Pyrethrum is planted at the edges of the mounds. Sweet potato takes up to 11 months to mature at 2800 m. Sequential harvesting is practiced so that only large tubers are taken, leaving the rest in the ground for future harvest. Compost mounds are common on slopes up to 10°. They can sustain production for up to 40 years.

Mound compost method in Papua New Guinea


Decaying compost generates nutrients for crops.

Decaying compost generates heat, which maintains temperature at optimum levels for tuberization, despite very low night temperatures at high altitudes (Papua New Guinea).

Mounds are good for tuberization since the volume of rooting zone is increased.


Compost mounds requires a large quantity of plant material (up to 40 tons/ha).
Cannot be used in the lowlands where severe weed infestation is a problem.
Cannot be practiced on steep slopes.
High labor requirement.

Factors affecting adoption


May not be needed on soils high in organic matter.
Must have adequate supply of biomass.
Biomass requirements may be difficult to meet in drier climates.


Labor is needed to harvest, haul and distribute the organic matter.
In some societies, it is not acceptable to handle animal dung.