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The hens of Kabul – genuine living compost ! Go COP21 !

Jean-Michel Marlaud - Kaboul, Afghanistan - 19 février 2016

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When I arrived in Afghanistan, I was surprised to find, at the bottom of the residence’s garden, a great hen-house inhabited by a cock and half a dozen hens.

True, this is ancient history : even back in the 1930s, the ambassador’s office is said to have looked out over the poultry. The cock is, of course, a very Gallic symbol, and the Embassy has a long animal tradition, and some of our Afghan visitors are keen to remind me that the garden used to be home to fauna including gazelles and peacocks. I was, however, in two minds as to whether to keep this farmyard, where the noise pollution seemed clear for the human neighbours. While it is always a pleasure to have fresh eggs, cocks are known to be rather early rises and could bother the sleep of the many staff living near the Embassy park. Once I had been reassured about this point, I kept the hen-house.

More recently, we decided to give new impetus to our “green embassy” project, which fits into the wider framework of exemplary administration and, of course, COP21 – the immense international climate change conference that was soon to be held in France. The idea is a simple one : firstly, it aims to improve the reception of our visitors, and secondly, to reduce the Embassy’s footprint in terms of greenhouse gas emissions while combating waste. The expected benefits involve not only behaving as environmentally friendly world citizens but also, more prosaically, saving money.

A steering committee was thus set up, involving essential members whose roles mean we cannot do without them, and all those interested by these issues. There was no shortage of ideas, including improving disabled access, installing time-switches and solar panels, developing sorting of waste, putting in place an environmental charter for staff, and planting on the building... not to mention composting !

But in addition to composting, another suggestion emerged which would also help reduce waste : recycling leftovers for our great layers who are rather greedy (eating up to 150 kg of feed per year and per bird !), giving them almost everything that goes into our kitchen bins, including vegetable peelings, leftover rice and pasta, prawn shells and even meat ! Indeed, the staff cannot go out for meals for security reasons, so, with the Ministry’s help, the “Paris-Kabul Club” was established, serving more than 50 meals at lunchtime... not counting the meals organized at the residence, of course. According to the calculations by the environmental specialists, almost a third of our waste is of animal or plant origin, and the birds are like us in that they’re omnivores !

And so the hens of Kabul joined the fight against climate change...

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