Notes from the Field: Guatemalan Youth Discover a Love for Community-Based Conservation

youth farmers Guatemala

Migration from Central America to the United States has been in the news more than usual these days. It is accelerating due to the difficulties that come with rapid population growth, rising energy demand, massive crop losses from the effects of climate change, and organized crime and violence reaching alarming levels along this tiny string of countries.

Even if migration is just to the nearest city, the actual movement of family members is really a means to an end. These families only seek to provide a better future for their children: keeping them fed, educated, safe, and healthy. At Trees, Water & People (TWP), we have learned that there are many opportunities to create sustainable livelihoods in rural areas, and that often these opportunities can be paired with better natural resource management.

To modify an old adage – this is akin to getting two plants from one seed. Recently, I had this conversation with a group of young men from a rural village near Escuintla, Guatemala. They have formed a youth group in their community that is taking on migration by seeking new, local income generating opportunities. David Bautista, 26 and Osvin Gomez, 25, are the de facto leaders of the group, and together have been pitching their projects to TWP since we first began working in their community, La Bendición, in 2011.

“At first, there were many in the community who didn’t believe in us – they’d say that it was a passing fad,” says David, referring to their plans several years ago of starting an entrepreneurial youth movement in the community.

Guatemala tree nursery

Today, the ambitious young group has a plantation of 5,000 organic pineapples that produce a continuous, mouth-watering harvest, a few dozen bee hives from which they are bottling and selling honey, and plots of shade-grown coffee. In addition, the group also runs a 15,000 tree nursery, which they use almost exclusively for fruit trees. These high-value crops, including coconuts, cashews, citrus, coffee, and cacao, are providing an important source of income to young farmers while promoting natural resource conservation.

The youth group’s mission, which TWP continues to support, is simple: find approaches that allow them to develop their community from within, so they never have to migrate to the city, or to the U.S., to work for someone else. “An old tree can’t be straightened out,” says the sitting President of the town council Oscar, who still bears the memories of his time laboring in the U.S., “it has to be trained while it’s young.

Trees, Water & People Announces Winner of $40,000 “Green Business in Indian Country Start-Up Award”

Tyler Tawahongva

Tyler Tawahongva accepts the Green Business in Indian Country Start-Up Award.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) is pleased to announce Tyler Tawahongva as the winner of the 2014 Green Business in Indian Country Start-Up Award. Mr. Tawahongva, a Hopi member of the Coyote Clan from Hotevilla, Arizona, will receive up to $40,000 in start-up capital and technical assistance to expand his company, Cloud Nine Recycling.

Tyler returned to his hometown of Tuba City, Arizona in 2010 after working for American Express for ten years. While exploring career options, he found that he could make extra income from recycling. He has been recycling for four years now and recently expanded Cloud Nine Recycling to include paper products, plastics, aluminum cans, metals and electronic equipment.

“This principle of being a Native and a steward of the earth is a driving force to my endeavor of creating this recycling business.” Explains Tyler, “With the award from Trees, Water and People, I will now be able to continue my mission to intercept waste from landfills and provide jobs for the local community as well as bring awareness to the need for recycling in my community.”

The Green Business in Indian Country Start-Up Award is an exciting culmination of Trees, Water & People’s annual Green Business Development Training and Business Start-Up Mentorship Program. Using the Indianpreneurship curriculum developed by Our Native American Business Network (ONABEN), this new multi-tiered approach provides Native American students with the practical knowledge, resources, and confidence needed to create their own businesses.

“We had several excellent green business plans submitted, but Tyler’s personal statement and feasibility plan really stood out. Recycling is one of the bases of community-wide involvement in addressing climate change and sustainable living, and TWP is very excited to help support Cloud Nine Recycling get a strong start.” Said Jamie Folsom, TWP’s National Director and a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

TWP is proud to sponsor this Award and offer assistance to Native American entrepreneurs like Tyler who are eager to create and grow their green business ideas.

For more information please contact Jamie Folsom at jamief@treeswaterpeople.org or call 970-484-3678.

Community Voices: Juan Francisco Velasquez

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

clean cookstove guatemala

Chico and Florida are happy to have a safer and healthier home with their new clean
cookstove.

In every country where Trees, Water & People (TWP) builds clean cookstoves, we train local citizens in the design and construction of the stoves. These dedicated individuals work with community members throughout the entire process to create stoves that meet their specific cooking needs. In addition, stoves are built using local materials. Families invest in the stove by providing a portion of the materials needed as well as investing time in helping to construct the stoves.

Imagine: more than 63,000 cookstoves built to date, all designed and constructed by local citizens! This accomplishment gets at the core of TWP’s mission and vision – an emphasis on community-based natural resource management that benefits both people and the planet. Our projects are not successful unless local people are involved each step of the way.

Sebastian Africano clean cookstove

Inspecting Chico’s cookstove and happy to see how well it works for the family.

During our most recent visit to Guatemala, we saw this model in action. Juan Francisco “Chico” Velasquez and his wife Florida Vitalia welcomed us into their home to see their new clean cookstove. Chico and his family have benefited from the stove for eight months now, greatly reducing their fuelwood use and indoor air pollution in the home. Our partners at Utz Che’ worked with community members to design this stove to meet their unique cooking preferences.

Chico says, “Before we had the clean cookstove, I never knew food could smell so good! Now that there is no smoke in the kitchen, you can smell dinner cooking from outside the house and all the way down the street.”

To learn more about our Clean Cookstove Program click here.

Access to Clean Energy: From Pilot Project to Sustainable Enterprise

man_and_baby_Sun_King_Pro_solar_light_000

In 2011, armed with a grant awarded under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), nonprofit organization Trees, Water & People launched an initiative to increase the use of clean technologies in several Latin American countries. That pilot project has since spawned a social enterprise that is making solar lighting products accessible to customers in rural areas of Central America.

It all began with a three-year, $1.2 million ECPA grant awarded by the U.S. State Department to Colorado-based Trees, Water & People (TWP) for an initiative called “Improving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.” The goal was to develop effective ways to reach off-grid markets with climate-friendly products such as clean cookstoves, solar lanterns, and small solar home systems.

While such products provide tangible benefits—cleaner indoor air, reduced expenditures on conventional energy, and higher-quality lighting and cooking—a major challenge is how to create a sustainable supply chain to reach markets with the greatest need. Last-mile distribution is complex, unpredictable, and expensive. Roads are sometimes impassable, mobile communications are often unreliable, and many rural households have no access to financing.

TWP worked hand in hand with a social enterprise called PowerMundo—which had tackled some of these problems in Peru—and with partners in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador to develop a sustainable commercial model for hard-to-reach areas in Central America.

After trying several different approaches, TWP found that existing rural institutions such as agricultural cooperatives, nongovernmental organizations, and rural savings and loans groups could be effective distributors and retailers of the clean-technology products. Since such groups often already have a credit relationship with small-scale farmers for agricultural investments, they can provide these same farmers with the payment terms they need to invest in products that have a true impact on their lives.

solar light Honduras

Last year, TWP took a step toward making the initiative sustainable by establishing a social enterprise called Luciérnaga LLC (the name means “firefly”) to serve Central America with solar lighting products. “We wanted to create a vehicle through which the project could continue to grow,” explained TWP International Director Sebastián Africano.

Luciérnaga fills a business niche by providing a link between manufacturers and small local distributors. It imports solar lighting products in bulk to a central location in El Salvador, handling logistical details and ordering in large enough quantities to keep the price per unit low. The items can then be distributed over land to partners and clients throughout the region, in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. Any profits would be reinvested in the company.

The growth of this business model and the birth of Luciérnaga as an independent company with an international presence show how short-term grant funding can be leveraged toward longer-term sustainable development objectives, according to Africano.

Today, TWP is working to standardize its methods in each country and implement a mobile phone-based monitoring system where distributors can keep track of their sales, collections, and warranty processes through a common online database. The goal is to keep costs low and provide a new source of income for rural individuals and institutions while potentially reaching millions of households in Central America that don’t have access to electricity.

Since launching this program, Luciérnaga and PowerMundo have sold close to 10,000 solar lighting products through their networks, providing illumination, device-charging capabilities, healthier households, and over $200 in cash savings per year, per product, to more than 50,000 people in Latin America.

This post was originally published by the Energy and Climate Partnership of Americas. To view the original blog post click here.

Notes from the Field: Indianpreneurship

by Jamie Folsom, National Director

ONABEN's Trainers in Training!

ONABEN’s Trainers in Training!

Our Native American Business Network (ONABEN) hosted their Indianpreneurship Training of the Trainers in Portland, Oregon a few weeks ago. I was so excited to attend and have the chance to meet business and economic development professionals from all over Indian Country.

There is nothing better than being in a room full of people who share your goals of helping others get jobs and create jobs in their communities, especially for Native people because we often live so far from one another. It was truly an event that brought to mind Sitting Bull’s words: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”

ONABEN1TWP has adapted the 12-week Indianpreneurship curriculum for its week-long Green Business Development in Indian Country (GBDIC) training. We focus on renewable energy, sustainable housing and other applications of green technology that will benefit Native communities. The training helps with the nuts and bolts of budgeting and marketing for students who are considering starting their own businesses. They leave the week-long course with a foundation for creating a strong business plan. The Training of the Trainers gave me new ideas for GBDIC as part of our efforts to foster better business skills, particularly in the area of creating a solid financial foundation for starting a business.

Thank you ONABEN, and those who attended, for sharing your knowledge and skills. Whatever good we do for our people today, our children and grandchildren will be watching and passing on to their children, so we better get good things done!

To learn more about ONABEN please visit www.onaben.org

Notes from the Field: Sharing Knowledge for Climate Adaption in Nicaragua

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

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Members of CADPI gain hands-on experience building clean cookstoves.

Our partners at Proleña in Nicaragua were proud to receive a delegation from the Center for the Autonomy and Development of Indigenous People (CADPI) at their headquarters and demonstration site in Managua last week. CADPI is a social organization dedicated to the investigation and study of themes related to indigenous peoples of Nicaragua, Central America, and the Caribbean.

CADPI sent a delegation of three men and six women from the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic, or RAAN as it’s known in Nicaragua, to investigate improved cookstove options for their remote region, which is experiencing rapid deforestation at the hand of cattle ranchers and other interests.

At Proleña, the group tested a variety of cookstoves, but decided that the most appropriate was the Emelda cookstove. This stove was designed in partnership with Proleña to better meet the needs of the most rural communities. After seeing the stove in action, the team received a step-by-step photo presentation on cookstove design, construction, use and maintenance, then built their own model under Proleña’s guidance.

These are the types of workshops we look forward to hosting on a larger scale at Proleña and TWP’s National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change, which is currently under construction in nearby La Paz Centro, Nicaragua. Teaching motivated groups techniques and technologies to both mitigate and adapt to climate change leads to local capacity and leadership in the struggle for sustainable resource management.

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