Category Archives: Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field: Generations of Knowledge and Experience Converge

Guatemala apiculture workshop

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

A lot of my recent “firsts” have been in Guatemala, while working with TWP partner Utz Che’ – an umbrella group for 36 campesino organizations throughout this vast country. Through Utz Che’ I met the community of La Bendición – a displaced population of some 100 families from San Marcos, who were resettled in the south east of the country, in the Department of Escuintla.

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Since 2011 a group of young men from La Bendición has been approaching me very formally, seeking support for some community projects they were getting off the ground. Their pitch was impressive – saying that while they lived in a remote area with no municipal services, they saw an opportunity to make their living from the land and resources around them, avoiding migration to the city or to the United States.

After three years of visits, I have never been let down by these guys – they’ve planted tens of thousands of trees, thousands of pineapples, and have a small enterprise producing honey.  So, when they asked me to support them getting additional training in bee keeping to improve their business, I made it a priority to see that it happened.

Guatemalan honey

Guatemalan honey

For two days in November 2014, a group of 16 beekeepers from the Utz Che’ broad network of partners came together at the Meso-American Permaculture Institute (IMAP) on the south shore of Lake Atitlán to receive an apiculture workshop from local expert Genaro Simalaj. The participants ranged in age from 16 to 70 years, and were from throughout Guatemala – three generations of knowledge and experience in one powerful convergence.

When participants were asked in an introductory circle what bees meant to each of them, responses included “they are part of my family”, “they are who give life to nature through pollination”, “a healthful economy” and “they are the scientists that do with nature what no one else can”.  We then spent two days studying and splitting hives, collecting honey, and learning from each other in the mountains around Lake Atitlán.

This workshop was a reminder to me of the importance of my work at TWP – a fulcrum between the aspirations of rural communities and the resources that help them become reality. David Bautista, the unwavering leader of the youth group from La Bendición said that “when the adults are no longer here, it’s us (the youth) who are going to have to guide this ship”. My role, as I see it, is just to fan the sails.

Guatemalan apiculture

Join TWP on a work tour to the community of La Bendición the week of March 15 – 22 to build clean cookstoves, work in the tree nursery, learn about bee keeping, and help fix a water system. A great way to travel while giving back!  Register by Dec. 31 for a 5% discount: www.treeswaterpeople.org/worktour

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.

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.

Notes from the Field: El Salvador Nursery in Full Bloom

El Salvador tree nursery

In El Porvenir, El Salvador, staff members are busy with a full nursery of 30,000 seedlings that are now ready to be planted. We grow a wide variety of trees in this nursery including avocado, orange, cacao, cashew, and mahogany. This nursery provides local communities with a source for high-quality fruit, nut, coffee, cacao and hardwood trees.

Farmers most often purchase our trees as an investment – to diversify the agricultural products going to market from their plots and increase their income. Additionally, they invest in trees to improve soils and increase biodiversity on their land.  Droughts this year across Central America have highlighted the importance of diversity and tree crops, as these are often more resilient in the face of water shortages.

To learn more about our Reforestation Program and how you can support our tree planting efforts please visit our website: www.treeswaterpeople.org

Notes from the Field: Measuring the Health Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in Honduras

Honduras clean cookstove study

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

I first met Maggie Clark, an environmental epidemiologist at Colorado State University (CSU) , back in 2005 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, when she came to test the health of women exposed to wood smoke from cooking over open fires. Since then, we have both worked continually on improving conditions in Central American kitchens via clean cookstoves designed and built by Trees, Water & People (TWP) and partners.

clean cookstove study

Meeting with community members is an important first step in initializing a new clean cookstove study.

Last week I had the great pleasure of joining forces with Dr. Maggie again in Honduras, as we launch an ambitious, comprehensive study to show the benefits of improved cookstoves on the health of rural women and their families in the mountainous western region of the country. While most studies of this kind are short term snapshots of the benefits that come from improving cookstove technology, this study proposes following over 400 women over three years as they transition from traditional open fire cooking to improved cookstoves.

Trees, Water & People began working with cookstoves in 1998 as an effort to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions, and together with Aprovecho Research Center designed a culturally appropriate cookstove that reduced firewood consumption in any given household by an average of 50%. What we later learned, is that the smoke that families (mostly women and children) are exposed to daily during cooking is responsible for up to 4 million deaths a year globally, and leads to chronic lifelong health complications for millions more.

We are certain that improved cookstoves improve conditions in households where firewood is used to cook daily. What CSU and TWP seek to show, however, is that many factors play into a family’s decision to adopt, fully utilize and benefit from a cookstove over time, and that the presence or absence of certain factors influence the degree to which health improves. By using data generated by this study to optimize what technologies we introduce and how we implement them, we seek to improve the impacts of our work and inform the work of the countless other organizations working to improve life in firewood-dependent communities.

It’s an honor to be working with my friend Dr. Maggie Clark and CSU on such a groundbreaking study, and its great to see the dedication and resilience of the cookstove community as we work to improve living conditions in some of the most challenging environments in the world.

Notes from the Field: Solar Heater Workshop at White Earth Trains New Group of Solar Warriors

We recently partnered with Honor the Earth, Lakota Solar Enterprises, Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERT), Ojibwe Wind, and the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP) to conduct a Solar Air Heating workshop at the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.

During the 5-day course, students learned how to assemble kits for solar air heaters and participated in hands-on solar air heater installations on White Earth Reservation homes. After the training, the White Earth Tribe will hire these new “Solar Warriors” to install ten solar heaters on the homes of tribal members.

Henry Red Cloud, the lead instructor for the training and owner of Lakota Solar Enterprises, shared his view of solar energy with the students: “It’s like a rebuilding of a nation. Taking our old way and then taking this new way. We gotta step forward all the time.”

At the end of the training, one student commented, “I really thank you guys for having Henry come and teach White Earth Members like me and my daughter and my son-in-law. This new trade that is coming, I’m so glad that it is here.”

To learn more about the workshops offered by Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program click here.

partners

Notes from the Field: A New Growing Season at Solar Warrior Farm

Solar Warrior Farm volunteer

We love our volunteers!

Not even a Mother’s Day snow storm could hold back the early plantings at the Solar Warrior Farm (SWF) and Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Hardy cabbages survived and are ready to greet the next sets as they arrive. May is a funny month in Zone 4, but many of the gardeners on the Pine Ridge Reservation are happy to see the last frost behind them and they are ready to start more of those early crops of spinach, cabbage, carrots, radishes and raspberries.

Anna Dunlap and Caroline Cuny

Anna and Caroline share gardening stories in the sun.

We were lucky enough to have a visit from Lakota elder and seasoned garden expert Caroline Cuny. She helped us welcome our new Solar Warrior Farm Coordinator for the season – Anna Dunlap, a student from Berea College in Kentucky. A lifetime organic gardener, Anna still had many questions about what works best in the particular microclimates on Pine Ridge. It really takes knowledge and experience to sense what the season might be like this year, and we are very thankful that Ms. Cuny could spend a day, have some lunch and share her time and talents with our crew.

And about those other tasks… The SWF needed some TLC. The beds are tilled, the plantings mapped out and visions of big, juicy tomatoes danced in our heads, as we mucked out the solar powered water tank, weeded the cabbages and cleaned out a space for work tables and starters in the greenhouse. Thanks to Uma Black Hawk-Wilkinson from the Cheyenne River community for helping with those efforts.

solar warrior farm volunteers

It just seems when help is needed, people show up. Trees, Water & People likes to be able to show up for others as well. In 2014, we plan on sharing more veggies and sharing knowledge through more workshops on gardening – focusing on traditional Lakota recipes and healthy eating. Gardening is a perfect time to bring young people and elders together, and helps keep Native communities strong.

We hope you will donate to this important project and consider visiting RCREC and Solar Warrior Farm in 2014. Stay tuned and watch us grow!