Notes from the Field: Putting Down Roots in El Salvador

Llenado de bolsa y ordenado en su respectiva era

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

January through April is typically the dry season in Central America, and the time that we ramp up our tree nursery activities to prepare seedlings for the arrival of the all-important May rains.  Our partners at Àrboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) in El Salvador have stuck to this cycle for almost two decades, helping to grow and plant for than 664,000 trees.

This week, the AAP team is in the process of prepping 40,000 bags of soil and collecting seeds from over 20 tree species for our 2016 reforestation work. Some of the species we will plant in 2016 are Cedro salvadore√Īo, Memble, Jacaranda, Chaquirrio, Eucalipto, Cort√©z negro, Mara√Ī√≥n japones, Naranjo, Cacao, and Balsamo.

What’s different about this year’s operation is the nursery’s new location, a plot of land purchased and owned by AAP, located in El Porvenir, El Salvador. The land was bought¬†at the end of 2015 after renting small plots of land since 2003. This is a game changer!

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Don Jorge has been an integral part of the AAP team since 2007.

The idea of owning a piece of land has been a dream for AAP’s Executive Director, Armando Hernandez Juarez, for as long as he has been working for the organization. With a permanent site to develop, we are now able to invest the time and energy necessary into outfitting the site with a more permanent and definitive presence and identity.  As the nursery infrastructure is time sensitive, we are focusing on that first Рleveling the land, propping up locally harvested bamboo posts, and hanging the recycled shade cloth that our Nursery Manager, Don Jorge Ochoa, cares for so dutifully year after year.

Instalación de Zarán en el nuevo Vivero

Deforestation is one of the most serious environmental problems facing El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. Logging, agriculture, and the use of fuelwood for cooking has led to increased risk of erosion and mudslides, which have claimed thousands of lives in recent years. In addition, poor land management, soil erosion, and shifting weather patterns have left much of the countryside unsuitable for cultivating food.

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Community members are an important part of our reforestation efforts in El Salvador, helping to plant and care for trees.

Our reforestation work has never been more critical in El Salvador, and AAP is on the front lines, working tirelessly to restore the country’s watersheds, forests, and soil health, giving hope to rural farmers and their families. The next steps are where we could use your help, as we are looking to invest in irrigation equipment, new tools, and a proper storage shed. If you would like to support our reforestation efforts in El Salvador, please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org to make a donation or email Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director, at Sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org to learn more.

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New Report: The Health Consequences of El Ni√Īo in Central America

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Rural, poor farmers in Central America are often hit hardest by El Ni√Īo events.

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

A new report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) calls attention to the¬†devastating effects of El Ni√Īo in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. El Ni√Īo¬†refers to the ‚Äúlarge-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in¬†sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific (NOAA, 2016).‚ÄĚ

El Ni√Īo Wreaks Havoc¬†on Central America

The presence of El Ni√Īo has caused prolonged drought in Central America that is expected to¬†last through at least March of 2016. Crop failure, especially in the ‚Äúdry corridors‚ÄĚ of Guatemala,¬†Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, has already affected 4.2 million people in the sub-region.

As with many climate-related events, the poorest households are most affected. Food insecurity and malnutrition are the biggest challenges facing these countries and are expected to last through the next harvest in August 2016. Guatemala and Honduras have gone as far as to declare a state of emergency. The governments of Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador are providing support to farmers by distributing seeds and water pumps.

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Source: World Health Organization (WHO), 2016

Most farmers in the region, particularly subsistence or small-scale campesino (rural farmer) operations, rely¬†predominantly on natural rainfall for their crops, and these recent weather patterns, caused by El Ni√Īo and increasing climate volatility, have exacerbated food¬†insecurity and overall instability in the rural areas of Central America. We are not¬†even halfway through the summer season here, with full bore temperatures (and¬†corresponding dryness) reaching its peak in the months of March and April.

Eco-Friendly Agriculture in a Changing Climate

One of the key takeaways from the campesinos that I work with and visited on my last regional tour in October is that increased variability creates significant uncertainty around the arrival of the first rains in May. Many farmers are unsure about when, what, and how much they should plant for the season. These conversations played over and over again as I traveled from El Salvador to Guatemala, and then from Honduras back to Nicaragua.

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A farmer in Honduras takes us on a tour of his small tree nursery, where he grows a variety of species.

According to Gerardo Santos, a¬†field coordinator for Centro Educativo de Agricultura Sostenible (CEASO), “These fluctuations and changing climate dynamics are wreaking havoc in the most vulnerable areas and increasingly encroaching upon the majority of the country. Without the stability and predictability of the rains, campesinos are really in a difficult spot; they are in a struggle for survival.”¬†

To assist these farmers, Trees, Water & People supports programs in sustainable agriculture, like those of our newest partner, CEASO in Honduras. A shifting paradigm in agriculture emphasizes climate mitigation and adaptation strategies like better soil management, conservation, rainwater harvesting, enhanced water storage capacity, agroforestry, crop diversification, and better and more resistant local seeds.

We believe that a more diverse, holistic approach to farming will protect campesino families in the long run, ensuring rural communities have access to food and other natural resources in a rapidly changing climate.

To read the full WHO report please click here.

Trees, Water & People’s 2015 Impact Report

Thank you to our generous friends and donors who helped make 2015 a great year! Working closely with our local partners, community members, and volunteers, we were able to continue important conservation work throughout Central America, Haiti, and on tribal lands in the United States that benefit people and the planet.

2015 impact report

To learn more about Trees, Water & People’s community-based conservation projects please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org. Cheers to a productive and green 2016!

Work Tour Creates Community Across Borders

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Cynthia Sargent and a child from La Bendición work on the community house together.

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

For my third visit of the year to the rural community of La Bendición, Guatemala, I traveled with a group from Unity and The Geller Center of Fort Collins, Colorado. On Sunday, the 27th of December, I scurried from Antigua to the Guatemala City airport twice to meet our work tour participants. They arrived tired, but in good spirits after some extensive layovers in the Miami airport. Despite the exhaustion of travel, it was apparent that by choosing to spend the days after the Christmas holiday and the dawn of the New Year in a rural, off-grid community, this group showed immense dedication and compassion.

The Antigua departure on Monday morning was slightly delayed due to logistical errands. Before too much time went by, we were on the road, driving our rented van towards the main highway. Following 30 minutes of volcano and countryside views, with Volcano Agua and Volcano Fuego imposing their silhouettes on the route, we soon spotted the turnoff for El Rodeo and Oswaldo, our main local point of contact and esteemed ambassador for La Bendici√≥n and Utz’ Che (he serves as their Coordinator of Campesino Exchanges). Oswaldo jumped in the van and we were off to visit the community of La Trinidad, also known as 15 de Octubre, but commonly referred to by their cooperative name among the Utz’ Che family, Union Huiste.

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The visit to the cooperative’s¬†beneficio, or coffee processing area, was quite informative for our¬†group. The cooperative leaders also led us on a tour of the main community and key sites in addition to the coffee¬†production areas. This visit included a visual history, courtesy of a community mural, that depicted the group¬īs departure from western Guatemala, exile in Mexico, and eventual settling in the Escuintla area.

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A visual history of La Trinidad, Guatemala.

As the afternoon wore on, we made haste for La Bendici√≥n before nightfall. With the sun just going down, we arrived at the¬†community house bathed in the soft light of dusk with the shadows of the forest and the mountains welcoming us from all sides. A stunning sight to witness and an embracing welcome for the group. The next several days involved significant improvements to the community house, including a fresh coat of paint for the first time in over 20 years, as well as repairs to the walls and the cement floors. All of this ¬†was planned with the intention¬†of creating a better community space, but also moving¬†towards the community’s vision: creating a destination for possible ecotourism efforts in the future.

Beyond the repair efforts at the community house, our group was also able to see some of the clean cookstoves TWP has helped install throughout the village, the weaving and textile crafts, the beekeeping operations (including the all important honeycomb sampling), and hikes through the virgin forest that sustains the life and livelihoods of the community.

Often, we found ourselves stooped or squatting around a patch of ground while one of the local youth leaders drew diagrams on the ground depicting the importance of natural resource management and how to create livelihoods through the cycle of coffee, pineapple, and beekeeping production. They are wise beyond their years and fully aware of how important community forest management and conservation is for their future and the future of other generations, particularly as powerful hydroelectric and agribusiness interests continue to eye their land. These organic and impromptu sessions were a particular highlight for our group as we were able to facilitate casual question and answer sessions and expand the learning process.

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Osvin (The Bee Whisperer) and Oswaldo prepare to handle their beehives.

Another important theme of the visit to La Bendici√≥n concerned la lucha, or “the struggle,” that these particular types of indigenous communities face. We learned of their fight to gain proper valuation of their lands, the struggle to conserve and manage the forest, and the difficulties of creating employment for the residents.

Through it all, the push and pull factors of migration are apparent. We¬†met community members with family in the US or Guate (short for Guatemala City) or folks who had recently been deported back to Guatemala on the infamous deportation flights. While there is a strong pull to leave and look for a better life, the residents of La Bendici√≥n know that a long, dangerous path is involved, and many of the youth¬†are focused on channeling assistance from Trees, Water & People, Utz’ Che, and work groups like Unity and Geller into hope and opportunity for a better future on their own land. You can¬†hear this optimism in the voices of the women¬īs committee and the youth group, as they search for ways to improve the conditions of their community.

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Lucas Wolf with community members from La Bendición, Guatemala.

It was truly humbling and inspiring to lead this group. In the process I learned so much from Oswaldo and the other youth group members as well as the community as a whole. Of course, I learned so much from the trip participants as well. They were truly a special group, making their mark on the community with stories, laughter, compassion, and wisdom.

“What made our activities such a success at La Bendici√≥n was the participation and enthusiasm of its residents,” said Cynthia Sargent, a Work Tour participant. “Oswaldo is an amazing ambassador for his community. He is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his own culture. He is very curious and open about learning.”

When we left La Bendición, on Sunday, January 3rd, the air was full of emotion and the energy of new friendships and relationships facing a tough goodbye. Most of the community showed up to bid our group goodbye and it was a powerful moment to behold, full of hugs, high-fives, smiles, and tears.

From La Bendición, we drove across the sugarcane fields surrounding Escuintla and after one wrong turn we were on our way to the turnoff for the lake, in the town of Cocales, when we ran into some of the worst traffic I have seen in my life. A fairly straightforward minor accident caused about 8-10 kilometers of traffic to become backed up in a hilly section of pineapple and rubber plantations. Before we knew it, four hours of the day had gone by, battling buses and semi-trucks for position and I began to worry about getting out of the traffic before nightfall. Luckily, calm and patience prevailed and we were soon rising out of the lowlands and up into the Ruta del Café coffee highlands that line the areas surrounding Lake Atitlan.

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Before dark we arrived at the beautiful permaculture center on the edges of the lake that is the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute, where the group would stay on for another four days of work and learning. Unfortunately, I had to leave and move on to the next adventure, but it was good to know that the time we had together was profound and enlightening. At our goodbye breakfast, the group was kind enough to express their words of thanks and each person said something kind and inspiring about Trees, Water & People and their experiences on the trip. I look forward to more trips in the future and more events with the Unity and Geller folks.

If you have a group interested in joining Trees, Water & People for a Work Tour to Central America please contact Sebastian Africano at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org.

Notes from the Field: La Finca Humana

soil and life

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

In rural Honduras, two consecutive years of agricultural hardship have driven vulnerable rural communities to the brink of insolvency. As crop yields and income drop due to volatile weather patterns and a coffee disease that wiped out half of Central America’s 2014 harvest, proponents of conventional agriculture prescribe more chemical inputs, genetically modified seeds, and machinery. None of the above are feasible or sustainable options for poor rural families who can scarcely feed their families.

This year, the rains that irrigate corn and beans have been delayed again, and news reports claim that millions are in danger of food shortages ‚Äď the time is now to shift the agricultural paradigm.

Trees, Water & People and our partners propose a different path forward: agroforestry, crop diversification, soil remediation, and farmer-to-farmer education. Working with Centro Educativo de Agricultura Sostenible (CEASO), we will support the following work in 2016 and 2017:

  • Agroforestry training curriculum comprised of seven modules to 200 farmers in 10 communities in the Department of Comayagua, Honduras, over a two year period. Coursework will be offered at community centers and at participants‚Äô farms.
  • Between modules, each group will visit local farms that have implemented the Finca Humana approach, including CEASO‚Äôs demonstration center and campus, to observe mature agroforestry systems and test several appropriate rural technologies.
  • Establish tree nurseries in each of the 10 communities, where tree species (avocado, mango, citrus, guan√°bana, bananas, papaya, fuel trees, and native hardwoods) will be raised for integration into the agricultural landscapes of the trainees.

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CEASO refers to their holistic development approach as La Finca Humana, roughly translated as¬†‚ÄúThe Human Estate.‚ÄĚ This approach puts family at the center of a successful farm and helps build resilience in every aspect of a rural family‚Äôs life, including food production, agroforestry (integrating trees into agricultural systems), waste management, pest management, water storage, soil quality, animal husbandry, energy use, agricultural economics, and gender equity.

In a region that is extremely vulnerable to climate change, La Finca Humana gives farmers and their families the tools and knowledge needed to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Families should not only survive, but thrive. We hope you will join us in supporting the important work of CEASO and the communities¬†they support. To learn more please contact Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director, at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org.

Double Your Impact – Holiday Matching Grant Available!

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From the Trees, Water & People team: We wish you a healthy and happy holiday season! We are so thankful that you are part of our community. TWP’s¬†programs protect the environment while improving livelihoods, a true win-win for people and the planet. This work would not be possible without the continued support of our friends and donors.

Thanks to a few very generous TWP supporters, we have a $25,000 matching grant available! When you make a donation today, it will be matched dollar for dollar.

We have big¬†plans for the New Year and we¬†hope you will consider a donation¬†to our innovative, community-based programs that support conservation from the ground up.¬†Don’t delay – every donation will be matched while funds last!

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