Community Voices: Jorge Perez Talavera

Don Jorge
Jorge Perez Talavera stands proud next to 4,300 coffee seedlings at his tree nursery in Chachagua, Nicaragua.

by Megan Maiolo-Heath and Lucas Wolf

In the north central region of Nicaragua, 80% of families are dependent on coffee for their livelihoods. In the rural areas where farmers are scratching out a living – growing coffee and living off the land to feed their families – 68% of the population does not have access to electricity, one of the lowest electrification rates in Central America (IDB, 2010). The closer you get to the “last mile”, as we have done on a recent trip to the remote farming village of Chachagua , the more families you will find struggling to survive on only a few dollars per day.

TWP Assistant International Director, Lucas Wolf, and I had the pleasure of staying with a local family during our four days in the community as part of a trip with our local partners, buildOn and GivePower. Jorge Perez Talavera, his wife Damaris Godoy Garcia, and their 17 year old daughter, Ara Yorleniz Perez Godoy, welcomed us into their small home, which has no running water or electricity. At night, situated around their rudimentary stove, Damaris and Ara Yorleniz cooked us hot meals: rice, beans, and tortillas overflowing with Nicaraguan flavor and love. We spent a lot of this time laughing together, finding that Nicaraguan humor is fueled by sarcasm. My kind of humor! We also had the opportunity to discuss the harsh reality of life in the campo, living off the land and relying on family and community to survive.

The closest town to Chachagua is Murra, a rough, 2-hour drive by truck or motorbike. No buses drive this far back into the mountains, making agriculture a necessity for income generation and for feeding your family. Rows of coffee plants dot the hills, along with other crops like maize, beans, banana trees, squash varieties, and root vegetables.

Chachagua Nicaragua
Don Jorge’s tree nursery is situated next to the rinsing and drying facility, with fruit trees surrounding the area.

Down the hill from Jorge’s small adobe home sits his tree nursery, where he is currently growing 4,300 coffee seedlings and a variety of fruit trees. He uses organic methods to grow the coffee, such as mixing garlic and cayenne for use as a pesticide. During the coffee harvest, Damaris and Ara Yorleniz help Jorge pick the ripe, red coffee cherries by hand.

“All of us spend long days together to harvest the coffee. It’s very hard work and the whole family helps.”

For the subsistence farmers in this region, who depend on the land for their survival, climate change is not a far off threat that they casually discuss. Climate change is happening. Right now. There is no debate about how or if a changing climate will affect them, the question is how will they adapt and survive. I invite climate deniers to visit Chachagua and tell the families here that climate change is a hoax.

“We have noticed a big change in the weather and temperatures over the past six years. The rains come later now and it’s much warmer, which affects how our coffee grows.”

Nicaragua deforestation
Agriculture is a major contributor to deforestation in Central America, making access to agroforestry education critical to environmental and human health.

In Nicaragua, temperatures are rising, drought is the new norm (and flooding when it does eventually rain), and crop disease is devastating, especially to rural coffee farmers and landless farm workers. The nation consistently ranks in the top ten among the places most affected by climate change (Global Climate Risk Survey). Coffee is Nicaragua’s second largest agricultural export earner. In 2012-13 an outbreak of La Roya (coffee leaf rust), which spread to 37% of the crop, cost $60M in losses. Small farmers like Jorge, who have no extra money to purchase fertilizers, have been hit hard by La Roya. When their mature coffee plants die from the rust, new seedlings can be planted, but they take three years to produce coffee. And, when there is no coffee there is no money.

When we discuss ways that farmers like Jorge are adapting, everyone we talk to points to reforestation as a top priority for improving all aspects of the local environment. Even the highest levels of government in Nicaragua are supporting practices like crop diversification and shade grown coffee, which improves soil and watershed health while protecting farmers from crop failure. With more diversity, and less dependence on one crop, families can survive when diseases like La Roya hit.

Chachagua Nicaragua
The beautiful view from Don Jorge’s home in Chachagua, Nicaragua.

On our last morning with the family, we all gather around the kitchen fire drinking coffee. It’s been pouring rain all night, a welcome return of moisture after days of no rain (and it’s supposed to be the “rainy season” in Nicaragua). Damaris has prepared a chicken for us, an incredibly generous gesture for a family living at this level of poverty. Lucas takes this time to express our gratitude for their hospitality:

“We know it is a hard life out here. We recognize that and we want to support you in any way possible. To see a family that is so happy together and so welcoming to strangers like us has really touched our hearts. Thank you for letting us into your home.”

Jorge responds, with a smile, “No matter what, the most important thing in life really is happiness.”

Guest Blog: Studying the Health Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in Honduras

Honduran children
The cute kids of El Cacao- a good reminder to why we do this work. Photo credits: Jon Stack and Bonnie Young

by Bonnie Young, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Colorado State University

As a crispness starts to sharpen the August nights in Fort Collins, it can only mean two things: 1) fall is nipping at the heels of summer, and 2) it’s time to head back to Honduras. Admittedly, the summer in Colorado has been luxurious with yoga classes, buttercream cupcakes, and Internet access everywhere- all things decidedly unavailable in the small town of La Esperanza, Honduras where we do our cookstove fieldwork.

traditional cookstove Honduras
A traditional stove uses a large amount of wood and produces toxic household air pollution.

The past three months in Colorado has also given my colleagues and me an opportunity to dig into the rich data we collected from 525 women across 14 farming villages from September 2014 through May 2015. Of this sample, we had 85 women who owned a Justa cookstove and answered questions about stove preferences and behaviors.

Initial Findings from Justa Cookstove Users

The Justa (pronounced ‘who-sta’) clean cookstove, originally designed by Trees, Water & People and engineers from the Aprovecho Research Center, is a cleaner-burning cookstove with an insulated combustion chamber in a “rocket elbow” shape with a built-in chimney to ventilate toxic smoke from the home. The majority of Justa stoves in this region of Honduras are provided by non-governmental organizations, and most women (92%) in our sample supplied materials or paid some money to help with construction costs of their stove. Over 95% of Justa stove owners in our sample reported their Justa stove was better than their traditional stove to cook tortillas, keep smoke out of the house, and maintain cleanliness. Every single woman with a Justa in our sample said that it used less wood than their traditional stove. These findings are especially important considering that on average, our sample of Justa owners use their stoves for 10 hours a day!

Justa clean cookstove Honduras
Our sample of Justa clean cookstove owners use their stoves for 10 hours a day!

There are other models of improved stoves in this region, too. Our preliminary data suggest some differences between these models regarding their efficiency and condition. For example, 74% of Justa stoves were still in good condition based on researcher observation, while only 42% of the other improved stoves were in good condition. There are many possible reasons for these differences. One reason might be that the technicians that build the Justa stoves spend time teaching the owner how to clean and maintain their stove. This education is crucial to help owners understand how to properly use their new stove and keep it working well for the long-term.

We are learning that there is so much more to explore about stove use in this area. Our next round of the study aims to build Justa stoves for 300 women between the ages of 25-55 years. We plan to carefully measure their health and household air pollution over time to see if there are improvements as they transition away from their traditional stove.

As we pack our bags to head back to Honduras for four months of fieldwork during the rainy season (or should I call it the downpour season?), I find myself weighing the pros and cons of doing meaningful work in a developing country, versus the sinful delight of my favorite vanilla cupcake at Buttercream. Sigh. Cookstoves win, again.

To contact Bonnie Powers about her clean cookstove research in Honduras please email Bonnie.Young@colostate.edu.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Worlds Indigenous Peoples

Today the world celebrates Indigenous People’s Day, a time to honor the 370 million people in more than 70 countries who identify themselves as Indigenous. In 2015, this day will focus on access to healthcare, which remains a major challenge for indigenous communities. 

“On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, I call on the international community to ensure that they are not left behind. To create a better, more equitable future, let us commit to do more to improve the health and well-being of indigenous peoples,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

Indigenous Peoples account for 5% of the world’s population. However, traditional indigenous lands and territories contain around 80% of Earth’s biodiversity, making indigenous peoples critical to the protection and conesrvation of the world’s natural resources that are critical to our survival.

To learn more please visit http://www.un.org/en/events/indigenousday/ 

Notes from the Field: Native Students Expand Solar PV at KILI Radio

KILI radio solar PV expansion

On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Lakota, over 40 percent of residents live without access to electricity. On Native American Reservations across the U.S., the Energy Information Administration estimates that 14 percent of households have no access to electricity, 10 times higher than the national average. Many tribes are looking to renewable energy as a way to provide reliable, clean energy to their tribal members.

Since 2007, Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program has been training Native communities in a variety of renewable energy applications, including solar PV, solar heating, wind energy, geothermal, and solar water pumps. This program strives to put the power of nature — the warmth of the sun, the power of the wind, the shelter of trees — to work for Native Americans.

Last week, we hosted a Solar Energy Workshop that brought Native Americans from around the country to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The workshop explored basics of solar energy and culminated in a hands-on installation at the KILI Radio station, Voice of the Lakota Nation, where students expanded a solar PV array.

Students expanded the KILI Radio station's solar PV array, creating more clean energy sources on Pine Ridge. (Photo credit: Boots Kennedye)
Students expanded the KILI Radio station’s solar PV array, creating more clean energy sources on Pine Ridge. (Photo credit: Boots Kennedye)

We were honored to have an all-star list of guest instructors join us for this workshop. Special thanks to:

 To learn more about upcoming workshops please visit www.solarwarriors.org.

Corporate Partner Spotlight: Houska Automotive

dona dora clean cookstove
The Doña Dora clean cookstove reduces household air pollution and fuelwood costs for Guatemalan families.

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

Houska Automotive, a long-time donor and friend to Trees, Water & People (TWP), is supporting one of our new cookstove projects that will bring hundreds of families in Guatemala cleaner burning stoves. The grant will go towards the building and installation of 500 clean cookstoves in the homes of families living in the municipalities of Camotán and Jutiapa, Guatemala.

The project will give local people knowledge and skills of clean cookstove technology, installation, use, and maintenance. Families will benefit from reduced firewood consumption and improved respiratory health. In addition, there will be a reduction in local deforestation and carbon emissions, which will help mitigate global climate change.

Guatemala fuelwood

The Problem

In Guatemala, deforestation is a serious issue. Cutting down forests for firewood is a principal culprit, with an annual demand of 15.8 million tons. Sources show that between 47% and 49% of the energy consumed in Guatemala comes from firewood; 70% of the country’s 15 million people rely on wood for their everyday cooking needs.

Excessive firewood use also has adverse impacts on health, especially for women and young children. Research shows that women and children spend the most time in the kitchen, inhaling the toxic smoke emitted at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. In fact, it has been compared to smoking three packs of cigarettes every day.

“The bottom line is that cooking in Guatemala is killing far too many people and destroying the natural environment at an alarming rate,” said Sebastian Africano, Trees, Water & People’s International Director. “Each improved cookstove installed will have a measurable and positive impact on the family that it serves, as well as on our global environment. We are thankful for the support of businesses like Houska who give back to our local community as well as communities in Guatemala who need our help.”

A Positive Impact for People and the Planet

TWP will implement this ambitious cookstove project with Guatemalan NGO, Utz Che’, a local umbrella organization that helps 36 small grassroots groups (mostly indigenous) organize and plan community development projects. Cookstoves with increased fuel-efficiency improve human health and family livelihoods, while protecting the environment.

Compared to traditional open cooking fires, our clean cookstove models use 40-50% less firewood. Less time spent collecting daily firewood means more time for other important activities necessary to support the family and invest in the future, such as education or home businesses. By removing up to 80% of the toxic smoke from the kitchen, this clean technology significantly reduces indoor air pollution which is responsible for four million deaths globally every year. Also, each cookstove decreases hazardous carbon emissions by an average of 68%, helping to combat climate change.

Thank you Houska Automotive for your continued generosity and support! To learn more about the many organizations that Houska supports please visit www.houskaautomotive.com/community-support

Houska Automotive logo

New Annual Report Now Available!

annual report coverRead the 2014 Annual Report >>

From the Director:

Dear Friends,

Changing the world has never been easy. Nor has it ever been more necessary. Technology propels us forward at an unprecedented rate, yet there are billions of people without enough food, electricity, or clean drinking water. Add the stress of a changing climate, and you have an enormous challenge to face as a global community. That’s why I am so glad to have you helping.

It would be impossible to get up every day and face this challenge otherwise. But every day, all of us at Trees, Water & People receive your emails, donations, and phone calls, all combining to inspire and motivate us. Together, the community we have created is a force for good, creating long-term, positive impacts for people in need.

Internationally, your donations in 2014 helped plant hundreds of thousands of trees in Central America and contributed to the construction of nearly 4,000 clean cookstoves, among many other conservation projects.

Your gifts also allowed us to begin construction on the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate, a new facility that provides local people with practical training in how to adapt to a changing climate.

TWP donors also generously supported our first Green Business in Indian Country Start-Up Award and jump started our efforts to build compressed
earth block homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Indeed, changing the world has never been easy. However, if we come together as a community, we really can make a difference for people in need while protecting the only planet we have.

With gratitude,
Richard W. Fox
Co-Founder & Executive Director

Indigenous Permaculture: Creating Space for Others in Our World

Shannon Francis
Instructor Shannon Francis facilitated a 3-day workshop about Indigenous permaculture and food sovereignty.

by Jamie Folsom, National Director

We’ve just concluded our first food sovereignty workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Students participated in hands-on projects around the Solar Warrior Farm – renewed the compost bins, created a long-row of sheet mulching that will be a great home for seedlings next spring, and made some wonderful food to share. But meanwhile, we also talked about those bigger issues of community organizing, advocating on the national level across tribes, starting shared garden spaces in cities, and integrating solar technologies into the farm. These discussions were why we titled this event “More Than Food: An Indigenous Food Sovereignty Workshop.”

Students learned about food sov from growing to cooking local.
Students learned about food sovereignty from growing to cooking local, organic foods.

Shannon Francis (Hopi/Dineh) facilitated our three days together, walking us through not only contemporary permaculture, but permaculture that begins with the values and principles of our ancestors, brought forward to today’s world.

One lesson I took away from the workshop was how to create spaces that allow us to grow food we need for our families that also allow, welcome, make use of, and feed other animals and plants. Besides putting up fences to keep our food safe from larger animals, we can also create areas where animals – butterflies, turtles, rabbits, elk, etc. – are also fed and housed. We can take another look at “weeds” and see them as the medicines, the indicators of soil health, the food for us and others. They are related to us, and we are related to them.

Care for the land and the land will care for us.
Care for the land and the land will care for us.

This way of making a garden or farm comes directly from our traditions about thinking of others, sharing what we have, and providing for our community. I believe these values are the basis of the indigenous permaculture movement, and can take us from growing better food, to growing better relationships. Thank you, Shannon and all those who participated for bringing your knowledge and experience to this workshop!