International Day for Biological Diversity

By Gemara Gifford, Director of Development and Biodiversity

Happy International Day for Biological Diversity from everyone here at Trees, Water & People! “Biodiversity,” is a term that describes the variety of life on earth, from microorganisms to the largest trees. It can also refer to the number of different types of species living in a particular area. When there are high numbers of multiple species in a region, we call this a “biodiversity hotspot.”

Did you know that Trees, Water & People’s work occurs in many biodiversity hotspots? Central America, in particular, is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, with eight ecoregions and dozens of microhabitat types, it can support an incredible array of human, agricultural, and animal life. The small country of Guatemala, for example, boasts over 350 species of birds — that’s more species than the entire country of Canada! On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, grasslands are known as the most threatened and biodiverse terrestrial ecosystem in North America – a forgotten ecosystem to say the least.

A Black-throated Green Warbler in coffee plants in Honduras
A Black-throated Green Warbler in coffee plants in Honduras taken by TWP’s EcoTour participant, Jim Welch.

So, how does biodiversity loss affect humans?

At TWP, we know that biodiversity supports the overall health of the planet and has a direct impact on everyone. The next time you sit down to eat, think about this: every third bite of food you take is made possible by a pollinator, like a bee, bat, or hummingbird. Without a healthy biodiversity of pollinators, our current food system as we know it would collapse.

From an aesthetic point of view, many of us travel thousands of miles to see the rarest forms of life, like the odd cloud forests and creatures in Honduras. This brings us wonder, appreciation, and perspective. At the same time, it is important to be conscious about the carbon footprint that tourism has on the environment so that future generations may enjoy the diversity of life on our planet.

Honduran EcoTour
This cheery group joined Trees, Water & People on our first EcoTour to the Highlands of Honduras in January 2017.

This year’s International Day for Biological Diversity is focused on sustainable travel, and TWP is doing our part to take our place in this movement. Do you want to get involved with TWP to support the biodiversity of Honduras? Sign up for our eNewsletter to learn more about our second EcoTour to the Highlands of Honduras occurring in January 2018. Spots are limited! Together, we can support the earth’s biodiversity.

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Opening Eyes and Hearts in the Honduran Highlands: Part 3

by Marilyn Thayer, TWP Board Member

This past January, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Trees, Water, and People (TWP) service trip to Honduras, which integrated learning about both the principles of community development and bird conservation. I am pleased and honored as a board member and as a member of the Thayer family to reflect on and share what this experience has meant to me. Coming from Hawai’i, I was reminded several times during the trip the words that were so much a part of my life, the motto of the state — Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono, meaning, “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” Pono, in particular, can be translated to further refer to goodness, care, value, purpose, and hope.

Protecting the land and perpetuating hope were clearly promoted and implemented by Centro de Enseñanza y Aprendizaje de Agricultura (CEASO), a TWP partner in El Socorro (Siguatepeque, Honduras). I first became familiar with the term, Finca Humana, when Rene, the founder of CEASO shared the historical perspective of his organization with us. Roughly translated to the “Human Estate,” Finca Humana emphasizes that developing a successful farm requires starting with engaging the entire family and making a life-long commitment together to developing the knowledge and practicing the diversification of the land. Rene also pointed out that Finca Humana involves the integration of the Head, Hands, and Heart.

Thayer Family Honduras trip 2017
The Thayer family making tortillas at CEASO.

Beginning with the Head, and through the lens of a TWP board member, I was open to learning as much as I could about the collaborative partnership that TWP has developed with CEASO. From the hikes to the watershed areas, the tours of family coffee farms, and the drives through the mountains of San José de Pane, I became aware that the challenges of climate change and deforestation are similar concerns in our state and country as well. This implies that it is critical that we continue to work together and learn from one another.

Next follows the Hands, for doing the work. Although I realize that I may never be fully proficient in building pilas (water cisterns) and Justa stoves, it is more important to support the process of training and engaging the leaders of the communities in working with other community members to learn how to build these projects.

Pilas in San José de Pane, Honduras
The San José de Pane community building pilas (water cisterns) with TWP tour participants.

But all of this must come from the Heart, which was best exemplified by the story of Doña Norma and her husband, Don Oscar.  After spending the day building the first Justa stove, we sat in the living room of the family in their modest home, not having realized that this was in actuality the home of Doña Norma’s brother, which was serving as their temporary residence. Through tears, she shared the lengths to which they had gone —hard work and numerous sacrifices — to build a home, of which they were so proud but tragically lost to a fire. But Doña Norma asserted that despite the loss, they all survived, remain strong, and still have one another.

Well, what impact did the pila and stove projects have on the families and communities? These projects instilled a sense of hope that families and communities have for their future. I returned from this trip inspired, with a deeper sense of humility, and new friends who now are part of our family. I am most proud of the Heart Work that TWP truly does — working with the passion for building relationships and connections that foster a sense of hope with people on a respectful, authentic level.

If you are interested in going on a work trip with TWP, or learning more about what we do and the people we work with, sign up for our monthly eNewsletter! 

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Celebrating World Water Day Every Day!

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director 

World Water Day is an important day in a long list of significant calendar dates, sharing the same week with International Day of Happiness, International Day of Forests, and The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. For those organizations that work with water, we know how critical it truly is as an element and necessity of all life on this planet. “Agua es vida, or water is life;” that simple yet profound phrase is uttered in communities across the Americas that have less water than most. It’s a statement and a refrain that captures the full awareness of the delicate nature of life and our total dependence on this one element.

At Trees, Water & People, we seek to expand on that awareness through programs that support enhanced water access in communities throughout Central America and the US. This year in Central America, our efforts with water will focus on rainwater catchment tanks in the Cordillera (mountain range) de Montecillos in the highlands of central Honduras. Our local counterparts, CEASO (Center for Teaching and Learning Sustainable Agriculture) were assisted by several TWP work trip participants this past January. CEASO’s philosophy towards water is holistic and profound; they see the importance of the forests, the soil, and the other elements existing in a balanced cycle that keeps our natural world healthy and able to support rural communities.

Rainwater tank
Work tour participants worked together with CEASO to complete a rainwater catchment tank!

In El Salvador, a country ravaged by deforestation, our counterparts at Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo diligently work to keep their nursery humming with new plants, which will go towards diversifying a smallholder plot or anchoring trees and their roots to a critical watershed. In Guatemala, our partners at Utz Che look to build rural resilience and increased access to water for marginalized indigenous and campesino communities in all of the geographic zones of the country.

La Bendición, our special exchange community that has hosted two recent TWP work trips, seeks to find solutions for their water woes by capitalizing on the old coffee plantation infrastructure that they hope can be transformed to provide the community with more robust water security during the dry season. Here in Managua, work continues at NICFEC, the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy, and Climate, which will serve as a demonstration center for best practices and methods to maximize water conservation and soil management for sustainable agriculture in a changing environment that is projected to see fewer rains in the future.

La Bendición
Community members of La Bendición working to repair old coffee plantation infrastructure to increase their water security.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the region, there are additional stark reminders of the critical importance of water. México City continues to sink due to continued overdrawing of its aquifers, the number of planned resorts for Costa Rica´s booming Guanacaste region is in jeopardy due to a lack of available water, and here in Nicaragua, the land of the large freshwater lakes, many communities south of Managua face an acute shortage of water and virtual dependence on water distribution trucks.

In the United States, TWP stands with the Water Protectors of Standing Rock in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Over this past winter, we provided off-grid solar heaters and generators to provide warmth and energy to the protest camps. These camps are the frontline resistance in a struggle for critical water and natural resource sovereignty. All of our strategic partners are focused on water, and we at TWP are striving to find ways to boost our water-related projects as we continue to hear how critically important it is for the survival of our communities.

Examples abound across the globe, and these stories of water stress are reminders that we must continue to focus our efforts on conservation, education, and innovation to stem the looming water crisis. If you would like to support these Central American communities protect and improve their water resources, please donate today!

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Opening Eyes and Hearts in the Honduran Highlands: Part 2

by Courtney Peterson, Wildfire Mitigation Education Coordinator, Colorado State Forest Service

FACOheadshot     

Courtney Peterson is the Wildfire Mitigation Education Coordinator for the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS). In her position with the CSFS, Courtney provides resources and educational opportunities to landowners, homeowners, and communities so they have the knowledge to fully prepare for future wildfires and make their homes and forest ecosystems more resilient. Courtney joined TWP on our recent work tour to Honduras.

For me, the best part of volunteer trips are the people. They are the ones that leave the biggest impact on you, give you the memories you take home and that you can never forget once you have left. The Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CEASO) family was beyond welcoming and made us a part of their family during our stay, sharing their knowledge and experiences of the ecological, cultural, and social challenges and triumphs of their community. The CEASO family exuded their passion for their community in everything they taught us and showed our group how we are not alone in the challenges we face every day.

Over the last few days, some of you may have heard the news story about how there are over 800 million standing dead trees from insects and disease outbreaks in Colorado. This is nearly 1 in every 14 standing trees. This has crucial implications for our forest health, not to mention for our water supplies, public safety, wildlife, recreation opportunities, and climate. Well, in Honduras, they are dealing with these same challenges with a southern pine beetle outbreak. While the beetles in both Colorado and Honduras are native to their regions, severe drought and other tree-stressing factors have made the outbreaks more widespread than they have been in the past.

Mountain Pine Beetle in Rocky Mountain National Park
The mountain pine beetle has killed many of the pine trees in Grand County, Colorado, which has significant implications for Colorado’s forest health. Photo Credit: Colorado State Forest Service

I would never have thought about other countries facing these same challenges, especially not a pine beetle epidemic if I had not participated in the Honduras work tour! This trip provided me with an opportunity to share insights and lessons learned about two very different places dealing with the exact same issues. These aren’t local challenges; these are global challenges, and we need to be facing them as a global community with local solutions.

Honduras Beetle-killed Trees
Many of the trees in Honduras have been impacted by the Southern Pine beetle. Photo Credit: Courtney Peterson

Trees, Water & People’s work is guided by two core beliefs: one is that natural resources are best protected when local people play an active role in their care and management. This is the same philosophy that I use to educate private landowners about forest management and creating fire-adapted communities, and this is the same philosophy that CEASO used to teach us about the finca humana, a concept of integrated human development and sustainable agriculture that is centered on the education of community members. The second core belief is that preserving local ecosystems is essential for the ongoing social, economic, and environmental health of communities everywhere. It is up to us as communities, locally and globally, to preserve our ecosystems for future generations. If we want to make a difference, we have to change people’s hearts, and we can’t do it alone. We have to work together.

If you are interested in going on a work trip with TWP, or learning more about what we do and the people we work with, sign up for our monthly eNewsletter! 

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Opening Eyes and Hearts in the Honduran Highlands: Part 1

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director of TWP

Over the past several years, TWP has organized work trips to Guatemala as the primary destination to feature our community development partners and their impacts. However, our newest partner, CEASO, in El Socorro (Siguatepeque), Honduras, was the focus of our past work trip in early January 2017. On January 5th, three key members of CEASO and I arrived at the San Pedro Sula airport to await the arrival of nine work trip participants, also accompanied by Gemara Gifford, TWP’s Director of Development and Biodiversity. The group of nine consisted of a mix of board members and their families, TWP donors, and some with no previous knowledge of our work.

From the airport we meandered through the hot sugar cane and plantain plains up past Lago Yojoa and eventually into the Highlands of the Montecillos Range where CEASO is based. The first feature of the trip was an introduction to CEASO’s approach to community development and sustainable agriculture. This method is defined by a powerful methodology called Finca Humana (a holistic, integrated approach to the farm, family, and individual) that is inserted into all of their daily activities and their overall development approach. Finca Humana stipulates that one must focus on the individual and the family before focusing on the farm and it preaches diversification and continued knowledge acquisition with a strong emphasis on farmer-to-farmer sharing of information.

Rainwater tank
The result of two days´ worth of sweat equity in San Jose de Pane by our Eco-Tour group. A completed rainwater catchment tank!

This profound life and development approach has resonated with the communities of the Montecillos foothills, where we are engaged in a significant development initiative that seeks to bolster and expand on CEASO’s experience and knowledge, as well as enhancing access and trust. Our trip featured hiking through the environs of El Socorro to understand some of the watershed challenges, particularly with regards to the combined effects of continued agricultural expansion, deforestation, and the pine beetle outbreak. Currently, CEASO and the surrounding communities are only receiving water in their taps every 12 or 13 days and water harvesting and storage, a key component of this trip and CEASO’s expanding projects, is proving more and more critical for household survival.

This trip marked our first attempt to combine community development and engagement with the observation and study of bird species and habitat in the Montecillos area. Led by Gemara, who has been instrumental in leveraging her extensive biology and biodiversity experience into our proposals and programming, this tour highlighted the importance of migratory bird habitat and ecosystems and the relationship they share with smallholder farmers and sustainable, diversified agriculture and agroforestry.

Future Birders
Two campesino youth are showing off their budding bird interests.

 

These Eco-Trips are designed to maximize community engagement in the areas where our local partners are helping to drive significant positive impacts and quality of life improvements. One of the highlights of our engagement stops was a frank living room discussion with Doña Norma and her husband, Don Oscar. Following the successful installation of the first TWP-CEASO clean cookstove in the Montecillos region (with generous support provided by World Centric for what will eventually be over 220 stoves), they shared with us their experience as immigrants living and working in the United States. In total, they spent over seven years working in the Northeastern US, scraping pennies and toiling away for enough money to provide for their children, some of whom were back in Honduras, while also saving for a future home back in their Honduran community. Upon their return, they constructed their dream home with much labor and love, only to see it go up in flames this past July. Despite the devastation and destruction, they labor on with Norma playing an increasingly important role as the community leader for the TWP-CEASO nursery project. Of the 12 nurseries, Gerardo is quick to point out that Norma’s trees were the biggest and healthiest and she’s an effective and skilled leader. We hope to continue to empower her leadership and increase the community development profile with her and Gerardo.

If you are interested in going on a work trip with us, or learning more about what we do and the people we work with, sign up for our monthly newsletter! 

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Connecting TWP’s Work through Migratory Birds

By Gemara Gifford, Conservation Scientist & TWP’s Development Director

Mist-nets
Mist-nets help researchers study migratory warblers in Central America, photo by Ruth Bennett

Have you ever wondered where birds go when they fly south? October is that time of year when migratory birds to gear up to fly from TWP’s projects in the Northern Great Plains all the way down to those in Latin America. Golden-winged Warblers (pictured above), Black-and-white Warblers, Wood Thrushes, and Baltimore Orioles are just a few species that will winter in remote places like Guatemalan villages, Salvadoran cloud forests, Honduran coffee agroecosystems, and Nicaraguan dry forests.

Unfortunately, migratory bird populations are declining faster than most other avian species worldwide (State of North America’s Birds 2016) due to habitat loss on their wintering grounds and also because we know less about their conservation requirements in Central America compared to their breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada. What we do know is migrants tend to live in the same places as the rural communities whom TWP works with, and can directly benefit from community-based development projects (Agroecosystems for communities and conservation).

Did you know that TWP’s clean cookstove, reforestation, and farmer-to-farmer training programs in Central America are especially helping to conserve migratory birds?

  • TWP’s clean cookstoves greatly reduce the amount of fuelwood families use to cook (an average of 50%) and as a result protect nearby forests and reduce deforestation.
  • Our reforestation programs in the U.S. and Central America improve degraded bird habitat, with over 7 million trees planted so far, and also protect the soils and watersheds upon which families depend.
  • By training hundreds of smallholder farmers in agroecology, agriculture can be diversified with multiple tree species and crop types which creates excellent migratory bird habitat while producing important foods and fibers for people.
Golden-winged Warbler
A male Golden-winged Warbler winters in fragmented habitats in Guatemala, photo by Ruth Bennett

For 18 years, our generous supporters have been helping us make the world a better place for people and the planet. Did you realize your dedication has also been helping to conserve threatened migratory birds?

On behalf of TWP, I am excited to invite you to join us on our newest endeavor with migratory birds – to follow them as they head south! This January, we’ll take 15 TWP donors and supporters to tour our new projects in Central Honduras. There we will conduct baseline bird surveys in cloud forest agroecosystems, and participate in on-the-ground bird conservation efforts through clean cookstove construction, tree planting, and ten days of cross-cultural exchange with our local partners at the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture in Socorro, Honduras.

With your continued support we can make the world a better place for people and wildlife. For more information about how to attend the 2017 Honduras Work Tour, or to learn about how TWP’s projects benefit birds, give me a call at 877-606-4TWP.

A special thanks to Ruth Bennett, Ph.D. student at Cornell University, for providing photos of her ongoing research in Central America to uncover the best strategies for conserving the Golden-winged Warblers in working landscapes.

Capacity Building to Combat Climate Change in Central America

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

At Trees, Water & People we operate under the belief that communities living closest to natural resources are the best situated to manage them in a sustainable manner. National or Departmental governments often have the mandate to designate protected areas, but are also often strapped for funds to properly monitor use and enforce protections. Communities living along the edges of these protected areas understand the value of these areas, but often their agricultural activities are at odds with ecosystem health. Pressures between the communities and the protected areas grow even more acute in periods of drought or crop disease, which has been the norm in Central America for the past four years.

There are many who believe there are better ways to work with these families rather than monitoring and enforcing against their incursions into the protected area. Instead of seeing communities as an implicit threat against these treasures, we at Trees, Water & People see a resource that merits development. That’s why we’ve started a new Capacity Building Fund – a donor supported fund that allows us to send our implementing partners to attend training opportunities in their region that help build climate resilience. For instance, we are currently sponsoring two indigenous youth group leaders in Guatemala. These leaders want to develop skills in sustainable agriculture at a 10-day course at the Insituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura (IMAP), which they will in-turn teach to their community. We are also raising funds for two longtime partners from El Salvador and Honduras to attend a 3 week workshop on protected area management. This course is taught by CATIE and Colorado State University’s Center for Protected Area Management.

One of the participants in this second training is Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), our partner organization in El Salvador. His team recently finished the first phase of a project in the Biosphere Reserve Apaneca-Ilamatepec in Western El Salvador. There they worked with communities surrounding the biosphere to develop a management plan. This included training park rangers and local guides from the community, developing biodiversity curriculum for the local schools, mapping and adding signage to the trails, starting an agroforestry program with help from a local coffee farm, and implementing fuel-efficient clean cookstoves that use less woodfuel than the traditional alternative.

Armando w ECPA Tile on Justa clean stove
Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), with a Mejorada clean cookstove.

René Santos Mata of the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CEASO) is conducting a similar process with twelve communities in the Cordillera de Montecillos, a mountain range in Central Honduras that provides water to three major watersheds and acts as a stopover for migratory birds with threatened status in the U.S.

Rene with members of his sommunity
René Santos Mata of CEASO working with his community members to develop a biosphere management plan.

Building the capacity of key actors with access to agricultural communities near protected areas creates a multiplier effect that results in a better relationship between community members and the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend.  Please visit the current home of our Capacity Building Fund to support the costs of this training for Armando and René. And be sure to check back with us quarterly to see new pairings of the people that help implement our programs and the educational opportunities they are pursuing. As always, thank you for supporting Trees, Water & People, and please pass this post to friends and loved ones that would be interested to hear about our work.

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