Teaming up to Study Health Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in Honduras

Bonnie Young

by Bonnie Young, Ph.D., MPH
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO

Remember that parable about the boy and the starfish? It went something like this — a boy walked along the beach, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. A recent storm had passed, and the shore was covered with thousands of them. A man stopped and asked the boy what he was doing, pointing out that he couldn’t possibly help all the starfish. The boy bent down, picked up another one, threw it into the ocean, turned to the man and replied with a smile, “It made a difference to that one.”

Our research in environmental health can feel daunting. Around 2.8 billion people, almost a third of the world’s population, use solid fuel to meet their household energy needs, like cooking and heating (Bonjour et al., 2013). Using inefficient stoves to burn solid fuel — like wood, animal dung, and coal — creates toxic pollution. Imagine hovering over the thick plume of smoke from a campfire for hours a day. Now imagine doing that indoors for the majority of your life. The health impacts from breathing solid fuel smoke are many, such as lung cancer, pneumonia, poor pregnancy outcomes, and cardiovascular effects (Quansah et al., 2017). It is estimated that in 2015, 2.9 million people died prematurely due to their exposure to solid fuel smoke, mostly from cooking (Forouzanfar et al. 2016). In addition to the negative impacts on human health, these inefficient stoves create hazardous pollution for the environment and use resources, such as trees, for fuel.

Joanna B Pinneo 170320-Honduras-0710
Clean cookstoves, like this one, reduce deadly indoor air pollution, which accounts for an estimated 2.9 million premature deaths per year. Photo by Joanna B Pinneo

With a problem this vast, it can be hard to imagine that one project among 230 women in rural Honduras would make a difference.

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The Colorado State University research team use health indicators, like lower blood pressure, to determine health impacts before and after a family receives a clean cookstove. Photo by Joanna B Pinneo

But we are making good on a promise that was made in 2014 to these women and their community leaders — to select a group of families to receive an improved Justa (pronounced ‘who-sta’) stove and visit them every six months for a few years to see how their pollution levels and health change after receiving a Justa clean cookstove. The Justa is a well-accepted, culturally appropriate stove, which was originally designed by Trees, Water & People, and is now made locally in Honduras. If you ask the women in our study, who had cooked their entire lives on traditional stoves and then received their Justa stove in 2016 or 2017, you’ll hear heartfelt stories of less smoke, less coughing, and cleaner air for the entire family.

Of course, it will be ideal at the end of the study if we see improvements in women’s health, like lower blood pressure, plus reductions in household air pollution and use of less wood-fuel.

Joanna B Pinneo 170324-Honduras-2977
Blood tests, like the sample being collected here, are another indicator of health before and after a clean cookstove is installed. Photo by Joanna B Pinneo

Changes like these can have larger public health impacts and potentially lead to stove interventions among entire communities. However, regardless of the bigger picture from this study, I know that the 230 houses that were involved with this intervention are now cooking on cleaner and more efficient stoves, with less smoke inhaled by the entire family, and I feel confident that we have made a difference for those “ones.”

Trees, Water & People and our partner organization,  Utz Che’, are working to build 500 clean cookstoves this year in Guatemala. If you would like to help fund a stove for a family or would like to learn more about the importance of this project, click the button below.

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References:
Bonjour S., Adair-Rohani H., et al., 2013. Solid fuel use for household cooking: country and regional estimates for 1980-2010. Environm. Health Perspec. 121, 784-790.
Forouzanfar M., Afshin A., et al., 2016. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 1990-2015: a systematic analysis for the global burden of disease study 2015. Lancet 388, 1659-1724.
Quansah R., Semple S., et al., 2017. Effectiveness of interventions to reduce household air pollution and/or improve health in homes using solid fuel in low-and-middle income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environment International 103, 73-90.

The Principal Investigator of this project is Maggie L. Clark, Ph.D., along with Co-Investigator Jennifer L. Peel, Ph.D., MPH. This research is funded by an NIH K99/R00 grant (PI M.Clark).

Bonnie joined the CSU Honduras cookstove team in September 2014 after finishing a 2-year epidemiology fellowship in Hawaii. She earned her Ph.D. in evolutionary anthropology and M.P.H. from the University of New Mexico. As an Anthropologist interested in global health, Bonnie has worked with urban and rural communities around the world, including Mexico, Costa Rica, Paraguay, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Her research interests span environmental health, tuberculosis, and perinatal health. Now as a Postdoc with the cookstove team, Bonnie enjoys the fieldwork in Honduras, working with community leaders, eating corn tortillas, tutoring neighbor kids in English, and doing yoga in her free time.

500 More Clean Cookstoves in Guatemala

By Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Since 2006, Utz Che’ has been a tireless advocate for over 40 indigenous Guatemalan communities committed to protecting and sustainably managing their forest resources. Utz Che’ acts as a loudspeaker for indigenous causes and concerns, which are otherwise easily dismissed from the public discourse and policy-making dialogues.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) was introduced to Utz Che’s leadership in 2010 and has worked with them to add fuel-efficient cookstove technology to their services to reduce pressure on the local forests from which fuelwood is harvested, as well as reduce indoor air pollution. After several years of prototyping designs with Utz Che’ communities and Guatemalan manufacturers, last year we embarked on the full-scale implementation of 500 clean cookstoves manufactured by two local enterprises — ECOCOMAL and Estufa Doña Dora. The project was so successful that this year we are raising funds to install 500 more in high-need communities.

Learning about the new Doña Dora stove
In 2016, this community in southern Guatemala received Doña Dora stoves and were all trained by Doña Dora employees on how to install, use, and maintain their new clean cookstoves.

The cookstove models selected for this project are partially pre-manufactured for consistency but are installed in a brick and mortar body constructed by trained community members. In 2016, this included 159 men and 371 women. Hands-on training in installation, use, and maintenance of the stoves increases local investment in the program through sweat equity and allows community members to become more intimate with the technology. Community engagement improves the local support network around the cookstoves.

New clean cookstove in Guatemala
This woman in southern Guatemala uses her clean cookstove that was built last year to make tortillas for her family.

Cooking is a very personal tradition in Central America, so new technologies must be able to cook the same foods, with the same fuels, in the same amount of time as the traditional designs if they are to be accepted by all members of society. Trees, Water & People’s years of expertise, coupled with a locally fine-tuned design, and the trust and rapport that Utz Che’ has with its member communities make for an extraordinarily effective, participatory, and meaningful partnership.

If you would like to help us build clean cookstoves in Guatemala, or would like to learn more about the importance of this project, click the button below.

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Trees, Water & People Welcomes New Executive Director

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

I have long believed that people have the power to craft their own future. While each journey is unique, we all have the capacity to identify what we value, versus what we don’t, and to forge a path that produces more of the former and less of the latter. If we’re lucky, we have a moment where self-awareness, opportunity, and circumstance intersect, and we take that first step toward the future we want to live.

In 2005, I launched into a career in International Development by accepting an internship with Trees, Water & People (TWP) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. There were more “unknowns” than “knowns” in the offer, and the pay would have barely covered my utility bills in San Francisco at the time, but as I stood at that intersection of introspection and opportunity, I knew this was a path I needed to follow.

Sebastian Africano with clean cookstove
Sebastian Africano got his start with Trees, Water & People as an intern helping with clean cookstoves in Central America in 2005.

Now, 13 years after my first conversations with co-founder Stuart Conway, and almost 20 years since the organization was founded, I am happy to take the next step on this path by accepting the role of Executive Director of Trees, Water & People – effective May 15, 2017. This shift comes after years of thoughtful succession planning and several deep conversations and interviews with TWP staff and board.

TWP set me on a path to discover the world through the smoky lens of traditional cooking practices, giving me an intimate, ground-level introduction to what life is like on the margins of global society. Through this experience, I’ve acquired a broad perspective of the uniqueness of life on our planet, and have made hundreds of allies who value our planet and global community enough that they have dedicated their lives’ work to protecting them.

Sebastian Africano working in the field
After many years of working in the field in Central America, Sebastian Africano will be spending more time in Fort Collins as Trees, Water & People’s new Executive Director.

Despite the hard truths inherent to our work, I find tremendous inspiration in the grit, hustle, hope, and smiles exhibited by the people we serve, both in Central America and on Tribal Lands in the Great Plains. Only by working together can we achieve a more sustainable future for our planet, and I’m privileged to support their struggles and aspirations daily through my work at TWP.

In this new role, my goal is to engage more meaningfully with you – our community of generous supporters. None of the impact TWP delivers would be possible without your support, and I know that together we can redouble our efforts to improve the lives of people and the planet.

I’m ready to craft our future together. Will you join me?

Richard Fox, Trees, Water & People’s co-founder and former Executive Director will be stepping down after 19 years but will remain on staff as the National Director through the end of the year. When asked about the transition, Richard had this to say, “I am honored to step down and for Sebastian to become the next Executive Director of this great organization. He has been trained for this position for many years, and we could not ask for a more compassionate, capable, and competent person to provide the next generation of leadership for Trees, Water & People.” Following his retirement, Richard will remain involved with TWP as a board member.

Trees, Water & People is excited to welcome our new Executive Director, Sebastian Africano! 

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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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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Promoting Rural Resilience: Lessons from Cuba

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

For many folks, Thanksgiving conjures up images of abundance and family, a smorgasbord of food laid out on the dinner table with smiling faces and conversations ranging from the day’s football matches to work or politics.

For Sebastian Africano and myself, the week of Thanksgiving involved a different perspective: learning about the challenges of food production and security in Cuba. Since the embargo was put into place in 1962, Cuban agricultural authorities have developed multiple strategies to sustain its population. Urban horticulture and permaculture have been built within the larger infrastructure of the socialist food production system. However, Cuba still faces serious food security issues.

The World Food Programme estimates that the island currently imports up to 70-80% of its food, meaning that only 20-30% of Cuba’s food is produced in-country. The pressure to grow more food locally will only continue to increase as the lucrative and fast-growing tourism market explodes in Cuba (eloquently discussed in a recent NYT article). The question remains: How will Cuba meet the increasing food demands from the tourist market?

Cuban plant nursery
In just over two years, this start-up nursery is now producing over 200,000 plants per year.

The primary purpose of our trip was to try to learn more about the opportunities for “agritourism” in Cuba. Agritourism is a type of tourism that brings visitors to a farm or ranch, to enjoy the rural setting, and to be educated on the food system and/or culture. In particular, we noticed that the Cienfuegos and Cumanayagua regions of Cuba, were excellent sites for agritourism due to the intriguing mix of cultural and musical efforts that are combining to preserve rural, Campesino culture, all while maintaining the foundations of sustainable agriculture in the region.

Some of the places we visited included the Universidad de Cumanayagua, Teatro Los Elementos, and the music group Kfé Mezclado, which is located at the base of a large mountain range in prime coffee country. Music and art are the lifeblood of Cuba in many ways, and these groups promote a uniquely authentic experience that is a gateway to the essence and soul of the country. At TWP, we strive to create authentic travel opportunities for intercambios, or exchanges, between our U.S. supporters, and our Latin American partners in Central America and the Caribbean, all working in the same vein for a healthy environment and human well-being. As we begin to build partnerships and travel opportunities within Cuba, we hope to convey the importance of sustainable travel, so that many people can enjoy Cuba’s unique offerings and livelihoods for years to come.

Lucas in Cuba
Lucas Wolf, TWP assistant international director, surveying yuca plants on a demonstration farm outside of Cienfuegos, Cuba.

The Cubans are eager to show the world their beautiful country and their ingenuity and thirst for innovation and knowledge. There is a warmth and genuine human spirit that seeps through in any conversation on the street or at the farm with the Cubans. Despite the transitional moment and the challenges inherent, particularly after the death of Fidel Castro and before the start of renewed uncertainty with a new Administration in Washington, we seek to create a broader horizontal dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba focused on education and innovation for all involved. Through it all, we at TWP strive to promote and advance the skill sets and toolboxes that build broader rural resilience, an ability to adapt to and mitigate climate change, and continue to further education processes, for local beneficiaries, for tour participants and for ourselves as an organization. Cuba, and its land and people have a great deal to offer when it comes to teaching in these areas, and we at TWP are hungry to learn.

If you would like to support TWP’s work to promote and advance the skill sets and toolboxes that build broader rural resilience, please donate today!

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