Notes from the Field: BioNica Workshop on Best Agroecology Practices for Dry Areas

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

The agricultural extension training center at the National Agrarian University, just outside of Tipitapa, was the setting for an important workshop last week: Agroecological Best Practices for Dry Areas. With an invitation in hand, I attended at the behest of our friends at BioNica and the Association for Regional Development of Agroecology (ADAR). Campesinos (farmers) and workers arrived from all over Nicaragua to take part in this two-day workshop on biointensive and agroecological approaches to soil conservation and management, and rainwater harvest and storage. With El Ni√Īo¬īs drought impacts continuing to complicate and challenge rural livelihoods up and down Central America¬īs dry corridor, the timing of the workshop was ideal.

One of the presenters, Gustavo of Mastape, discussed some of the improvements and innovations in rainwater harvesting technology that he has applied to his own finca (farm). The presentation included historical and anthropological examples of rainwater harvesting from the Romans, highland communities in Yemen, and the Mayans. An updated version of a famous Mayan invention, the Chultun, a cistern that is buried underground to provide either irrigation or drinking water in times of drought, exists on his finca.

Lucas Wolf of TWP, along with his classmates, learning about utilizing rainwater for growing crops.

However, the cisterns can be costly to construct and install. Luckily we had a knowledgeable presenter, Carlos Rodriguez, who works with a local campesino organization. He led two different groups in the construction of a much more affordable small water tank that can save water for use during the dry season. Water storage and rainwater harvesting are critical survival and adaptation methods for campesinos in the dry regions. In addition to the storage tank, participants learned about the intricacies and advantages of drip irrigation systems.

Workshop participants learn how to build and inexpensive cistern.

ADAR, the Association for Regional Development of Agroecology, is an organization that complements BioNica¬īs objectives and activities of increasing the scope and reach of biointensive agricultural classes and workshops for campesinos and organizations in Nicaragua.

In total, over 40 farmers took part in this workshop. Through participation in these events and collaboration with these organizations, we are building upon our base of potential strategic partners for the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate (NICFEC), while also honing possible ideas and concepts for our own workshops and activities in the La Paz Centro region.

Class is in session!

Please consider a donation to Trees, Water & People to create educational workshops, such as this one, for the new NICFEC!

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Building the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate

Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate

Climate change affects us all. Around the world, communities are already suffering from its drastic local impacts, such as increased natural disasters, destructive weather patterns, and reduced crop yields. It’s time to take action.

Trees, Water & People is working with our long-time partner in Nicaragua, Prole√Īa, to establish the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy, &¬†Climate near La Paz Centro, about an hour northwest of Managua.

Nicaragua 067
Prole√Īa and TWP are working together to develop the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate.

Working with our¬†dedicated partner organization Prole√Īa, we have already grown more than 3.7¬†million trees in Nicaragua. The new Center will not only grow and¬†plant more seedlings, we will also provide¬†hands-on demonstration plots to show how local people can integrate¬†growing trees and growing food crops together in the new era of a¬†changing climate.

We will also use the Center to continue to build and distribute our clean cookstoves to reduce firewood use and deforestation. To date, we have built and distributed more than 64,000 fuel-efficient stoves that also eliminate the toxic smoke that causes millions of women and children to get sick or die every year.

The new Center is ultimately about resilience ‚Äď learning how to¬†survive and even thrive despite a harsh new climate reality. To do¬†that, we must provide a place where educators and students come to¬†teach, work, and learn about the real impacts of climate change, what¬†can be done about them, and how we can and will adapt.

2015 Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate timeline

For questions about the new Center please contact Sebastian Africano, International Director, at

From the Board: Building the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change

by Jon Becker, TWP Board Member

Nicaragua clean cookstove factory
TWP Executive Director Richard Fox at Prole√Īa’s cookstove factory in Managua.

It’s Wednesday in Managua, which puts me in the middle of my 10 day Central American journey. Here in Nicaragua, Trees, Water & People’s¬†Executive Director Richard Fox and I are completing¬†a series of meetings with our long time partner,¬†Prole√Īa.¬† It is a very exciting time here – we are truly getting our hands dirty¬†to¬†launch one of¬†our biggest projects in the region – the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change.

NicaraguaSeveral years ago, with support from our donors as well as funds from the Rio Tinto Prize for Sustainability, we helped Prole√Īa purchase a property in a rural area near the town of La Paz Centro, an hour¬†northwest of Managua.¬† After years of planning, fundraising, and dreaming, we have finally started construction of the Center. Today I had the pleasure of walking the seven acre property with Prole√Īa’s Director Marlyng Buitrago, Technical Director Leonardo Mayorga, Board member Juan Torres. We visited¬†the two¬†buildings that have¬†already been constructed, chatted with our caretaker and his family who are living on the land, and imagined the day (soon!) when the views, including majestic Mt. Momotombo in the distance, would also feature the classrooms, dormitory, agroforestry demonstration areas, clean cookstove workshops, and more that will make up the Center.

A view of Momotombo from the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change
A view of Momotombo as it rises near the shores of Lake Managua Рa beautiful backdrop to the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change.

The Center is¬†a unique and critically important addition to the entire region’s capacity to restore and maintain forest health, expand the use of clean energy and appropriate technologies, and develop adaptation strategies to the already present impacts of climate change. ¬†As such, it will embody a model worthy of replication as all of the world steps up to the challenge of climate change and the transition to renewable energy.

I was flashing back to similar feelings of excitement, concern, and hope that I felt just a few years ago walking the grounds of the mostly unfinished Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.  I was remembering the flood of joy and satisfaction I reveled a little more than a year ago, when I was attended the grand opening of the Sacred Earth Lodge training center and dormitory at Pine Ridge. We did it before Рwe can do it again.  And I want to be there for La Fiesta!!

To learn more about the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change in Nicaragua please visit our website.

Notes from the Field: Sharing Knowledge for Climate Adaption in Nicaragua

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Members of CADPI gain hands-on experience building clean cookstoves.

Our partners at Prole√Īa in Nicaragua were proud to receive a delegation from the Center for the Autonomy and Development of Indigenous People¬†(CADPI)¬†at their headquarters and demonstration site in Managua last week. CADPI is a social organization dedicated to the investigation and study of themes related to indigenous peoples of Nicaragua, Central America, and the Caribbean.

CADPI sent a delegation of three men and six women from the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic, or RAAN as it’s known in Nicaragua, to investigate improved cookstove options for their remote region, which is experiencing rapid deforestation at the hand of cattle ranchers and other interests.

At Prole√Īa, the group¬†tested a variety of cookstoves, but decided that the most appropriate was the Emelda cookstove. This stove was designed in partnership with Prole√Īa to better meet the needs of the most rural communities. After seeing the stove in action, the team received a step-by-step photo presentation on cookstove design, construction, use and maintenance, then built their own model under Prole√Īa’s guidance.

These are the types of workshops we look forward to hosting on a larger scale at Prole√Īa and TWP’s National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change, which is currently under construction in nearby La Paz Centro, Nicaragua. Teaching motivated groups techniques and technologies to both mitigate and adapt to climate change leads to local capacity and leadership in the struggle for sustainable resource management.

Remembering Francisco López

francisco lopez

It is with great sadness that we share the passing of one of TWP’s longtime reforestation partners in Central America, Nicaraguan colleague Francisco L√≥pez. Francisco had supported TWP’s reforestation efforts since we began activities with Prole√Īa in Nicaragua in 1998.

He was a founder and president of the San Benito Forest Replacement Association, where he worked with firewood haulers in his department to replant areas from which they had extracted firewood. At its height, the group had more than 136 firewood haulers as members of the association, and was instrumental in forging communications and regulations between firewood haulers and INAFOR, the National Institute of Forestry in Nicaragua.

Francisco was diagnosed with Leukemia over five years ago, and had been battling the disease bravely, never stopping operations at the tree nursery where his association produced hundreds of thousands of trees for Trees, Water & People.  We will miss him dearly, and hope to continue honoring his legacy through his family.

Helping Communities in Central America Adapt to a Changing Climate

National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

For many years, we have been supporting conservation throughout Latin America, helping local people manage their most precious natural resources: trees, soils, and water. During this time, the communities we work with have experienced the negative effects of climate change first-hand, including hurricanes, droughts, flooding, and crop loss.

Here in the U.S. and other developed nations, we are beginning to see how a rapidly changing climate can hurt our environment, economies, and health. But, the poorest people in the world have been feeling the brunt of climate change for years.

Honduran farmer
Local farmers and their families are feeling the effects of climate change first-hand.

We have been working with our partners in Central America to help communities face this challenge by continuing our efforts to plant millions of trees and build clean cookstoves for thousands of families. In addition, we have introduced clean energy products, such as solar lighting and solar cell phone chargers, so families can gain access to energy that does not lead to more pollution and environmental degradation.

But this is not enough. We must continue our work to educate people and share knowledge across borders. This is why TWP is developing the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change in La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

This new facility will be an educational resource where communities can learn about renewable energy, forest management, clean cookstoves, and clean energy solutions. In addition, we will develop the center as a global facility, where global citizens from around the world will be empowered with the skills needed to adapt to climate change in their region.

2014 Project Timeline:

National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change 2014

We have broken ground on the Center and constructed several buildings already. Now, we are moving onto the next phase of development: building classrooms, hands-on demonstration sites, and forestry plots that will make this a unique place for learning and sharing knowledge.

You can support this project by making a donation through our website: Thank you for your support!

For questions about the new Center please contact Sebastian Africano, International Director, at Stay tuned for updates!

Community Voices: Catalina Somoza Calderon

Catalina cooking on el rapidito cookstove
Catalina cooks on a rapidito clean cookstove in Nicaragua.

‚ÄúI love that we are protecting the environment and saving trees. I also love seeing happy customers and knowing that we are helping them to have better health.‚ÄĚ – Catalina Somoza Calderon

In Nicaragua, there are over 4,000 small tortilla-making businesses that provide much needed income to poor households. Nearly all tortilla-makers are women who make the tortillas on a simple hotplate over an open wood fire. Cooking over these open fires exposes women and their children to high levels of toxic smoke, plus fuel wood is very expensive.

Our partners at Prole√Īa have been working to improve the design of these wood burning stoves since it began in Honduras in 1993. It started working in Nicaragua in 1996.

The Ecostove is the product of several years of development by Prole√Īa and their partners, including Trees, Water & People (TWP). Traditionally, tortillas have been baked on a plancha¬†(griddle) over fires. These open fires are very inefficient and use a lot of wood and fill kitchens with deadly smoke, leading to disease and premature deaths.

rapidito clean cookstoveThe key advantages of the Ecostove is its enclosed firebox with insulated walls that increase its efficiency, a chimney that removes¬†smoke from the home, and its portability. Many stove models are¬†constructed within the user’s home, utilizing earth and bricks, but the Ecostove¬†designs can be manufactured at a central location and then delivered to users in different parts of the country, creating local jobs and increased scale of clean cookstove projects.

Catalina Somoza Calderon is one person who has benefited from Prole√Īa’s cookstove program. She has worked for Prole√Īa for nine years and is very passionate about her job and the mission of the organization. Not only does she have employment promoting clean cookstoves to women, she also uses the Ecostoves in her own home.

Catalina uses¬†one of the small, portable stoves known as the rapidito, or “the quick one.” She says, ‚ÄúI like the stove because it has saved me a lot of money on fuel and doesn’t turn my pots and pans black.‚ÄĚ

This is a great example of how we strive to not only protect the environment, but also improve people’s livelihoods. Our local partners always manage conservation projects with community and family well-being in mind!

The National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change

Nicaragua Climate Change Center
Click image to enlarge

In 2013, we will break ground on the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change, located near La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

The Center will be an educational resource where communities can learn about managing forests, renewable energy, cleantech, and clean cookstoves. In addition to the core training, we will develop the Center as a global facility, where people from around the world will be empowered with the skills that will help them adapt to climate change in their region.

Features of the National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change:

  • Biomass Forest Plot
  • Classrooms for Trainings & Workshops
  • Clean Cookstoves & Fuel-Efficient Kilns
  • 2kW Photovoltaic System
  • Cleantech Products
  • Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Demos

For questions about the new Center please contact Sebastian Africano, International Director, at

National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change_Nicaragua
Click image to enlarge

Notes from the Field: A New Season Begins in Nicaragua

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Nicaragua tree nursery

A new season is beginning at Trees, Water & People’s three Nicaraguan tree nurseries.  The end of the year is when the nurseries are cleaned and prepared for the next season’s plantings.  We’ve bought most of our seed, most of our soil substrate, and staff have started to build the rows in which hundreds of thousands of trees will be planted.

In partnership with Prole√Īa, TWP will grow our reforestation program in Nicaragua along three major lines in 2013.¬† One is producing trees for our network of Forest Replacement Associations and their farmers.¬† These farmers grow trees on their land to diversify their income through forest products like fruit, fuel, and in the longer term, lumber.

Nicaragua reforestationThe next line is growing trees for demonstration plots at the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change Research, in La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.  We have plans in place for the creation of this new center and we are working with our partners to develop agroforestry models appropriate to the local climate, soils, and hydrology.

The third and most important, is finding ways to keep our supporters ‚Äď both individual supporters and corporate partners ‚Äď appraised of our progress throughout the year.¬† Global Giving is one great channel through which to do this, but our blog and website are other great sources of information that help us stay connected.

Thank you always for your kind support, and never hesitate to get in touch to see how you or people you know can get more involved in supporting TWP’s reforestation projects. You can reach me by email at

Happy holidays from all of us at TWP!