Notes from the Field: Drought Creates More Urgency for Crop Diversification in Nicaragua

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

reforestation Nicaragua

Trees, Water & People (TWP) has supported reforestation activities in Nicaragua since 2001, partnering with Prole√Īa to produce trees commercially for Forest Replacement Associations, made up of farmers who are local to each of three tree nurseries. ¬†The nurseries were strategically located in communities outside of Managua that are known for biomass dependent industries – one is ground zero for wood fired ceramics in the country, another houses quicklime producers (calcium oxide from limestone) and the third is in a region with a high level of firewood extraction for sale to the urban masses.

In all three areas where we conduct our work, TWP and Prole√Īa have created a non-profit, independent association of consumers and producers of trees and linked them so that they can produce their fuel locally with fast-growing species, rather than depend on trees from Nicaragua’s dwindling forests. ¬†This creates a new income stream for local farmers, and reduces the carbon footprint of the participating industries. ¬†It also opens the door for engaging the community to plant fruit trees, hardwood trees, and fast-growing timber trees produced at the same nurseries.

Currently, farmers throughout the Caribbean and Meso-America are experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent memory.  Rainy season is three months late, causing massive crop failures and putting pressure on other livelihood activities.  While tragic, this is why TWP encourages farmers to diversify their income streams via tree planting and agro-forestry, because once trees are established, they require less irrigation and maintenance, and are more resilient than seasonal crops.  As climate change rears its ugly head, we will continue to provide communities with strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change on their livelihoods and communities.

All together now…PLANT MORE TREES!




First Look! The National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change

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

We are working with our long-time NGO partner, Prole√Īa, in Nicaragua, to establish the National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change 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
Nicaragua Climate Change Center
Click image to enlarge

Notes from the Field: TWP and PROLE√ĎA Unveil the Nicaraguan National Climate Change Center

by Jon Becker, TWP Board President

Richard and I are up at 5:30 for a quick breakfast at Hotel Don Quijote before Marlyng Buitrago comes to pick us up for our first field day in Nicaragua.¬† Marlyng is the sharp, do-everything force of nature who significantly drives PROLE√ĎA, our in-country partner here of many years.¬† We travel through the Managua morning light and teeming crowds of pedestrians – people heading to jobs, uniformed kids on their way to school.¬† First stop ‚Äď Managua Channel 14, where we are guests on a chatty morning talk show.¬† Marlyng has arranged the publicity as part of this week’s upcoming event to mark the inauguration of the Nicaraguan National Climate Change Center, a partnership dreamed up by TWP and PROLE√ĎA, with additional support from ECPA, the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas.¬† The talk is about clean cookstoves, reforestation, help for the poor, renewable energy, and Nicaragua taking a leadership role in the whole Central American region in facing a changing future.¬† We wrap up, run out the door, and dash across town to Channel 12, where we do the same thing over again.¬† This time we follow a local rap group, which I hope has the TV audience charged up to hear our message.¬† It’s all live TV, and I’d say Richard and Marlyng nail it in one take (as if they had a choice!).

(L to R) Marlyng Buitrago, Richard Fox, and Jon Becker at the site of the new Nicaraguan National Climate Change Center.

Now it’s field time, we get back in the PROLE√ĎA truck, and head out of Managua to the northwest, with the huge expanse of Lake Managua on our right, El Volcan Momotombo peeking in and out of our horizon.¬† Instantly, the urban, barrio scene of Managua gives way to rural and open space, scattered trees (due to decades of over cutting), and dessicated grasslands (we’re in the middle of the dry season now).¬† About 45 kilometers up the road, in the rolling hills near La Paz Centro, we pull over at a nondescript spot along the road, get out, and remove a section of fencing so we can begin our walk on a piece of land we helped PROLE√ĎA purchase last year.¬† These six acres probably have an assortment of rural agricultural past lives, including cattle grazing, and we find a few fruit trees as we walk.¬† But Marlyng’s eyes and spirit are charged as she gives us the tour of the future home of the Nicaraguan National Center for Climate Change.¬†¬†

Inauguration of the Nicaraguan National Climate Change Center

PROLE√ĎA has spent the last decade inventing itself as a leader in reforestation, clean cookstoves, and bio-mass energy issues, and now dares to imagine embracing an even broader agenda of critical environmental and development issues facing their people.¬† She tells us of plans for classroom buildings, cookstove production facilities, tree planting areas, and renewable energy demonstrations.¬† It gives me chills to squint my eyes and imagine this becoming real.¬† Challenges ‚Äď financial, political, and practical – and years of hard work stand in between us in these empty fields and one day seeing the National Climate Change Center serving all of Central America.¬† But today, alongside Marlyng and Richard, I am a believer.¬† This work will be possible with the combined efforts of PROLE√ĎA, ECPA, and you, as a supporter of Trees, Water & People.

Marlyng shows off a three-burner Emelda clean cookstove at the PROLE√ĎA office in Managua, Nicaragua.

The Center will have a variety of renewable energy and energy efficiency demonstrations including the solar electric array, a full series of Cleantech solar products, and various clean cookstove models and kilns. In addition, it will focus on researching and transferring best practices for integral forest management to the Nicaraguan forestry community and industry. The Center is being developed as an educational demonstration site that will help institutions, NGOs, and Community-based Organizations (CBOs) learn how to adapt to climate change.

This project is made possible through funding from the ECPA‚Äôs energy and climate awards. Trees, Water & People, along with partner organizations, are¬† implementing ‚ÄúImproving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.‚ÄĚ The project activities will contribute to ECPA‚Äôs efforts to promote clean energy, low carbon development, and climate-resilient growth.

In the coming years, we will have many exciting updates on our work with ECPA in Central America. We hope you will stay tuned!

To learn more about TWP’s work with ECPA click here.

Notes from the Field: Closing the Energy Poverty Gap in Latin America

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

This is the seventh year that I have had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful country of Nicaragua, a country that continues to inspire and amaze me with every visit.  The capital Managua, compared to years past, is booming Рcommerce is active, people are jovial, and the streets are lively.  The country enjoyed a growth rate of almost 5% last year, a level not seen for over 10 years, and it is visibly evident.  Add to that a level of safety more akin to its model southern neighbor Costa Rica, than its more similar northern neighbor Honduras (Nicaragua has 15% the homicide rate of Honduras), and you have a unique and promising set of conditions in a region characterized by high levels of poverty and violence and low indices of human development.

Nonetheless, there is still much work to be done in Nicaragua.¬† Much of the rural population is remote, and lives on the margins of society, with many communities at a full day’s distance or more from Managua’s bustling markets and commerce.¬† Somewhere around 1/3 of Nicaragua’s people are not connected to grid electricity, a condition which keeps them even further from developing full, productive livelihoods.¬† It gives me great pleasure to be able to say that Trees, Water & People (TWP) is working to close this gap in my seventh year of collaboration with the people of Nicaragua.

TWP and partners will provide families with solar lighting products that are sustainable, easy-to-use, and affordable.

This year marks the operational launch of TWP’s energy access initiative, a collaborative effort between TWP, our local partners AHDESA in Honduras, PROLE√ĎA in Nicaragua, and √Ārboles y Agua para El Pueblo in El Salvador, with support from PowerMundo of Colorado and Peru.¬† Together, we were awarded a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, which will allow us to join the effort of bringing clean energy technologies to rural markets throughout Latin America.¬† By tapping into the vast networks that TWP has developed over 14-years providing energy-saving clean cookstoves to Central America, we are partnering with Power Mundo to also provide solar lighting, solar mobile phone charging, and other life-changing products and services to off-grid rural communities.

As we track the impact of our work, we expect to see rural livelihoods strengthened, levels of education rise, and rural communities become more integrated into the modern lives we in the west enjoy and often take for granted.  Follow our progress on this blog, as well as on the TWP and Power Mundo websites, as the project develops over the next three years.  Thank you for supporting Trees, Water & People, and for allowing us to put your donations to work for the people at the base of the global economy who hold so much promise.

What is “Energy Poverty”?

Energy Poverty can be defined as the lack of adequate modern energy for the basic needs of cooking, warmth and lighting, and essential energy services for schools, health centers and income generation (Practical Action, 2012).

According to PowerMundo, “Over three billion people worldwide do not have access to appropriate technology to meet their basic needs for simple activities such as cooking meals, lighting homes, or purifying water. As a result, billions of people suffer from energy poverty, preventable illnesses, and deplorable living conditions.”

TWP Participating in 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Since 2002, TWP has worked with the Peace Corps in El Salvador to train hundreds of volunteers in reforestation and clean cookstove techniques.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) will be participating in this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival as a part of the Peace Corps theme of the festival, which will commemorate and celebrate the service and accomplishments of Peace Corps Volunteers during the agency‚Äôs first fifty years.¬† At the Festival, TWP will be demonstrating several clean cookstoves, including building a Honduran Justa cookstove each day. They will also have tree seeds from Central America, Guatemalan masks, indigenous handicrafts, and traditional clothing on display.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an international exposition of living cultural heritage annually produced outdoors on the National Mall of the United States in Washington, D.C., by the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The event is free and open to the public.


Kelsey Stamm, a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador, helps tend to seedlings in one of TWP’s Salvadoran tree nurseries.

Photo of the Week: Envisioning the Nicaraguan Forestry Research Center

Staff from PROLE√ĎA, our partner organization in Nicaragua, walk the site of the future National Forestry Biomass Research Center in La Paz Centro.

The National Forestry Biomass Research Center will focus on implementing general procedures and practices for integral forest management. In particular, we will develop techniques that increase productivity in forest and agricultural plantations to permanently guarantee quality of local plant production. Technology and skills transfer will be utilized in the development of modern tubette nurseries, as well as for biomass fuel related topics, such as charcoal briquette manufacture and gasification of agricultural residues as fuel for local industries such as bakeries, lime producers, and ceramicists.

Collaboration with CO2 Bambu will Bring Clean Cookstoves to Nicaraguan Families

CO2 Bambu, a Nicaragua-based for-profit enterprise, designs, manufactures and field assembles pre-fabricated ecological structures for shelters, homes and community buildings.¬† Trees, Water & People (TWP) and CO2 Bambu are now collaborating on reforestation and fuel-efficient cookstove projects.¬† This partnership blends CO2 Bambu’s triple bottom-line approach (social impact, environmental improvement, and financial stability) with TWP’s mission to help communities sustainably manage the precious natural resources that their long-term well-being depends on.

A CO2 Bambu tree nursery in Nicaragua houses thousands of seedlings.

In La Rosita, Nicaragua, a tree nursery is now up and CO2 Bambu is looking to plant trees in river communities that utilize available flood plain land alongside the natural groves existing on the riverbanks.  Seed collecting activities to augment the existing 3,000 plant nursery will take place between April and June of this year.  Planting the seedlings in the field will begin in May and go through July as weather permits.

CO2 Bambu offers eco-solutions for construction and low-cost housing.

Co2 Bambu and TWP are also collaborating to provide 18 “Emelda” fuel-efficient cookstoves to the community of El Cocal where CO2 Bambu has built bamboo houses that need efficient wood cooking stoves. The project is in the works with PROLE√ĎA/TWP ¬†in Managua to provide training, stove parts and a field supervisor.¬† The building of these cookstoves will begin in June 2011.

Families can benefit greatly from clean cookstoves, which reduce deforestation, fuelwood costs, and indoor air pollution.

We are really excited to be working with such a progressive company and look forward to continuing this partnership well into the future!

For more information on CO2 Bambu please visit their website:

Update: 24 Cookstoves Built in 3 Days

A stove beneficiary in San Jose de Bocay stands next to her new fuel-efficient cookstove, built by Virginia Tech students, residents of Blacksburg, and TWP partner Prole√Īa in early January 2011.

At the beginning of this month we did a post on the sister city relationship between Blacksburg, VA and San Jose de Bocay, Nicaragua (see post here).  Well, the trip was a great success!  Here is little update from trip leader and Blacksburg resident Jim Bier:

“We had a great week in San jose de Bocay.¬† The whole group was great, the arrangements worked well and we manged to build 24 stoves in 3 long days, and greatly strengthen our sister-city relationships in San Jose de Bocay.”

Thank you to the Virgina Tech students, residents of Blacksburg, and Prole√Īa for all of your hard work!

Double Your Year-End Gift With TWP’s Matching Campaign

The Fairfax Foundation and several of our board members have issued a challenge: They will match whatever gifts we receive, dollar for dollar. This is your chance to see your gift accomplish TWICE as much good in an area that is most in need of your help!  Click here to donate now, and make double the impact for the communities we serve in Central America and Haiti.

Thank you again for your support and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2011!

United Nations Foundation announces new Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Initiative

A woman cooks tortillas on her forest-saving, fuel-efficient Justa stove in El Salvador. TWP's stoves reduce fuel-wood consumption by 70% and indoor air pollution by 80%, greatly reducing deforestation and health problems.

The United Nations Foundation has recently launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a new initiative ‚Äúsupporting large-scale adoption of clean and safe household cooking solutions as a way to save lives, improve livelihoods, and reduce climate change emissions.‚Ä̬† The Alliance has set a goal of enabling an additional 100 million homes to acquire clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020.

To overcome the current market barriers hampering the widespread use of clean cookstoves in the developing world, the Alliance will partner with public and private stakeholders from around the world.  The goals of the Alliance include developing standards for cleaner stoves, increasing public and policymaker awareness of the health and environmental benefits of improved stove technologies, support of health and climate research, and reduction of trade barriers to help support market-based solutions, with the ultimate goal of developing a robust clean cookstoves industry.

The founding partners of the Alliance include the UN Foundation, the Shell Foundation, Morgan Stanley, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Germany Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and UN-Energy.

Trees, Water & People and the Aprovecho Research Center have been developing forest-saving, fuel-efficient stove technology for over a decade.  To date, TWP and our local partners have built more than 42,000 fuel-efficient stoves in Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Haiti.  For more information about Trees, Water & People’s Fuel-Efficent Stove Program click here.