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?

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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.

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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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Guest Blog: Estufa Doña Dora Teams up with Trees, Water & People

by David Evitt, co-founder and CEO of Estufa Doña Dora 

A staggering 57% of Guatemalan energy use comes from firewood. That single statistic puts the challenge of clean cooking in context. In rural areas, there is near total dependence on biomass energy. For those families, wood for cooking is their only significant use of energy.

70% of Guatemalan families cook with wood, mostly on improvised open fire stoves that leave the kitchen filled with smoke, leading to disastrous health outcomes. Household air pollution globally causes more deaths than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. The country-level outcomes for Guatemala are similar, with 5,000 deaths a year caused by indoor air pollution, and acute respiratory infections aggravated by kitchen smoke being the leading killer of children under five.

Yes, the challenge of clean cooking in Guatemala is monumental. However, we see this as an opportunity. Estufa Doña Dora is a Guatemalan social enterprise founded on the idea that a clean cookstove should have more in common with consumer durables, like blenders and TV’s, even when used for humanitarian interventions. We recognize that a cookstove is mission-critical professional equipment for Guatemalan cooks.

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A woman in southern Guatemala tests our her brand new Doña Dora stove.

The most important criteria for a Guatemalan cookstove are that 1) it has the necessary capacity for the family’s cooking needs, 2) it cooks quickly and well, 3) it’s affordable, 4) it gets the smoke out of the house, and 5) it saves wood. Estufa Doña Dora has been working since 2011 to deliver products that meet all those criteria. We are the only company in Guatemala that sells a majority of efficient cookstoves directly to individual families.

We divide families into two broad groups: wood buyers and wood collectors. The wood buyers are able to pay for a cookstove over time by getting a loan through our microfinance partners, and redirecting their savings on firewood to pay for the stove. Wood collectors do not have a ready income stream to invest in a stove. That is where international development organizations like Trees, Water & People (TWP) can focus their efforts for maximum impact.

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This community in southern Guatemala is learning about their new Doña Dora stoves.

We are proud to partner with TWP and Utz Ché to bring Doña Dora cookstoves to 414 families gathering wood in the Camotán, Chiquimula and Quesada, Jutiapa areas of southern Guatemala. These types of partnerships are critical to bringing the capacity, function, and ease-of-use of the Doña Dora in a way that meets the needs of the project and families. To lower costs and involve the family, Utz Ché has been delivering the pre-built, internal components of the stove and they have then been training the families on how to build the supporting structure from concrete cinderblock or Adobe, according to their preference and budget.

In following up with the first community to receive the stoves, 98% of families reported loving the stove, having no problems, and saving 50% on firewood. We were able to give extra attention to the families that needed additional support adapting to the technology, and are confident that they will adapt quickly.

Please support TWP and Utz Ché in helping eliminate household air pollution and reduce firewood consumption in 500 Guatemalan homes. Your support will help change the way these families cook their food for generations to come.

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Guest Blog: StoveTeam International and Trees, Water & People Team Up!

Introduction by Sebastian Africano, International Director

At Trees, Water & People (TWP), we’re one organization in a global movement to improve living conditions for some of the world’s poorest families. Working together with other groups expands our reach and our impact, which is why we are thrilled to collaborate with our colleagues at StoveTeam International to improve cooking conditions for rural Guatemalan families. Please enjoy our guest blog post by Katie Laughlin of StoveTeam International, and support TWP’s goal of funding 500 stoves for Guatemala in June 2016!

by Katie Laughlin, Program Director at StoveTeam International

In Guatemala, 2.4 million families cook over traditional open fires. Without action, that number will likely increase to 2.8 million by 2030. That’s a scary vision for the future of Guatemala, a nation whose iconic landscapes of virgin lowland jungles and highland cloud forests are already disappearing alarmingly fast due to escalating rates of deforestation; and where burns and respiratory infections caused by harmful smoke are responsible for more than 5,000 deaths a year.

Natividad Ortiz, who is the third beneficiary of the stoves in the community of El Tarral
Natividad and her family are the third beneficiaries of a clean cookstove in the community of El Tarral in southern Guatemala.

StoveTeam International is motivated to change this grim prognosis by supporting efforts, large and small, to provide communities access to efficient and safe cooking alternatives. That’s why we are excited to support Trees Water & People’s effort to provide hundreds of clean cookstoves to families in Guatemala!

This summer, TWP and its partner, Utz Ché, will provide 500 stoves to three critically poor communities in Chiquimula, Jutiapa, and Escuintla. A StoveTeam International-sponsored cookstove factory, EcoComal, will provide many of these stoves. In StoveTeam’s experience, three elements are vital to success when working with local entrepreneurs to create independently owned and operated cookstove businesses – trust, local knowledge, and a passion for making a difference. TWP, Utz Ché, and EcoComal bring all three to their work with communities to create a culture of clean, smoke-free cooking that can be passed on to the next generation.

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The community of El Tarral receiving clean cookstoves last month in southern Guatemala.

You too can be a part of the solution by donating a stove today. Together, we can impact Guatemala’s future and change the lives of families cooking over smoky and dangerous open fires. Make a tax-deductible donation to this project today.

 

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15th Anniversary of La Bendición

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of one of our keystone communities, La Bendición, in southeastern Guatemala. This community served as a gateway for us when we sought to deepen our presence in Guatemala through our local partner, The Association for Community Forestry, Utz Ché (translates as “Good Tree” in the Kaqchiquel language). Utz Ché introduced Trees, Water & People (TWP) to La Bendición with hopes that we could develop a long-term relationship to address some of the long-term challenges the community faces, such as agrarian debt, isolation and lack of livelihood opportunities.

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Women of the La Bendición community cooking.

La Bendición was founded on June 7th, 2000 by two indigenous communities that were displaced by the armed conflict in the 1990s in western Guatemala. They were relocated to an abandoned and defunct coffee plantation in the southeastern part of the country and were passed a bill for the value of the land, as assessed by the government. The discrepancy between the valuation of the land and what they received would characterize the next 14 years of their community’s existence. They have fought for dismissal of this over-inflated debt so they could get on with learning how to live separated from their ancestral land and people.

Last year, which marked my first year with TWP, I was fortunate enough to visit the community on three different occasions. My first week with TWP, March 2015, I joined our International Director, Sebastian Africano on a work trip with 16 other participants from all over the U.S. It was a huge success and served as a great introduction to the critical partnership building and community development that are a hallmark of TWP´s development model. Then, in October, I made an individual visit to work with Oswaldo Mauricio Orozco, who is both one of the community´s main youth group leaders and the Coordinator for Campesino Exchanges at Utz Ché. During that visit, we analyzed lessons learned from the March work trip in preparation for the then-upcoming December-January work trip with the Geller Center and Unity of Fort Collins. These groups also had a tremendous experience during their time in the community.

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The work group from the Geller Center and Unity of Fort Collins learning about coffee farming.

Our efforts at La Bendición are ongoing, with continued support in many strategic areas, including:

Agroforestry and apiculture – helping to strengthen and deepen the community´s commitment to strengthening the full life cycle of the forest and diversifying livelihoods with value-added products.

Sustainable agriculture – while coffee remains the principal cash crop, pineapple plots have increased exponentially and they are now focused on commercialization and marketing of these high-quality fruits.

Capacity building and leadership – supporting the youth group in its efforts to lead on agriculture, livelihoods and forestry through important trainings and opportunities for education and professional growth.

Community forestry and ecotourism – from its founding, La Bendición´s leaders realized how important the surrounding forest is and they have worked tirelessly to manage the buffer zone with an eye toward conserving forest health. Ecotourism proposals and concepts are currently underway and the renovation of the main community center was a focus of the last work trip´s efforts.

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Harvesting pineapple in La Bendición.

Help us celebrate the anniversary of this special community by donating to our efforts to install 500 stoves in three Utz Ché communities over the next two months. We are currently raising funds to complete the installation of these stoves with an eye toward expanding the project to Utz Ché’s network of 40+ indigenous partner communities across Guatemala. La Bendición is one of these communities, and we are excited to continue to support them as they continue on a path of sustainable development, autonomy, and prosperity.

Feliz Aniversario!

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Spring has Sprung with 15,000 Trees!

by Molly Geppert, Marketing Manager

After a long winter, we at Trees, Water & People (TWP) are excited to begin the planting season on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This morning, we happily bid farewell to 15,000 Ponderosa Pine seedlings provided by the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery. These trees will help reforest areas burned by wildfires on Pine Ridge.

Planting the Ponderosas will sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gases, improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion, reestablish wildlife habitat, and enhance ecosystem resiliency, while engaging Native Americans in the protection of their lands. One thousand of the seedlings were sent with special well wishes written on gardening stakes by the Earth Day patrons from TWP’s recent Earth Day event in Colorado with New Belgium Brewery and Topo Designs. The collaboration was a huge success and a whole lot of fun!

 

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Earth Day patrons wrote well wishes on garden stakes to be planted with their donated trees at New Belgium Brewery.

In addition to the trees, 1,000 veggie starters are also making the trip to South Dakota. The plants are destined for Solar Warrior Farm, an educational demonstration garden located at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Solar Warrior Farm produces native and traditional foods such as, potatoes, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, corn, melons, peppers, carrots, and a variety of berries, all of which are harvested and distributed to local Lakota families.

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15,000 Ponderosa Pines and 1,000 veggie starters safely stowed for the trip to Pine Ridge.

Helping us plant all these trees and veggies is long-time supporter, Rob Beheady of BeHeady.com. Rob has been raising funds to plant trees with TWP for many years through the sale of his beautiful steel drums. We are so grateful to have his help and support!

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Sending off the trees with the well wishes from the Colorado Earth Day event. (Pictured from left to right: Richard Fox, Amanda Haggerty, Molly Geppert, and Rob Beheady)

If you would like to help us plant trees on the Pine Ridge Reservation, please make a donation to our Tribal Reforestation program.

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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.

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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.

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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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Partner Spotlight: Ut’z Che’

Ut’z Che ‘(good tree in Mayan language K’iche’) is a Guatemalan NGO that represents 36 community organizations dedicated to sustainable management of their forests, forest plantations, water sources, biodiversity and other natural resources.

utzche logoThe Association Ut’z Che’ was formed with the main objective to legitimately represent the demands and interest of their grassroots organizations in different sectors, effect change in public policy areas related to the management of forests, and assist with rural development in general. Another key part is to strengthen the capacities of its member organizations, to achieve conservation and sustainable productive use of natural resources.

In Guatemala – where the state does not respond to the needs and demands for comprehensive development – Utz Che has organized to defend and claim their rights.

“Communities have been protecting natural reserves for centuries but living in poverty. We want people to improve their livelihoods while protecting forests.”

We are honored to work with Ut’Z Che’ and the communities they represent. Together, we build clean cookstoves, plant trees, and distribute solar lighting to their members in Guatemala, all in an effort to empower local people and conserve the natural environment that is so important to their livelihoods.

To learn more please visit www.utzchecomunitaria.org