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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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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It’s The Little Things…

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

What a week.

We at Trees, Water & People (TWP) would like to thank all of you who have spoken your minds, gathered in community, and laid bare your hearts in the aftermath of this recent election. We are proud to be an organization committed to working alongside you for the betterment of our global community and planet and will continue to lean into that commitment in the years ahead.

Last week I was reminded of the power that each of us holds to affect the world around us in a positive way – to extend a hand, build meaningful relationships, actively oppose injustice, and reinforce the beliefs we hold dear. I also came to understand that organizations like TWP will have to redouble our efforts in the coming years to deter the human and ecological threats posed by the incoming administration. We will not shy away from that challenge.

Unity Church in La Bendícion
Volunteers from Unity Church in Fort Collins, CO traveled to the community of La Bendición, Guatemala with us last winter.

The work we do, and the communities with which we work – from Native Americans on the Great Plains to indigenous communities throughout Central America – put TWP at the crux of some of the major social and environmental challenges of our time. As these challenges grow more acute in the coming years, we will work intently with those who value social, racial and cultural inclusivity, human rights, biodiversity, a clean environment, international collaboration, and a low-emissions future.

Travel is more important than ever. Getting to know parts of the world with which you are less familiar is the best way to test your assertions and broaden your perspective. Travel also exposes us to the scale of our global challenges and where YOU can be most effective in the effort to keep humanity thriving. Exiting our comfort zones enlightens us in the sense that it highlights the shortcomings of borders – a line on a map doesn’t isolate us from what happens on the other side of it.

CSU Alt. Break trip 2016
These Colorado State University students spent their spring break building a home for a Lakota family living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Photo by Vanesa Blanco Lopez.

Climate change is one arena in which this plays out, and one in which TWP will be very active in the coming years. Making sustained progress in the climate struggle requires that we work against those who would undo societal advances in favor of personal gain. Progress for some means a setback to others, so being the most academically or professionally prepared means little if you don’t intimately know what drives your stakeholders, and your adversaries.

In the coming years, we’re going to need your help to drive change in this adverse political environment. We need YOU to help us support indigenous communities protecting their natural resources. We need YOU to help create sustainable livelihoods for people in rural communities at home and abroad. And we need YOU to embrace the role you will play in creating ecologically, economically, and politically stable planet for future generations.

As our eco-heroine, Wangari Maathai said, “It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” So please join Trees, Water & People in planting the seeds of a better future by making a donation that supports our work, or by joining us on a trip to where the work happens. It’s in our hands now – let’s make good on this opportunity to create the future we want to see.

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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.