15th Anniversary of La Bendici√≥n

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Today¬†marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of one of our keystone communities, La Bendici√≥n, 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 Ch√© (translates as ‚ÄúGood Tree‚ÄĚ in the Kaqchiquel language). Utz Ch√© introduced Trees, Water & People (TWP) to La Bendici√≥n 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.

P1040768
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¬īs development model. Then, in October, I made an individual visit to work with Oswaldo Mauricio Orozco, who is both one of the community¬īs main youth group leaders and the Coordinator for Campesino Exchanges at Utz Ch√©. 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.

P1040559
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¬īs commitment to strengthening the full life cycle of the forest and diversifying livelihoods with value-added products.

Sustainable agriculture Рwhile 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 Рsupporting 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 Bendici√≥n¬īs 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¬īs efforts.

P1040933
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!

donate button

 

 

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.

P1050051
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.

P1050062
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.

P1050030
Class is in session!

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

donate button

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.

Armando w ECPA Tile on Justa clean stove
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.

Rene with members of his sommunity
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.

donate button

 

Happy International Day of Forests!

IMG_7876

Today, we join millions of people around the world in a celebration of our planet’s forests. This year’s theme is “Forests and Water”, bringing attention to the relationship between healthy watersheds and healthy forests.¬†Forests are vital to the water cycle. They slow down water flow and filter the water that enters our rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater. They also transpire water into the atmosphere, contributing to the formation of clouds and rain.

According to the United Nations (UN), “Around 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures – depend on forests for their livelihood.” Forests provide priceless economic, ecological, social, and health benefits that, if destroyed, can never be replaced. Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems¬†on land, providing more than 80% of the world’s animals, plants, and insects a home.

IMG_7721

If forests are so important, then why are we destroying them? This is a question that societies around the world find themselves asking. The UN estimates that 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually. In addition, deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

If we want to heal our planet, reverse the effects of climate change, and protect the more than 1 billion people relying on forests for their livelihoods, than we must act now! Our forests do not have a voice. We must speak for them.

How much do you know about forests and water? Take the quiz >>

To learn more about Trees, Water & People’s efforts to protect forests and the people dependent on them for survival, please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org.

IDFBANNER_EN_DATE

Volunteer Voices: Cherishing a Blessing

P1040669

by Peggy Christiansen, Guatemala Work Tour Participant

I came back from our Work Tour with Trees, Water & People humbled, amazed, inspired, joy-filled, and moved to the depths of my soul.

La Bendici√≥n, which means The Blessing, is the right name for the little village we visited in southern Guatemala. Two groups of Mayans from very different geographical settings and cultural traditions ‚Äď even different languages – share this land.¬† It‚Äôs an abandoned, overworked coffee plantation on a hillside that sits next to a virgin forest.¬† The area, which the Guatemalan government promised would be fertile and full of rivers, has one river and hurricane-strength winds six months out of the year.

And yet the people have named and claimed it as The Blessing.¬† They have coaxed a living out of that land for 15 years ‚Äď all the while with a huge debt to the government hanging over their heads.¬† Why?

Why would they stay in such challenging circumstances?  Apparently, some haven’t.  Some of the younger folks have found the lack of electricity, the inconsistent attendance on the part of schoolteachers, the difficult access to the remote village, the continual struggle with the wind, and the on-going failure on the part of the government to keep its promises to be too much.  Some have sacrificed their strong connection with the earth and have headed for the city. Others have found their way to the States, where they work ungodly long hours to send money home to their families.

But many have stayed.

P1040742

The Mayan people I have known in my life are strong. Patient. Resourceful. Playful. And very, very wise. After all, the Mayans have persevered for hundreds of years. They survived colonization by the Spaniards. They endured the fruit companies and plantations and foreign land ‚Äúowners‚ÄĚ of the last two centuries.¬† And now somehow they have survived the brutal years of oppression and massacres by their own government, a government that was financed and trained in ‚Äúanti-communism‚ÄĚ techniques by the United States.

Weakened in numbers, traumatized by torture…  they are STILL HERE!

Strong. Patient. Resourceful. Playful. And very, very wise.

When the death squads ‚Äúdisappeared‚ÄĚ people, and Central American refugees had to seek asylum, especially in the 1980‚Äôs when the situation was at its worst, a Sanctuary movement in the U.S. and Canada created an underground railroad to help people escape. Many gatherings were held during those years ‚Äď both here and in Central America ‚Äď and families and friends and strangers would call out the names of the disappeared and the assassinated, and the whole crowd would shout back, ‚Äú¬°Pres√©nte!‚ÄĚ

P1040887

‚ÄúHERE!‚Ä̬† ‚ÄúPresent!‚Ä̬† It was a declaration that those who were gone lived on, and a promise that their work would be carried on.¬† People stood together in solidarity against the vicious military campaign that targeted human rights workers, teachers, doctors, priest, and thousands and thousands of campesinos.

In 1996, when peace was finally declared in Guatemala, the indigenous Mayan peoples were promised a voice and basic human rights. The process since then has been long and difficult.  And there is far to go.

But the campesinos in La Bendici√≥n are an awe-inspiring example of the courage and the perseverance required on this journey.¬† Together they are creating a place where the values and the strengths of the Mayan people can shine forth and illuminate for the rest of us what it means to heal our earth.¬† They call it ‚Äúla lucha,‚ÄĚ the struggle to overcome obstacles and difficulties, the work for peace and healing and regeneration for all.

P1040628I learned many lessons in the short days that felt like a lifetime.  Those lessons will continue as our group and TWP develop the relationship and the friendship between Fort Collins and La Bendición.

In the future, I want to share some stories about the people who are teaching me those lessons.  For now, I simply want to say thanks.

Thank you, TWP, for introducing us to La Bendición and for sharing the amazing partnership you have created there.

Thank you, fellow travelers, for the wonderful ways you were present on this journey.

Thank you, Lucas, for your huge heart, your constant smile, and your constant care.

And, a huge thank you to all of the special people of La Bendición, who opened your hearts and your homes and your lives and your wisdom to a group of strangers. You worked so hard to care for us and still, after all that, you urged us to come back.

We will.

In solidarity, we will partner with you in ‚Äúla lucha‚ÄĚ ‚Äď both here and there.¬† And ‚Äúsi Dios quiere,‚ÄĚ we will be back.¬† As you said to us over and over, ‚Äúwe are one human family.‚Ä̬† And I can‚Äôt begin to tell you how grateful I am for The Blessing in that.

New Report: The Health Consequences of El Ni√Īo in Central America

IMG_3347
Rural, poor farmers in Central America are often hit hardest by El Ni√Īo events.

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

A new report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) calls attention to the¬†devastating effects of El Ni√Īo in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. El Ni√Īo¬†refers to the ‚Äúlarge-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in¬†sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific (NOAA, 2016).‚ÄĚ

El Ni√Īo Wreaks Havoc¬†on Central America

The presence of El Ni√Īo has caused prolonged drought in Central America that is expected to¬†last through at least March of 2016. Crop failure, especially in the ‚Äúdry corridors‚ÄĚ of Guatemala,¬†Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, has already affected 4.2 million people in the sub-region.

As with many climate-related events, the poorest households are most affected. Food insecurity and malnutrition are the biggest challenges facing these countries and are expected to last through the next harvest in August 2016. Guatemala and Honduras have gone as far as to declare a state of emergency. The governments of Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador are providing support to farmers by distributing seeds and water pumps.

el_nino_health_effects_22jan2016
Source: World Health Organization (WHO), 2016

Most farmers in the region, particularly subsistence or small-scale campesino (rural farmer) operations, rely¬†predominantly on natural rainfall for their crops, and these recent weather patterns, caused by El Ni√Īo and increasing climate volatility, have exacerbated food¬†insecurity and overall instability in the rural areas of Central America. We are not¬†even halfway through the summer season here, with full bore temperatures (and¬†corresponding dryness) reaching its peak in the months of March and April.

Eco-Friendly Agriculture in a Changing Climate

One of the key takeaways from the campesinos that I work with and visited on my last regional tour in October is that increased variability creates significant uncertainty around the arrival of the first rains in May. Many farmers are unsure about when, what, and how much they should plant for the season. These conversations played over and over again as I traveled from El Salvador to Guatemala, and then from Honduras back to Nicaragua.

Darren 2013_649
A farmer in Honduras takes us on a tour of his small tree nursery, where he grows a variety of species.

According to Gerardo Santos, a¬†field coordinator for Centro Educativo de Agricultura Sostenible (CEASO), “These fluctuations and changing climate dynamics are wreaking havoc in the most vulnerable areas and increasingly encroaching upon the majority of the country. Without the stability and predictability of the rains, campesinos are really in a difficult spot; they are in a struggle for survival.”¬†

To assist these farmers, Trees, Water & People supports programs in sustainable agriculture, like those of our newest partner, CEASO in Honduras. A shifting paradigm in agriculture emphasizes climate mitigation and adaptation strategies like better soil management, conservation, rainwater harvesting, enhanced water storage capacity, agroforestry, crop diversification, and better and more resistant local seeds.

We believe that a more diverse, holistic approach to farming will protect campesino families in the long run, ensuring rural communities have access to food and other natural resources in a rapidly changing climate.

To read the full WHO report please click here.

Trees, Water & People’s 2015 Impact Report

Thank you to our generous friends and donors who helped make 2015 a great year! Working closely with our local partners, community members, and volunteers, we were able to continue important conservation work throughout Central America, Haiti, and on tribal lands in the United States that benefit people and the planet.

2015 impact report

To learn more about Trees, Water & People’s community-based conservation projects please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org. Cheers to a productive and green 2016!

Infographic: Why Clean Cookstoves?

Since 1998, Trees, Water & People has been working with our partners and local community members to design clean cookstoves that greatly reduce deadly indoor air pollution, deforestation, and high fuel costs. These cookstoves are designed according to specific cooking needs and cultural context, which is why they can look very different from country to country. However, all of these stoves have one important thing in common: they make cooking much safer for women and their families.

Clean Cookstoves

To learn more about Trees, Water & People’s Clean Cookstove Program please click here.

Fall “Forests Forever” Newsletter Now Available!

2015 Fall newsletter

The digital edition of our bi-annual newsletter, Forests Forever, is now available for your reading pleasure. In this edition, you will enjoy news and updates from our Board, Program Directors, and other staff who are working every day to make our programs successful and sustainable. Thanks for reading and please share with a friend too!

In this issue:

  • We Are All Related
  • Lessons from Cuba
  • Replanting the Pine Ridge
  • Community Voices
  • This Changes Everything

Read the Fall 2015 Newsletter >>

TWP Launches New 100% Replanted Website

100 percent replanted

We are excited to announce the launch of our new and improved 100% Replanted website! The 100% Replanted Program offers businesses and individuals a way to easily and affordably offset their paper use by supporting Trees, Water & People’s Reforestation Programs in Latin America. We have designed simple-to-use paper calculators that will help you or your business determine your paper footprint. You can offset the paper from one event, one month of business, or your entire annual paper footprint. This innovative program allows you to reduce, reuse, recycle, and replant!

Trees Water & People and our local partners manage the planting and care for all the trees purchased through the 100% Replanted Program. The trees are planted on private and public lands throughout Central America. Since 1998, TWP has planted more than 5.6 million trees in Central America, Haiti, and the United States. Planting trees in Latin America has several important benefits: the cost of planting is low, the trees grow quickly in the tropical climate, and the tree nurseries create jobs for local people.

To learn more about how you or your business can become “100% Replanted” please visit www.replanttrees.org.