Project Update: NICFEC Now the Tierra Verde Climate Change Adaptation Center!

by Gemara Gifford, International Director

Since our last update in June, we have been very busy working on the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate (NICFEC) with our partners at PROLEÑA. Not only have we been working on the buildings, but a new name as well! The Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate will now be the Tierra Verde Climate Change Adaptation Center. Set in one of the driest and most threatened ecosystems on earth, the Pacific Dry Corridor, the Tierra Verde Center is a new regional climate change training facility where diverse stakeholders share knowledge, skills, and strategies in sustainable agriculture, forestry, fuel-efficient technologies, watershed management, soil remediation, and more. Over the last four months, we have nearly completed the dormitory where people from all across the world will be able to be housed to share knowledge on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

NICFEC Dorm
The dormitory for the Tierra Verde Center is nearly complete. It will house visitors while they learn about climate adaptation in Central America.

We have also recently established two tree nurseries at the back of the site, which will soon house 50,000-100,000 native trees for use in reforestation, agroforestry, and fuel-lot projects. Like everything on site, the nurseries will serve as a demonstration. Farmers will be able to see, feel, and touch a tree nursery planted with species that can survive well in the arid climate, as well as learn how to market the products grown from the trees, i.e., fuelwood, poles for construction, fruits and nuts.

NICFEC Tree Nursery
These seedlings growing in the Tierra Verde Center tree nursery will be used for demonstrations.

Perhaps the most exciting achievement was that we hosted our first event at the Tierra Verde Center site since we began construction! While we wish it were under different circumstances, we were able to hold a tree planting ceremony in honor of our dear friend, Lucas Wolf, with a majestic Ceiba tree in his honor. Over 30 people were in attendance from all across the country, many locals and colleagues whom Lucas built relationships with over the past three years in Nicaragua. Lucas was TWP’s International Director, and a dear friend, who passed away suddenly this July while traveling in Cuba.

Lucas' Tree Planting at NICFEC
In honor of Lucas’ birthday, we held a tree planting ceremony at the new the Tierra Verde Center site.

Upon completion in 2018, the Tierra Verde Center will feature live classrooms, workspaces, demonstration gardens, and private cabanas where local and international visitors — from smallholder farmer to high-level decision-maker — can both learn about and participate in climate change adaptation education in the Pacific Dry Corridor. On display will be a variety of demonstrative solutions including clean cookstove designs, fuel-efficient kilns and ovens, solar energy systems, green charcoal technologies, and agroforestry plots that reveal relevant strategies for climate change resilience, especially for local smallholder farmers. We expect to launch programming and tours in 2018!

If you are interested in traveling to Nicaragua with us, or any of our program countries, please sign up for our email list for upcoming trips.

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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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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.

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Notes from the Field: La Finca Humana

soil and life

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

In rural Honduras, two consecutive years of agricultural hardship have driven vulnerable rural communities to the brink of insolvency. As crop yields and income drop due to volatile weather patterns and a coffee disease that wiped out half of Central America’s 2014 harvest, proponents of conventional agriculture prescribe more chemical inputs, genetically modified seeds, and machinery. None of the above are feasible or sustainable options for poor rural families who can scarcely feed their families.

This year, the rains that irrigate corn and beans have been delayed again, and news reports claim that millions are in danger of food shortages – the time is now to shift the agricultural paradigm.

Trees, Water & People and our partners propose a different path forward: agroforestry, crop diversification, soil remediation, and farmer-to-farmer education. Working with Centro Educativo de Agricultura Sostenible (CEASO), we will support the following work in 2016 and 2017:

  • Agroforestry training curriculum comprised of seven modules to 200 farmers in 10 communities in the Department of Comayagua, Honduras, over a two year period. Coursework will be offered at community centers and at participants’ farms.
  • Between modules, each group will visit local farms that have implemented the Finca Humana approach, including CEASO’s demonstration center and campus, to observe mature agroforestry systems and test several appropriate rural technologies.
  • Establish tree nurseries in each of the 10 communities, where tree species (avocado, mango, citrus, guanábana, bananas, papaya, fuel trees, and native hardwoods) will be raised for integration into the agricultural landscapes of the trainees.

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CEASO refers to their holistic development approach as La Finca Humana, roughly translated as “The Human Estate.” This approach puts family at the center of a successful farm and helps build resilience in every aspect of a rural family’s life, including food production, agroforestry (integrating trees into agricultural systems), waste management, pest management, water storage, soil quality, animal husbandry, energy use, agricultural economics, and gender equity.

In a region that is extremely vulnerable to climate change, La Finca Humana gives farmers and their families the tools and knowledge needed to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Families should not only survive, but thrive. We hope you will join us in supporting the important work of CEASO and the communities they support. To learn more please contact Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director, at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org.

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, Proleña, to establish the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy, & Climate near La Paz Centro, about an hour northwest of Managua.

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

Working with our dedicated partner organization Proleña, 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 – 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 sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org.

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 Proleña’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, Proleña.  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 Proleña 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 Proleña’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 – a 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 – we 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.

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: www.treeswaterpeople.org. Thank you for your support!

For questions about the new Center please contact Sebastian Africano, International Director, at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org. Stay tuned for updates!