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

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

reforestation Nicaragua

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

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

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

All together now…PLANT MORE TREES!




Office Energy Challenge Update: Record Highs in July

This July was the hottest month in U.S. history. The record breaking heat was obvious in our energy use here at the TWP office. With the A/C on most days, we survived the outrageous temperatures here in For Collins, but it also meant that we were not able to meet our monthly goal of 10% energy reduction. However, as the temperatures here slowly begin to drop, and we move towards Fall weather, we hope to use far less energy in the coming months.

Click photo to enlarge

Note: The blue line indicates our 10% energy reduction goal, based off of 2010 and 2011’s averages (which are indicated in red).

Learn more about the Office Energy Challenge here.

Thank you to Rick England, owner of Best Energy Monitor, who donates his time to help us reduce our energy use.

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

National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change_Nicaragua
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We are working with our long-time NGO partner, Proleña, in Nicaragua, to establish the National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change near La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

The Center will be an educational resource where communities can learn about managing forests, renewable energy, cleantech, and clean cookstoves. In addition to the core training, we will develop the Center as a global facility, where people from around the world will be empowered with the skills that will help them adapt to climate change in their region.

Features of the National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change:

  • Biomass Forest Plot
  • Classrooms for Trainings & Workshops
  • Clean Cookstoves & Fuel-Efficient Kilns
  • 2kW Photovoltaic System
  • Cleantech Products
  • Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Demos
Nicaragua Climate Change Center
Click image to enlarge

Notes from the Field: Climate Change, Solar Warriors and First Harvests

by Jordan Engel, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center Intern

It seems to be on everybody’s minds these days. Maybe they don’t reference it directly, but no one can ignore the facts. Climate change is happening now. In days like these, when 100 degree temperatures are engulfing much of the country and bizarre and deadly weather is taking its toll right here in our communities, we can no longer marginalize our relationship with the planet. The National Climatic Data Center released a study today reporting that the current drought affecting the continental U.S. rivals the severity of the 1930s dust bowl. Here on the Great Plains that might scare a few people. It seems inane that we as a society are still turning up the oven knob while you, your family, and billions of people you’ve never met are all inside that very oven. We must ask ourselves what we are doing for the Earth, and in turn for ourselves. Not for our grandchildren – that falsely implies that our actions will not affect us in our lifetimes – but ourselves.

At the Tribal Renewable Energy Program, we can proudly say that we are doing a lot.  We’re training Native Americans to be 21st century Solar Warriors and defenders of Mother Earth. This past week was an important milestone in the program as walls went up in the new training annex in Pine Ridge. The interior construction of this new training space was expected to take two weeks, and was done in just over one. So now we’ll just take a moment to send out a few obligatory thank you’s: Big thanks to TWP board member Jeremy Foster for leading this project. His dedication to the renewable energy program cannot be understated, and without him, none of this would have been possible. We’re also supremely indebted to all of our volunteers who gave their time to travel to Pine Ridge and work like dogs for a while. And of course, we couldn’t have done it without our friends at Re-Member, an amazing volunteer service non-profit based in Pine Ridge which supplied tools and man power for a week. If you haven’t heard of them, please do yourself a favor and check them out.

With all this heat, you’ll be happy to hear that the Solar Warrior Farm hasn’t shriveled up and the squash hasn’t begun baking right there in the sun. In fact, we were told the other day that it is the best garden on the reservation, and last week the Solar Warrior Farm had its very first harvest! Beautiful yellow summer squash, an explosion of zucchini, buffalo currants, buffalo berries, calendula flowers, cilantro, mint, dill, wild bergamot, and sage all came out of the garden are were promptly distributed to visitors and other Pine Ridge residents. The rewards of our food security program are beginning to be realized, and they are so sweet. The key to our success thus far has been access to water. Water is life – without there are no trees, no people, no Trees Water & People (and you shudder to think “what would the world look like without TWP?”). In the garden, ecological design demands that there is redundancy in all things as a sort of safety net to prevent complete system failure. Irrigating solely from well water is dangerous because times of drought will eventually leave people hungry as well as thirsty. As rumors began to circulate around the reservation that wells were going dry in Porcupine, Wounded Knee, and elsewhere, we didn’t wait any longer to diversify our water sources. A solar-powered pump was installed to divert water from White Clay Creek to the garden. Rainbarrels are planned for water catchment from the greenhouse roof. A large cistern in the garden is kept full as an absolute last resort to keep the plants alive. With these measures in place, we can allay our fears of drought and move on to other battles: pests.

If you drive down Solar Warrior Road this time of year, it might seem like you’re boating across rough water. Grasshoppers, thousands of them, jump out of the road on both sides and form what appears to be cohesive liquid wave until further inspection reveals it to be a biblical swarm of bugs. Folks around here have told me horror stories of how the ubiquitous insect destroyed their gardens in an afternoon. Luckily Henry, the experienced gardener that he is, had an organic solution to save the Solar Warrior Farm from being devoured. Spreading flour over the corn stalks acts as a natural insecticide that doesn’t poison the food. It seems to be effective so far, but it’s an ongoing battle.

I’m starting to wonder whether the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center may have outgrown its name. Since its inception, it has become an educational center in many areas other than energy – from sustainable food production to natural building. And it continues to grow. In the coming months, straw bale and rammed earth homes will be going up and natural construction workshops will be planned around those events. We already preparing the sites and anticipation is building.

As new architecture makes its way onto the reservation, I think it is appropriate to briefly pay homage to the vernacular architecture of the Lakota people. The more I learn about tepees (and I’ve learned a lot by putting them up and taking them down in the last couple weeks) the more I appreciate their design for doing everything that good architecture should. They use local materials, are appropriate for the local climate, the conical frame offers robust protection from the wind and rain, and they’re comfortable. I’ve slept in the tepee during the hottest nights of July and during the coldest nights of May – no complaints. A small fire inside the tepee will keep you plenty warm. Tepees are meant for easy assembly, but make no mistake; it’s only easy if you know what you’re doing. Henry was once in the tepee business and he and his family are seasoned tepee veterans. There are precise measurements and subtle details that that few realize. For instance, contrary to popular belief the tepee is not a symmetrical cone. The front end is more steeply pitched to leave a low ceiling in the rear sleeping quarters and a high one in the front living area. So if you’re feeling the heat out there, go crawl into a tepee if you have one.

Notes from the Field: TWP and PROLEÑA Unveil the Nicaraguan National Climate Change Center

by Jon Becker, TWP Board President

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

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

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

Inauguration of the Nicaraguan National Climate Change Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of the Week: Gathering Firewood in Uganda

Gathering firewoos in Uganda
A group of Ugandan women gather fuelwood to cook their family's daily meals. According to UN Women Watch, women and girls in the developing world can spend up to 20 hours per week collecting firewood, often in very isolated and unsafe areas. (Photo © Brian Martin 2012)

New Report from NWF Highlights How Climate Change Hurts Indian Tribes Disproportionately

This new report from the National Wildlife Federation “details how climate change is adversely and disproportionately affecting Indian Tribes in North America, people who rely on a healthy environment to sustain their economic, cultural and spiritual lives.”

Click here to learn more about the new report.

TWP Goes Platinum in the Climate Wise Program

TWP has been a member of the City of Fort Collins Climate Wise Program since 2007.  Now, in 2011, we have reached the highest level within the program: Platinum Partner!

Through environmental assessments and creative solutions, the Climate Wise Team helps businesses tackle modern-day business challenges that impact bottom lines and the quality of life in Fort Collins.  To date, the voluntary program has over 200 business partners.  Climate Wise staff work with these local partners to implement energy, water, transportation and waste reduction programs, saving each business money while, at the same time, greatly improving our local environment.

Trees, Water & People’s 2010 Accomplishments:

  • Planted 805,093 trees = 161,000 tons of CO2
  • Built 7,909 clean cookstoves = 59,318 tons of CO2
  • Replaced 6 T-12 light bulbs with efficient T-8 bulbs
  • Installed locking outdoor mailbox so that we could seal off the draft from our mail slot
  • Saved 1,560 gallons of water a year by installing two low flow toilets
  • Installed compost bins beneath all of our paper towel dispensers
  • Relocated our bike rack to front, covered porch for safety, convenience, and to promote bike commuting