Protected Area Management in El Salvador

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director 

Before moving to Fort Collins, CO in 2009, my wife and I settled in western El Salvador, a natural wonderland dotted with volcanoes, teeming with biodiversity, and a 40-minute drive from cool misty peaks to sweltering coastlines. Trees, Water & People (TWP) had worked there since 2001, through a small partner called Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) building cookstoves, composting latrines, and maintaining the most beautiful tree nursery among all their programs.

Unfortunately, the country went through a particularly rough spell between 2010 – 2016, where political turmoil left a vacuum filled by some unsavory elements in society and significantly affected our ability to operate. Nevertheless, AAP adjusted to the new reality and began looking for new ways to improve their country from within.

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Thanks to the FIAES fund from the U.S. and El Salvadorian governments, Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo was named co-manager of the Reserva de la Biosfera Apaneca-Ilamatepec. 

Leveraging a strong reputation, AAP was able to gain access to a bilateral reconciliation fund in 2013, which was put in place by El Salvador and the U.S. to strengthen public spaces, including National Parks. They were named co-managers of a small National Park in the west of the country and began working with communities along the outskirts of this park, developing Ecotourism capacity and providing environmental education through local school systems.

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Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo provides environmental education opportunities for local schools around the National Park, including tree planting!

Four years later, the small, dedicated team at AAP is now the head of a consortium of non-governmental organizations tasked with co-managing a network of parks throughout the west of the country. Their work focuses on improving everything from trails to interpretive signage, to biodiversity conservation, and alternative economic opportunities for youth. The road is long, but as El Salvador emerges from another dark patch of history, there is optimism on the horizon again, and TWP is proud to have continued supporting a positive future for the country.

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When They Win, We All Win!

by Sebastian Africano, International Director 

One great thing about working at Trees, Water & People (TWP), is that victories can come from any of several directions, at any time. We keep multiple irons in the fire at TWP, as we deliver impact in many forms, and our partners are versatile, talented, and irrevocably dedicated to improving life for the most vulnerable people in their respective countries.

In 2017 no victory thus far has been as satisfying as the news we received last week from our long-time partners, Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) of El Salvador. For seven years, with TWP support, they’ve been working with a ring of communities surrounding a lush and threatened National Park, San Rafael Los Naranjos, in the west of the country. They’ve implemented clean cookstoves, environmental education programs, interpretive park management training, small-scale solar lighting systems, and sustainable agriculture training in communities surrounding the park, and have gained a tremendous amount of trust and credibility for creating impact in a notoriously challenging environment.

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Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo’s (AAP) tree nursery has produced hundreds of thousands of trees for western El Salvador and provides agroforestry training to small farmers.

That credibility became all the more tangible this week, as AAP was officially named co-managers of the park by El Salvador’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. As part of this role, they will help train and support the park’s rangers in working with the communities that live in, and around, this protected area. This is a prestigious honor for this small and dedicated group of conservationists.
But that’s not all…

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Armando Hernandez Juárez accepting a grant on behalf of Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo from the Initiative Fund for the Americas (FIAES).

Almost concurrently, AAP received notice in a public ceremony that they were one of four NGOs in the country approved for a 12-month grant from the Initiative Fund for the Americas (FIAES) to help them expand their programs in San Rafael Los Naranjos. This grant will permit them to continue the important work of making this park a destination for Salvadorans and international travelers alike while ensuring that livelihoods in the communities surrounding the park improve in parallel with the health of the park’s ecosystems and biodiversity.

We are a capacity building organization. When our partners win in this way, our donors can be certain that their investments in TWP are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. Your support, be it small or large, infrequent or monthly through our Evergreen Circle, helps make these victories happen, and we are grateful for it. These victories remind us that working together, we can still do much good in the world. And when TWP’s partners win, WE ALL WIN.

FELICIDADES AND CONGRATULATIONS, AAP!

You can be a capacity builder, too! Please donate to Trees, Water & People today to ensure great partnerships like this one continue! 

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El Salvador Partners Win the J. Kirby Simon Forest Service Trust

Seven months ago, I met Trees, Water & People thanks to this very blog. I was looking for an organization in El Salvador working in one of the areas that I consider most essential to life: planting trees. Meeting them was loving them: after a few google searches and a few e-mails, I knew I had found my counterparts.

I wanted to partner with TWP to support reforestation activities in El Salvador. I work in the US Embassy in San Salvador and, as an employee, I can apply to grants from the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust, an organization that has supported volunteer efforts of employees working at U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide for 21 years. Fast forward to September 2016: Armando Hernández, the director of Arboles, Agua, y el Pueblo in El Salvador, and I designed a project that just won $3,000 from the J. Kirby Simon Trust to support tree planting efforts in my country.

 

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Verónica Vásquez Cuerno planting trees in El Salvador (photo by Inés Pacas).

 

Thanks to this small project, Arboles, Agua, y el Pueblo El Salvador will improve the facilities of its newly acquired tree nursery and will have part of the funds necessary to grow the 40,000 saplings in 2017. It’s not difficult to see that TWP and their partners in El Salvador have invested their hearts and souls into the organization’s mission. I feel proud to be able to support their efforts, and I hope volunteers from the U.S. Embassy and other organizations will join us in giving El Salvador the green environment that we all deserve.

But 2017 seems so far away, and I am impatient, so a couple of weeks ago I made the first trial of mobilization of volunteers. I did so by promoting the planting of 600 trees in the Ecoparque El Espino, a forest/coffee plantation in the San Salvador Volcano, managed by a campesino cooperative. I thought of this when I heard that Armando still had trees to plant from those grown in 2016. We had to take advantage of the rainy season’s last weeks, to allow the saplings to survive in their new home.

Volunteers in El Salvador
Volunteers in El Salvador working together to plant trees (photo by Giselle Méndez).

Along with my closest friends, we collected additional funds (so we could leave the J. Kirby Simon’s funds intact), and we put together a group of 30 people, including Scouts and members of the Cooperative El Espino. In six hours, we planted saplings of the species we Salvadorans know as San Andrés, Madrecacao, Black Cedar, Cocoa and Maquilishuat, which is a symbol of my country. We ended up exhausted and happy! Although we slipped in the mud, went up and down a steep hillside a thousand times, got soaked in the rain, and ate a snack spiced up with dirt (yum!), we all shared this feeling of achievement; that together we added a little heritage to El Salvador.

I am aware that this little project will not stop global warming or even deforestation in my beloved Ecoparque. I also know that if even only 60 of the 600 saplings survive, it will be a gain. Still, I want to allow myself a moment of optimism and I want to believe that at this critical moment, it’s the collective strength of people that will save our world and our humanity. We must continue to try and keep our forests growing —forests are our source of life, green, and peace and they are worth the effort.

To learn more about Trees, Water & People, please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org. Our grassroots conservation efforts depend on friends and donors investing in our work. We hope you will join our community today!

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Community Voices: Marta Alicia Orellana

Sra Marta Orellana en la construcción de la obra gris ó caja receptora de su Letrina Abonera
Ms. Orellana stands next to her unfinished composting latrine in the town of El Porvenir.

Several years ago, Marta Alicia Orellana of El Porvenir, El Salvador had invested in building a formal latrine at her home, but due to a lack of finances it was never finished.  As the base and the walls deteriorated, she found herself using shower curtains around the latrine for privacy, but risked “exposing her physical and moral integrity” daily due to the poor state of her family’s bathroom.

When Trees, Water & People and the Mayor’s office of El Porvenir announced another round of latrine donations, she quickly put her name on the list. She now says she feels more secure having reduced risk of contamination for her family and for those who visit her home, and shows off her new latrine proudly.

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Marta stands proud next to her finished dry composting latrine.

How does a dry composting latrine work?

doublevaultcompostinglatrineThe dry compost latrines consist of two chambers made of concrete cinder blocks with a toilet seat, including urine diverter, placed over each of the chambers.  After each use, stove ash, compost, and/or sawdust is added inside the chamber to reduce odors and keep the chamber dry. It also includes a vent to allow fresh air to circulate and further dry the solid matter.  After one chamber is filled it is left to dry during six to eight month periods while the second chamber is in use. The contents of the first chamber are then transformed into a rich fertilizer that can be used on surrounding crops or trees after a drying period under the sun and mixed with a 1:1 ratio of earth.  One dry composting latrine can serve families of more than six people for over 10 years with proper maintenance.

This region is tropical and volcanic, with regular seismic activity, episodes of torrential rains, and a high water table. During big rain events, the ground gets completely saturated, flooding traditional pit latrines, which then leach excrement and pathogens onto open land, into agricultural fields, and into drinking water supplies. Replacing these common pit latrines with composting latrines means cleaner groundwater and a more hygienic conditions in the home, leading to a lower disease burden in these communities.

Notes from the Field: Putting Down Roots in El Salvador

Llenado de bolsa y ordenado en su respectiva era

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

January through April is typically the dry season in Central America, and the time that we ramp up our tree nursery activities to prepare seedlings for the arrival of the all-important May rains.  Our partners at Àrboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) in El Salvador have stuck to this cycle for almost two decades, helping to grow and plant for than 664,000 trees.

This week, the AAP team is in the process of prepping 40,000 bags of soil and collecting seeds from over 20 tree species for our 2016 reforestation work. Some of the species we will plant in 2016 are Cedro salvadoreño, Memble, Jacaranda, Chaquirrio, Eucalipto, Cortéz negro, Marañón japones, Naranjo, Cacao, and Balsamo.

What’s different about this year’s operation is the nursery’s new location, a plot of land purchased and owned by AAP, located in El Porvenir, El Salvador. The land was bought at the end of 2015 after renting small plots of land since 2003. This is a game changer!

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Don Jorge has been an integral part of the AAP team since 2007.

The idea of owning a piece of land has been a dream for AAP’s Executive Director, Armando Hernandez Juarez, for as long as he has been working for the organization. With a permanent site to develop, we are now able to invest the time and energy necessary into outfitting the site with a more permanent and definitive presence and identity.  As the nursery infrastructure is time sensitive, we are focusing on that first – leveling the land, propping up locally harvested bamboo posts, and hanging the recycled shade cloth that our Nursery Manager, Don Jorge Ochoa, cares for so dutifully year after year.

Instalación de Zarán en el nuevo Vivero

Deforestation is one of the most serious environmental problems facing El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. Logging, agriculture, and the use of fuelwood for cooking has led to increased risk of erosion and mudslides, which have claimed thousands of lives in recent years. In addition, poor land management, soil erosion, and shifting weather patterns have left much of the countryside unsuitable for cultivating food.

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Community members are an important part of our reforestation efforts in El Salvador, helping to plant and care for trees.

Our reforestation work has never been more critical in El Salvador, and AAP is on the front lines, working tirelessly to restore the country’s watersheds, forests, and soil health, giving hope to rural farmers and their families. The next steps are where we could use your help, as we are looking to invest in irrigation equipment, new tools, and a proper storage shed. If you would like to support our reforestation efforts in El Salvador, please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org to make a donation or email Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director, at Sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org to learn more.

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New Report: The Health Consequences of El Niño in Central America

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Rural, poor farmers in Central America are often hit hardest by El Niño 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 Niño in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. El Niño refers to the “large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific (NOAA, 2016).”

El Niño Wreaks Havoc on Central America

The presence of El Niño has caused prolonged drought in Central America that is expected to last through at least March of 2016. Crop failure, especially in the “dry corridors” 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.

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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 Niño 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.

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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.

Project Update: El Salvador Tree Nursery Finds New Home

Ampliación de ingreso al terreno

In 2001, we formed a partnership with environmental conservation leaders in El Salvador, who created Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo (AAP) to address natural resource issues within the country. The organization is led by Armando Hernandez and his dedicated staff who work tirelessly to protect the precious natural resources of El Salvador.

Over the past year, the AAP team has been working to construct a new tree nursery in El Porvenir, with a capacity of 40,000-50,000 trees. The new nursery will go online in January of 2016.

Armando writes (as translated by Sebastian Africano):

“Since the beginning of December we have proceeded with site preparations to install the nursery, including the leveling of the surface via the provision of additional soil and compaction. Some of the soil purchased will be used for filling bags, for which we’ve hired auxiliary personnel. Additionally, we have gone out to cut and haul bamboo for posts and pillars to support the shade cloth over the nursery. Finally, we repaired and fortified the entry to the site, and are soliciting our connection to the municipal water system for irrigation.

Siembra de Huertas y árboles aledaño al cerco del terreno

During this period we will be dedicated to transferring and installing our new nursery, which requires that we contemplate the area that will be dedicated to the trees themselves, as well as the area we will use to grow squash, chayote and other foods and flowers that attract beneficial insects, like bees, and keep pests away from the seedlings.

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In terms of the infrastructure that we intend to install, we will include a shed space to deposit equipment, tools, materials and agricultural inputs (fertilizers, fungicides) needed in the nursery. We want to be sure to reserve a space for a staff person that will eventually stay at the site and care for the nursery and the assets onsite. We are in the process of designing the layout of the terrain with its associated budget, and making sure that the nursery will not be disturbed during the construction of the other components.”

Working with such a dedicated team of environmentalists in El Salvador has been an honor for our staff. To date, the AAP team has planted nearly 700,000 trees throughout the country. With this new nursery, we look forward to what the future holds for AAP and TWP.

To support TWP’s Reforestation efforts in El Salvador and throughout Central America and Haiti please click here.