Blazing into Rainy Season in Central America

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Entering its fifth month without rain, Central America is at the tail end of its 2018 fire season. This year, our partners Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) in El Salvador are on the frontlines, as they spent all last year training a corps of young park rangers to fight fire in the Protected Area of Apaneca-Illamantepec. This was their second year of funding from FIAES – a bilateral fund between the U.S. and El Salvador to create opportunities for communities living around protected areas.

Fires are almost a given this time of year – lightning strikes, farmers burning their fields, and hunters flushing out animals are some of the principal causes. The dry conditions create a precarious situation both for landscapes and ecosystems, as to humans, who often end up in the path of rapidly advancing burns, and then suffer the air pollution hazards created.

Preparing people to protect their communities, and providing them the resources to do so is one of the objectives of the FIAES funding, projects for which Trees, Water & People provides the supplemental cost-share required by the granting agency. We are now helping our partners, AAP, pursue a third year of funding from FIAES to keep them involved in conservation work throughout the western part of the country.

In Nicaragua, we’ve been watching a political crisis unfold that first piqued in April when the government allegedly dragged its feet in responding to a 5,000-acre fire in an 8,000-acre tropical forest reserve in the east of the country. Soon after, with the populace already frustrated with them, the administration announced policy changes to the national social security program, igniting protests and heavy-handed confrontations with police forces.

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Fighting a fire next to the Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center near La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

Right around that time, our partners, Proleña, were preparing for a high-school tree planting workshop when fire struck. Proleña provides in-field education to a group of 12 local high school seniors at the Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center near La Paz Centro, northwest of Managua. A few weeks ago they were preparing to plant a drip irrigated living fence of 200 trees around the perimeter of the seven-acre property with the students.

“God knows why things happen a certain way,” said Proleña’s Executive Director, Marlyng Buitrago. “The day before the workshop I went out with our pickup truck, a team of six, and two barrels of water to prep for the tree planting workshop. We were having lunch at a local restaurant when someone called to say there was a fire on the property next to ours.”

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The one fire truck fought the fire near Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center, preventing it from entering the property.

The team rushed back, and with the help of one fire truck, sent from 30km away, fought the fire all afternoon and into the evening, preventing it from entering the property. “The truck only had the water it came with, so when it was dry, we fought the fire by hand, with buckets of water. Once the sun went down, we put out the last seven hot spots, and the fire was extinguished.”

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Fighting the fire by hand along the fence line of the Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center.

With any luck, the rainy season, which has been so unpredictable in past years, will start on time this month. But until then, we’ll continue to prepare for the inevitability of fire and to educate local communities and actors of other ways to manage the landscape.

While the dry season will soon end, we encourage our followers to keep an eye on Nicaragua, where we expect anti-government protests to persist over the next several months. Our team is safe, but the current political crisis has caused disruptions across the country and threatens to upend the stability of one of the more peaceful nations in the region. We stand for the safety and well-being of all those protesting for an equitable, prosperous, and politically transparent future in Nicaragua.

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Part 2: The Road to Clean Cookstoves

by Gemara Gifford, International Director

Clean cookstoves don’t just save lives; they add healthy years to someone’s life.

In November of last year, Trees, Water & People and our Nicaraguan partners, Proleña, partnered with Aprovecho Research Center to compare the emissions from open-fire stoves to those from Proleña’s improved stoves, manufactured in Managua. The results were alarming, which is why we are raising $8,000 to provide 60 clean cookstoves to those 60 study participants still cooking over open fires.

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This woman was a volunteer participant in our study. An air quality monitor hangs around her neck as she stands by her traditional open fire stove.

This study took place near Jinotega, Nicaragua with half of the families using traditional open fire stoves, and the other half using Proleña’s clean cookstoves. Each stove user volunteered to wear a small monitoring device that attaches to the shirt near the woman’s face to approximate her exposure to smoke for a 24-hour period. These monitors collect small airborne particles, referred to as PM2.5 in the air quality monitoring field, that are the most commonly measured pollutant coming from wood smoke. PM2.5 particles are widely accepted as a principle source of illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

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These are some of the filters from the particle monitors used in this study. The filters on the left are from homes with a clean cookstove. The ones on the right are from homes using traditional open fires. Photo by the Aprovecho Research Center.

The average traditional stove user in this study was consistently exposed to 245 µg/m3 of particulates, qualifying their kitchens as a “HEAVY POLLUTED” environment, according to the EPA’s Air Quality Index. In homes where an improved stove had been introduced and adopted, exposure to indoor air pollution was reduced by an average of 63%.

Averted Disability Adjusted Life Years (ADALY) is a commonly used metric for public health studies that represent the number of years of healthy life made possible by reducing exposure to particulate matter in smoke. Using the ADALY methodology, we determined that if clean cookstoves were installed in 500 homes (helping 2,500 people), we could extend life in that population by 286 years. This is why we’ve launched the “Clean Cookstoves and Healthy Families in Nicaragua” campaign because, quite frankly, cooking shouldn’t kill!

Overall, this study was an excellent reminder that clean cookstoves are indeed critical, tangible tools that can help improve a person’s quality of life measurably. It is difficult to put a price on extra years of health, but with $8,000 we’ll be able to complete funding for 60 stoves needed in Jinotega.

Help thank the women in this study who opened their kitchens to us, and who are still breathing smoke as you read this. Give Health. Give Hope. Give Today!

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This woman uses her clean cookstove provided by Proleña to cook tortillas.

 

 

Experiencing Community Development in Nicaragua

by Annalise Mecham, Development Director

As the incoming Development Director at Trees, Water & People, my job is to raise the funds that will keep the organization running. Even before taking this position, I knew that to do my job successfully I would need to visit the places where we work, shake hands with our partners, smell a kitchen with a clean cookstove, and touch the soil where we are growing our trees.

This opportunity came in the middle of January when I got to travel to Nicaragua for a week-long stay with Gemara Gifford, TWP’s International Director, and Paul Thayer, a TWP board member. Shortly after arriving at the Managua airport, Paul, Gemara and our fabulous tour guide (and partner of past International Director, Lucas Wolf), Valentina, drove directly to Gaia Estate. The Estate is a Certified Bird-friendly coffee farm outside the town of Diriamba and is owned by long-time TWP friend Jefferson Shriver. Jefferson greeted us with a glass of wine, dinner, and conversation about Nicaragua. He stressed the importance of promoting farming systems that integrate overstory trees (i.e. agroforestry), and high-value and environmentally-friendly products like vanilla and turmeric. After a good night’s sleep, we awoke to the smell of fresh coffee brewing, beans that had been picked and harvested from his farm just days before.

We spent the next day with Proleña visiting Tierra Verde, our newly opened climate change education center in La Paz Centro. Since TWP’s last visit, the first floor of the dormitory has been built and 600 trees have been planted on the property (25 different species in all) as well as infrastructure for the site including roadways and electricity. Having seen Tierra Verde in many photographs, it was essential to see the property and hear about the exciting events planned for 2018.

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Conducting a strategy session at Tierra Verde with Proleña’s Executive Director, Marlyng Buitrago (second from the right) and Technical Director, Leonardo Mayorga (far right). Photo by Annalise Mecham.

Although more construction will be taking place this year, the vision for the center is starting to take shape. We talked in detail about the workshops that we have planned, including bringing in local farmers to talk about agroforestry, university students to discuss climate change, and TWP Tour participants to visit the center. We discussed plans to complete the tree nursery with at least 50,000 trees in the first year, as well as demonstration sites for clean cookstoves, and adding a greenhouse for growing and genetically testing trees.

After our visit to Tierra Verde, we toured Proleña’s workshop in Managua and visited local urban cookstove beneficiaries. I have always been aware of the impact of clean cookstoves, but it was a completely different experience to see and smell the difference. The women we visited graciously welcomed us into their kitchen and explained the changes in their lives and their health after the clean cookstove had been installed. Although my Spanish is limited, it didn’t take me long to realize how these women felt about their clean cookstoves. They would pat gently on their chests and touch their eyes, implying that they could breathe easier and their eyes were less irritated.

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Doña Thelma (center) and her family in her home. She is one of the beneficiaries of a clean cookstove and sells 300 tortillas a day to customers.

The last day was one of the most profound for me as we visited the rural communities surrounding the northern town of Jinotega, in particular, the remote village of La Cal. To get there, we had a few hours’ drive on an impossibly steep and windy dirt road with a one hour walk up a steep rocky path. The village was tucked away in a mountain valley and one of the most remote communities I have ever visited.

Upon our arrival, we were introduced to the only teacher in the community, a young man who gave us a tour including the one-room schoolhouse and various family homes. The families we visited we welcoming, kind, and joyful. We interviewed many women about the impacts of their clean cookstoves, played with the kids, saw how much time it takes to gather wood, and the challenges of living in rural Nicaragua. As we drove back that evening to Managua, the feeling I had wasn’t sadness at the rural living conditions, but a sense of awe at their resilience.

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A house with corn hanging from the roof in the remote village of La Cal.

On the plane ride home, I was thinking about my biggest take away from the trip. What was I going to bring back to the TWP community of donors and supporters? Without a doubt, it was the unique community-based approach that Trees, Water & People uses when working in Central America and U.S. Tribal Lands.

TWP’s approach is based on the philosophy that communities have the best judgment of how their lives and livelihoods can be improved, and if given access to the right resources, they should make decisions that will be most impactful for them. I believe that this community-based development is the most effective way to create change. Change does not come easy for anyone. Changing the way someone cooks their food can seem impossibly difficult. But, TWP’s approach to involve the community and a local nonprofit (in the case of Proleña in Nicaragua) allows for the change to be approached on an intimate, community level.

This type of grassroots change is not the easiest route. It is complicated and complex and takes years to actualize. Luckily for TWP, we have been planting seeds this way for 20 years and will continue to for many, many more!

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Project Update: The Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate Takes Shape

Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

 The Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate (NICFEC) is well on its way to becoming a reality. Over the past month, Trees, Water & People (TWP) and our partner, Proleña, have made considerable progress with a Nicaraguan architect, creating the master plan for the center. The plan will be finished and transferred to blueprints by the end of June 2015, at which point we will be ready to break ground. Once we begin building, we’d like to maintain the momentum to have the site operational and receiving guests by mid-2016.

Your donations will help make this a reality!

Once the dorms, classrooms, and workshops are constructed, we will begin the process of sizing and designing solar energy systems to power the site. We have a number of colleagues in the solar industry around the world who are committed to helping us with this challenge, and we are even considering designing a course around the installation. Also, as construction advances, planting of our various agroforestry plots will begin, demonstrating different combinations of crops and productive trees that can increase resilience on a rural farm.

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Meeting with partners are the site of the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate near La Paz Centro.

 As climate change rears its ugly head in the tropics, families already living in extreme vulnerability will have to adapt their approaches to be able to survive in rural areas. This means changing the rate at which they consume natural resources, and diversifying their crops and planting schedules to withstand volatile weather patterns. TWP’s NICFEC will be a resource for these farmers and their communities, providing them with a suite of technologies, proven methods, tree seedlings, and curriculum that will support them in this transition.

Thank you for supporting this effort – we look forward to keeping you informed as the Center takes shape and gets closer to opening its doors!

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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.

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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.

Notes from the Field: Sharing Knowledge for Climate Adaption in Nicaragua

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

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Members of CADPI gain hands-on experience building clean cookstoves.

Our partners at Proleña in Nicaragua were proud to receive a delegation from the Center for the Autonomy and Development of Indigenous People (CADPI) at their headquarters and demonstration site in Managua last week. CADPI is a social organization dedicated to the investigation and study of themes related to indigenous peoples of Nicaragua, Central America, and the Caribbean.

CADPI sent a delegation of three men and six women from the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic, or RAAN as it’s known in Nicaragua, to investigate improved cookstove options for their remote region, which is experiencing rapid deforestation at the hand of cattle ranchers and other interests.

At Proleña, the group tested a variety of cookstoves, but decided that the most appropriate was the Emelda cookstove. This stove was designed in partnership with Proleña to better meet the needs of the most rural communities. After seeing the stove in action, the team received a step-by-step photo presentation on cookstove design, construction, use and maintenance, then built their own model under Proleña’s guidance.

These are the types of workshops we look forward to hosting on a larger scale at Proleña and TWP’s National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change, which is currently under construction in nearby La Paz Centro, Nicaragua. Teaching motivated groups techniques and technologies to both mitigate and adapt to climate change leads to local capacity and leadership in the struggle for sustainable resource management.

Remembering Francisco López

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It is with great sadness that we share the passing of one of TWP’s longtime reforestation partners in Central America, Nicaraguan colleague Francisco López. Francisco had supported TWP’s reforestation efforts since we began activities with Proleña in Nicaragua in 1998.

He was a founder and president of the San Benito Forest Replacement Association, where he worked with firewood haulers in his department to replant areas from which they had extracted firewood. At its height, the group had more than 136 firewood haulers as members of the association, and was instrumental in forging communications and regulations between firewood haulers and INAFOR, the National Institute of Forestry in Nicaragua.

Francisco was diagnosed with Leukemia over five years ago, and had been battling the disease bravely, never stopping operations at the tree nursery where his association produced hundreds of thousands of trees for Trees, Water & People.  We will miss him dearly, and hope to continue honoring his legacy through his family.