Hi I’m Abi and I’m on a journey through Central America visiting inspiring projects which are working to protect natural environments such as forests and waterways, while actively engaging the local community to take responsibility for the habitat that surrounds them. My main focus has been gaining knowledge and experience in agroforestry, which is the practice of growing crops in conjunction with certain tree species which create a beneficial environment for growing food. This is a sustainable alternative to monocropping, using chemical inputs, as well as slash and burn farming; all of which deplete soil fertility and destroy forest and animal species, while contributing to climate change. I am also interested in expanding my knowledge of other types of community work related to sustainability and protecting forest, such as building fuel-efficient wood burning stoves.
I have been involved with community gardens since I was a university student, and I developed a stronger interest in agriculture when I went to live in Brazil, where I was inspired by the tropical landscape. I volunteered on a cacao farm, and in other self sufficient communities, and started to learn about permaculture. I am pursuing tropical agroforestry as a way to combine my own interest with work that protects the environment and improves the earning power of small-scale farmers in some of the poorest regions in the world, by giving them tools/skills and knowledge to enable them to farm sustainably rather than destructively. (I believe that this is incredibly important not only for their quality of life, but also to help halt climate change, and it should be a global priority)
My main personal interest is music, and I am a guitarist, singer and songwriter. I especially love jazz and Latin American music, and I performed with my own band when I lived in Brazil. My aim is to record an album one day. I also enjoy yoga, cycling, running, dancing and circus performance. I make many of my own clothes and jewelry, and I am constantly mending things and upcycling. I like to spend time volunteering, and I have worked in a homeless centre, a refugee camp, run workshops for children in a favela, and organised many charity gigs. What motivates me is working with people in a positive way to make worthwhile change.
Read a bit more about my most recent journey with EcoLogic—a field visit to build stoves with families in Honduras!
Bouncing along a dirt track, passing houses of varied colours, designs, and degrees of dilapidation, past banana plantations and live madreado tree fencing, we arrive at the house. Outside the front door, cacao beans are drying on mesh and small children look on as we get out of the four by four and greet them with our funny accents. Around the back of the house we are met by the joyful sight of about fifteen family and community members of all ages mucking in to build a stove with the “ama de casa” female head of the household, under the guidance of EcoLogic Development Fund technician, Daniel Escobar. Daniel is a high energy, enthusiastic character who has a lot of knowledge and experience which makes him a great community coordinator.
On the ground are sat two ladies combining horse manure, clay, weeds, and molasses into an adobe-like mixture used as filler and thermal insulation between the bricks of the stove. The molasses is the key element, providing a glue-like consistency. The family and neighbors are welcoming and keen to show us how it’s done, as we help knead the doughy filler mix at the stove location. The heat resistant fire bricks used have also been soaked in molasses to make them stronger and stickier.
The stove was built up in layers from the oven at the bottom, the middle section where the fuelwood burns, to the top layer where the metal cooking surface is fitted. It is meticulous but satisfying work to align the bricks and insert the sticky filler into the cracks, and into a strong and insulating outer coat. The insulation improves the stove’s efficiency (these types of stoves burn up to 70% less wood than traditional open stoves), and makes it safe to the touch – especially important in a home with children. Finally, Daniel fits and secures the flue pipe, which conveys the smoke safely outside, preventing some of the health problems caused by traditional stoves and fires. This is crucially important to improve the general living environment, as well as reducing lung and eye damage caused by smoke inhalation.
The atmosphere is relaxed and people joke as they work, look on, feed the backyard chickens, or cook the delicious traditional lunch they shared with us. The community work together, passing on skills and knowledge, and some of the neighbors are able to make an advance “down payment” for their stoves in exchange for their labour.
These improved stoves decrease the ecological degradation and burden upon women and children of fuelwood collection, leaving them time and energy for other tasks, including schoolwork and generating income. The project empowers the women of these communities, who decide which families will be prioritised for receiving a stove, and are trained in stove building and community cooperation. In order to qualify for a stove, the family must agree to sustainable practice when collecting fuelwood.
Daniel will return in a few weeks to ensure that all is going well. Through the stove initiative, EcoLogic Development Fund enables people to improve their lives, empower their communities, and protect their environment.