EcoBlogic

Welcome to EcoBlogic, EcoLogic’s blog! For more stories from the field, check out our Stories & Newsletters section to view archived content from our EcoLogic eNews and print newsletters. Blog comments are moderated.

 

Snake Branch

Adventures in Agroforestry

Since early June 2012, two recent Harvard University graduates, Julian Moll-Rocek and Janie D’Ambrosia, have been visiting EcoLogic’s agroforestry plots in Guatemala to observe, gather data, and provide “tips and tricks” to our EcoLogic field technicians and community farmers on ways to measure and track the progress of their agroforestry efforts. 

Hi all!

Janie and I arrived in Guatemala City on June 13th and headed to EcoLogic’s regional headquarters in Quetzaltenango (affectionately known as Xela, by its Mayan name). While crashing on the floor of an extra room in the EcoLogic office, we spent about a week and a half re-familiarizing ourselves with the work EcoLogic is doing in agroforestry—which involves planting trees with corn, I’ll get to the details further down the page.

(more…)

Taking Care of (monkey) Business

I grew up in Venezuela and I understand personally how important it is to help rural communities that are usually neglected by governments and the private sector. I joined EcoLogic as a Communications intern nearly five months ago, because I can see how EcoLogic’s work creates opportunities for people and places that are usually overlooked because of a history of exclusion and political turmoil.

Before joining EcoLogic, my experience in environmental conservation projects was very limited. I did a summer internship at an environmental organization based in Washington D.C that focused solely on ocean conservation through research and advocacy. It was an eye-opening experience and my interest in environmental causes started to grow. I started gaining an understanding of how environmental policies are intertwined with economic and social ones.

Howler_monkey_in_Honduras

A howler monkey in Honduras. This picture was taken by a staff member on a trip in January. Pictures like this are what has made working on the biodiversity catalog so fun!

The first project assigned to me at EcoLogic was to build a biodiversity catalog. My job was to research and compile a list of the threatened and vulnerable species in our project sites. Although I did not have any experience with this subject before, I thoroughly enjoyed this project! I learned, for example, about the important role that spider monkeys play in spreading seeds of trees through jungles, how the temperature of the sand where leatherback turtles nest determines the sex of the turtle hatchlings so climate change is dangerous for them, and how many species of frogs in Central America are dying and threatened with extinction because of a fungus introduced to their habitats by humans. I have been introduced to many species that are found in Venezuela as well, and yet before I started working here I did not have a clue about their existence.

Guiana_chestnut_tree_flower

The flower of the guiana chestnut tree, looking like a beautiful firework!

 

Water_flowers

Peaceful water flowers with a backdrop of a mangrove forest on the Sarstún River.

This last month I have been working on the creation of EcoLogic’s brand new website. It has been a team effort among staff members, interns and collaborators. I am one of two interns responsible for the content for the Spanish version of the site. The process has been fun, exciting and overall very instructive. I encourage you to keep track of the launch of the new website. I think it is going to be great!

– Daniela Guerrero, EcoLogic Intern
Daniela recently graduated Northeastern University with a Masters in Public Administration and has an undergraduate degree in Journalism from Universidad Monteavila in Venezuela. This fall she will begin work at ACCION, an international non-profit organization specializing in microfinance.

Técnico speaking

Who are these guys, or gals as the case may be?

They are the links that turn EcoLogic agreements with partners and communities into reality. A “técnico” — field technician in English — is an EcoLogic team member that works most closely with the communities executing our projects.

Jose_Domingo_Caal

Jose Domingo Caal, EcoLogic’s Guatemala técnico in Honduras

When EcoLogic begins a relationship with a local partner based on the social and environmental needs of the area, two steps are critical: a community consultation and the development of a project design agreement. After the initial step of community consultation, this is when the técnico becomes the driver of the commitments. They are the team members who keep the momentum generated during the community consultations moving forward and lead partners in the day-to-day work of the project. They are the human face of this support and bear the EcoLogic “banner” in community interactions. They also relay the project’s needs, progress, successes and setbacks to EcoLogic staff and local partners.

Reina_Cruz

Técnico Reina Cruz, on the left, talking to AJAASSPIB members in Honduras.

Besides working with the communities directly, the técnicos also draft the project profile, a tool that is incredibly important and used for data collection and evaluation by the EcoLogic team. It covers science, finance, mapping, and photography. The técnico has to know something about everything. 

From what I have seen, what really drives the técnicos is a strong sense of community support. This support is what makes it more than just a job to them. They leave much of their lives unscheduled in order to be flexible and best serve the needs of communities, whenever they may arise. They work nights, Sundays, holidays; they travel by motorcycle, car, boat, or on foot for hours on end no matter the rain or struggles. If there is something to do, they do it.

When I’ve been with them in the communities, I realize how much I can learn from them.

Thank you for reading and regards, wherever you are!

– Rodrigo Morales, Regional Project Officer for EcoLogic
Rodrigo is conservation biologist with particular expertise in protected areas monitoring and management. He works closely with EcoLogic country program officers identifying potential project sites and monitoring existing projects. Rodrigo works out of our Regional Office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.  

Rio, Bravo!

I’m back from Rio and have almost recovered from the whirlwind of activities going on there. A good whirlwind, don’t get me wrong. I had an excellent time and learned a ton.

Conference_entrance

No, that’s not airport security – that’s the entrance to the conference.

I was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the better part of six days attending the Rio+20 Earth Summit, a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Each day had at least 50 panels I could attend on topics including land rights, climate smart agriculture, community forestry, payment for ecosystems services, integrated water resource management, you name it. Let’s just say I attended a lot. Panels and smaller side events were great places to learn about others’ work and various issues, as well as to meet representatives from other NGOs. Thanks to friends at the Equator Initiative, I was able to stay at an apartment only a 3 minute walk from the conference center. Without getting into details, I’ll just say that most conference-goers did not have this luxury and had long, traffic-laden trips to the conference center (well, I think the heads of state took helicopters so they probably avoided the traffic, too). Anyways, because of my close proximity I was able to take full advantage of everything that was going on.

Children's_face_UN_exhibit

Sure, it was all business, but there were also really cool exhibits from the United Nations like this one showing faces of children from all over the world.

I was in Rio for two reasons: the first is that just like 20 years ago during the first Earth Summit, the conference was addressing some of the founding principles of EcoLogic – that for long-term conservation strategies to be truly effective, rural peoples must be included and their contributions given priority. The other reason for my attendance was to support and honor our partner, AJAASSPIB, which was being recognized as one of the winners of the 2012 UNDP Equator Prize. It was amazing to spend time with the 25 winners who were from around the world, and it was quite valuable to learn about the various initiatives they represented. I encourage you to check out the work of the different winners here. On the last night of my trip, there was a sold-out award ceremony to recognize the winners. Special guests included, Mohammed Yunis, Helen Clark, Richard Branson, and Edward Norton. Also, because of her attendance at Rio+20, Zumilda Duarte, an AJAASSPIB leader who was representing her organization, was able to attend a side conference by the Avina Foundation, Skoll Foundation, Ashoka, and others. Zumilda was all over Rio talking about AJAASSPIB!

Zumilda_accepting_Equator_Prize

That’s Zumilda on the left accepting the Equator Prize from a United Nations representative.

Another big part of the conference was what was called “Dialogue Days.” These were long sessions where a panel of high-level experts discussed a major theme being covered at the conference. I attended the Dialogue Days on the themes of “Sustainable Development for Poverty Reduction,” and “Water.” The purpose of these dialogues was to choose language that would be presented to the country delegations at the conference. The panelists discussed the options and the audience – filled with civil society representatives – voted at the end.

AJAASSPIB_award_finalists

That’s Zumilda right in the middle. She’s on stage accepting the AJAASSPIB’s award with some of the other finalists.

Although there is a large sense of disappointment about the outcomes of the conference, I’m glad that EcoLogic had a voice in the process.

As hard as it is to do, that sums up my time in Rio in broad strokes. As you may have noticed, there’s been a lot of talk in the media about the conference outcome. What people are referring to is the agreement that participating governments signed, which is supposed to hold governments accountable to the concepts of sustainable development. The problem is that the agreement that was signed is extremely weak and does not push hard enough to bring about change at the policy level. That said, for the smaller NGOs of the world, like EcoLogic, and for grassroots groups like AJAASSPIB, the conference was undeniably valuable. I was able to talk to many people about our work and establish and/or strengthen relationships with new and existing collaborators, allies, donors, and friends. And I learned so much that I will be able to use to help EcoLogic help our partners throughout Central America and Mexico!

 

– Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development.  

Mi vida en Totonicapán

On several occasions I have been asked how I came to work with EcoLogic. This is my story.
In 2007, there was a call for work in Totonicapán that caught my attention because it was where I had grown up and, well, it was time for me to return home. It was time for me to use my knowledge, experience, and support for innovative projects for people and families as part of my goal in life, which is to help others.

For several years I worked outside Totonicapán, now this was my big chance both to return and to help people who had been less fortunate in life.

Francisco_Tzul_Don_Augustin_Fernando_Recancoj

That’s me all the way on the right, with my friends Don Augustin, the Greenhouse Manager in Totonicapán and Técnico Fernando Recancoj.

In Totonicapán, among my first projects working for EcoLogic was training and consultation with the board of the 48 Cantones, an indigenous quasi-governmental structure that has helped govern local communities of Totonicapán for over 800 years. Working with the communities and the 48 Cantones, we were able to create a modern project that used a system of micro-irrigation (a watering system that maximizes water use) to produce more trees for reforestation with less work then had ever been done before in the area.

Greenhouse_Manager_Don_Agustin

Greenhouse Manager Don Augustin showing the rows of tree saplings that, when large enough will be reforested.

I also promoted EcoLogic’s fuel-efficient stoves. With these stoves we give families the hope of an improved quality of life.

Local_family_improved_stove

A local family showing off their new stove.

Another project of particular significance was collecting and organizing the ancestral knowledge about natural resources, mountains, forests, and water from community elders. This was one of the projects with greatest impact on teachers, students, authorities and the general public.

EcoLogic's_Traditional_Memory_project

EcoLogic’s Traditional Memory project aims to preserve the values and traditions of the Totonicapán Quiché Maya by inspiring the next generation of leaders to learn, understand, and continue their customary system of forest management. Here, Quiché Maya offer prayers to the forest before reforestation begins.

Working with less fortunate people and families is one of my purposes in life, something that has brought me pleasure, happiness and personal joy. To be someone’s source of hope for a greater tomorrow, to take action to ensure availability of water for children and women, is priceless. Personally, this brings me immense satisfaction.

Banner_of_appreciation

I was presented a banner by a local group of women and recent fuel-efficient stove recipients to show their appreciation for their new stoves.

With respect to the culture of Totonicapán, I understand that each day is like an experiment with the individual aspects of life, in my case I can say that I have total connection: of thought, culture, language, leadership, love of my neighbors. This connection is not just with the Quiché Maya village, but also with the K’ekchi’ people, the Man, Chuj, and other indigenous communities which have a wealth of ancestral knowledge.

Aside from my work with EcoLogic, for two years now I have been a member of the Board of Directors for the 48 Cantones, as Mayor of my Paquí community. I coordinate volunteering services to the community and to the town of Totonicapán. Here the experience is enormous in regard to leadership, decision-making, management, politics, administration and more.

In Quiché the word chiwimequena means “over hot water”, in Spanish it is totonicapán which comes from the Náhuatl Atotonilco, totonilco means “the place of hot water.” And it’s true, in Totonicapán there are hot springs accessible to everyone. However, I feel like the communities of Totonicapán, and the families I call neighbors are not in hot water – but on the road to a very bright and sustainable future.


– Francisco Tzul, Program Officer for Guatemala
Francisco provides technical assistance to EcoLogic’s Guatemalan partner organizations. He is from the western highlands of Guatemala and has an agricultural engineering degree focused on systems of production. He enjoys working directly with people and looks forward to developing new ways to support EcoLogic’s partners in Guatemala. He speaks Spanish and Maya Quiché.

Painting the town REDD

It was happening.

After paying my dues for over a year as an intern for EcoLogic, reading stacks of reports and articles about the Lacandón Rainforest and the three Mayan communities that own it, and being just days away from finishing my grad program on sustainable international development, it was actually happening. I was finally getting the opportunity to meet the communities and the forest I had read so much about first hand. This past April, EcoLogic’s very own forest carbon ninja, Dr. Bryan Foster (aka our CarbonPlus Director), and I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to collect data for EcoLogic’s Sierra Cojolita REDD+ project.

 

A landscape view of the Selva Lacandona.

Because you’re all dedicated EcoBlogic readers, I’m sure you remember Dave’s excellent description of REDD+ — a type of project that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that’s produced when trees are chopped and/or burned down by working with communities to prevents deforestation. Over the next week, I quickly discover that reading dozens of academic articles and reports does not compare to experiencing the Lacandón Rainforest first hand.

That’s me on the left taking notes during our meeting.

We arrived in the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez on a Wednesday, and spent two days meeting with other REDD+ folks, who, like Bryan and I, are crazy enough to dive head first into the complex and at times overwhelming world of carbon.  It was exciting to meet our Chiapas brethren who were a fountain of information about all things REDD+ and Lacandón. But I was itching to get to our final destination, the actual rainforest, which still involved a nine-hour drive along the Guatemalan border.

 

Enrique Chankin showing off some taro root from his garden.

We met Ricardo Hernández, Lacandón expert and Director of our partner organization — Na’Bolom, in San Cristobal de las Casas, and began our drive with chilly morning temps and plenty of chatter.  But as the hours went by and the jeep cruised down to lower altitudes, the heat and humidity climbed. We drove through town after town for about 5 or 6 hours until we reached what was supposed to be the edge of the Lacandón Rainforest. Instead, I slowly opened my eyes to scorched trees and oil palm plantations. We were in Marqués de Comillas, a section of the rainforest, which has been settled by farmers who migrated from the center of the country. Oil palm plantations aren’t just bad because rainforests are cleared to plant them and reduce natural biodiversity and critical habitat; the oil palm also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions because of its immense need for petroleum-based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

A couple hours later, we crossed the Lacantún River, and the landscape completely changed. The midday heat had subsided, and we were closer to the Cojolita communities. In this area the forest actually reaches the edge of the road instead of being lost to slash and burn. But this doesn’t mean this section of the rainforest isn’t threatened. Two of the three Mayan communities that own this land are struggling to meet their farming needs with the land they already have, and would like to clear more of the forest.

Enrique Chankin giving us a tour of the rainforest near his eco-lodge, Top Che.

All three communities reside and carry out their farming around the base of the Cojolita mountain range, and the forest on the Cojolita is part of a 35,000 hectare communally owned reserve.  However, the reserve is a source of conflict for the communities. The Lacandones were given authority over the territory by the government over thirty years ago, and they will not grant the Tzetlales and Choles access to the land in the reserve. The Lacandones fear that the other communities will clear too much of the forest in the reserve for farming. The communities show no signs of settling their differences, which, could be detrimental for the rainforest in the Cojolita Reserve. The REDD+ project seeks to help the communities recognize and achieve the economic reward from leaving the rainforest intact as opposed to the current income generating practices such as cattle ranching that require the forest be cut down.

Tzetlal land that was cleared for cattle pasture. Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in the background.

Driving through Marqués de Comillas provided a frightening peek into what could be the future of the Sierra Cojolita that I would never have seen from my desk in Cambridge. The experience helped me thoroughly understand the critical importance of Na’Bolom and EcoLogic’s role in working with these communities to identify and pursue livelihood alternatives, like REDD+, to help minimize their need to deforest, and allow them to achieve the development goals they are so determined to attain.

Mexico_Waterfall

A waterfall we came across while touring the area.

We spent the following days meeting with leaders from the Chol and Lacandón communities, two of the three communities that will be managing and financially benefitting from the REDD+ project.  During these meetings we interviewed community members about their land use practices. My prior REDD+ experience took place in Papua New Guinea, possibly the least developed country in the world with the most isolated communities. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of our Mayan interviewees was a social anthropologist and another spoke perfect English.  Unlike their Papua New Guinean counterparts, these rainforest communities are on a well-paved road headed straight for development. This reality check reinforced one of the many lessons I learned in graduate school – there is no such thing as “one size fits all” conservation. Despite the many top-down guidelines that exist for implementing REDD+, EcoLogic and Na’Bolom will have to design a project that is carefully tailored to fit the needs of these unique Mayan communities.

On Monday, as we drove back to the city along Chol territory at the edge of the Cojolita mountain range, Bryan and I saw a plume of smoke drifting over the trees in the reserve – a sign that slash and burn may already be underway. It is clear that Na’Bolom and EcoLogic have an important and challenging road ahead.

-Andrea Savage, CarbonPlus Associate
Andrea works for EcoLogic’s CarbonPlus program by writing grant proposals and project reports, and following trends land tenure right throughout Mexico. She recently completed her Master’s in sustainable international development at Brandeis University. 

I’m on my way…

Rio+20+Chris!


Quite the equation. Wait, it needs to equal something. How about: Rio+20+Chris = EcoLogic to the zillionth degree!


Okay, let me break the math down (yeah, I called that math). In 2 days I’ll be representing EcoLogic in Rio de Janeiro at Rio+20, aka the Earth Summit, aka the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (another equation: Lots of aka’s = lots of importance). Rio+20 is the most relevant and widely attended gathering of sustainable development practitioners, policy-makers, funders, and thinkers in the world. Why “+20?” Twenty years ago, the UN hosted the first Earth Summit in Rio. Out of that conference emerged the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (which Mexico and all seven Central American countries have ratified) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the conference, I’ll have access to hundreds of workshops, presentations, and policy strategy sessions, interacting with representatives from thousands of organizations from all across the world.

That’s me looking very pensive. I was visiting a local farmer in Honduras and listening to his presentation on how he is working with EcoLogic to incorporate agroforestry onto this farm land.

Also coming out of the first Earth Summit in 1992 was a little NGO-that-could called EcoLogic Development Fund. EcoLogic was founded on the principle, promoted by so many rural and indigenous people at the Earth Summit, that truly effective and long-term conservation strategies demanded the inclusion and prioritization of rural voices – their needs, concerns, and ideas. So we’ve got two good reasons for me to be at Rio this year: 1) it’s an important conference for our work, and 2) it is deeply rooted in EcoLogic’s history and legacy.


But there’s an amazing 3rd reason why I’m going, and probably the reason that personally excites me the most. One of EcoLogic’s partners, AJAASSPIB, a local water council in rural Honduras, was named one of 25 winners of the United Nations Development Programme’s Equator Prize. The way I’ve explained the Equator Prize to others is that it’s the Grammys of the community-based sustainable development world. And AJAASSPIB is Radiohead (got to shout out the world’s greatest band whenever possible). Well, that means that AJAASSPIB gets to send a representative, Doña Zumilda Duarte, to Rio to participate in conference activities, multiple trainings, and an award ceremony. Since EcoLogic nominated AJAASSPIB for this award, I’m able to join Zumilda and representatives of the other 24 winners at some of these events. I truly cannot wait to hear what these rural leaders have to say. What they’ve learned and what they still struggle with. What they need and, just as important, what they don’t need.

Doña Zumilda Duarte , community leader and former AJAASSPIB President will be at Rio to accept the Equator Prize.

So now you see why Rio+20+Chris = EcoLogic to the zillionth degree. It’s an amazing opportunity for us to join AJAASSPIB on this momentous opportunity, engage with peers, promote our work, and learn new insight to bring back to our network of grassroots partners. On top of all that, it offers a unique opportunity for us to reflect, build upon our roots, and reinvigorate our resolve to create a world where both people and nature can thrive.


I’ll keep you posted on how things go. As you can tell, I’m going to be busy. I’ll be tweeting throughout the conference next week so follow us on Twitter @ecologicdevfund and I’ll give you a full wrap up when I return.

Até logo!

– Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. He is also on his way to Rio+20!  

Ambassador’s Choice

Have you ever seen a mangrove forest?

Mangrove_Gulf_of_San_Miguel

A mangrove in the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama.

Mangroves have a cool tangle of roots that reach from above the water down into the sand below and provide a safe home for finfish and shrimp, and other vital species. I always wonder how they stay rooted given the ebb and flow of the tides. They look like they are out of movie. But they are real, they are amazing, and their health in the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama is not only crucial for the health of the ecosystem but it is also intimately tied to the health of the communities around them.

Eric_Pinto_fisherman

Eric Pinto, a fisherman in the Gulf of San Miguel, relies on the health of the mangroves to support his livelihood.

EcoLogic is committed to working with these communities to preserve the mangrove forests that provide a livelihood source for most of the villagers. But we can’t do it alone. Enter Ambassadors – a group of dedicated and creative EcoLogic supporters that each pledge to raise a certain amount of money within a calendar year. Now, that’s commitment.

As an Ambassador you get exclusive and intimate access to project updates through a weekly email called “The Ambassador Corner.” Since EcoLogic has such a breadth of projects spanning five countries, we let Ambassadors choose an initiative or region on which they would like to focus each year. This year, the majority of Ambassadors voted to focus on our work in the Darien Province of Panama.

 
I can probably guess why they chose to hear more about Panama. The Gulf of San Miguel is an extremely lush and richly diverse, yet particularly remote area (ever heard of the Darien Gap?). Because of this, many NGOs and governmental organizations choose not to work there – but not EcoLogic. We have been working with the communities of San Miguel for three years now, helping them care for their watersheds and get access to clean water, working to get the mangroves declared as a protected area, and providing educational workshops on sustainable fishing techniques for local fisherfolk associations..

In reality, all of us working for EcoLogic get to do amazing things because of the inspiring communities we work with in Central America and Mexico. But, I also get to work closely with a special group of creative, thoughtful, and impactful donors that can truly be called Ambassadors of EcoLogic’s work.

– Katie O’Gara, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Katie works with the individuals fundraising team and coordinates EcoLogic’s Ambassador program. Katie will be attending the University of Michigan this fall in the graduate program, Natural Resources and Environment. 

Illustrating History

The children from 48 Cantones arrive early at the Riecken Library in Xolsacmalja. Running, sweating, pushing and shoving, they ask for the ball to get a few minutes of play in before the creativity workshop starts, three times per week.

Illustrating_history
 
 
They are punctual and responsible. And rarely ever absent. In those cases when a child doesn’t show up, someone from his or her household diligently brings me a handwritten note from the family explaining the child’s absence: “He had to plant in the cornfield today.”
 
 
The purpose of the workshop series is to publish a book that collects the stories from the oral tradition in the community, illustrated by children. The stories told are about the Maya Ki’che’ people, the Ajaw of the mountain and the water, and some old rules to save the forest, such as “Pixab”, “Pixan”, “Toj” and “Repuj”. All of these are concepts that direct us as human beings to relate to nature: the mountains, the forest, the water, and the animals.
 
To collect these stories, we go to the “Plxab” (Council of Elders). Every Thursday we walk down the narrow dirt paths to the house of somebody’s grandfather. The children sit and listen. Usually, they are speaking Ki’che’. So I sit with my notebook, the page blank, until Evelyn comes and translates the story into Spanish for me.
 
For the illustrations, we are experimenting with different techniques and visual mediums such as painting, drawing, collage, photography and photo montages. We will also go to the forest to listen to the sound of the pines, smell them, touch them, and of course, draw them.
 
Children_drawing
 
 

Mr. Urbano, the teacher at the library, also taught us the kirigami technique, cutting paper to make airy and light forms, something that the children enjoy very much. We plan to paint a mural inspired by these simple forms for Reforestation Day in May.

 
The idea is that we can experience and appreciate the forest, and that all of its stories – which will be represented in the illustrations, can be heard in due time, enjoying the journey and along the way discovering some new perceptions that come from old stories. Because ancestral wisdom is passed down from generation to generation, and we don’t want it to stop with us.
 
– Special Guest Blogger and ArtCorps Fellow Isabel Carrió. Youth Leaders in Conservation listen, feel, express their thoughts through images and share the ancestral wisdom of their Mayan community, under the guidance of Isabel as part of EcoLogic’s ongoing work in Totonicapán, Guatemala. The blog is reproduced from its original posting on artcorp.org.

Greenhouse Gases – REDD Solutions

One of the things I like most about working at EcoLogic and in the international conservation field is the daily learning. Of course, sometimes it feels like a fire hose is full-force spraying me with way more ideas than I can possibly absorb, but I love it.

Of all the topics that make my head spin, forest carbon ranks as one of the most challenging to understand. And using the potential of forests to capture and store carbon as a response to climate change is almost as tough a topic. It’s not just because the literature is chock full of jargon and language that few normal mortals use to communicate (ex ante, anthropogenic, jurisdictional nesting…).

So where to begin? EcoLogic develops forest carbon projects– which take advantage of the fact that standing forests and new forest growth absorb carbon dioxide, then lock up the carbon via photosynthesis. And you thought you would never need to care about photosynthesis after cramming for a high school biology exam!

La_Cojolita_Mountain_Range

La Cojolita Mountain Range in Chiapas, Mexico.

First, climate change brought on by global carbon emissions is a big deal and constant changing of land ownership is a huge part of the problem, but also a potential solution for sustainable, effective change.

It’s not just about energy and automobiles spewing those nasty gases anymore. It’s also about recognizing that good old nature can play a significant role in solving the problem and that we are part of nature.
One of the biggest solutions proposed has been – REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). So that’s where the second reason for EcoLogic’s involvement comes in. We believe REDD, which seeks to pay local people to keep forests standing – in other words not cut down trees and release the carbon from them – can achieve conservation on a landscape scale, farther than the eye can see across a sea of green!

We believe that it is vital to ensure local people can make informed decisions and understand what the heck it is they’re getting into and have their rights respected if they enter into contractual agreements to profit from the benefits of conserving their forests. Especially because the international climate policy “architecture” makes it necessary to interact with powerful state and federal governments that play a practical role in monitoring across large landscapes and national territories.

So the basic deal is that people who own or live near and care for a forest get money for agreeing not to cut stuff down, or trash the area under the forest canopy, because this keeps a ton of global warming-causing crud out of the atmosphere.

Bryan Foster, EcoLogic’s CarbonPlus Director in the rainforest.

The money to pay them comes from a variety of sources such as international aid (sometimes ponying up aid money or agreeing to swap debt for nature initiatives) and markets like the one in California under its pioneering California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB-32). In the latter case, the dinero comes from a cap and trade compliance market, where companies reduce their smokestack (and other) emissions by becoming more efficient down to a certain point and then buy credits that others have to spare because of their emissions reductions or absorption awesomeness. California just happens to have gotten involved on the international scene, connecting Chiapas, Mexico, and Acre, Brazil to its AB-32 marketplace.

Sounds simple enough, right? Not exactly if it’s done right. EcoLogic works to help make it more accessible, but even our CarbonPlus director is on a steady diet of discovery and learning as he goes about his day-to-day (which today, has him deep in the jungle in Mexico, but more on that later).

To do REDD right and make it easier for local communities, we need to be legit. You can plant a tree or prevent the cutting of a forest and claim less greenhouse gases are reaching the atmosphere. Your claim would be basically true, but to be REDD certified, you have to meet three key stipulations. 1) You have to make sure the trees you protect are ones that would have been lost otherwise, in other words the trees actually need to be under threat of being cut down, and this new carbon credits incentive structure is keeping them from being cut down; 2) that there isn’t “leakage,” meaning people aren’t just moving their deforestation habits outside of the credited REDD project area; and 3) that there’s a reasonable assurance of permanence, in other words, the forest will stay standing for a long time after the official project has ended.

Xate_palm

Xaté palm, which is frequently extracted from the rainforests to sell internationally.

Thankfully, groups like the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC, a tri-national commission between Canada, the US, and Mexico) are into what we do. We’ve helped folks in Honduras gain VCS validation, and we’re working in Chiapas, Mexico with three Mayan communities to conserve a biodiverse jewel, the Lacandón Jungle.

So that’s our carbon work in a nutshell. Intense – I know!

What do you think about our carbon work and the REDD project in Mexico?

– David Kramer, Senior Program Officer for EcoLogic
David researches and authors EcoLogic’s proposals and reports to institutional funders. He also helps coordinate staff and partners in EcoLogic’s participatory project design and evaluation.

Connecting the Dots

Do you remember the childhood game of connect the dots? I used to play it all the time when I was a kid. There was something satisfying about drawing a line from one dot to the next to create a picture. Now, I love helping my 2-year old son do the same. The realization dawning on his face when that picture forms is priceless! It is a simple game and in the end, reveals so much. But why am I talking about a children’s game?

What does that have to do with EcoLogic?

Simply put what EcoLogic does is not that simple. It is complex. So in 2011 we started the campaign Connect the Dots in an effort to explain how building a fuel-efficient stove in Guatemala should matter to a lawyer in Boston, or why a composting latrine in Panama should be important to a student in San Francisco.

The message: we are all truly connected.
Don_Vincente_Canales

Last year I met Don Vicente Canales on his farm in northern Honduras. He spoke about his recent successes incorporating agroforestry techniques into his farm land and how the technical support provided by EcoLogic has helped.

Whether you are a farmer in remote village in Guatemala or a lobster fisherman off the shores of Cape Cod, water is the source of life— we are all connected. We all share the Earth – and we should all work as hard as we can to protect it. Our approach is holistic and the tools we use are diverse.
Girls_by_community_water_tank

On the same trip as meeting Don Vincent Canales I met up with some local girls who took the hike up the hills to see their community water tank.

This campaign is about drawing lines from the tools we use to help illustrate the connections, not only between each EcoLogic project but between you, me, the villages we support, and the rest of the world.

EcoLogic wants all people in Central America and Mexico to have the motivation and the ability to protect the environment and provide for themselves in sustainable ways, so that they can improve their well-being and quality of life.

Dona_Ovina_Hurtado_and_friend

Doña Ovina Hurtado, a Community Leader in Punta Alegre smiling with her friend during a recent trip to the Gulf of San Miguel in Panama.

We hope that our efforts to Connect the Dots between the people and places where we work will hit home for you. So, stay tuned for our messaging about Connect the Dots. We would like you to read our words and imagine the picture that forms by connecting all the dots. And remember, you are an important “dot” that helps complete the picture.

– Gina Rindfleisch, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Gina manages EcoLogic’s fundraising activities targeting individual donations. Prior to joining EcoLogic she served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua working in environmental education and holds a BA in environmental studies from Long Island University. 

Don’t call it a comeback…

Spring has sprung, flowers are blooming, and EcoLogic is blogging. This feels right.

Even though EcoBlogic has been on hiatus since July – EcoLogic certainly hasn’t.With ongoing projects from Mexico to Panama and regional staff working with hundreds of communities with reforestation projects and water source protection, we have plenty to show you.

For instance, did you all know what an inga seed looks like?

Inga, or guama in Spanish, is a plant used in agroforestry. Agroforesty is a method of farming that mixes small trees and shrubs in among crops. Why would you want to do that, you ask? Well, good question. Agroforestry farming takes advantage of the natural benefits of trees and shrubs, such as reducing soil erosion because of their root system, shading crops with their leaves, and then, when the leaves fall and decompose, acting as a natural fertilizer for the soil.

Now, the beauty of using inga is that its native to the areas where we work and when farmers use it in their fields they can, overtime, double their crop yield!

How about fuel-efficient stoves? Have you seen them in action?

This is a stove we built in Honduras and – since we use local, readily available materials – it is made from adobe. For rural communities in Honduras, families typically use open-pit fires, like you would for camping. This method is inefficient and dangerous. The fuel-efficient stoves we build are up to 60% more efficient, so that means less wood has to be collected and fewer trees are removed from the forest.

So that’s why we have created EcoBlogic – to give you a closer look at our work and perhaps see it in a different light. Also, we also want to hear from you – your questions, your comments. Tell us what you think, what you want to know more about, who you want to hear from. We welcome all comments!

Panama Latrine Team

Mangrove forests in the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama.

Mangrove forests in the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama.


In December of 2008, I began working for EcoLogic in Panama’s Gulf of San Miguel where 16% of Panama’s mangroves can be found; the area is rich in biodiversity and has an impressive scenic beauty. In the coastal zone, there are many established fishing communities, which depend on these mangroves and their wildlife populations to exist. Right now, EcoLogic is working in five of these communities: Río Congo, Punta Alegre, Puento Lara, La Puntita, and Arretí.

Part of our work involves coordinating community consultations where we hear from the local people about their lives and circumstances. Based on these consultations, we help them prioritize their concerns and jointly devise solutions to address their primary challenges. In the Gulf of San Miguel main concerns include access to clean drinking water and the effects diminishing fish stock in the mangroves are having on their livelihoods.  This is why our focus in Panama is centered on water, environmental cleanup, and strengthening community-based organizations devoted to the sustainable management of natural resources.

Community members building a composting latrine.

Community members building a composting latrine.


In Puerto Lara and Punta Alegre, we are developing a plan for watershed management and outlining steps to strengthen local water councils. In Puerto Lara, we are also establishing a tree nursery which will have the capacity to produce 10,000 seedlings a year for enriching and repopulating the nearby microwatershed. In Río Congo, we are building composting latrines which will reduce runoff and contamination of the mangroves. In Punta Alegre, all of the community stakeholders are coming together to identify a location where they can build a water aqueduct to provide safe, reliable drinking water to the community. The community has existed for more than 100 years without reliable access to clean drinking water.

In these two and a half years I’ve worked in Darién, I’ve been a part of these communities and their daily lives, and witnessed their joys and their sorrows. Their commitment to our collaborative projects and their desire to succeed is quite obvious because of all the effort and energy they put into all of the projects we’ve undertaken. I was honored that recently, in a community meeting in Punta Alegre, when all the various project partners were present, the water council president, Isidoro Zúñiga, specifically mentioned EcoLogic while thanking everyone for their interest and support. EcoLogic is having a significant and positive impact on the quality of peoples’ lives in this area, and I feel proud to be a part of this important work we are doing.

– Yaira Allois Pino, Program Officer for Panama
Yaira is from Santiago de Veraguas, Panama. She works on EcoLogic’s projects with our partner organizations in that country. 

 

Eco-Family in the Field

The entire Eco-Family spent a week together in sunny –, no wait rainy — no wait- sunny again Honduras at the end of June for EcoLogic’s biennial retreat. We bonded, we learned, and we exchanged ideas. But this was no kumbaya-fest. Our daily meetings consisted of intense sessions on strategic planning, science-based impact assessments, and theories of change. It was intense, it was real, and it was done EcoLogic-style. There is really too much to tell, so I’ll just highlight my favorite moments.

After arriving absurdly late to a quiet hotel in San Pedro Sula, I was ready for bed. Three hours later I find myself in a minibus driving to our projects in the region of Atlántida to see our work in agroforestry, fuel-efficient stoves, watershed management, and tree nurseries. Let me tell you about two of the project sites we visited, which we are implementing with our local partner, the Alliance of Municipalities of Central Atlántida, otherwise known as MAMUCA.

Woman_and_improved_stove

Fuel efficient stoves; hey what can I say? I love these things. We saw several stoves and heard from three different women who own and use them. I was extremely impressed with the maintenance of all the stoves we saw. I asked at one point, “Are these new?” I thought at MOST they might be a few weeks old but nay, I was told that all of the stoves we saw were a year or older. The women have to sand the stoves down every couple of days to keep them in tip top shape. And boy do they shine – I never knew adobe could sparkle. The women form groups of eight and together THEY make a stove for each person in the group. They are trained on how to construct, care for, and use them. The stoves use less fuel-wood, are more sanitary and keep the smoke out of the home. We all know the benefits of a smokeless house but it was NEVER as apparent as when I walked into one of the homes, stove to the right and a teeny tiny infant asleep in an itty bitty hammock not even 3 feet away. The babe was swinging lightly in the breeze and thankfully its little lungs were breathing clean air. It made me feel really good to see the positive difference we are making.

 
Community_members_and_agroforestry

The argoforestry parcel we visited was also pretty impressive. With 40,000 seeds in the ground, the year-old trees (cue music) stood majestically along the hill-side. The trees are there to improve crop yield (here it’s corn), prevent erosion, and decrease the work of the farmers all while attracting wildlife, preventing disease and diminishing the need to encroach upon the surrounding forest. Don Faustino, owner of the land, was enthusiastic about the results and the benefits of guama. The full benefits will not be seen for another 2 years — but, so far, so good and Don Faustino is happy to tell others about his success so they can replicate this work.

Oh, and we had an all-staff soccer game. There is not a lot to say about this except it was DEADLY (in a good way). It was fun, it was a time for bonding, and the temperature was freaking HOT. My team made it to the finals (yaay) but alas, the elusive EcoLogic world cup escaped my team’s grasp.

Let me just end this with an enormous shout out to EcoLogic field staff and tecnicos who work on a day to day basis directly with the people and places we strive to support on the ground. In getting to know the regional staff better I was awed by their passion and dedication. Their expertise is astounding and I’m so proud to be working with them.

– Gina Rindfleisch, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Gina manages EcoLogic’s fundraising activities targeting individual donations. Prior to joining EcoLogic she served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua working in environmental education and holds a BA in environmental studies from Long Island University. 

Long Way ‘Round

Greetings from Livingston, Guatemala. I’m out here this week visiting our project with APROSARSTUN, our partner in the region. I don’t think I’ve talked much about this project since being in Guatemala. It’s way out here on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast. This part of Guatemala is really different from the central highlands, where Xela and Totonicapán are located. The area is crazy humid, and the main mode of transportation is boat and canoe. Livingston is a somewhat popular tourist destination, but outside of the tourist center, the rural communities are very remote, very small, and quite underserved. For example, the President of APROSARSTUN is from a village of 15 families. Jose Domingo, EcoLogic’s project técnico is from a community of 35 families, and Samuel, a community promoter recently hired on the project, is from a village of 12 families. Each of these communities are accessible only by boat up small creeks, followed by some walking through the jungle. And each of these communities are part of our project. More than any other EcoLogic project I’ve seen, this one is reaching people way WAY off the beaten path. To me, it’s really cool and really inspiring.

Sarstun_River
 

So enough background. This week, I did so many things that each deserve their own post. Thirty-three stoves in Barra Sarstún — a fishing village on the edge of the Sarstún River– are being constructed. Francisco, José Domingo, Martín (President of APROSARSTUN,) and I were there to watch/help the first one get built. It was awesome watching the process from the very first brick. I’ve seen so many that are completed and always wondered what it took to build one. As a rule, stove recipients for each EcoLogic project are chosen based on their participation in the project and must help build their stove. In practice, this looks different from project to project. In Barra Sarstún, recipients are members of the Barra Sarstún Fisherfolk Committee, which is the group we work with to develop sustainable fishing practices in the region. The fishermen involved in the committee understand the need to conserve and care for the environment which provides them with their livelihoods (fish!), and are therefore excited to participate in projects which help advance conservation. The stove we watched get built was being installed in a home of a committee member, Don Fabian Vega, who was actually not around to help and got another committee member, Jose Antonio, to cover his labor for him. So Jose Antonio, who is getting his stove in a couple of days, helped our two stove gurus with the construction.

Sarstun_construction

Here’s what you need to build a fuel-efficient stove: cinder blocks, bricks, cement, sand, water, clay/mud (filler in the base of the stove), shovel, machete, trowel, aluminum chimney, and about four hours. And you need to know what you’re doing which is why we hire two men that have built many of our stoves. Oh, I also met some families that really like their stoves and I got to eat some awesome flour tortillas cooked on one. This was the first time I had flour tortillas in Guatemala. They were insanely good. Oh, I also ate a delicious fried fish caught by a member of the fisherfolk committee. Pretty cool. After these 33 stoves are completed, every members of the association will have a fuel-efficient stove in their home.

SO that’s a lot and that’s just the stove. I also visited some agroforestry parcels in some other communities. Come November these parcels will have corn planted in them in rows between the guama trees. The harvest will be in February. I’m coming back down to eat me some guama-protected corn!

Sarstun_fish

While here, EcoLogic also conducted a seminar on conservation and sustainable development project design at  a local school, Ak’Tenamit, which is dedicated to educating students from indigenous families. This school, with which we often collaborate, focuses on ecotourism and rural development, and their hope is that their alumni return to their respective communities to be agents of change. It was great to help facilitate the seminar and hopefully, even if very slightly, help equip these young people with some tools that they can apply in their own communities, to the benefit of their families and neighbors.

Okay, that’s all I got. And it’s starting to rain on me and I’m fairly certain this computer is not waterproof.  Hasta Pronto!

– Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic

Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, investigating potential funders, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. Chris was a fellow for the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Project and documented his time working from EcoLogic’s regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala from March to June, 2011. 

‘Tis the Season

It’s now the rainy season here in Guatemala, and if you’re a true EcoLogian, you know what the rainy season really means: Reforestation Season!

Planting

I’m writing to you from my apartment after a day of reforesting in Totonicapan, Guatemala. I’ll tell you one thing: after spending a week with our field technicians in Honduras and hearing all their stories about planting trees and building fuel efficient stoves, it was really rewarding to get my hands dirty and to — at least for a few hours — experience the life of a “tecnico.” If you remember from a previous post, EcoLogic manages 5 greenhouses (soon to be 8) in Totonicapan in the central highlands of Guatemala, where we work in partnership with the 48 Cantones to reforest watershed areas to help protect drinking water sources. The last time I blogged about this project, I had just visited the greenhouses and they were full of saplings. Well, this time around, hundreds of trees were gone! They’re now planted in the forest, where they belong.

Today the EcoLogic team had the opportunity to participate in a reforestation activity in a community.  Typically, the village water committees schedule special events when a town, neighborhood or specific group commit the day to reforestation activities. Local people participate in part because a family’s “payment” to the 48 Cantones for receiving water in their home is to volunteer their time to protect the area’s watershed and fresh water resources. EcoLogic provides the trees and technical know-how to help make these efforts as productive and successful as possible. Today 120 young people from a local high school  — the Escuela Noral Rural del Occidente (or ENRO) in Totonicapan — came out to plant trees and learn about their watershed. Teachers at the school wanted the students to learn about the benefits of the forests in a hands-on manner. Of course, EcoLogic was happy to support this goal: Fernando, our field technician in Totonicapan, led the day’s activities, providing a practical “how-to” session for the teachers and students, and showing them how and where to plant the arbolitos..
 
Fernando, a tecnico, explaining the process to students.

Fernando, a tecnico, explaining the process to students.

It was an awesome event. After a couple of hours in the forest, the students, teachers, Don Augustin (our greenhouse manager), Fernando, and I were able to plant about 1,500 saplings. There’s another youth reforestation event tomorrow, as well, and Fernando is guiding that one, too. Oh yeah, and Fernando saved the GPS coordinates of the first tree that I planted so I can always know its exact latitude and longitude and come back and visit it, which I hope to do annually for the rest of my life! I named it Chris. You’re surprised, right?

Okay, that’s all I can manage for now. This is actually my last week working from the office in Xela. Next week I’ll be visiting our project in Sarstun and after that I’ll be in Honduras for our all staff retreat.

Hasta la proxima!

– Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic

Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, investigating potential funders, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. Chris was a fellow for the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Project and documented his time working from EcoLogic’s regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala from March to June, 2011. 

Me encantan los mapas

GIS_map_compressed

Buenas tardes, Compañeros. I just arrived in Guatemala City after a 15.5 hour bus ride from Escuela Agricola Panamericana – otherwise known as Zamorano University — which is located near Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Despite the many, long bus trips, I had a really great week spending time with almost all of our field staff. The first two days we honed our skills with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) which will help our field technicians and program officers document and monitor our project sites with greater accuracy.  The fact I was able to participate and learn about GIS was fun for me, and will likely improve my ability to collaborate and assist our people in Central America  from our Cambridge office. To gain practice with our GIS skills, we visited the local watershed with Zamorano professors and GIS experts to gather data — which more or less meant defining its borders — and then we went back to the lab to input and map the data. Really cool stuff if you´re into maps as I am.

The last two days of the week were spent sharing presentations from everyone´s work. All those present — 13 in total — gave at least one power point presentation that summed up her/his work in the field so far this year. Each presentation also allowed for questions and answers afterwards so there was a lot of discussion and sharing of successes and challenges. For me, hearing these presentations was amazingly informative. Our field technicians and program officers are really the hands and feet of EcoLogic – and hearing about agroforestry, stoves, microwatersheds, etc. directly from those implementing our projects was invaluable.

I´m really tired, which you can probably tell because I’ve scarcely made a joke or a pun! Still I wanted to provide you with an update on this incredible week before it concluded.

Buenas noches!

– Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic

Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, investigating potential funders, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. Chris was a fellow for the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Project and documented his time working from EcoLogic’s regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala from March to June, 2011. 

Only Four More Weeks?!

Muy buenos días. I haven’t really blogged in a while other than that crazy quetzal post. To be honest, after being able to blog from EcoLogic project sites about things like water sources, agroforestry plots, and community meetings (things which I find really exciting and I’ll assume you do, too), it’s a little hard to blog about being back at a desk in an office. HOWEVER, I’ve got four more weeks down here in Guatemala and three of those four involve plenty of newsworthy happenings. So this is a blog post to get you pumped up for what’s to come!

Next week, I’ll be joining our entire field staff (12 staff members in total, including Country Program Officers and Project Technicians from Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, and Honduras and our Regional Director and Director of Programs) for a 4 day training/meeting in Honduras. For two days our field staff – which luckily includes me for now – will receive training on the use of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) for Watershed Management. Then we’ll have 2 days of team meetings where each Project Technician and Country Program Officer will present updates on their work, which will include successes, lessons learned, technical advice, and future plans. For me, this is EXACTLY the type of information I want to hear. I’m really excited to listen to our field staff’s experiences and stories – they’re the people making the work happen day-to-day. I’ll be sure to keep you informed…

After this trip, I’ll have one week visiting our project in Sarstún, Guatemala. This area is on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast along the border of Belize. This region is quite different from the highlands where I’ve been. Out there I’ll be visiting with beneficiaries of our project with APROSARSTUN – families who have received fuel-efficient woodstoves, farmers who are implementing agroforestry methods, and fisherfolk who are committing to use sustainable fishing practices. Again, really excited, and I’ll be sure to post plenty.

After that, it’s back to Honduras for another week. This time, for EcoLogic’s All-Staff Retreat which we have once every two years. If you’ve ever been to the “Our People” part of EcoLogic’s website, then you’ve seen a picture from the last retreat. Pre-Chris, and pre-several others now working with EcoLogic. Now the reason for the retreat, of course, is not to get an updated picture for the website (although that will happen — never fear!). It’s so that our entire staff – those based in Cambridge, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Panama, and Belize – can come together to plan, reflect, review best practices, lessons learned and exciting new opportunities to do meaningful work, and also to simply spend time together and get to know one another.  This year we will visit a project site in northern Honduras and then spend a few days in meetings together, with time set aside for activities in the city of Copan Ruinas, an ancient Mayan site in western Honduras.

For many of us at EcoLogic, our relationships with those in other offices are almost exclusively electronic via email or Skype. It’s been very exciting for me to finally meet some of my coworkers in person, and I have no doubt that this time we have spent working “shoulder to shoulder” will make us more effective and efficient collaborators in the future. For some at EcoLogic, the retreat will be the first time they have the opportunity to meet many of their colleagues.  For others the retreat will be something like a family reunion. But one thing’s certainly true for everyone: we’re all looking forward to it! 

And after I’ll return home, just in time for summer in Boston!

PS – There’s already a rumor that an all-staff soccer game is going to happen at the retreat – field staff vs. Cambridge staff. Bet you can guess which team I’m gonna play with! I know you’ll want to see a video, but I’ll just say right now that any footage I capture I’ll be selling to one of those sports bloopers production companies. Hey, relax, as a fundraiser for EcoLogic — of course!

– Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic

Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, investigating potential funders, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. Chris was a fellow for the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Project and has documented his time working from EcoLogic’s regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala from March to June, 2011. 

Quetzal Catch Up

I forgot to mention that rereading this blog made me realize I haven’t updated you recently on my quetzal bird hunt! Don’t worry, not a real hunt. (The only thing I hunt “for real” are fish.) At any rate, you’ve probably been losing sleep from jealousy while imagining me swinging in a hammock with a slew of beautiful quetzal birds perched around me. But, alas, no quetzal fraternizing for me yet. I haven’t seen a one. Every time I think I see one it turns out to be a grackle or something else that’s fairly common. I’ve got six weeks left to go here. Maybe if I wore one of these hats I’d find one? (A care package idea, Mom!)

– Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic

Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, investigating potential funders, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. Chris was a fellow for the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Project and has documented his time working from EcoLogic’s regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala from March to June, 2011.

Guama Mia!

Guama Mia! The runaway Broadway hit about a young boy and his pet guama seed. What am I talking about. Okay, honestly, I just wanted to use the word “guama” in a pun. And that’s what I came up with. Mama Mia is a musical, right? Or am I way off?

Toto_greenhouse

At any rate, I want to tell you all about guama today. What’s guama, you ask? It’s the variety of tree that EcoLogic uses in the agroforestry parcels that we establish with rural farmers throughout tropical Central America. I had to throw “tropical” in there because it only grows in tropical climates, not up in the mountains. Guama is a pretty amazing tree and perfect for agroforestry in several of the regions where we work. The idea is to plant guama along with your crop, like corn. So you’ll have three rows of corn and a row of guama trees, three rows of corn, and a row of guama, etc. The guama trees provide shade for the corn, their leaves fall (TONS of leaves) and keep weeds from growing, once the leaves decompose they provide organic fertilizer that replenishes soil nutrients, and their lower branches (that grow really fast) can be trimmed and used for firewood. The result is a better crop, a higher yield, healthier soil, fuelwood, and far less time spent maintaining the parcel because weeds hardly can grow at all. Pretty amazing.

Last week I reported to you from Ixcán all about our community consultations. Well, I also was able to spend some time with a farmer, Don Salvador, who has an EcoLogic-supported guama parcel. Don Salvador is a volunteer “forest guard” for his community of San Pablo, and was in touch with EcoLogic several years ago because of the trainings we provided to local forest guards. He expressed interest in trying out guama on a part of his land, and in 2008, EcoLogic established a guama nursery on his land. Though Don Salvador admits that he was a bit skeptical at the beginning, he is now an unabashed believer.

Guama_man_and_seedlings

Sebastian, our Regional Director, calls Don Salvador a guama “predicador” or preacher. He grows corn on his guama plot, and talked about how much he loves the guama plot in comparison to the rest of his land where he uses chemical fertilizers. He just did the year’s first corn harvest a few weeks ago, and he talked about the better product from the guama plot, the greater yield, the fact that he didn’t have to purchase fertilizer for the guama plot, and the healthier soil for the next crop.

Don Salvador also mentioned that other farmers are hearing about guama but are still unsure about the process. Without a doubt, though, he’s been convinced. And so have I. I’ve been to maybe 5 or 6 guama parcels now and keep hearing the same things Don Salvador spoke about. There are so many benefits that can positively impact subsistence farmers and the environment.

Okay, well I’m now back in our office for a few weeks after a few weeks of travel. I’ll keep the blog posts coming though. Hasta la próxima!

– Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic

Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, investigating potential funders, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. Chris was a fellow for the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Project and has documented his time working from EcoLogic’s regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala from March to June, 2011. 
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