Friday, March 25, 2011

ECHO--Sharing ideas and experiences

ECHO (Educational concerns for hunger organization) is a non-profit, faith-based organization whose vision is "to bring glory to God and a blessing to mankind using science and technology to help the poor." One of their main goals is provide access to documents and other information for those who are working in agricultural development. Jenny and I were blessed to be present at ECHO's campus in North Fort Myers, Florida, from February 3rd through March 18th. We had great fun sharing stories and experiences with ECHO interns and ECHO staff members. I have been benefitting from the resources that ECHO offers since my first experience with them at their annual agricultural conference in 1996.

Below are photos and explanations of some of the ways we were able to share information and ideas in very practical ways.

Cistern made from tires, as part of the Haitian house "yard" at ECHO. Noah Elkhart (see explanation below) agreed to try out a modification of a technique I learned from folks at COSECHA (see, for example, article,

The tires are smaller than the ones I learned to use from the COSECHA technicians, but the principle we used are the same. The four tires have part of the two inner walls cut out, then they are sealed together with roofing tar and 3/4" nails. Noah made the base from cement blocks and motar, with a spigot built in. I still need to hear from Noah as to whether the cistern leaks or not.

Beth Doerr from ECHO, showing Keila (and Mark and Jenny), a pump system that is simple to make, easy to use and quite durable. This one is applicable when the water table is fairly close to the surface, wtihin 20 feet, I believe. One of Beth's multiple duties is to organize the work of the interns and assure that they are learning and sharing what they learn to the maximum. Beth also manages ECHO's appropriate technology pavillion, which is an extensive, hands-on resource for straightforward technology that farmers with limited resources can apply in many contexts.

A rural kitchen in Haiti. This is the image the ECHO intern, Noah Elkhardt and I used to develop a plan for a Haitian rural-style house in the area of ECHO called the Global Farm, which showcases agricultural systems from a number of different climatic zones in the tropics.

Noah (green shirt inside the house) working on the Haitian house, an example of common construction techniques in rural Haiti. Noah is responsible for the roof-top gardening area of the Global Farm. Ruth Portnoff (middle, green shirt) is another ECHO intern, responsible for the Rain Forest area.

Rather than native Haitian woods, which are not available in the swamp forests surrounding ECHO, we used treated lumber. Species used for the corner posts used in Haiti for this kind of house would be 4-6" diameter logs of mesquite, or "bayawonn" (Prosopis juliflora), blackwood, or "kanpèch" (Haematoxylum campechianum) and possibly for the corner posts, simarouba, or "Bwa blan/Fwenn" (
Simarouoba glauca). Wood for the main pieces of the roof would often be 4" eucalyptus logs (Eucalyptus spp., but most comonly E. camaludensis). "Bwa blan" (S. glauca) logs might also be used for the roof cross pieces.

The 2-3" slats used for nailing on the tin roofing would normally be cut from mango (
Magnifera indica) boards. In ECHO, Noah used bamboo because bamboo is readily available on the Global Farm, and because ECHO staff has access to electric drills, that can drill through the bamboo without splitting it. In rural Haiti, this part of the roof, together with doors, windows and the framing for the doors and windows, would be the lumber components that would have to be purchased. A typical house might require approximately 2 1/2 dozen mango boards, about HTG 4,500 (haitian gourdes), or $US 112.00.

The base, rather than using cement blocks, would be made from rocks, mortared with cement, when possible, but they could also be mortared with clay and sand. This border would hold fill dirt, raising the floor of the house up out of the extreme wetness during the rainy season. When the family has some additional funds, they would cover the dirt with a thin layer of cement to seal off the dirt floor and make the house easier to clean.

The walls of the house are woven bamboo. In rural Haiti (Hinche, Central Plateau), the walls would be woven like this, but farmers would split small chunks of 1-2" logs, such as leucaena or "lesena" (Leucaena leucacephala). If the structure is something like a kitchen, the walls would not be plastered, but the main house would be, using a special soil of heavy clay, preferably a white clay, when possible.

Outside the house, to the right, are benches for vegetable tires, old tires turned inside out that folks in the Central Plateau of Haiti, and some other areas, are using to produce vegetables. Getting the tires up off of the ground keeps animals away from the valuable plants, makes it easier to weed them and check them for insects, and makes it possible for small amounts of water to be used effectively. Using the tires also allows family to gain total control over the productivity of the soils, adding relatively small amounts of manure to improve production, as they see the necessity. The vegetable tires are also an excellent way to make use of the family's urine, which is almost always collected during the night inside the house. Diluted betweenn 5 and 10:1, the urine can help double vegetable production, depending on the type of vegeble being grown--leafy vegetables respond more than "fruits," for example, spinach or amaranth watered with urine will generally show a more dramatic response than green peppers or tomatoes.

Noah was planning on using at least two of the tires for redworm production, which is another excellent way for households to make use of kitchen and animal waste to produce low-labor compost that is highly effective in increasing vegetable production.

Keila at the beach with Claire, the daughter of the Global Farm's Mountain Intern, Matt, and his wife, Anna. The ECHO interns made our stay at ECHO a lot of fun, as well as providing a lot of information and ideas that I am starting to share with the Road to Life Yard and Moringa production crew members in Haiti, via internet.

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