The overarching goal of the helping communities build and use fuel-efficient stove is to increase environmental stewardship within rural communities of Guatemala by improving the resource efficiency and healthiness of household cooking. The stoves decrease the human threats to tropical forests, promote environmental leadership within some of the most marginalized members of society, and improves the lives and health particularly of women and children. To make sure of the efficiency of the EcoLogic stoves – we commissioned a study completed by the experts at the Zamorano Institute’s Improved Stove Certification Center in Honduras.
The studied resulted in several insights and recommendations that will help us adjust our program to maximize our impact. For instance, we learned that the fuel-efficient stove models that we introduce is not the most efficient stoves on the market (though they are considerably more fuel efficient that conventional open-pit fires); however, they are well liked and used by beneficiaries. Our model, though less efficient, is durable and multi-functional as a table and cooking surface. It is also important to note that adoption rates and demand for the stoves remains high.
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. This is the second post in a two part series chronicling their time in the region.
Hi again, It's Janie this time. The last time we wrote Julian and I had just arrived in Ak'Tenamit, a vocational boarding school composed largely of students from the Q'eqchi Mayan communities of the Sarstun region of Guatemala. We received an incredibly warm welcome from APROSARSTUN, an NGO located on the Ak'Tenamit campus and EcoLogic's partner on the ground, and we were finally able to meet the two students with whom we would be working for the next two months. The students, Roland and Matteo, are both in their sixth and final year at Ak'tenamit, and working with us is how they will complete their "practica" -- a two month long field project required to graduate. We rented one of the bungalows on campus for the week as we prepared for our 4-6 week trip to the field. Originally, we thought three days would be more than enough to finalize our field methodologies, plan our route, and pick up supplies. As much as we had prepared, our first chat with Rolando and Matteo revealed just how much we still had to learn, including community structure and dynamics, cultural norms and taboos. As biology majors in college, we felt comfortable taking soil samples and measuring tree diameters and soil cover, but evaluating project impact through interviews and community activities was a new experience for us. During our first one-on-one interview, it became apparent that farmers do not keep reliable track of crop yield, so there was no easy way to quantify the benefits of agroforestry in terms of production. We had to think on our feet and developed a mini-workshop on important numbers for farmers to keep track of during different plot stages. During the coppicing (trimming) of the trees, they can measure how much wood is produced. During harvest, how many ears of corn are harvested. During fruit harvesting , how much fruit is collected. We created a “cheat sheet” to distribute to the farmers with important dates relating to the plot (planting, coppicing, harvest) and the important productivity measures related to each.
By far the most important part of our work here has been speaking with agroforestry farmers about why they participated in the project, and finding out what problems they have had related to their plots, and about the help they've received from Ecologic and APROSARSTUN. Their answers are as interesting as they are diverse, ranging in subject matter from community politics to group dynamics to land tenure issues. Overall, the project participants and communities have received us with great warmth and openness. Discussions are often lively and insightful and never so serious that there isn't time for a good laugh and playful banter. When we aren't in plots or interviewing project participants or doing community-based work, Julian and I are enjoying the beauty of the small villages, learning how to cook Q'echi-style, and, most importantly, taking an occasional break! After our last meeting in Cerro Blanco, we invited the community to a ukulele jam session (Julian and I both play) as a thank you for their hospitality.
The evening of ukele strumming was wonderful. A whole mélange of people showed up-- men straight from the field, women and children taking a break from household chores, and young people who wanted to learn chords. By the end of the night, we had young boys singing "Drop, baby, drop" (a Hawaiian favorite) , and translated "Eight Days A Week" for a sing-along. One of my favorite moments was when a farmer asked, "So what talk do we have to listen to?" We were able to say "No talk, just music and a bit of fun. We hope!" It seemed the least we could do in light of the kindness we'd been shown by the entire community. Now we're off to our next community -- Sarstun Creek. The adventure continues! -Janie
Janie D’Ambrosia has previously worked on a national reserve in Southwest Kenya and Julian Moll-Rocek has done research in the Amazonian rainforests of Madre de Dios, Peru. Both Julian and Janie have degrees in organismic and evolutionary biology, a field that looks at the function, evolution and interaction of organisms—or in this instance, how crops and trees can work together and integrate beneficially into the broader natural ecosystem. They are also showing our field staff techniques to use new technology (such as GPS) to create more accurate maps and georeference the agroforestry plots of the farmers we work with.
In rural Honduras, EcoLogic works with an Association of Water Committees (AJAASSPIB) to develop and implement practical plans to care for watersheds. Using a holistic approach that goes beyond pipes and infrastructure, we are taking into account the role of the ecosystem—the health of the land directly impacts its ability to drain and collect water. This includes reforesting degraded areas crucial for reducing erosion and regulating water flow.
With that in mind, EcoLogic has established an environmental fund with six AJAASSPIB member-communities to allocate a percentage of water user fees directly toward watershed protection. This ensures that community members are financing water source protection and restoration as opposed to only water infrastructure such as pipes, tanks, and faucets.
Through a series of trainings and workshops, EcoLogic has been able to establish this fund. We found the way to keep water fees down in the long-run is to create a fund that is preventative in nature – an environmental fund – which would decrease sediment and contaminants in the water and limit water shortages. These preventative measures would result in less filtration costs, less repairs due to wear and tear on pipes and faucets, and less water shortages resulting in a need to purchase expensive bottled water.
Through the community’s involvement and commitment, we are showing the world a model for protecting and restoring rural water sources in an effective, sustainable, community-led manner.