Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Banana Multiplication Success Story

ECHO Asia technical advisor, Dr. Abram Bicksler, carrying out a similar banana  multiplication  test (results may vary according to banana varieties and locations).

At the 2011 ECHO Asia Conference we asked the delegates to share stories describing successful uses of ECHO's information and resources. The following is one in a series of posts containing these success stories.

ECHO's activities, from publications to conferences to seed distribution, all have one goal: getting resources into the hands of workers on the field so that we can indeed “honor God through sustainable hunger solutions.” For long-time members of the ECHO network all these disparate activities really seem unified. Buzz Maxey, of CAMA Services, shared a few comments with us, illustrating how he has utilized a number of different ECHO information and resources over the years:

“First, banana propagation gleaned from EDN [66]. A lot of my efforts and trials have been a fiasco but I was successful in this one: peel off 3 layers of the banana stalk, cut off the leaves, bend stalk over in [the shape of] a number 7. Drive a stake through the stalk at knee level, dig out a bit at the base of the plant, refill with compost, and in a few weeks many pups will sprout.

Second, chaya, moringa, papaya, loquat, and erethrina have all grown well. One farmer has sweet 
papaya—50 plants—at 5000 ft. elevation and his 75 head of cattle are eating chaya.

Third, I have attended four ECHO conferences and benefited every time. I have been blessed to be with people of like mind who are impacting the world's poor.” --Buzz Maxey, October 2011

Buzz Maxey was able to learn about banana multiplication from an EDN, receive samples of useful species from the ECHO seedbank, and share encouragement and information at four ECHO conferences. This is just one example of how ECHO's multiple activities serve the ultimate goal of serving the poor through sustainable agricultural solutions.

If you'd like more information about rapid banana multiplication see EDN 66, which Mr. Maxey referenced, and EDN 99, which demonstrates a slightly different technique. Both are available at

Monday, December 3, 2012

Seed Production at Tung Kwang Tong Community

Much of the ECHO Asia Seed Bank's seed production takes place at our facility on the campus of the Upland Holistic Development Project in the Mae Ai District of Thailand's Chiang Mai Province.  However, a significant portion of the seed we distribute, including green manure/cover crops such as rice bean, jack bean and lablab bean, is grown by area farmers.

Tung Kwang Tong (Field of the Golden Deer) Community, also in Mae Ai, is predominantly ethnic Palaung.  Despite limited access to fields for rice and cash crop production, they tend impressive kitchen gardens.

ECHO Asia recently worked out an arrangement with community members to grow select crops, such as tomato and long bean, for the seed bank.  This arrangement provides supplemental income for the participating gardeners while improving the seed bank's access to more types of seed.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Village Hike

In October, staff and volunteers from ECHO Asia accompanied students from the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI) on a hike between the Pang Daeng Nai, Mae Jawn and Huai Pong communities in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district.  October was the perfect time to see the local production of green manure/cover crops, such as rice bean (Vigna umbellata) that is produced in a farming system known as relay cropping.  The rice bean was planted into a fully mature stand of corn around the end of August.  By the time the corn is harvested in September or October, a thick stand of beans has become established during the final weeks of the rainy season, forming an excellent soil-improving ground cover.  After the bean crop is harvested in January, farmers allow the decomposing corn and bean residues to remain in the field in order to supplement soil organic matter.

October was also a good time to see the mature upland rice fields.  Farmers in these communities often rotate production years of relay-cropped corn and legumes with upland rice production.  When the upland rice is planted, it is also grown with other rain-fed field crops such as grain sorghum, foxtail millet and pigeon pea as well as understory crops that include cucumber and pumpkin.

And interspersed between the hill fields are agroforest plots planted by local farmers in diverse mixtures of fruit trees, such as mango, and indigenous forest species, such as rattan (Calamus and Daemonorops species), black sugar palm (Arenga westerhoutii), fishtail palm (Caryota mitis), fan palm (Livistona speciosa), forest vine pepper (Piper interruptum) and snowflake tree (Trevesia palmata).  The farmers, such as Mr. Jawa in the Huai Pong Community, value the forest crops as they produce non-timber forest products that have become increasingly rare in the region due to the overharvest and forest degradation.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Myanmar Seed Exchange

During the recent 2012 ECHO Myanmar Agriculture Workshop in Yangon, a seed exchange was held with representatives from nine Myanmar organizations bringing plant materials for 38 crop varieties.  

Crop seeds, cuttings and seedlings brought for exchange included green mung, peanut, grain sorghum, corn, pigeon pea, pearl millet, Hesperethusa crenulata (tanaka), millet, Straculia versicolor, sugar pea, mustard greens, cassod tree, wax gourd, okra, bitter eggplant, taro, black mung, broad bean, cowpea, bottle gourd, passion fruit, yard long bean, dill, radish, pumpkin, cucumber, roselle, lettuce, sweet onion, coriander, kidney bean, bush okra, euphorbia, ginger, lentils, black bean, chaya and Napier grass.

The goals of the seed exchange included:
  • Introducing and/or reinforcing the concept of seed saving and sharing to strengthening crop diversity and food security beginning at household and community level.
  • Highlighting Myanmar’s crop diversity across a variety of ecological zones including the Irrawaddy Delta, the Dry Zone as well as diverse upland region.
  • Encouraging networking and exchange among the participating agricultural development agencies

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Workshop in Myanmar

The 2012 ECHO Myanmar Agriculture workshop was held in Yangon during Oct. 30-Nov. 2.  With 66 registrants, over 25 Myanmar-based organizations were represented, making this the largest ECHO Asia event offered outside of Chiang Mai thus far.  

Topics and activities included Agricultural Responses to Climate Change, Biochar, Natural Farming and Alternative Fuels/Stoves as well as four post-workshop tour options around Yangon.  

Many thanks to the Myanmar Baptist Convention’s CSSDD team for co-hosting this event. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

ECHO East Africa Meets ECHO Southeast Asia

The ECHO Asia Regional Office was honored to host Erwin Kinsey, Director of ECHO's East Africa Regional Impact Center, for a week-long exchange visit. 

In addition to sharing ideas about key RIC activities, such as technical response and regional /country workshops and other training events, Erwin spent two days at the ECHO Asia Seed Bank for exposure to operations there.  Additionally, ideas regarding RIC cooperation in research and training were discussed.  Here, Erwin is pictured participating in a seed germination check at the seed bank.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Caveman Club Gourd

During a seed fair in Thailand's Chiang Rai province in 2011, the ECHO Asia Seed Bank came across a number of interesting crops grown by hilltribe farmers.  But it was not until the current 2012 growing season that one of these crops caught our full attention.  Although we knew gourd seeds had been obtained at the fair, we had no idea that they were seeds from the unique Caveman Club gourd.   

In fact, this was the first time that we had come across this particular variety.  Obviously, the crop can be grown for novelty or ornamental purposes.  When mature, the gourd will turn brown while retaining its characteristic texture.  And like our other common gourd varieties, both the young fruit and shoots are edible.  

FYI, seeds are currently being prepared for distribution.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Micro-Hydro for the Global Farm

During a visit in May by ECHO's President/CEO, Stan Doerr, he requested that we purchase a few micro-hydro generators from a shop in Chiang Mai to demonstrate at ECHO's Global Farm as well as to take to ECHO's East Africa Impact Center in Arusha, Tanzania.  The shop sells various sizes of units with the capacity to generate electricity of 600 watts and higher.  I bought three of the 1 kw units.
One type of generator has a three-inch intake pipe to accommodate an adequate volume of water (5-8 liters/second) with a minimum drop of 5 meters required to spin the turbine. The second type of unit has a shaft with a rotor extending from the turbine.  These units are designed to be installed in penstocks in which water drops vertically between 6-10 ft. (1.8 m – 3.1 m); the required degree of drop will depend on the generating capacity of each turbine.  To accomplish this, an adequate flow of water must be directed via a channel into a properly designed penstock in which a vortex is created that will cause the rotor to spin.
In June we hauled all three generators to the ECHO Global Farm in Ft. Myers, Florida.  Upon arrival, ECHO's Appropriate Technology Intern, Craig Bielema, worked many hours to set up one of the generators in a suitable location for demonstration.

An ECHO Asia document called "Micro-Hydro in Myanmar and Thailand" that introduces the concept of such practical technology can be downloaded as a PDF from this site:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Crops from Chiang Mai Off to a Great Start in Fort Myers

Tim, Andy and Marcie with the white thorn rattan seedlings
ECHO, International is located at the ECHO Global Farm in Ft. Myers, Florida. This 50-acre farm demonstrates practical ideas for growing food under difficult conditions in tropical climates to over 14,000 guests each year.  Many of the visitors are agricultural and community development workers serving the poor worldwide.

Vegetable taro seedlings
Hundreds of different crops are grown at ECHO's Global Farm, including tropical fruit trees, grains, oil crops and vegetables; many of which are underutilized and/or challenging to locate.

In May, ECHO intern, Kimberly Duncan, and I prepared a shipment of unique Asian crops for the Global Farm.  A box full of propagatable plant materials (cuttings and bulbs) of vegetable fern (Diplazium esculentum), vegetable taro (Colocasia esculenta), snowflake tree (Trevesia palmata) and leaf pepper (Piper sarmentosum) as well as seeds of Job's tears (Coix lacryma-jobi) was sent from Chiang Mai to Ft. Myers via express mail.  Of course, the plant materials were inspected and certified by phytosanitary officials both in Chiang Mai and Miami.
Ellen with vegetable fern, snowflake tree and leaf pepper seedlings
Visiting the Global Farm in July and anxious to see how the recently arrived plants were faring, I was delighted to find that each crop had not only survived the trip, but had been expertly "stuck" and/or planted by the Global Farm staff.  Healthy white thorn rattan seedlings (Calamus viminalis) growing from seed that we sent from Chiang Mai two year ago were also growing in the nursery.

Hopefully, these crops will continue to thrive at the Global Farm, serving not only as teaching tools but sources of nutrition there as well.
Job's tears seedlings ready to be transplanted into one of the field plots

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Breathing the Air of Self-Reliance by Kimberly Duncan, ECHO Asia Intern

In the interest of continued development and improving our service to our network partners, the staff, volunteers, and interns of ECHO Asia’s Seed Bank recently took a field trip to visit the organic farming community in Mae Tha, Thailand, about 5 hours south of our Seed Bank facility in Fang, and about an hour southwest of ECHO Asia’s Office in Chiang Mai.  Thirty years ago, under the leadership of Khun Por Phat, this community began questioning the sweeping trends of large-scale, chemical vegetable production and, forming a cooperative, started concentrating its efforts on growing food in ways that it felt would best nourish its people, preserve the environment, and leave a heritage for its future generations.

The lush green and the lightness of the air were the first impressions to greet our travel-weary group upon arrival.  Thereafter, it seemed that each member found something fascinating and relevant to his or her own focus transplanted from our daily jobs to this determinedly chemical-free community.

 “The companion planting!” exclaimed our Production Manager, Leu, eagerly.   (He and another ECHO Asia intern, Jen, have been working closely on the issue of pest management in our own seed production plots.)  “Pumpkins, chilies, bottle gourd and beans being grown and trellised together!  “Oh and see the basil with the eggplant!”  “And the flowers!  Kimberly, did you see the flowers they were growing around the plots to attract beneficial insects?”

“Yes! Biodiversity seemed key,” agreed Jen, after the visit  “Their emphasis on indigenous vegetable varieties and their care of the soil appeared absolutely critical to their ability to produce healthy plants and ones that will withstand the current changes in climate and environment.”

The raised, net-covered seedling nursery and seed-drying racks struck our technician, Asang.  Ongoing run-ins with pests of every kind in our nursery, not to mention fungus, have given him a run for his money. 

“Don’t forget Khun Por Phat’s charisma, though,” chimed in James (another intern).  “He’s the one that took the time to observe the growing patterns inherent in the natural world, think through the long-term effects of chemical inputs, and ultimately convince his neighbors and friends that organic farming practices and local plants were to be preferred to hybrids and heavy pesticides.  And remember the farmers who shared with us on our visits to their farms?!  What about that lady who has only been practicing organic farming for 3 years?  She understands what she is doing and why it works.  She didn’t just spout some ‘chemical free’ mantra, but was able to explain the differences she has seen in her farm, her vegetables, and her family’s health since she began.

All of our local staff was impressed with the long-rang planning of one farmer for his family.  Being the father of a single daughter, he has anticipated her and her mother’s needs down the road when he might not be around to support them any more by planting teak trees.  "In 20 years they’ll be large and valuable enough to sell for whatever they may need," he informed us.

Our big-picture lady, Ruth summarized our two days of visits and farmer interviews:  “It’s what we’re doing.  ECHO Asia’s approach is one of service to our network.  Mae Tha’s is doing ‘community development’ from within.

While we focused on the particulars most relevant to our individual work and family challenges at present, Khun Po Phat, in a sala over looking the agroforest he’s been nurturing for 25 years from the soil of a once barren hill, reflected on the sum total of what clean air, healthy soil, and strong plants actually add up to.  “Feel that breeze.  Isn’t it delicious?” he inquired stretching into it. “We’re free, we have everything we need, and we’re happy!”

Friday, June 22, 2012

Preparing for a Biochar Study

Biochar is basically charcoal used as a soil amendment.  It is promoted as a means of improving soil and as an approach for sequestering carbon to help mitigate climate change.  

During the October 2011 ECHO Asia Agriculture and Community Development Conference, Dr. Karl Frogner introduced the concept of biochar and demonstrated how char can be produced from bamboo (see Dec 7, 2011 blog  Prior to that, in an ECHO Asia Notes article, Biochar: An Organic House for Microbes, Bryan Hugill described the role of biochar for both agriculture and carbon sequestration.

In May, Dr. Abram Bicksler, a faculty member of the Chiang Mai-based ISDSI ( and research advisor for ECHO Asia, began setting up a planned biochar trial to be implemented at the ECHO Asia Seed Bank.  Finely ground bamboo char was mixed with ground  up, composted cow manure and set aside for a three-month long period.  During this time the bamboo char is expected to absorb nutrients and microbes from the manure.  Around September, the biochar/manure mixture will be established in select plant beds so as to monitor and compare the crop performance and soil properties of beds receiving biochar and those receiving only char or cow manure.

As with other ECHO Asia trials, we will be sharing results from this biochar study.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Moringa Variety Trial at the ECHO Asia Seed Bank

Due to moringa's impressive nutritional benefits as well as the water-purifying abilities of its seed, there is no shortage of interest in this crop.  ECHO distributes huge amounts of moringa seed each year.  However, there is still a shortage of information regarding the regional availability and suitability of moringa lines, whether those that have been selectively bred, such as PKM 1 and PKM 2, or landraces (local/traditional varieties developed mostly by local processes).

The ECHO Asia Seed Bank is pleased to host a moringa variety trial being conducted by Dr. Ricky Bates, Associate Professor of Horticulture at Penn State University.  In late May, Dr. Bates and members of the ECHO Asia team established seedlings from 20 lines of moringa.  From these selections, he hopes to select varieties that grow and perform particularly well in the sub-humid, tropical climate of northern Thailand.  We look forward to sharing results in the coming months and years.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Last Day of Training in Yangon by Ruth Tshin

Sack garden demonstration

We concluded the last day of our seed saving training in Yangon on Friday.  Covering topics of how to store seeds, the importance of germination, and information management, we continued discussions with MBC staff and farmers about linkages between seed saving and sustainable thinking.  Kimberly shared findings from her year-long study of managing pests in stored seeds and I put on my plant biology hat to talk about seeds as living potential and various ways to test seed quality through germination and planting out in soil.  Attendees continued to share their methods for saving and testing seeds with the group.

There is a hunger for practical, income-generating techniques here in Myanmar and we're privileged to be working with MBC as they continue to promote sustainable approaches with their farmers.  
One of our attendees stores onion seeds by letting a candle extinguish inside a closed container to create a light vacuum.

Another Day of Seed Saving Training by Ruth Tshin

Taking notes during our lively discussion
Putting seeds on the screen to dry after cleaning
Today we had more lively discussions as workshop attendees talked about economic barriers to sustainable practices in their communities. Kim taught the difference between annual and perennial plants, the effects of day-length on growth and details of pollination.  In the afternoon, I led a discussion about cleaning and drying seeds before our whole group pitched in to clean seeds from local tomatoes, pumpkin, ivy gourd and wax gourd.   So far, we've collected up to 15 varieties of seed to plant out at the seedbank, including  corn, bean, and pumpkin from Kayah State, and red sesbania from the Irrawaddy Delta area.
Kimberly teaching about day length and pollination
All hands on deck for the seed cleaning demonstration

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Seed Saving Training with Myanmar Baptist Convention

By Ruth Tshin, Volunteer ECHO Asia Consultant
Ruth and ECHO Asia intern, Kimberly Duncan, are currently in Yangon, Myanmar conducting a workshop on seed saving.

Burmese farmers are heavily dependent on chemicals to meet market demands and there is little knowledge of chemical-free food production.
Celebrating 200 years in 2013, Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC) has over 2 million members from 18 different language groups throughout the country.  The Christian Social Service and Development Department (CSSDD) functions like a development organization for its members, many of whom are farmers struggling to maintain their livelihoods amidst high chemical and hybrid seed costs.  As Burma continues to open up to the global market and respond to pressure from China, MBC's farmers need innovative methods to supplement their income.

In their efforts to continue developing their staff and members' understanding of sustainable farming practices, MBC graciously invited ECHO Asia to teach seed saving techniques at their headquarters in Yangon this week.  Today, we (Ruth Tshin and Kimberly Duncan) started off a 3 day training session listening to the challenges experienced in their communities.  16 men and 2 women from 5 areas of Myanmar, representing Pwo Karen, Sgaw Karen, Asho Chin, Southern Shan and Mon conventions, were in attendance.  We shared our successes producing open-pollinated seeds using natural methods, as well as lessons learned from our failures from the past 3 years.  Between bouts of power outages, we had lively conversation about local vegetables and seed prices, and ended the first day by distributing seeds from our seedbank.

One of the Karen CSSDD staff talks about challenges in his area
Talking about plants after we gave out our seeds