Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 3: ECHO Asia/Partners Tropical Agriculture Workshop

The final day of the 2012 ECHO Asia Tropical Agriculture Workshop was primarily focused on useful charred products and by-products (charred rice husks, charcoal made in modified 200-liter drums and wood vinegar) as well as rice husk-fueled gasifier stoves, bio-sand water filters and homemade bladder-type biogas generators.  
Boonsong and Sombat from Partners demonstrated how decent charcoal can be made from modified 200-liter drum kilns using wood from low-grade trees, such as leucaena.  In the process, wood vinegar is also manufactured, offering various farm applications such as insect and odor control.  They also taught the group how charred rice husks are easily produced for use in soil mix and biochar.  Additionally, a simple gasifier stove was demonstrated to show how cheap and readily available rice husks can be used as a clean-burning cooking fuel, being charred in the process.

Stefan Geiger from the Raintree Foundation taught the group how to install and use bio-sand water filters are installed and used. Mizuki Watanabe, with the Panya Project, shared about the production and use of wood vinegar in Japan.

Finally, the Partners team demonstrated how bladder-type biogas generators are easily and inexpensively made (using clear plastic sheets for instructional purposes).  If well cared for, the biogas generators can operate for a few years.

The next ECHO Asia workshop will be held near Phnom Penh, Cambodia during February 21-23.     

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day 2: ECHO Asia/Partners Tropical Agriculture Workshop

Establishing mustard green transplants into plant beds
The second day of the 2012 ECHO Asia/Partners Tropical Agriculture Workshop was all about vegetable gardening and backyard fish production.

Preparing raised beds
Activities started off at the ECHO Asia Office's urban garden.  Participants were introduced to kitchen bokashi, biochar, chaya, various tomato and bell pepper varieties under evaluation and the wonders of perennial peanut (an excellent ground cover).  

Making above-ground fish pond
Later in the morning, the use of Indigenous Microorganisms (IMOs) for garden soil improvement as well as vegetable gardening basics were covered by the Partners staff.  Workshop participants got hands-on experience making IMO soil amendments, developing raised garden beds and planting various vegetables including mustard greens, lettuce, cucumbers and vegetable morning glory.  

Feeding black soldier fly larvae to catfish
The afternoon was devoted to making a simple above-ground fish pond out of sacks of rice husks and a sheet of plastic.  Catfish were released and fed dried black soldier fly larva following a brief presentation by Scott Breaden on the opportunities and challenges of producing the larva as a supplemental protein source for poultry and catfish.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 1: ECHO Asia/Partners Thailand Tropical Agriculture Workshop

The first day of the 2012 ECHO Asia/Partners Tropical Agriculture workshop was off to a great start.  With nearly 30 persons participating, the activities were geared toward the humane slaughter of livestock and the basics of SRI (System of Rice Intensification).
During the livestock workshop, a pig and a few chickens as well as a number of catfish and tilapia were humanely slaughtered and prepared.  With a diverse group of participants, approaches to animal slaughter varied.  Exchange of ideas, techniques and opinions was cordial and extremely beneficial from a practical standpoint.

The afternoon SRI workshop involved hands-on training related to producing a modified mat rice seedling nursery, removal and transplant of seedlings (less than two weeks old) and weed control.   ECHO Asia is grateful for the use of the Partners Thailand small farm facility and the expertise of Boonsong and Sombat, Partners Thailand staff.

Monday, January 23, 2012

ECHO Asia's Earthbag House: A Potential Seed Bank Approach

Lue and James appear to be sitting in front of a grass hut.  But looks can be deceiving.  The small structure is actually the ECHO Asia Seed Bank's earthbag house that is nearing completion.

Two factors that affect the long term viability of stored seed are humidity and high temperatures.  Modern seed (gene) banks generally make use of climate controlled rooms to keep both humidity and temperature sufficiency low.  ECHO Asia's seed bank employs a simple air conditioning unit that moderates the temperature (and the humidity to some degree).  But for improved control of relative humidity, as well as seed-storage pests such as bruchids, we also store our seeds in vacuum sealed bags.

However, in many places, there is limited access to electricity to enable seeds to be stored in an expensive air-conditioned climate controlled environment.  As ECHO promotes community-based seed sharing and saving, it is also part of our mission to recommend appropriate ways for communities and organizations in the developing world to better store seeds.

Underground structures, such as root cellars, have long been used as an appropriate way to modify temperatures for the long term storage of plant products.  Underground temperatures can be significantly lower (or higher) than the above-ground ambient temperature, making a huge difference towards keeping harvested plant products from perishing.

Along the same lines, it seems logical to use root cellars as seed banks as long as seeds can be stored in containers in which the humidity is modified by using vacuum (or partial vacuum) and/or desiccants such as silica gel or even parched rice.  

Unfortunately, not every location has a hill, favorable soil depth or a low water table for which to dig a root cellar.  Therefore, modified earthbag structures (with walls composed of sacks filled with soil) are an appealing possibility.  

James (ECHO Asia intern) and Lue (Assistant Seed Bank Director) were trained in earthbag house construction by Engineering Ministries International (eMi).  Afterward, they brought their skills to the seed bank and facilitated the construction of a small earthbag house.  To prevent the invasion of surrounding warmer air (the seed bank is located in a tropical/sub-tropical region), a small door with a foam interior and a thick but light ceiling composed of sacks filled with burnt rice husks were installed.  And to keep costs low, almost the entire structure was made from local, cheap materials, including a roof of fan palm thatch.

Data loggers will be installed this week to record the interior temperature and relative humidity.  These will be compared with outside readings over a period of one year.

So we look forward to reporting on the long term results of the modification of temperature by the earthbag house and the potential of such structures for community-based seed storage in the tropics.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Favorite Photos of 2011

ECHO Asia Seed Bank staffer, Asaeng, tending to moringa seedlings.

My favorite "beware of dog" sign in Phmon Penh.

Our boys in a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

This shot was taken during the green manure/cover crop and
agroforestry post conference tour of the ECHO Asia Agriculture and
Community Development Conference in October.

High water in Chiang Mai's Worarot Market.

A front porch meal in Huai Lu Luang community in Chiang Rai.

A Garo woman in northeast India making plans to harvest her SRI rice field.

Small group sessions held during a project evaluation in northeast 

A large kitchen garden in northeast India.

Nature's stain glass:  sun rays striking the leaves of a wild palm on
Doi Suthep.

ECHO Asia Impact Center office garden; perennial vegetable 

The fairest pig of all.

Evaluating the results of the soap making session of the 2011 ECHO
Asia Tropical Agriculture Workshop.

After the ECHO East Africa Symposium in Arusha, Tanzania, my friend
Sam (a life-long resident of east Africa) took me to the Tarangire
National Park.  My photos of the amazing park residents (elephants,
giraffe, gazelle, etc.) did no justice.  However, I was just as
enamored with the landscape and flora; so different from my usual
haunts in Asia and North America.

ECHO Asia intern, Vinny Ricciaradi, leading the charge to collect wax
gourd in Pang Daeng Nawk community for seed saving purposes.