Work team serves ECHO for 24th year

By Maddie Christy

Every summer for 24 years, John Hanson has volunteered at ECHO. Adding up each two-week trip to the Global Farm in Florida, he’s totaled almost one full year of volunteering!

Mr. Hanson is the leader of a volunteer work team comprised of students from the Indiana area who are part of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination. The high school and college students come each year to serve alongside the staff members and interns at ECHO Florida.

“It’s about helping and blessing the workers here at ECHO who have dedicated their lives to this mission,” said Lauren Daniels. “We want to come and partner with the work that’s being done globally by serving the long-term staff here.”

Ellen Smith (left), eight-time return volunteer from Indiana, works alongside Andy Cotarelo (center), ECHO Farm Manager, to clear a research plot at the Global Farm in North Fort Myers, Florida.

Ellen Smith (left), eight-time return volunteer from Indiana, works alongside Andy Cotarelo (center), ECHO Farm Manager, to clear a research plot at the Global Farm in North Fort Myers, Florida.

ECHO’s farm manager, Andy Cotarelo has had the opportunity to work with the team for 12 years. Cotarelo expressed what a blessing it has been to have extra hands on deck for big projects and general farm work over the years. He and Mr. Hanson have also cultivated a friendship during the 12 years they’ve known each other. 

Lauren Daniels, a senior at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, has served at ECHO three times with this team. She jokes about how unglamorous the work is, but counts it a joy to serve missionaries who equip people around the world. 

“Getting out in the heat of Florida and doing hard physical labor on the farm has done wonders for my character,” Daniels said. “We are doing this work and nobody is going to know our names. That’s why it matters. That’s why it’s important that we do this.” 

Ellen Smith, a volunteer who has served at ECHO for eight years, acts as the mother of the group. While the students are working in the morning, she prepares lunch and does laundry before joining them on the farm. 

“This trip was invaluable for me when I was in high school,“ Smith said. “I want to play a role that provides that same opportunity for other students.” 

The Indiana Work Team, as ECHO staff refers to them, has certainly left their mark over the years. Returning members look around the farm and point out the rice paddy they revamped, fences they built, and fields they cleared that now bear fruit. Each year, the team works on a couple big projects. This year they’ve re-thatched the roof on the hut at the Anderson Appropriate Technology Center, tarped and replanted the bamboo field, and cleared out the research plot. When they’re not working on group projects, the students split off with ECHO interns to work alongside them in their areas of the farm.

“I can’t say enough about the influence of the interns on the lives of the high-schoolers,” Mr. Hanson said. “They are just a few years older and have been through exactly what those students are going through. The interns really encourage and inspire my students.”

Both parties have benefited greatly from this long-standing relationship. The high-school students are quick to recognize that this mission trip is about pouring into people who are used to doing all the serving. Along the way, they often learn about themselves and who they are in God’s kingdom. For ECHO staff and interns, the hard work and friendships that come with the group are a great encouragement. They are thankful for the willingness of Midwest students to spend part of their summer serving in an unconventional way. 

The Indiana Work Team is a testament to the Lord’s faithfulness to ECHO. Those who give of their time and resources help to sustain our work all throughout the world. Whether it’s a tradition of 24 years and counting, or a first-time volunteer, ECHO is greatly blessed by those who choose to come and partner with us in our mission to honor God by empowering the undernourished with sustainable hunger solutions.

ECHO and University of Tennessee: Ongoing collaborations serving smallholders in Southeast Asia

By Drs. Tom Gill and David Ader, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture

Since 2015, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) has collaborated with the ECHO Asia Regional Impact Center on two agricultural projects in Cambodia. Collaboration is essential but finding effective partners who can build trustworthy networks has proven challenging for UTIA in the past. 

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ECHO Asia’s partnership with UTIA has leveraged the teaching-research-extension expertise of the University, providing reliable and responsive networks through ECHO to advance sustainable agro-ecological solutions for Cambodian smallholders.

ECHO has helped UTIA by training Cambodian farm managers and technicians. In November 2017, this group of managers and technicians traveled to ECHO Asia’s office and seed bank in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a one-week workshop. The workshop was led by Dr. Abram Bicksler (ECHO Asia) and Dr. Ricky Bates (The Pennsylvania State University). These managers and technicians worked with UTIA, Penn State, and a range of other Southeast Asian partners on the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab project. The SIIL project is USAID-funded and Kansas State University-managed. The Cambodian farmers trained are leaders of agricultural technology demonstration parks throughout the country. The training helped them increase the potential capacity of these demonstration parks as places for learning and innovative research. 

ECHO’s Dr. Bicksler, along with UTIA researchers, delivered a workshop to 50 farmers at the University of Battambang’s farm.

ECHO’s Dr. Bicksler, along with UTIA researchers, delivered a workshop to 50 farmers at the University of Battambang’s farm.

The workshop discussed agricultural diversification options to improve smallholder farming systems. In this lowland, rainfed region of northwest Cambodia, smallholder farmers have faced frequent challenges. They struggled with managing cattle and providing high quality fodder in their rice-dominated systems. Workshop sessions addressed the following issues: silage production for improved animal nutrition and health, production of high quality fodder through diverse species’ cultivation, the use of living fences for control of cattle in the dry season, and the use of grafting for improved production of vegetables in the rainy season. 

A critical constraint to strategic farming is the availability and knowledge of high performing and well-adapted seeds. Dr. Bicksler provided information to farmers about low-tech options. These ideas included seed storage, well-adapted monsoonal seed varieties, high quality open-pollinated vegetables and other nutritionally supplemental crops for smallholder diets.  

Collaborations between UTIA, ECHO Asia and other partners in Southeast Asia have proven fruitful. Moving forward, the partnership hopes to further investigate options for Cambodian smallholders. One proposed next step may be documenting smallholder “wild gardens”. These typically-overlooked spaces could be assessed for opportunities to learn and improve smallholder management.

Growing Seed Banks Across Asia

ECHO Asia Seed Banking Initiatives Grow in Scope 

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Multiplying opportunities are arising to equip partner organizations and the communities they serve with ideas, training, and best practices in seed saving and banking. Plans to help with establishing two seed banks within the Ayerwaddy Delta expanded. The excitement about the concept and the expressed needs of the pastors and development workers serving in these communities has given rise to a network of four seed banks in Myanmar.

One of ECHO Asia’s key roles in this collaborative project with the Myanmar Baptist Convention was providing a 2-month internship for seed bank managers-in-training.

ECHO Asia’s New Small Farm Resource and Training Center

ECHO Asia’s New Small Farm Resource and Training Center

New Location Paves Way to Equip More People

Plans began to relocate ECHO’s seed bank and research work from Mai, in northern Thailand, to a larger and more accessible site near Chiang Mai, positioning ECHO Asia to better serve the region.  This new location improves accessibility to resources, increasing the Asia Impact Center’s capacity to host more training events and demonstrate additional agricultural practices. 

Growing a Network of Community Seed Banks 

For those on a lower budget and lacking access to the necessary technologies, and reliable electricity, ECHO Asia explores, tests, and experiments with appropriate seed bank options for local communities within the region. 

These include earthbag building techniques and buried clay cisterns for temperature stabilization, bicycle vacuum sealing technologies, and locally available desiccant materials for drying seeds.

Applying the training received from ECHO seed bank staff in Thailand, two trainees returned to Myanmar to establish their own community level seed banks. They constructed a modest seed bank ‘cold room’ and used earthbag building technology to lower and stabilize temperature. Raised beds have been planted for growing out seed varieties and supplying the seed bank.

It was at this site that ECHO Asia hosted a Seed Saving Workshop in January that brought in dozens of local farmers and national development workers, to train on-site and learn about seed cleaning techniques, storage technologies, and seed biology.

Visit ECHOcommunity.org to find out more about future events or to connect with ECHO Asia!

In East Africa, the average ECHO trainee trains 472 others. Here's why:

Over the last year, ECHO East Africa has mobilized communities to prevent the spread of a toxic weed and invasive worm that threaten farmers’ crops and livelihoods.

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Demand for ECHO’s agricultural training events is expanding in East Africa. In the last 12 months, the East Africa team has held nine training events, directly training over 300 small-scale farmers, development workers, and extension agents in six countries. These partners overwhelmingly have communities with whom to share ECHO techniques. At the ECHO office in Arusha, they have welcomed 829 visitors to tour their grounds and learn from the different demonstrations.

Training Trainers to Impact Others 

We celebrate that ECHO trainings are inspiring other NGOs to seek additional ways to use agriculture to address the needs of those they are serving. For example, a fruitful partnership with SHARE, a non-profit organization in the region, was formed after a staff member attended an ECHO East Africa Pastoralist Symposium in Nanyuki, Kenya. The SHARE staff was so impressed with the gospel proclamation along with the sustainable agriculture methods being promoted that they asked ECHO to lead a training in the Turkana region of Kenya and decided to hire someone to lead an agricultural aspect of their organization. To ensure he was well prepared for the job, they sent him to the ECHO East Africa Impact Center for an internship.

In Their Own Words

“Erwin [ECHO East Africa Director] came to Rwanda thoroughly prepared and led an outstanding Christ-centered training program. His leadership led to the establishment of a follow-up plan that will result not only in ensuring the trainees’ implementation of what they learned, but also in the dissemination of this throughout their community and beyond”.    ~Rob, whose Virginia church sponsored a training 

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One Training Leads to Many More

Last year, ECHO began to establish a relationship with Theological Book Network (TBN). TBN is a non-profit organization with connections to more than 1,000 seminaries around the world. 

Once the students become pastors, they are often sent to remote areas of their countries to work in churches and farm to provide for the needs of their families. Training these students not only benefits the families of future pastors, but can also impact entire congregations.

Because there was a felt need among the students for training in sustainable agricultural practices, TBN invited ECHO to train on Sustainable Integrated Agricultural at Africa Renewal University in Uganda. Twenty-eight students attended the training, learning simple agricultural methods proven to advance food security, nutrition, and livelihoods. 

This event also sparked other universities to recognize the need for ECHO trainings. Two additional universities have requested for ECHO to hold training events for their students, and ECHO continues to be in discussion with TBN about how to continue to work with seminaries to provide training in sustainable agriculture.

This same multiplication is happening over and over across villages, church networks, and partner organizations throughout the region. 

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As our impact grows... our opportunities expand

Indigenous Trees Meet Indigenous Needs

The East Africa team has cultivated a diverse collection of thousands of indigenous tree saplings that they are propagating to disseminate throughout Tanzania. These trees have helped entire communities to fight erosion and build healthy soils. The staff has also been educating about these indigenous trees on radio programs broadcast throughout the Arusha area.