Hungry to Learn: Staff from Thailand and Florida team up to train Laotian Pastors

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When Sang* became a Christian, his neighbor cut down his corn field.  The police didn’t come to his aid because they didn’t support his faith either. It was the pastor of his church that looked out for his family and helped him try to replant his field. Pastors in Laos deal with persecution each day, and many have been jailed for a time. They are also bi-vocational which means they are farmers, as well as pastors, to provide for their families. 

In late October, ECHO Asia Farm Manager, Sombat, as well as four other staff,  trained 70 Laotian pastors for three days at the Village of Hope, Thailand. Topics included Soil Health, Plant Life, Deep Litter Pig System, Banana Stalk Silage, and Livestock. Interns Dani Hurlbutt and Elizabeth Casey shared techniques that they learned on the ECHO Global Farm in Florida with the pastors.  “They were hungry to learn,” shares Dani. “When Sombat was teaching grafting they were taking close-up pictures and crowding in to see.” 

Below: Laotian pastors gather closely to ECHO farm manager Sombat as he teaches a seminar on grafting. Above: Sombat demonstrates an improved cookstove.

Below: Laotian pastors gather closely to ECHO farm manager Sombat as he teaches a seminar on grafting. Above: Sombat demonstrates an improved cookstove.

During the session on banana stalk silage, the pastors learned how to finely chop banana stalks, mix with molasses and sugar and let the fermentation process produce a nutritious feed supplement for pigs. The pastors commented that they used to boil the banana stalks for 2-3 hours to be able to feed them to their livestock. This technique will now save them both water and firewood, and improve the health of their animals.  

ECHO staff and volunteers were honored to share the knowledge with the pastors, and were greatly encouraged to learn from them as well. Then, every afternoon they taught nearly 80 children from the children’s home! It was fun and rewarding as the Laotian pastors were extremely enthusiastic and were very involved and engaged. The children had loads of fun too, getting muddy and learning how to garden!

Our local partner is already excited about next year’s training... and so are we!

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.