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ECHO Asia Notes is a quarterly technical e-bulletin containing articles of interest to agriculture and community development workers in Asia.

This list contains articles from ECHO Asia Notes, many of which have been translated into regional languages.  

99 Issues in this Publication (Showing issues 39 - 33) |

Backyard Vermicomposting Systems: Examples from Myanmar

Introduction to Vermiculture

There are over 6,000 species of worms in the world, many of them not even named or studied. However, the farmer is interested in two main categories of earthworms, namely “deep burrowers” and “surface dwellers”. Deep burrowers include the common garden worm or Nightcrawler, (grey/pink color and about 15 cm long) and they eat soil mixed with decaying organic material. An early expert on worms was Charles Darwin, who established that earthworms process and enrich soil endlessly, and without whom, farming as we know it, would not be possible. The deep burrowers create long tunnels that go down almost 6 feet in depth, allowing deep penetration of water and oxygen. At the same time, deep burrowers bring up minerals that are incorporated into surface soil. The value of earthworms to the farmer cannot be overstated.

Refugee Camps as Microcosm: Restoration & Sustainability in an Accidental City

[Editor’s Note: This article seeks to address the broader challenges of food security in refugee camp environments, of which there are many within our Asia region, while offering individual practical options that may be implemented to address the need for nutritional diversity in these challenging settings.  For further questions or feedback please feel free to contact the author at etf26@cornell.edu]

Low-Cost Natural Building Options for Storing Seed in Tropical Southeast Asia


Given the proper facilities necessary to store seeds long-term, whereby low temperature and low humidity are kept stable over time, it is very possible to store most orthodox seeds for several years at a time in the tropics (Harrington, 1972). Unfortunately, implementation and maintenance of the proper facilities can be very costly and many existing seed bank and gene bank facility examples do not satisfy the needs of many smaller organizations or communities. Thankfully, many diverse options currently exist, with varying levels of investment for a wide range of facilities, from expensive, high-tech facilities down to low-cost, low-maintenance models. At ECHO, we operate our own range of seed storage facilities at our various seed banks around the world, from a high tech, walk-in climate-controlled cold storage room, to a retrofitted refrigerated shipping container, to a low-cost, foam-insulated cold room cooled with a standard split-unit air conditioning system.

Rice Hull Gold - 10 On-Farm Uses of Rice Hulls

This article is from ECHO Asia Note # 37.

One of the great challenges of sustainable agriculture is the sourcing of adequate and affordable organic (carbon based) resources that can be used on-farm for the production of food and feed. Utilizing composts, manures, mulches, and other organic inputs from the farm is a challenge on its own, and the production of each often requires its own input of materials. These are materials that are often in direct competition of each other on the farm and a challenge to supply completely with smaller land holdings or available labor. A mulch for example, may be in direct competition with livestock fodder, thus making it a challenge to feed it out while still producing enough mulch. Using some of that same material to produce a compost or a fuel becomes even more challenging still.

Preventing Insect Damage of Stored Seed Using Low-Cost Control Options

This article is from ECHO Asia Note # 37.

Seed saving in sub-tropical and tropical climates is challenging. Without equipment designed to maintain dry and cool environments, the quality of seeds may quickly deteriorate. High temperature and humidity during storage increase seed metabolism and encourage the proliferation of seed-eating insects (Lale and Vidal, 2003; Upadhyay and Ahmad, 2011). Technologies such as refrigerators, dehumidifiers, and pesticides can help prevent these seed-damaging conditions, but may not be available to smallholder farmers in the tropics. Traditionally, many locally available treatments have been used to prevent insect pests. These treatments, typically added to seeds prior to storage, are meant to poison, damage, or discourage movement of insects around the seeds. Some treatments may effectively reduce insect growth, but they may also damage seed viability; it is important to identify which treatments are effective and appropriate for use by farmers. ECHO Asia research staff analyzed five low-cost treatments to determine their effectiveness in preventing the growth of a common seed storage pest called cowpea bruchids (Callosobruchus maculatus) in stored Lablab bean seeds (Lablab purpureus L.). In keeping with previous ECHO research by Croft et al. 2012, each treatment was also analyzed with and without vacuum sealing. 

Soil Amendments for Healthier Soils

This article is from ECHO Asia Note # 36.

Soil chemical, physical, and biological properties range from those highly favorable to plant growth to those highly unfavorable to plant growth. It is rare—especially in the tropics—to find a soil in its natural state in which all properties are highly favorable to plant growth. Nevertheless, as long as there is sufficient soil depth to provide an adequately deep and well-drained root zone, proper amendment and management of soil properties can result in almost any soil becoming suitable for plant growth. Even naturally infertile soils and soils with very low water-holding capacity can produce extraordinarily high crop yields with proper management and inputs.

The Value of a Seed: Growing a Network of Community Level Seed Banks in Asia

This article is from ECHO Asia Note # 36.

As an organization that seeks to equip people with agricultural resources and skills, we often find ourselves coming back to the seed. Again and again we witness the value saving open-pollinated seeds, shedding light on locally adapted and underutilized plants of merit, and researching innovative low-cost seed storage technologies. These activities form the foundation of ECHO’s ability to empower others in their endeavors to improve food and agricultural systems around the world.

Building on a longstanding history of seed bank operations, first in Florida, and now Asia and Africa, ECHO continues to expand its capacity for placing seeds into the hands of those in need. In 2009, with the establishment of Asia’s Regional Impact Center and Seed Bank, the first step was taken in an ongoing process to house seeds of regional merit and local importance on location. To date, ECHO’s first regional seedbank strives to meet a growing demand for locally-adapted, open-pollinated seed from within our network, and its success attests to the wisdom of its establishment. Distributing over 4,600 trial seed packets in 2017, from a selection of 175 different varieties, the Asia Seed Bank serviced network partners in 29 countries, with seeds grown and produced right here in SE Asia!

Livestock Integration on the Tropical Smallholder Farm

This article is from ECHO Asia Note # 35.

One of the best things that you can do to complete your sustainable farm or garden is to balance it with a small livestock unit. Livestock integration is fundamental #10 in my book Sustainable Agriculture in the Tropics.  If you read ECHO Asia Notes, chances are good that you are involved in some way in farming or gardening. Livestock will produce low cost, high quality fertilizer, while also yielding food to eat or clothing material to wear. Although scientists have attempted to replicate the benefits of traditional integrated livestock systems, the quantified results are not always easy to show in field trials.

Putting Biochar to Use at the Edge: Quality, Soils and Measurement

This article is from ECHO Asia Note # 35.

Dr. Michael Shafer is a retired Professor of Political Science from Rutgers University in the USA who founded the Warm Heart Foundation in 2008. After first learning about biochar at an ECHO conference in 2013, Warm Heart began to design and test improved low-cost, low-tech biochar-making equipment for smallholder farmers. In 2017, the Warm Heart Biochar Team won the World Energy Globe Award (Thailand) for the development of a model, village-scale biochar social enterprise. The Team has just launched a social enter-prise to sell farmers’ biochar products under the brand name “Rak Din.”

In this article, Dr. Shafer shares his experience with the actual use of biochar in the devel-oping world. He aims to refocus the study of biochar, moving it from academic laboratories to the messy context of farms in the developing world. He hopes to reassure “boots-in the-mud” development practitioners that they can make, use and even test biochar in the field.

An Innovative, Inexpensive, Environmentally Friendly Method to Pasteurize Mushroom Media in the Tropics Using a Styrofoam Box

This article is from ECHO Asia Note # 33.

Mushrooms such as oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are usually grown in plastic bags filled with organic material that may include organic farm wastes. That material must be sterilized (heated to temperatures above 100°C) or pasteurized (heated to a lower temperature, 60°C or higher) to prevent contamination by germs, viruses and fungal spores. However, sterilization and pasteurization are challenging for small-scale farmers because of the energy requirements. Normally, small-scale farmers use a drum sterilization method, during which water is heated until it boils. Farmers must buy or collect the firewood to heat water (an expensive and/or labor-intensive task). Charcoal is even more costly to buy or to make. Also, results of drum sterilization can be inconsistent, depending on the device used and quality of the fire wood. 

The new, easy-to-build piece of pasteurization equipment introduced in this article is inexpensive, long-lasting, easy to prepare, and does not need fossil fuel energy. The pasteurization process does not need monitoring, so it requires less labor. 

The aim of this article is to encourage other development workers and local farmers to continue these early experimentations to improve the device or other similar ones so that they become useable in their own different environments, with an aim of helping small-scale farmers save energy and money when growing mushrooms.