English (en) | Change Language

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.  

92 Issues in this Publication (Showing issues 17 - 12) |

Sustainable Decentralized Water Treatment for Rural Developing Communities Using Locally Generated Biochar Adsorbents

This article is from ECHO Asia Note #17

Contamination of drinking water sources by harmful synthetic organic compounds (SOCs), such as pesticides, is a major worldwide problem. Pesticide pollution appears twice in the top ten of The World’s Worst Toxic Pollution Problems Report 2011 by the Blacksmith Institute, and has been indicated in every year’s report since initial publication in 2006. Effective, affordable and scalable green treatment technologies for SOC removal that are accessible to communities in the developing world or in remote areas of developed countries are, however, lacking.

A recent review in Science indicates that the 300 million tons of SOCs produced annually, including five million tons of pesticides, constitute a major impairment to water quality on a global scale. In Thailand, for example, 75 percent of the pesticides used are banned or heavily restricted in the West due to deleterious ecological and human health effects. The Science authors state that “small-scale, household-based removal techniques are often the only possible mitigation strategy due to the lack of a centralized infrastructure,” and call for the development of “reliable, affordable and simple systems that local inhabitants could use with little training.” 

Unfortunately, SOCs are not yet ‘on the radar’ of major actors in the water-sanitation-hygiene (WASH) sector of international development.The UN Millennium Development Goals, for example, are only concerned with mitigation of biological agents of waterborne disease. I recently attended a major international conference on global water and health in developing communities. My presentation was the only one that considered SOCs in drinking water and presented a potential treatment technology. Microbial pathogens are often the most immediate threat to human health (e.g. diarrhea) and so focus on these disease agents is warranted. However, we cannot discount the threat of bio-accumulating chemical toxins, such as pesticides. The immediacy and scale of this problem is highlighted by, for example, a survey of Hmong tribe women living in Mae Sa Mai village, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand, that reported detection of DDT in 100 percent of mothers’ milk samples. A number of other biocides were also frequently detected, and infants’ exposure exceeded by up to 20 times the acceptable daily intakes as recommended by UN-FAO and WHO.

A Toolkit of Resilient Agricultural Responses to Climatic Challenges in Tropical Asia

This article is from ECHO Asia Note #16

During the 2012 ECHO Agriculture Workshop in Yangon, 63 attendees representing at least 25 agriculture and community development organizations from across Myanmar were polled about their observations and opinions related to climate change. The vast majority of the respondents indicated that they were not only aware of climate change, but that they had also noticed change in the local climate or weather patterns. Additionally, 86 percent expressed that they understood that climate change is caused by human activity.

Belief in climate change fluctuates and varies worldwide, with some populations more convinced of change than others. A September 2012 Yale University poll determined that seven in ten Americans (70 percent) believe global warming is happening, while relatively few – only 12 percent – believe it is not. But while overall belief in climate change may be increasing around the world, understanding the roots of its cause appears much more limited. In addition, necessary strategies for adapting to climate change as well as determining approaches to address (or mitigate) its causes are still preliminary.

Meanwhile, climate change is already causing deaths and damaging the global economy. A 2012 study carried out by the DARA Group and the Climate Vulnerable Forum concluded that climate change was already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion US, wiping 1.6 percent annually from the global economy. The impacts were being felt most keenly in developing countries, where damage to agricultural production from extreme weather linked to climate change has been contributing to deaths from malnutrition, poverty and their associated diseases (The Guardian, September 26, 2012). The impacts are expected to worsen over the next two decades (Reuters, September 26, 2012)

How to Facilitate Seed Exchanges During Country Meetings or as a Single-Day Event - 2013-03-20

This article is from ECHO Asia Note #16

Since 2011, ECHO Asia has developed and facilitated seed exchange events during meetings with local partners. Through conversations with farmers and NGO staff, we have gained better insight about locally-important plant varieties, seed saving practices, attitudes towards saving seeds, and sustainable farming. The most exciting part of these events is hearing success stories! At our first agriculture workshop in Myanmar during November 2012, we were excited when one organization from southern Shan State brought over 75 cuttings of chaya to share with delegates, after having successfully introduced it as a food and forage plant on their small farm resource centre. All of their stock came from a single cutting received only one year earlier during ECHO Asia’s biennial Tropical Agriculture conference in Chiang Mai!

In this article, we share our method for implementing seed exchanges that are carried out in the local language and attended by local farmers and development workers. The materials required for a seed exchange are basic, but the actual process of exchanging and capturing information requires prior preparation and an adjustment based on the culture and realities in the particular country.

Demystifying Soybean Production and Marketing: Our Experience in Laos - 2012-10-01

This article is from ECHO Asia Note #15

Editor: Between 1997 and 2009, Kirby Rogers worked as part of a team to establish an agriculture-based business called Natural Products (NPI) in Bokeo, Laos. Much of this effort involved promoting soybean as a local cash crop as well as developing related milling and marketing channels. During the 2011 ECHO Asia Agriculture and Community Development Conference, Kirby provided a plenary presentation titled, “Business-Based Development and Completing Broken Economic Chains in Developing Countries.” Information from that presentation is shared here. 

In this article, I do not want to give a “wiki history” of the soybean plant, nor a science-based explanation of its properties, nor an economic review of soybean markets. Instead, I will share a more personal look at this plant and how it has directly impacted the lives of many Lao people.

Since this story concerns agricultural development as well, I want to introduce some of the strategies we learned while introducing soybean production to remote locations within Laos. However, I will start at the ending. There are now scores of villages planting soybeans in several locations across northern Laos, producing thousands of tons of soy per year. 

Soil Quality Assessment: Why and How - 2012-10-01

This article is from ECHO Asia Note #15

Soil quality, also known as soil health, is the capacity of the soil to function – how well it fills the roles we need it to, whether in a natural or managed ecosystem. There are a variety of measures used to gauge soil health and although we can use these characteristics as indicators of soil quality, ultimately soil quality is judged by how well it fulfills its functions. Many indicators require complicated and technical lab testing, but many can be carried out with locally available materials as well. Learning about your soil can be a good way to identify appropriate crops for your setting or look for potential problems.

Soil is a complex matrix of inorganic (mineral) particles, non-living organic (comprised of carbon) particles, air, water, and living biota. Soil functions generally fall into five categories: sustaining biological diversity and productivity, regulating water and solute flow, filtering and degrading organic and inorganic matter, cycling nutrients, such as nitrogen and carbon, and providing stability and support. Soils are evaluated in terms of both dynamic and inherent soil qualities; those that vary and do not vary based on use (respectively). 

Understanding the many organic and inorganic parts that go into making up the soil can help us develop healthy, productive soil that fills our needs. At the ECHO Asia Seed Bank, we use a number of different production plots with very different site histories, and we were interested in comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of each plot – both what crops these sites may be best suited for and how to improve the soils present in them.

The Crop Genetic Pump: A Possible Task for NGOs - 2012-07-01

This article is from ECHO Asia Note #14

Editor: Dr. Dick Tinsley is an Emeritus Professor with Colorado State University. With decades of experience as an advisor to smallholder agriculture development projects, he was worked in numerous locations across Asia and Africa. In this article, Dr. Tinsley draws upon his experience regarding locations where governmental certified crop seed development and distribution programs remain insufficient to meet agricultural demands and suggests a concept that he refers to as the "Crop Genetic Pump" to show how the non-governmental sector might facilitate access to seeds of improved varieties.


In the overall economic environment common to most developing countries, the government usually attempts to provide civil services, including agricultural support services, similar to those provided by developed countries. This normally substantially exceeds the limited revenue funds and results in many programs being more on paper than in reality. When possible, important services such as these are deferred to Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). Included among these are crop variety development, seed multiplication and distribution efforts. NGOs working with smallholder communities have an excellent opportunity to informally provide a valuable and durable service by obtaining small quantities of advanced breeding lines for the important crops produced in their host communities. They can then multiply them within the community for sale and distribution to the smallholder farmers at or near market seed prices instead of at certified seed prices, which typically cost twice as much.

Vacuum Sealing vs. Refrigeration: Which is the most effective way to store seeds? - 2012-07-01

This article is from ECHO Asia Note #14


Storing seeds in the tropics can often be difficult; with high temperatures and humid conditions, seeds lose their ability to germinate quickly. Many techniques for seed storage exist, from the high-tech standards of gene banks to simple methods used by villagers for saving their own seeds. All have their strengths and weaknesses, but when balancing costs and resources, which methods are really the most effective? To find appropriate low-input storage methods for storing seeds, the ECHO Asia Seed Bank recently completed a study on tropical seed storage under the resource-constrained settings this seed bank encounters.

The three key factors that determine the rate of seed deterioration in storage are: oxygen pressure (amount of oxygen with the seeds in storage), seed moisture content, and temperature (Roberts, 1973). An increase in any of these factors will lower the storage life of the seeds, and as a general rule any increase of 1% moisture content or 10o F (5.6o C ) in storage will halve the storage life of the seeds (Bewley and Black, 1985). Each factor contributes to seed decay in specific ways, and minimizing these conditions is critical to effective seed storage.

The goal of this research was to evaluate two seed storage options: vacuum sealing and refrigeration. Vacuum sealing is a relatively low-cost method that requires few inputs after an initial investment. Sealing helps conserve seed quality by minimizing oxygen presence and exposure to ambient humidity, thereby keeping seed moisture content low. Refrigeration minimizes temperature, but can also be expensive to maintain in tropical conditions. We used five tropical seed varieties to compare the effects of these storage methods over the course of one year; our goal was to use the outcomes of this study to help prescribe storage conditions for this seed bank and others like it around the world.

Vegetable Production Through the Rainy Season - 2012-04-01

This article is found in ECHO Asia Note #13

The cool, dry season offers the best window for vegetable production in the tropics, assuming an adequate water supply. Pest and disease pressures are relatively low and temperatures are moderate. By contrast, the rainy season brings a combination of high temperatures and humidity that encourages the return of voracious snails and other pests. This means that many desirable vegetables, such as lettuce and tomatoes, are difficult to produce under rainy season conditions without significant inputs such as plastic row covers and pesticides.

Three Cheers for Job's Tears: Asia's Other Indigenous Grain - 2012-04-01

This article is found in ECHO Asia Note #13


In many parts of tropical Asia, especially on rainfed farms, there has been an explosion of acreage planted in maize. The increase in commercial maize production is driven by growing livestock feed demand, and is displacing many traditional crops, including the staple upland rice.

Prior to the current Asian maize boom, and even thousands of years before European traders brought the crop to the Far East, a plant called Job's tears (Coix lacryma-jobi) was grown across Southern, Southeast and Eastern Asia. The crop continues to be planted, as a cereal for human consumption, and also as animal feed (both grain and fodder).

Seed fairs: Fostering local seed exchange to support regional biodiversity

This article is from ECHO Asia Note #12


When you come across an especially promising local variety of a crop grown in your area, how can you enable other farmers to try out this variety? If a farmer gives you 30 seeds of an exceptional variety, how might you go about distributing these? How does seed flow happen in and among communities where you work?

In this article, we share about ECHO Asia's experience helping host four very different seed fairs. We also outline several important components of a seed fair, so you can learn from our experience if your organization is interested in hosting one.