English (en) | Change Language

Amaranth to Zai Holes CoverAMARANTH TO ZAI HOLES; Ideas for growing Food Under Difficult Conditions  (1996)
Laura S. Meitzner and Martin L. Price

This is a book of practical ideas. It is written for people who help those who live and make their living under difficult conditions in the tropics and subtropics. What should a development worker do to assist a community? There are no simple answers, but there are many possibilities--plants, techniques, and technologies--which hold potential. For fifteen years, ECHO has sought out information on these ideas for the quarterly networking bulletin ECHO Development Notes (EDN). Many people have contributed their insights to share with our network of over 4000 people in 140 countries. If you are interested in improving the lives of small farmers, we welcome your active participation in our network.

This book is based on the first 51 issues of EDN. The ideas in EDN come from questions or experiences of field workers, the scientific research done in support of their work, and many newsletters from around the world which ECHO's staff monitor for worthy items. This collection is not intended to be a complete handbook. There are important topics which are not mentioned, and in many cases you are referred to other resources for background information or specialized details.


More and updated information is available in Agricultural Options for the Small Scale Farmer and in ECHO Publications.

Over 140 issues of EDN have now been published. 

The complete Amaranth to Zai Holes can be downloaded here or download a selected chapter below.


ECHO library copies can be viewed on-site in Florida or Thailand.   A 2001 Video about ECHO, produced by The Visionaries, can be viewed online.


Amaranth to Zai Holes Chapter Grouping

First       Second     Third      Fourth     Fifth      Last      

44 Issues in this Publication (Showing issues 1100 - 51) |

Chapter 10. Food Science - 1996-10-19

The goal of most agricultural development is to improve people's nutrition, with an increase in quality, quantity, and diversity of food produced. Each issue of ECHO Development Notes discusses plants and techniques which can enable farmers to produce more food of higher nutritional value. Beyond increased production of more nutritious crops, there is much to be done to improve nutrition. It is important to know about food preparations which enhance nutrition, and some recipes to make new plants palatable and appealing.

Another major area deserving attention is protecting food during storage. Significant percentages of harvested foods are lost to pests and spoilage. Improved techniques for protecting and preserving products can have a tremendous impact on available food supplies and nutrition during seasonal food shortages. This chapter offers ideas on improving nutrition through new methods of food storage and preparation.

Chapter 11. Human Health - 1996-10-19

Health care encompasses many areas: improved quality of life, better nutrition, safety, building good relationships, and prevention and cure of illness and disease. This chapter presents resources and ideas you may use in promoting health in your community. There are many resources available for training and technical assistance. We also focus on how several plants mentioned elsewhere in this book may be used in medicine.

Chapter 12. Seeds and Germplasm - 1996-10-19

Many people's first thought about ECHO is "seeds." Our seedbank specializes in little-known plants with great potential to provide food under difficult growing conditions. We also have several improved varieties of common plants. Each year we distribute hundreds of trial seed packets to development workers who grow them in their own gardens. If the plants produce well and are accepted, they may harvest the seed and distribute it in the community. In this way, a community in one part of the world may benefit from the plants of another region to which they might otherwise not have access.

Plant introduction through seeds and germplasm (living tissue that can be grown into a plant) holds tremendous promise for improving nutrition and food production. This book contains information on many such plants which can thrive in poor soils, drought, and other stresses. There are also dangers and risks in plant introduction about which we need to be aware. This chapter discusses working with underexploited plants, seeds and other germplasm, and seed production and sources.

Chapter 13. Energy and Technologies - 1996-10-19

Appropriate technologies can reduce tiresome labor and increase the efficiency of the rural family in their work at home and in the fields. There are many simple machines, tools, utensils, pumps, and other items which can make significant improvements in people's lives, but not all are suitable for the living situation. Development workers must be particularly cautious with introducing and promoting new technologies too hastily. It is essential to determine the needs and commitment of the community toward new methods.

There are many excellent organizations and resources with counsel and publications on energy systems, labor-saving devices, construction, and other areas. ECHO does not specialize in appropriate technologies, and people who send us technical questions on these areas are usually referred to the organizations listed here for specialist assistance.

Chapter 14. From Farm to Market - 1996-10-19

Farmers everywhere want to make money from their produce. But they may find that if there is considerable money to be made on a particular crop, so many farmers will grow it that the market is soon flooded. Consequently, development groups are often looking for ways to grow a popular crop out of season, to convert it to a new form, to preserve it for later marketing, or to find a new crop or niche market. Over the years, we have come across some ideas and perspectives which are reported in this chapter.

Be aware, however, that projects requiring the cooperation of many people, demanding a high level of quality control, or depending entirely on marketing abroad are risky and are probably beyond the scope of what most NGOs will want to do. ECHO, and most people in our network, specialize in microdevelopment, "one family at a time." We hope that reading about these ideas leads you to consider what to look for in developing a small business. We also mention some ways you can use the expertise you gain in the field.

Chapter 15. Training and Missionary Resources - 1996-10-19

ECHO provides technical assistance to help you find practical, sustainable ways to address world hunger. We are motivated out of a Christian concern for obedience to Christ and love for our neighbors. This chapter lists many training opportunities and resources for working in development and groups that assist missionaries in their service.

Chapter 16. Oils - 1996-10-19

Nearly every community uses oil in cooking. In some cases oil is a primary ingredient for flavor and energy, delivering needed calories and fats in a concentrated form (while in North America many people are concerned about limiting oil in their diets). Because processing equipment, oil crops, or both are frequently not available in a particular community, oil must be imported from elsewhere in-country if not from abroad. Development workers often write us with questions about producing oil locally in their communities. In future issues of EDN we hope to address this subject in more detail; these articles are an introduction to the topic.

Chapter 17. Above-Ground Gardening - 1996-10-19

Urban food production is an area which has been too frequently overlooked by development planners, considering global urbanization and the surprisingly large amount of food already produced in cities. Beyond the sites traditionally used by urban gardeners, there is considerable potential to involve millions of urban families, who may not at first thought seem to have a location to garden. This untapped potential is found where there is plenty of sunshine but either no soil or the soil does not lend itself to cultivation. ECHO and others have developed several "above-ground" techniques suited for such sites.

Where might sites for these above-ground gardens be found? For starters, in many cities there are countless hectares of sturdy, flat cement rooftops and many more hectares of tin roofs on insubstantial shanties. There are also steep hillsides, extremely poor soils, yards of rock or cement, spaces around tree roots, and places where land tenure is so unstable that only portable gardens are attractive.

Such areas were a natural challenge for us, since one of ECHO's purposes is to help people grow food under difficult conditions. There are few "soils" worse for gardening than a cement slab, a pile of rocks, a corrugated roof or a mass of tree roots. However, large areas of such unused but potentially prime growing space are often located in cities, near large markets and numbers of underemployed people. The potential value of creating growing areas in such locations is obvious.

Since 1982, ECHO has been working on methods for gardening in such situations, which are not nearly as difficult a challenge for gardening as one might think. In fact, cement slabs have become one of our favorite gardening spots in Florida, where sandy soils and nematodes make in-ground gardening a challenge. Urban gardening has a reputation of not being very successful. This chapter takes a second look at growing food in the city.

Poem by Larry Fisher

After 15 years of EDN, I guess it is not too much to include a bit of levity.

Economists, agronomists and planners of late
Have discovered a new way to pontificate.
Beyond mere jargon, like "Success Enhancement,"
"Integrated Development," and "Rural Advancement."
Working in all their infinite wisdom
They're trying to define a "Farming System."
To answer the question for all of you
"Why do farmers do what they do?"

At universities and experiment stations 'round the globe,
In offices, labs and on farms they probe;
Through consultancy surveys in developing nations,
Upstream and downstream experimentations,
With yield rates, inputs and multiple regressions,
Attempting to explain that profoundest of questions
With the diverse hypotheses that each eschew
On why farmers do what they do.

Variability and generalization,
Indigenous knowledge and maximization,
The issues discussed, the factors controlled,
Computers click, theories unfold.
Papers get published, conferences convened,
Projects are funded; it becomes obscene
When predictably they conclude in the Final Review
That a more generous grant might give them a clue
As to why farmers do what they do.

Somewhere farmers plow and plant,
Milk their cows, work and chant.
After the interviews, trials and calculations
The experts retire to their research stations.
And the farmers continue to grow their corn
While old women die and children are born.
The men swap stories and drink their brew,
And they scratch their heads and wonder anew,
"Why do scientists do what they do?"