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By: Abram Bicksler

New asia director

The Bicksler Family, May 2013

This article is from ECHO Asia Note #18

As the new director of the ECHO Asia Impact Center, I would like to take this opportunity to greet all of you, our network members. I would also like to thank you for being part of our network, which continues to span the globe and which exists as an information hub for development practitioners and farmers around the world. Throughout ECHO’s 30-year history, we have worked diligently to gather hunger-related solutions from around the world and to share them with our active network. These solutions promote sustainable farming techniques, nutritional plants, and appropriate technologies; they are well-tested and have been proven successful over and over again. The bottom line of ECHO, evidenced in the work of its Regional Impact Centers around the world, is to help the resource-poor and the hungry by enabling them to feed themselves and to improve their livelihoods through locally relevant solutions. It is an honor to be engaged in this ongoing work, and to work alongside you, our network members, as a part of ECHO’s team.

Much of the momentum that the ECHO Asia Impact Center carries owes to the dedication of Rick and Ellen Burnette. After an 18-year career in community development in Thailand working with the Upland Holistic Development Project (UHDP), Rick and Ellen Burnette took the pioneer leadership role of ECHO’s first Impact Center in 2009. The last four years have seen exponential growth in the resources and services offered to the resource-poor in the region through ECHO. As many of you already know, last year, with prayer and God’s leading, Rick Burnette accepted the position to head ECHO’s Agricultural Department in Fort Myers, Florida. He began his new job there on July 1, 2013.

With a spirit of thankfulness for the incredible work of the Burnettes at the ECHO Asia Impact Center, I would like to introduce myself. I would also like to take this opportunity to look, together with you, at what the future has to offer.

In many ways, I approach this leadership role from a dynamic systems and ecological approach, having worked in development and agricultural teaching for the past four years. I finished a B.S. degree from Taylor University in environmental science, and then took a break to travel the world and learn about other cultures and systems. Part of my time was spent at ECHO in Florida, where I was first exposed to the wonders of cover cropping, soil improvement, appropriate technology, and seed banking; I also attended the 2002 Annual ECHO Conference. In a nutshell, I was hooked on the potential of tropical agriculture—practiced in a sustainable fashion— to benefit the health and livelihoods of the poor.

Hungry for further education, I completed a M.S. and a Ph.D. in environmental science at the University of Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign. Both of my projects focused on the ecology and sustainability of cover cropping to improve soils, reduce pests and diseases, and boost yields. I grew to love the complexity and beauty of agroecosystems (that is, the study of the ecology of an agricultural system integrating the plant life, animal life, soil life, water, nutrients, and energy cycling).

My wife and I moved to Chiang Mai in 2009, where I began teaching sustainable agriculture systems to American undergraduate students through the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI). While at ISDSI, I also taught a course on the integration of human and environmental rights through the lens of river ecosystems, including the effects that environmental destruction can have on human welfare. During these four years of teaching, I had the privilege of getting to know Rick. I was also blessed by an opportunity to work with ECHO Asia as a seed bank and research advisor. Some of my involvement included: researching best practices for seed storage; researching production practices for the seed bank; overseeing a banana rapid multiplication project; researching farmer seed systems; helping to host regional workshops in NE India, Myanmar, Chiang Mai, and the Philippines; answering technical requests; and writing for ECHO Asia News and ECHO Asia Notes.

I am thankful for these past opportunities, and excited to be working in this new capacity with ECHO Asia and its network members. As we continue on this journey together, I am excited to see how God will use this office and the ECHO Asia staff to continue to empower workers from around the world to better meet the needs of the resource-poor and the hungry, improving their livelihoods and blessing their lives.

I would like to ensure that we focus our attention on several key areas in upcoming years. As we partner together, I invite you to help us meet the goals that are listed below:

  • Additional research on and practice of village-level seed saving techniques, to help smallholder farmers better save their seed biodiversity and reduce their inputs
  • Continued engagement with local farmer seed enterprises in order to meet ECHO Asia’s increasing seed distribution needs and to provide farmers with a fair price for producing seeds for the ECHO Asia Seed Bank
  • Greater engagement with development workers, NGOs, and farmers in India, Central Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Southern China
  • Continued facilitation of regional workshops in surrounding countries as a low-cost and relevant alternative for national workers and farmers to attend an ECHO event
  • Increased monitoring and evaluation of ECHO Asia’s services by our network members, in order to better gauge smallholder farmer impact
  • Increased evaluation of seed orders and seed varieties in different Asian contexts
  • Innovative usage of www.ECHOCommunity.org as an extension tool for farmers, development workers, and NGOs
  • Increased relevance and capacity for equipping peri-urban and urban residents to grow food
  • Increased efforts to integrate the disciplines of nutrition and agriculture at the household level

I look forward to working with you and getting to know you more in the coming year. Please share your feedback as we make this transition together and strive to build the network into something that is dynamic, relevant, powerful, and appropriate for your needs. Feel free to come by the office in Chiang Mai, e-mail me at abicksler@echonet.org or call me at +66-53-304-028.

Blessings to you in your work of bringing appropriate solutions to the poor,