By: ECHO Staff
Published: 2020-01-27


ECHO’s 26th Annual International Agriculture Conference was held in November 2019. Below are brief summaries of a few of the plenary sessions and workshops. These and other talks, video, and slide presentations are available on ECHOcommunity.org.

CHE 25 Years Later

(Bibiana MacLeod) 

Bibiana MacLeod, a physician from Argentina, has been involved in community development throughout Haiti for 25 years. Initially operating independently as a missionary, Dr. MacLeod was introduced to Medical Ambassadors International’s “Community Health Evangelism” (CHE) program during a fated trip to the Dominican Republic. CHE is a holistic development approach that addresses people’s physical, spiritual, emotional, and social needs. Having struggled to initiate change in the Haitian communities with which she served, Dr. MacLeod saw the chance for progress through the tenets of CHE.

CHE uses the acrostic, “METHOD”, as one way to identify goals of its program:

M is for multiplication. Practitioners should seek to engage the community in question in such a way as to enable organic multiplication of CHE principles of health.

E is for equal dignity. Though herself a physician, Dr. Macleod did not consider herself more enlightened than the rural Haitians with whom she worked. She considered them to be equals, and themselves teachers from whom she could learn.

T is for tools. Community health cannot progress without providing the appropriate tools for education and application. These include participatory learning and action (PLA) and servant leadership methodologies.

H is for holistic understanding. CHE engages communities physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Each of these aspects of an individual’s life affects their overall health.

O is for ownership by locals. Dr. MacLeod shared the need for an exit strategy; development practitioners should work themselves out of a job. 

D is for development instead of relief. CHE practitioners do not assist in ways that create dependency. Instead, the locals are fully the agents of change in CHE.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Dr. MacLeod’s presentation was the narrative of various community members with whom she has worked. There were stories of adoption, health ownership, and physical and emotional nourishment. 

Dr. MacLeod was also transparent with what did not work in her programs. She learned many lessons over her 25 years in Haiti, interacting with the complexities of culture and family dynamics, and she used some of them to inform and encourage the conference audience. For example, she highlighted the importance of both horizontal (across a community) and vertical (across generations) change, so that problems solved for one generation do not return in later generations. 

As the presentation closed, we were left with the following, “When [community members] say, ‘We did it!,’ you know you’ve been successful.” 

Unleashing the Value of Neglected and Underutilized Crop Diversity 

(Nadezda Amaya)

Many members of ECHO’s network are working to introduce underutilized crops in their communities. Getting these crops to grow is one thing; trying to market small quantities of a relatively unknown crop is another thing altogether. In her plenary talk, Nadezda Amaya described a project that helped increase awareness of chaya in Guatemala, first by using a technique called Rapid Market Appraisal (RMA) to analyze chaya’s value chain, then by introducing a series of interventions based on the results. The project, sponsored by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), was implemented by Bioversity and partner organizations in Guatemala. 

Thousands of neglected and underutilized species (NUS) exist around the world. They tend to grow even under difficult conditions, and also tend to be very nutritious. These crops can potentially fill a niche in the market, providing income for small-scale farmers. However, small-scale farmers often have limited access to markets. 

NUS crops have some drawbacks. For example, they may be viewed as “poor people’s food.“ Market chains may not exist for these crops. Since little breeding and selection has been done on most NUS, they may not yield well. 

Chaya’s resilience and nutritive properties have been recognized for decades, but it has not been widely promoted as a cash crop. Chaya is indigenous to Mexico, where it is widely grown and appreciated as an integral part of people’s traditions and culture. Chaya is less well-known in Guatemala. 

In the project Amaya described, a value chain analysis was done in Guatemala to determine bottlenecks, identify market opportunities, learn about women’s involvement in production and use of chaya, and look for ways to empower women. Based on the results of the value chain analysis, efforts were made to improve market access and demand. 

Using RMA, data was collected through a literature review, interviews with people at all points along chaya’s value chain, market visits, and an evaluation of chaya’s acceptability to consumers. 
Chaya’s value chain in Guatemala was short (Figure 9)

EDN146 figure 9

Figure 9. Chaya's value chain in Guatemala was short. Source: Cody Kiefer

Chaya leaves are perishable, and the value chain was not very organized; however, lack of demand was the biggest problem. On the positive side, the RMA revealed that chaya cost less than other greens. 

Amaya described several interventions to promote chaya:

  1. Chaya was incorporated into school feeding programs. The leaves were used in three of 20 dishes served at the school. One logistical difficulty was that the schools needed official receipts from farmers for their records, but few of the farmers were equipped to give receipts. 
  2. EDN146 figure 10

    Figure 10. Chaya plated in a high-end restaurant dish. Source: Nadezda Amaya

    Chaya was used in dishes served at high-end restaurants (Figure 10). Amaya quoted a chef who was passionate about chaya and who helped increase its visibility: “We have to use the kitchen as a development tool.” 
  3. The program worked with the processing industry to use chaya to make value-added products. Amaya commented that now is a good time to take advantage of the private sector’s move to responsible sourcing. Many companies are looking for ways to invest in socially responsible practices.
  4. Promotion activities helped to spread the word about chaya through social media posts, a conference, press conferences, food samples in markets, and online videos. 

Amaya concluded her talk with a cautionary story. Quinoa used to be a NUS. In recent decades, it has been in such high demand that most farmers who grow quinoa no longer eat it themselves; instead, they sell it for the income and purchase less-nutritious food for themselves. Amaya commented that farming families should be encouraged to eat better themselves first, and then to sell their surplus. 

Breadfruit Products: Untapped Commercial Potential

(Mary McLaughlin)

Mary McLaughlin is the chair and founder of Trees that Feed Foundation (TTFF), which helps plant trees to feed people, provide jobs, and benefit the environment. 

Though TTFF works with many kinds of fruit trees, they most commonly distribute breadfruit trees. In her plenary talk at EIAC 2019, McLaughlin spoke about the untapped commercial potential behind products made from breadfruit. 

Breadfruit trees grow along the equator, in many areas of great food insecurity. McLaughlin described breadfruit as a “potato on a tree,” known mostly as a source of carbohydrates, but shared that breadfruit also contains magnesium and important vitamins. 

For those who have a breadfruit tree, the yield tends to be “feast or famine.” A mature tree can yield 300 large fruits per year, but they all ripen at the same time--too many fruits for one family to eat before they spoil. However, the flesh from a single fruit, dehydrated and ground, can yield a pound of flour that can be used to make porridge and other products. Breadfruit flour has a two-year shelf life and boasts many other advantages. For example, the flour is gluten-free, which is a selling point at a time when many customers are looking for alternatives to wheat and other grains that contain gluten.

Still, exporting breadfruit or breadfruit flour is not easy. You need to be able to provide large quantities of breadfruit that is of consistent quality. You need commercial equipment, labels, and packaging. You also need to figure out how to ship and market your product. Because of some of these hurdles, when TTFF helps establish a factory, it offers to buy breadfruit flour from them for two years. 

TTFF has worked with producers and processors to see breadfruit developed into chips, flour, fries, and more. The organization maintains a contact list for people who grow breadfruit, including each grower’s latitude, longitude and contact information. This makes it easy for companies looking for breadfruit to find and contact people near them who grow it for sale. 

The way TTFF distributes trees is unique, and encourages local jobs. When an organization contacts TTFF about getting trees, they supply trees via a coupon system. TTFF contacts and pays a local supplier to provide the trees. (A minimum order is 500 trees if you are importing them from large scale growing houses in Europe and US. The easiest way to acquire trees is to obtain them from someone growing them in your own country, because import permits are needed to ship trees to a different country.) 

TTFF recommends planting breadfruit at a spacing of 35 feet between trees, with intercrop plants between. It generally takes three years before the first fruits are ready, and five years to reach full production. 

TTFF has developed a hybrid solar dryer (Figure 11) to efficiently dry breadfruit and other fruits. McLaughlin commented that this dryer works well in a community situation. Community members who sign up to use the solar dryer bring their own metal trays (with holes in the bottom to facilitate air flow), and take turns using the dryer. 

EDN146 figure 11

Figure 11. Hybrid solar dryer with arrows showing airflow and parts described. Source: Trees that Feed Foundation (https://www.treesthatfeed.org/resources/891-2).

Black Soldier Fly Larvae Workshop

(JC Barrios)

Providing livestock with protein is a vital part of animal nutrition management in the tropics. Finding feed ingredients that are high in protein and/or abundant can be a major obstacle. 

Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) are a protein-dense feed ingredient native to the Americas but now found in much of the tropics due to global trade. JC Barrios, Animal Manager at HEART, shared his failures, successes, and tips for constructing and maintaining an appropriate BSFL system for livestock feeds during his afternoon workshop presentation at the conference. For details about BSFL life cycle, pupation, and numerical data, see JC’s presentation on ECHOcommunity.org.

BSFL systems vary in size, depending on how much material is available to feed the larvae and how much larvae you want to produce. Figure 12 shows a smaller, bucket-based system (Figure 12A) and a photo and drawing of a much larger design (Figure 12B, C). More photos of the larger design can be found in JC’s presentation.

EDN146 figure 12 replacementFigure 12. BSFL systems. A shows a smaller, bucket-based system, while B and C show a larger system that JC built and placed inside the chicken production area at HEART. Source: JC Barrios and Stacy Swartz

During his workshop, JC shared some of his failures and “lessons learned”:

Feed for BSFL:

  • Good feedstock: anything high in protein, carbohydrates/starches, or fats. These include kitchen scraps, dairy, fruit, coffee grounds, offal, and fermented foods; onion and garlic are okay to add in small proportions.
  • Don’t feed: diseased animals, seeds, cardboard, wood chips, paper shreds, things high in fiber, pesticide-contaminated items.
  • Make sure to break up clumps of feed and to keep the feedstock aerated.
  • Make sure the feeding bin drains well. The leachate can be used to fertilize plants. 

Tips for success:

  • To attract female black soldier flies to lay eggs in a newly-built system, place sour corn or cardboard in a jar (see presentation for photos). Females will lay their eggs in the cardboard or on the maize kernels. 
  • BSFL actively avoid light. Keep the catchment in the shade, out of direct sunlight. You can put shade cloth, a bag of feed, or a burlap sack over the feedstock to keep it shaded. 
  • A bad smell is a sign of a bad bin. 
  • When larvae are preparing to pupate, they crawl away from the feedstock area. In figure 12C, the angled ends of the bin are designed to funnel the larvae as they are preparing to pupate, so that they can be collected and fed to animals. If larvae do not crawl off, the feeding bed may be too dry and/or there may not be enough food. It is also a bad sign if larvae crawl off prematurely.
  • To prevent ants from entering the system, put the legs of the feeder in containers filled with a mixture of water and liquid soap. 

Feeding biochar to livestock

(Noah Elhardt)

Noah Elhardt lives in Senegal where he works with the Beer-Sheba Project, a training farm with a commercial livestock operation. In an evening talk at November’s conference in Florida, he referred to a unique use of biochar that we asked him to elaborate on for EDN.

Charcoal and biochar are both terms describing carbonized chars derived from wood or other organic materials such as coconut fiber, bamboo, bones, or rice husks. Biochar has gained attention recently as a soil additive that can increase soil fertility and organic matter content. However, the labor involved in producing, dispersing, and incorporating biochar may discourage many farmers from using it. At the Beer-Sheba Project, we recently came across an innovative use of biochar that has cascading benefits across multiple areas of our farm.

Historically, charcoal has been used in medical treatment of humans and animals. More recently, some livestock farmers have begun using biochar as a regular feed supplement to improve livestock health and feed intake. A recent literature review (Schmidt et al. 2019) summarized the results of 112 scientific papers related to the use of biochar as a feed supplement for cattle, goats, pigs, poultry, or fish. In most of these studies, biochar had a positive effect: it improved animal digestion, reduced toxins, increased feed efficiency, improved meat quality, reduced odors from manure, and/or reduced vet costs. These benefits alone could make the use of biochar appealing and cost-effective in many contexts. (Rarely, biochar was found to bind with carotenoids or vitamin E, making them less available to livestock; this could limit its long-term use in some cases.) Biochar can be added to most feed rations. Typically, farmers add biochar at 0.5%-2% of the total dry matter feed weight.

When biochar passes through an animal's digestive tract, it binds with nutrients useful for plant growth. This is beneficial for two main reasons. First, the biochar is already pre-charged with nutrients when the animal excretes it in the manure. Second, some of these nutrients in manure are normally lost to the atmosphere (through volatilization) or to leaching; the presence of biochar helps keep those nutrients in place. Whether the manure is composted or applied directly to a field, its value is improved by the biochar it contains.

In Senegal, we intensively graze our livestock directly on pasture. During our rainy season, dung beetles are active. They incorporate the manure into tunnels below or near cow patties, where their young further decompose it. A study in Australia found that when biochar was fed to cattle, dung beetles incorporated it as far as 40 cm below the surface of their pasture (Joseph et al. 2015).

According to ongoing research, the benefits of biochar to plant production can vary widely depending on soil type, climate, and the biomass used to make the biochar (Kalus et al. 2019). However, when biochar is used as a feed supplement, improved soil health is only one of a series of cascading benefits throughout the farm. Apart from the biochar production, most of the work of charging, distributing, and integrating the biochar is done by animals or through existing uses of manure. 

References and Further Reading

Joseph, S., D. Pow, K. Dawson, D. Mitchell, A. Rawal, J. Hook, S. Taherymoosavi, L. Van Zwieten, J. Rust, S. Donne, P. Munroe, B. Pace, E. Graber, T. Thomas, S. Nielsen, J. Ye, Y. Lin, G. Pan, L.I. Lian-Quing, and Z. Solaiman. 2015. Feeding biochar to cows: An innovative solution for improving soil fertility and farm productivity. Pedosphere 25:666–679. 

Kalus, K., J.A. Koziel, and S. Opaliński, 2019. A review of biochar properties and their utilization in crop agriculture and livestock production. Applied Sciences 9:3494. 

Schmidt H., N. Hagemann, K. Draper, and C. Kammann. 2019. The use of biochar in animal feeding. PeerJ 7:e7373 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.7373.