[Editor’s Note: There are many biochar burner designs currently in existence, intended for various scales and end uses in mind. This particular design has become a favorite of the ECHO Asia farm staff, for its ability to produce larger quantities of pyrolyzed material and wood vinegar at the same time. This design was innovated by a local Thai partner and credit should be given accordingly. Thank you Mr. Arun Waikham for allowing us to share your design with the ECHO network.]
A number of motivations exist for saving seed at the community level, including crop biodiversity preservation, food sovereignty of local seed, and the potential for improved crop production. Beyond traditional farmer seed saving practices, many opportunities exist for small to medium-sized seed bank entities operated at the community level. This article will summarize some of the work of ECHO and its experiences partnering with community seed banks throughout Southeast Asia.
To date, ECHO has engaged with a growing network of community seed banks (CSBs) throughout the region, serving at the community and/or local NGO level. Current partnerseed banks range in scale and scope but share in their implementation of low-cost appropriate technologies for the storage of their seeds.
Critical to the success of a small-scale farm is its ability to turn on-farm waste into alternative value-added products. By integrating the Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens) on the farm, small-scale enterprises can do just that. Taking common waste products such as food scraps and manure, the Black Soldier Fly can be used to efficiently convert raw waste materials into high-protein feed sources for livestock, while simultaneously producing a by-product suited for amending soils.
As we began looking into sustainable and alternative solutions for pumping water, our team began ‘playing around’ with the idea of water wheels for the supply of irrigation water to low elevation farmland. We initially began with research and testing of a pump called a Sling Pump, but gave up after testing several prototypes. Challenges included difficulty with DIY assembly, cost, specialized parts, and ultimately its efficiency.
Dave had come to Thailand two years prior exactly for the opportunity that he was now presented with. Ethnic minority hillside farmers had been experiencing lower crop yields even with their efforts in using more chemical fertilizer.
Water pumps have long been a key component of the small-scale farm and are valuable labor-saving devices that offer a variety of practical applications. Pumps of different types are regularly used for water storage & filtration, irrigation, aquaculture systems, and more. While convenient and useful, pumping water does come at a cost – from the necessary consumption of energy, to the regular maintenance of moving parts. However, new developments in appropriate pump technologies offer options that can save money, increase reliability, improve longevity of equipment, and offer certain other benefits that to be presented in this article.
Soil microbes influence almost every food production system on earth. Microbial life helps build and maintain human society because they are among our greatest agricultural allies. Ten years ago, I began studying an exceptional group of soil microbes called ‘mycorrhizal fungi’. These microscopic fungi are essential for productive soil ecosystems, because they support plants and other beneficial soil microbes. With proper management, they can help us improve food production, accelerate rural development, and promote community nutrition security.
There are many ways to discuss soil ecosystems, and numerous physical, chemical, and biological terms can become overwhelming. I favor an overall concept called ‘soil health’ because it reminds us soil is alive, and like all living systems, can range from vibrant to broken. The capacity of soil to sustain plant, animal and human life is fundamental to soil health. I focus on the abundance, diversity and functions of mycorrhizal fungi as key indicators, because we often observe thriving mycorrhizal fungi and other microbes building soil health and developing system stability, resilience and productivity over time.