Tucked away in North Fort Myers, Fla., just minutes away from a bustling downtown and warm sunny beaches, sits the Educational Concerns for Haiti Organization global farm. ECHO, as it is more commonly known, was founded in the early 1970s primarily to provide solutions directly for Haiti, particularly those that would improve the nation’s agricultural development. By 1981, ECHO began developing agricultural solutions for multiple nations and continues to carry on that mission today as it is working to fight global hunger and poverty. With better agricultural solutions, ECHO is helping farmers across the globe increase their agricultural output and understanding of more sustainable farming practices. This, in turn, helps improve the farmers’ standard of living.
Areas of Impact
Southwest Florida’s unique climate allowed ECHO, in 2001, to develop six different areas of tropical climate zones on the global farm. This allows researchers and farmers to test different growing methods and food production for different nations. Today, the farm includes tropical lowlands, tropical highlands, monsoon, semi-arid, rainforest clearing, community garden and urban garden as its areas of focus. ECHO spreads the technology it has developed through its Regional Impact Centers in Thailand, Tanzania and Burkina Faso, delivering information and improved farming practices to Asia, East Africa and West Africa, respectively.
The Importance of Seeds
Seed development and protection is a primary focus of ECHO. A heavy rain season can harm seeds for future planting and can set farmers back on producing a bountiful crop. Also, without diversifying the types of crops they grow, farmers are at risk of losing food and money without having the right seeds. ECHO in Florida is home to a seed bank that provides up to 300 different types of seeds to farmers around the world. These seeds are adaptable to different climates and terrains and help farmers diversify their crop production, allowing them to grow crops that are best suited for their environment.
Another problem that farmers face is keeping seeds dry and ready for the growing season — a difficult goal to achieve with humid climates and high temperatures. ECHO Regional Impact Center in Thailand is utilizing earthbags in its seed banks, which can keep seeds up to 16.5°C cooler than the surrounding environment. Seed drying cabinets also keep seeds dry by using heat and air circulation to keep seeds in a low humid environment so that they can be stored for a year or more.
ECHO’s agricultural developments have been successfully used in communities around the world. In Togo, farmers are using resources provided by ECHO’s West Africa Regional Impact Center for the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI. SRI “reduces the need for water by half, requires only 10% of the seeds traditionally needed, and can increase yield by 20-100%.” This leads to farmers earning more than they would by using traditional farming methods. SRI is a practice that initially requires more labor and teaching to fully understand. However, with ECHO’s Regional Impact Centers, the organization is spreading the technology to help fight global hunger and poverty.
ECHO’s vital impact rests on teaching methods that farmers can share with each other. When one farmer has a successful crop, he is more likely to share the new methods he used with other farmers so that they can also have strong crop yields. This provides communities with more food, which helps to fight global hunger, and with more crops to sell, which helps lift farmers out of extreme poverty. By teaching farmers better practices that are sustainable and easily accomplished, ECHO is helping people around the world become more efficient and self-sustaining.
– Julia Canzano