ECHOTucked 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.

Successful Practices

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
Photo: Pixabay

Florida Universities Waived Rules and Regulations for Caribbean ScholarsFollowing a request from Governor Rick Scott, Florida schools have waived their rules and regulations for Caribbean scholars who have been left deprived and affected by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. State Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart was one of the signees of the order for students from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean nations.

In a public address, Stewart announced, “Entire communities were destroyed, and we do not know how long it will take to restore schools and other essential infrastructure…It is critical that these students and teachers have the opportunity to participate in our state’s outstanding public education system. We are pleased to remove barriers to enrollment and help these students and teachers return to the classroom.”

As of now, students from the islands are able to continue their classes and permeate into the Florida public school curriculums without their birth certificates, official transcripts and health forms that transfer students would traditionally be required to have. Also, those who are seeking teaching positions are being given the opportunity to apply without their health records and age verifications, along with proof of degree-attainment and subject-mastery documentation. The federal government has obliged school districts to label students affected by hurricanes as “homeless” to allow the students to be eligible for free meals and more accessible transportation.

Futhermore, some public colleges in Florida have agreed to offer in-state tuition to affected Caribbean students. These colleges include: Broward College, Hillsborough Community College, Miami Dade College, Palm Beach State College, Seminole State College of Florida, the University of Central Florida, Valencia College and St. Petersburg College.

In a statement made by Scott, the governor claimed he wanted to, “ensure students from Puerto Rico can more easily continue their education here in Florida and that teachers from Puerto Rico have every opportunity to continue to succeed in their careers.” He also pointed out that, “as families work to rebuild their lives following the unbelievable devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, we are doing everything we can to help them throughout this process.”

While their education is furthered in the U.S., many of the students wish for recovery for their respective homes. However, because these Florida schools have waived their rules and regulations for Caribbean scholars affected by the hurricanes, many students are able to continue following their dreams and their career paths. Without initiatives like these, many hurricane victims would have to be stuck on pause until the recovery of their homes.

Jalil Perry

Photo: Flickr

For those who fall into poverty, extracting one’s self from can be an excruciating and impossible feat. For one Florida town, systemic poverty is a threat to everyone and local ordinances can be utilized to identify how to assist those in need and the space to implement programs that can achieve justice.

In Jacksonville, a group of city leaders have identified a series of indicators that can be utilized to lift people out of poverty. The Florida politicians have claimed if seven of the nine assets are reached by individuals they can more than double their chances of rising out of poverty. These assets are not the same for everyone, and only two are statistically significant.

The poverty reducing project is called “1,000 in 1,000: Moving 1,000 people out of poverty in 1,000 days.” The project began in 2006 when city leaders came together to devise a plan to attack poverty and help people break the cycle that so many are trapped in.

They began by studying national research on poverty and then ran a pilot program over the course of five years. What they found was shocking. About 12 percent of residents live in poverty including one in six children. The typical family in poverty is a single woman with two or three children. She has a high school diploma, works two jobs and has no savings and high debt, often from student loans.

Officials have decided to reach out to these families and identify strategically what kind of assistance is needed. Helping the family is essential as the entire unit of individuals is trapped. Providing jobs and support creates stability and helps provide resources. Breaking barriers like the limitations from criminal records that can limit job opportunities and other denials of access. Bringing services together can help effectively target needy families, more effectively provide services and would be a better use of municipal resources.

Jacksonville is not alone in this poverty crisis. The United States has 15 million U.S. children living in poverty and nearly seven million young people out of school and without employment prospects.

Poverty is the single greatest threat to a child’s well-being and development. Poverty makes it harder to learn and is a contributing factor in chronic health conditions and risky behavior such as drug use, early sexual activity and crime.

When factors of poverty are accounted for, and the space and path for community uplifting expressed, poverty is not the daunting specter it currently parades as. The root causes of poverty are complex and there are no easy answers or quick cures.

When communities identify their members in need and provide at-risk youth and individuals with real world job experience and access to social services, there is a chance at success and way to break free of the poverty cycle. When we invest in each other and we allow ourselves to reach our full potential the protection of rights and the resources given in aid to others are no longer a liability but a necessary asset.

Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: The Florida Times, The Huffington Post
Photo: In Our Own Backyard