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May 24, 2017 · OPINION

Local engineer volunteers for Honduran sustainability

Photos/Warren Darrell
A fuel-efficient woodstove replaces an open fire for cooking in this home in Northern Honduras.
The Nombre de Dios mountains above El Pino.
Installing the flue for a new wood stove.
The writer and his hosts visit the El Pino Community Water Cooperative’s source in foothills.
By Warren Darrell

Northern Honduras is a “biodiversity hot spot” of mountainous tropical forest and the Caribbean Mesoamerican (coral) Reef, second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Not yet fully studied, this environment may contain organisms of scientific and medical value. Protecting the environment in a developing country requires serving human needs in combination with conservation of nature.

As a volunteer “ambassador” with the Ecologic Development Fund of Cambridge, Mass., I traveled this year to Honduras to support work in forest protection, agroforestry and construction of fuel-efficient household woodstoves.

Watershed protection
EDF Honduran Director Carlos and I first visited the El Pino Community Water Cooperative (Junta) and hiked to its water source in the humid foothills of the north slope of the Nombre de Dios mountains. To limit flooding during the wet season and to preserve water flow during the dry season, the Junta protects the watershed’s forest.

Subsistence hillside farmers (camposinos) in Honduras and elsewhere in the global tropics practice shifting, slash‑and‑burn agriculture, which destroys forests and degrades soil as harvests decline.

The eroded soil then damages rivers and the near-shore Caribbean ecosystem. Now, some camposinos are learning to increase and diversify their harvests through intermixing trees such as mango, lemon, caoba (mahogany) and nitrogen-fixing Inga with the traditional crops of corn, beans, pineapple and yucca. This agroforestry conserves and fortifies the soil, and eliminates or reduces the need to clear additional forest every few years.

As in Fauquier, agriculture in Honduras is hard work that rewards those who diligently tend their fields year after year.

Fuel-efficient woodstoves
After a few days trekking through mountains and farms, our legs got a rest as we helped build a fuel‑efficient kitchen woodstove in Arizona Village.

Wood is the primary domestic fuel in rural Central America, and gathering firewood is a burden on the women and children. The forest becomes degraded as wood litter and standing trees are overharvested.

Traditional open fires and makeshift kitchen stoves are inefficient, can injure children and release smoke into the home, where it harms the lungs and eyes of the women, small children and elders, who spend much of the day indoors.

The new stoves are good for families and the forest. They burn less than half the firewood, are safe to the touch and vent their smoke to the outdoors.

A rewarding journey
Here in Fauquier County, the John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District performs it namesake mission. The Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension and the Natural Resources Conservation Service offer technical consultation to farmers. Our county Department of Community Development, the Virginia Department of Forestry, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service protect our regional watersheds.

Not so in Honduras. Taking the initiative to help themselves, communities have formed non‑governmental cooperatives such the Junta Administradora del Agua El Pino water co-op, MAMUCA, and AJAASSPIB (their full names in Spanish are lengthy). The Ecologic Development Fund works in partnership with those organizations.

It is uplifting to walk the land and to talk, work, eat and laugh with people who, in difficult circumstances, improve their lives, serve their communities and help preserve our Earth.

Click here for more information about Ecologic.

The author is an engineer, recently retired as construction director with Fauquier County Public Schools. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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