Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Of Plants and Poultry

I have now worked as an ECHO intern for a full week and change, and think I now have a better idea of what my life will look like for the next 55 weeks. I wanted to update y'all on a couple of things...

What does ECHO do?

ECHO does a lot of things, but perhaps the most important role we fill is one of networking. Missionaries and development workers in the field can become part of the ECHO network. Members of the network receive the periodic ECHO Development Notes which give practical advice on subsistence level farming techniques, and also have access to ECHO's tech request program. Basically, missionaries in the field send their questions and problems to ECHO staff/interns, who troubleshoot solutions. E.g. the corn crop is not producing, but there's no sign of obvious pests.

Interns and staff responding to tech requests have a number of resources at their disposal. In addition to the constant experimentation that happens on the ECHO farm, we have an extensive research library full of obscure and hard-to-find texts and files. After a few hours of dedicated research, a detailed response is sent to the missionary giving possible solutions to their problem.

In addition to providing information, ECHO also provides seeds to missionaries in the field in order to facilitate crop experimentation. Our seedbank is constantly being expanded, and is refreshed by the many varieties of edible crops grown on the farm.

ECHO does a lot more than this, but networking is a key part of their work.

What have I been doing?

This week I took over a couple of new responsibilities, in addition to continuing my orientation. Heidi (the intern whose Monsoon garden I will eventually take over) is on vacation for the week, so I am in charge of caring for the chickens and chicks in her absence. We are currently trying to wean them away from commercial feed and towards forage, which is a better option for poor farmers with limited funds. This means I cut branches from trees such as Moringa, Lucaena, and other nutrient-rich varieties and hang them in their pen. I also gather eggs, clean the coop, and all the other things you'd expect with chicken-care. I'm currently researching effective ways of upping their protein-intake, as they are not laying as much as they should.

I have also taken over the responsibility for watering one of the nursery areas, which has been a more challenging job. I am not yet an expert in judging which plants need water and how much (bamboo is thirsty, papaya doesn't like much water.). I'm hoping that repetition and practice will allow me to attune better to the needs of the individual species.

This post is getting long, so...

Plant Spotlight: Moringa

The Moringa tree is one of the plants that we highly promote here at ECHO. Moringa is an incredibly hardy tree (assuming you're in the tropics; it doesn't freeze well). It grows back from heavy pruning, and so can be maintained at head height, although it will grow into quite a large tree if left alone. It is perennial, drought resistant, and quite tasty with a slight horse-radishy flavor.

The primary value of Moringa is its nutrient content. Every part of the tree is edible, and the leaves are often dried and then grinded to a powder. One teaspoon of Moringa powder has more beta caroteen than a carrot, more protein than a glass of milk, and is also chock full of fiber and several important amino acids. Moringa powder added to a staple crop diet (e.g. yams) has been shown to significantly increase health indicators. It is often effective when given to infants in the breast feeding stage, as it can contibute necessary nutrients not provided by malnourished mothers. In combination with other nutrient-rich plants such as amaranth, Moringa has been shown effective in slowing the progress of AIDS - comparable to medication!

Moringa has numerous other uses too: it makes a great animal fodder. Moringa seeds, crushed, act as a water purifying agent when stirred in polluted water. The list could go on, but this post is too long already.

Final Thoughts

I will try to update more regularly with shorter posts. I will also continue to tell you more about important plants and crops, if you are interested.

Please feel free to post comments or email me with any questions you have; I love to talk about this stuff.


"A church full of life and love, working for the good of the community in which God has placed it, is the proper end of mission. Transformational development that does not work toward such an end is neither sustainable nor Christian"

-Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor


Vicki said...

Yah for more photos!

I can't wait to see some of this in person!

Andy W. said...

man, this is awesome! Is the Moringa tree fast-growing?

Regarding your chickens, can you feed them insects/invertebrates...that usually helps with protein (I only know this from studying wild turkeys- their diet flip flops from predominately forage/vegetation to almost entirely invertebrates (beetles, worms, grasshoppers, etc.) during breeding season (aka laying time).

Please don't stop blogging. I'm loving this!!! thanks to your mom who sent me the link!

Trey said...

Insects are definitely an option for protein, and the chickens find some on their on. The cost is prohibitive, however, or else the labor involved with finding them is too much.

There are several types of forage that contain protein, we're just trying to find ways of making them appetizing to chickens. I was told recently that if we intentionally give them small pebbles to eat they may be more open to consuming greens.