Collaboration in Lake Tana

People come up with different strategies to remove as many weeds as they can. One of those is to stand in line and push segments of weeds together. Maheder Haileselassie Tadese/Mongabay

This isn’t the first time the subject of water hyacinth has shown up on this site – it would be impossible to spend seven years in Kerala without coming into contact with the invasive weed.

Innovative solutions abound to harvest the fast growing plant for the labor intensive creation of consumer goods, or creative farming techniques, but in cases such as Ethiopia’s Lake Tana, communities unite to attempt manual eradication.

Community pulls water-thirsty invasive weeds from Ethiopia’s Lake Tana

Last week thousands of people in northwest Ethiopia marched to Abay River and Lake Tana as part of the “Save Lake Tana” movement to remove invasive water hyacinth by hand. The free-floating, water-thirsty perennial can grow up to three feet tall and is swallowing the northeast shores of Lake Tana, impacting both aquatic habitat health and local fishermen.

Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and the largest lake in Ethiopia. The lake is frequently used for transport, tourism, hydroelectric power generation, ecological conservation and fishery operations. It is home to 28 fish species, out of which 16 are endemic.

A team of university researchers discovered in 2012 that 20,000 hectares of the lake’s body was covered by invasive water hyacinth (Eichhornia Crassipes). Since then, it’s gone to a peak infestation of 40,000 hectares. At first, the hyacinth was mainly found in an area with three tributaries to Lake Tana. Continue reading

The Largest Underground Bicycle Parking Garage In The World

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A special section in Utrecht’s new underground bike parking garage is for bigger bikes, which usually have children’s seats attached. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

If You Build It, the Dutch Will Pedal

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As fast as Utrecht can build underground bike parking garages, most spots are taken. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

The city recently surpassed Amsterdam in a widely respected ranking of bike-friendly cities and is now second only to Copenhagen, which is more than twice its size. Continue reading

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Partnering with programs like the Atlanta Community Food Bank Garden Program and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to bring bird friendly and healthy food education to youngsters connects well with our ethos. Citizen Science participation starts early. We hope our readers will share with public and private K-12 schools!

SCHOOL GARDEN GRANTS to grow healthy, happy, nature-connected kids!

School gardens provide an exciting context for cross-disciplinary learning and a wonderful opportunity to engage students in hands-on activities, project-based learning, and citizen science. Kids benefit from gardens in academic, physical, emotional, social, and behavioral ways. We are excited to support teachers’ efforts to engage kids in outdoor learning and all its benefits!

We will award 20 grants to teachers within the United States who strive to take the classroom outside, reconnect students with the natural world, and teach them valuable concepts and skills that integrate across all subjects. In partnership with our amazing sponsor, Alaska Fertilizer, we’re thrilled to support 20 teachers with a $500-$2,000 grant, gardening supplies, and BirdSleuth’s Habitat Connections kit. Funds can support a new garden or the revitalization of an existing one. In addition to funding food/veggie gardens, preference will be given to bird, pollinator, native habitat, rain, and other natural projects. Continue reading

Have Cause Will Travel

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We have found that when travelers can support a cause they believe in while traveling, they will go out of their way to do so. When our hotelier colleagues make it easier for a traveler to support a cause, we can only celebrate it:

The Standard Telephone Co. Wants YOU to Ring Your Rep

Over the past few months, we’ve been thinking a lot at The Standard about what we can do to support positive, productive activism. As we’ve gone out and talked to people who are engaged in this very thing, one piece of advice we’ve heard again and again is this: speak up! There are lots of ways to take action, lots of ways to make a difference, but there is no substitute for the simple act of making your voice heard. Continue reading

Tradition and Memory, Handed Down Stitch by Stitch

If you happen to be anywhere near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you have a few more days to visit this extraordinary exhibit of Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab.

Thanks to Architectural Digest contributor Medhavi Gandhi for this informative and culturally sensitive article.

Philadelphia Museum of Art showcases the history of Punjab’s rich embroidery craft through ‘Phulkari’

Phulkaris, which literally translates into ‘flower work’, is a unique style or technique of embroidery peculiar to Punjab, and today constitute the lavishly embroidered head scarves and shawls crafted in the region. ‘Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab’ presents phulkaris from the collection of Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz alongside the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s permanent collection, focusing mostly on embroideries from a pre-partitioned Punjab.

The threads of phulkari have since endured much: partition, industrial reforms, changing economic and fashion trends, and the exhibition aptly helps you develop a perspective around all these.

GEOGRAPHICAL INDEXING
Curators Dr. Cristin McKnight Sethi and Dr. Darielle Mason position the craft as art, presenting phulkaris through the historical and cultural lens, thus offering a renewed contact with the old way of life; ceasing to be a commodity of high commercial value but more as a window into the lives of people.

In a brief issued by the Museum, Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: “This exhibition, which examines the artistic, cultural, and political significance of phulkari, is long overdue and will certainly delight visitors who may be unfamiliar with this remarkable art form”. I couldn’t agree more, and here’s why: Continue reading

Recipe For Reconciliation

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Anthony Blair Dreaver Johnston, a Mistawasis Nehiyawak elder, works closely with the university to advise on indigenous matters. Credit Cole Burston for The New York Times

The New World, as the Americas are often called, was new to the Europeans–aka explorers, pilgrims, pioneers, settlers, colonialists, conquistadors–but of course was the long time homeland to a diverse mix of indigenous people from the very north of the hemisphere all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Continue reading

Getting Your Archaeological Feet Wet

Day #2 at CCAP began with the same sense of camaraderie as Day #1 as we continued the process of clearing out topsoil, clipping roots, hauling soil and stone, and yes, working on walls. Each conversation with the team was informative, as we discussed the upcoming step of closing out the “lot” we’d started and opening the next one of the unit – basically as we approached the change-over of levels for the precise documentation required at an archaeological dig.

We were quite close to that point when we stopped work for lunch, returning with high energy to move on to the next stage. But it’s green season in Belize, and Mother Nature had other plans for the day. Continue reading

Investing In Cultural Heritage

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The Cultural Heritage Center is an $8 million investment in the community. Elissa Nadworny/NPR

It is not a question I have had to ponder (the opening line of the story below) for myself, but I get it. Losing the land, through battle, through treaties that are not honored, or otherwise, is an obvious existential threat for any community, and has been since the dawn of civilization. Invisible assets such as language, like any cultural heritage, also called intangible patrimony, are less obviously existentially important. But anyone who ponders it realizes that the loss of a language or another intangible component of cultural heritage matters to all of us, not only those who are at immediate and direct risk of its extinction. In the same way biodiversity matters, so does this.

And it is an underlying logic and motivator of our initiative with Ramon tree and its role in Mayan foodways. In earlier posts on the subject that I emphasized the environmental wonder of Ramon, but it is really a cultural heritage story, still to be told at Chan Chich Lodge. Meanwhile thanks to Melissa Block at National Public Radio (USA) for this story about one communities efforts along a related path:

A Native Village In Alaska Where The Past Is Key To The Future

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe. Continue reading

The Sun Over Africa Is Powerful

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In eighteen months, entrepreneurs brought electricity to hundreds of thousands of people in places that the grid failed to reach. Illustration by Oliver Munday / Photographs courtesy Mathieu Young / Off-Grid Electric

The author has been featured in our pages mainly as an activist, but it is good to see he has returned to the New Yorker as a reporter, writer, and keen observer:

The Race to Solar-Power Africa

American startups are competing to bring electricity to communities that remain off the grid.

By Bill McKibben

The cacao-farming community of Daban, in Ghana, is seven degrees north of the equator, and it’s always hot. In May, I met with several elders there to talk about the electricity that had come to the town a few months earlier, when an American startup installed a solar microgrid nearby. Continue reading

Sustainable Village Highlight: San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala

Hi, there! I’m Mari Gray, founder of artisan-made brand Kakaw Designs, based in Guatemala. After studying International Relations and Spanish at UC Davis and then working for several non-profits in Latin America, I became disillusioned and decided to focus on sustainable development through a social enterprise, partnering with talented artisan communities in Guatemala.

I feel incredibly fortunate to work with different artisan groups in Guatemala through Kakaw Designs (pronounced <kekao> like the cacao tree), an artisan-made brand I started about four years ago.  We currently work with several different artisan groups: two weaving, one embroidery, two teams of leathersmiths, and one silversmith; all to make our designs come to life.  But it was for a good reason that we started with the weaving cooperative Corazón del Lago in San Juan la Laguna, at Lake Atitlán.

Kakaw Designs Alliance logo

We would never have been able to launch Kakaw Designs without this group of forward-thinking, professional weavers from this small Maya village.  The community itself is exceptional, with sustainability clearly a focus through:

  • Use of natural dyes in textile production, also using local traditional techniques such as backstrap weaving and ikat designs  <<Learn more by watching our video>>
  • Organization of weavers in cooperatives or associations, where women work together and can therefore take larger orders and offer quality control
  • Up-and-coming development of community ecotourism, especially birding

Continue reading

A Food Writer & The Shock Of The New

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Food has recently returned to the center of our attention, and in the outback of Belize we have had some lovely surprises. An unexpected essay, from one of the food world’s most prominent writers, gives another view altogether from the USA:

The New Foodieism

To care about food now is to care about the future of this country.

By Mark Bittman

Like many of us, I spent the winter muddling through a mental miasma, pondering the meaning of life and democracy. I did, of course, think about “food” — how it’s produced, marketed, discussed, consumed, and so on — during my self-imposed hiatus from near-constant writing, which began more than 18 months ago. Continue reading

Graduation Day in Sylvester Village

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Earlier this week I did something that I couldn’t possibly have anticipated would be part of my Chan Chich experience: I attended a primary school graduation.

Sylvester Village is a community where employees of Chan Chich and Gallon Jug Farm live with their families. The Casey Community School is where many of the village’s children go for their first years of education. As one might imagine, the school is not very big. In fact, this year the school only had one kindergartner. Growing up in suburban America, this was very different from my early education which had about 24 kids in a first grade class with multiple classes per grade. However, perhaps the biggest difference from my experience was the school’s emphasis on community.

Continue reading

Climate, Agriculture & Disruption

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Journalist Chris Clayton writes for an audience filled with climate skeptics: farmers and leaders of agricultural businesses. He’s telling them that a changing climate will disrupt their lives. Courtesy of Chris Clayton

From the salt over at National Public Radio (USA), here is an interview in keeping with the spirit of yesterday’s post on peaches:

…Clayton is a Midwesterner and agricultural policy editor at DTN/The Progressive Farmer. He’s also the author of The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change, which describes in detail how farmers and farm lobbyists have dealt — or, more often, refused to deal — with a changing climate.

It has sometimes put Clayton in an awkward spot, as he acknowledged when I reached him this week in his office in Omaha, Neb.

Does it make you nervous, as a reporter at a farm publication, talking about climate change?

All the time. I feel like the guy who has to tell people things they don’t want to hear. But if I simply ignore the topic or ignore the issues, am I doing anybody any favors? Continue reading

When Life Gives You Lionfish…

Market-based approaches to controlling invasive lionfish populations were highlighted at a recent GEF event in Grenada.

La Paz Group contributor Phil Karp has long been our guide into marine ecosystems, with both citizen science and social entrepreneurship posts on his work with groups in Belize and other parts of the Caribbean focused on these goals.

This collaboration with Sarah Wyatt,  a colleague from the Global Environment Facility, illustrates the on-going market-based approaches to managing the invasive species while creating new cottage industry opportunities.

Seeing a lionfish while diving in the Caribbean is a cause for mixed emotions.  On the one hand, one marvels at the exquisite beauty of the fishes’ flowery fins and its amazing adaptability to a range of habitats, from shallow estuaries with low salinity to deep reef environments. But then you remember that these fish don’t belong in the Caribbean, and that the very versatility noted above makes them an invasive menace. Indeed, if the fish you are looking at is a female, she may be carrying up to 30,000 eggs, and may have thirty or more native fish or crustaceans in her stomach.

One of the many impacts of the Anthropocene era on global biodiversity is the increased spread of invasive species, like the lionfish, due to rapid globalization. With the United Nations Ocean Conference taking place in New York next week, the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and marine resources is high on the international agenda.  While long recognized as an environmental and biodiversity threat, invasive species also pose a threat to livelihoods, particularly in developing countries where incomes may be heavily dependent upon a single sector or product.

Traditionally, efforts to eradicate or control invasive species have been focused on public sector interventions.  But control efforts are often expensive and are either out of reach, or pose severe strains on limited budgets of developing countries.  Hence there has been growing attention to identification of market-based control approaches which create commercial incentives for removing the invaders, providing a financially sustainable means of control… Continue reading

Thank You Nebraska!

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We have refused to give up hope because there continue to be a trickle of stories like this, thanks to the Guardian. Bruce Springsteen dedicated a whole album to Nebraska, and this short news via video reminds us of that state’s great people:

After Trump’s revival of the Keystone XL pipeline project, some communities along its route are getting ready to fight back. Others see the US president keeping his promise to ‘make America great again’. The Guardian drove along the proposed route of the pipeline, through three red states – Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska – to hear what those who will be affected have to say about it

Strengthening Our Birding With Citizen Science

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Team Belize finished with 242 species. From left: Roni Martinez, Andrew Farnsworth, Steve Kelling, Brian Sullivan.

Seth, since his time working for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and even after his time in Ithaca, has helped me to see how important the Lab’s work is to what our company has been doing since he was an infant. Citizen science is an essential component, and at Chan Chich Lodge guests have responded to the passion the guides have for eBird, which is why we put so much attention into this year’s Global Big Day. And it is why we are already planning the next collaboration with the Lab, a collaboration Seth will lead on our side. For now, a final roundup of stories from last weekend, starting with our favorite team:

…After pooling their lists, the teams ended the day with a whopping 327 species combined—reflecting not just great birding but the region’s importance to an immense diversity of birds. Team Belize topped the friendly group competition with 242 species (including 40 species the other teams didn’t find); Team Mexico found 224 species (with 43 unique to their list); and Team Guatemala tallied 213 (with 23 unique)…

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Flame Robin by John Cantwell/Macaulay Library, taken on Global Big Day

Also, the final numbers are in and news published late yesterday confirmed what I suspected as day was breaking in Belize, titled Global Big Day 2017: birding’s biggest day ever:

…On 13 May 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries around the world joined together as a global team, contributing more than 50,000 checklists containing 6,564 species—more than 60% of the world’s birds. This is a new record for the number of bird species reported in a single day, Continue reading

Sticking To Mission & Unintended Consequences

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In recent months, as we prepared to host Team Sapsucker Belize at Chan Chich Lodge, our goals were focused on the citizen science mission. Using a couple simple metrics, the event was a clear success, comparing the number of species counted in Belize this year versus last year, and especially looking at the number of checklists submitted.

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If you look at this as the third iteration of an event that we hope to grow in future years, the progress from beginning to present is promising. As I type this there are still more than 40 hours of data entry remaining for this year’s event, so the increase in this year’s participation and species identification will likely grow larger by this time Wednesday.

GBDResult15.jpg Continue reading

GrowFood Carolina

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I am always on the lookout for simple but effective graphics illustrating ideas that we attempt to put into action in our various projects–why reinvent the wheel? By rabbit hole good fortune, after I was referred to the Coastal Conservation League as a regional leader in entrepreneurial conservation for the southeastern USA, one of their programs, as illustrated above and described in words below, came to my attention:

The Conservation League started its Food and Agriculture program in 2007 with the goal of protecting South Carolina’s small, family farms. Between 1992 and 1997, more than 200 acres of rural land were converted every day to urban uses, placing South Carolina in the top ten states in the nation for rural land loss. We quickly realized that small farmers lacked access to the infrastructure available to industrial farms, and were therefore unable to say “no” when a developer offered to buy their land. The League saw a food hub as critical to our work protecting rural landscapes and improving quality of life across the coastal plain. Continue reading

Happy Plants?

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A dense carpet of woodland perennials. Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect, calls plants “social creatures” that thrive in particular networks. Credit Mark Baldwin

Thanks to the landscape architect Thomas Rainer, and the author, for these observations:

Thomas Rainer and I have both been doing the botanical thing for decades; we know, and use, many of the same plants — and even much of the same horticultural vocabulary. But what he and I see when we look at a butterfly weed or a coneflower, or what we mean when we say familiar words like “layering” or “ground cover,” is surprisingly not synonymous. Continue reading

Keystone Continues Calling

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Thanks to the Guardian for keeping attention where it is due:

Life on the Keystone XL route: where opponents fear the ‘black snake’

Part one: In Montana, Native Americans fear a leak could destroy their way of life, but local politicians worry about the threat of protesters above all else

Words by Oliver Laughland, photos and video by Laurence Mathieu-Léger

“)ur people call it the black snake because it is evil,” says Tressa Welch, as thunder clouds steamroll the blue sky over the plains of Wolf Point. “And like snakes they come out of nowhere, they slither and strike unknown.” Continue reading