Nov 23, 2012

Green and Lean

Here at EcoLogic we have water projects, we have reforestation projects, we have carbon projects. But guess what? I’m going to go ahead and let you know that I have a favorite. That’s right. Out of all of our programs – agroforestry is my favorite.

Why? Glad you asked. It’s because I’m cheap. Wait, let me explain.

For starters, it’s because our agroforestry program tackles so many issues simultaneously – soil quality, forest cover, food security, and climate change. But the real reason that gets me is – and I’ll have to reveal a little secret – is that it just makes economic sense. And that’s extremely important if you want to get farmers to actually make changes to the status quo. The secret I mentioned is that I’m one of those environmentalists that’s into conservation primarily for economic reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I like animals, beautiful landscapes, and I understand the critical importance of healthy ecosystems in keeping us all healthy, but I really love it when doing something “green” also impacts my bottom line. For example, using less energy means paying a smaller bill. Riding your bike to work means not buying a monthly subway pass. I drive a car than runs on used vegetable oil for Pete’s sake! Yeah, my fuel is “green,” but it’s also free!

The left side of this farmer's plot is using agforestry – the other side is not.

When you add trees to farmland, you activate natural processes which help the corn and other food plants grow better. Adding the right type of trees in the right quantity and in the right places makes soil moister and more nutrient-rich. This ends up producing a more abundant crop. Bigger, healthier crops – just from adding trees! And no need to buy chemical fertilizers and herbicides. EcoLogic works with farmers so that they can test out alley-cropping – one type of agroforestry – on their own land. So many farmers in Central America understand that slash-and-burn agriculture – at least the widespread practice of it – is not only environmentally damaging, but also a poor way to get a decent crop harvest.

Jose Domingo Caal, an EcoLogic técnico, giving a maintenance demonstration of the Inga tree.

Agroforestry answers the timeless question of “what’s in it for me?” EcoLogic doesn't have to go to a farmer and say “Hey, the way you’re farming is bad for the environment, so stop.” No, my friend, we flip it. We say “Hey, we can help you adopt this farming technique that can make your corn bigger and healthier for less money and labor. Oh, and by the way, its way better for the environment, too.”

Yeah, I know that a full-on economic lens toward the environment is a slippery slope, and knowing that, I’m able to keep it in check. The thing is, at the end of the day, I love working for EcoLogic because we show people how conservation doesn't have to be a sacrifice. And it’s not people or the environment. It can be transformative, life-changing, and liberating. Our agroforestry program is a great example of how we do that.

- Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer writing grant proposals and project reports, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development.

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