The world is a hungry place.
By most estimates, nearly a billion people sharing the planet with us do not have enough to eat or are malnourished. That’s about one in seven of us. Thousands of people in third-world countries starve to death every day. Many international organizations help to feed these hungry people in various ways. Among them is ECHO, a non-profit Christian-based organization that operates from Fort Myers, Florida.
ECHO is dedicated to reducing hunger and improving life for small-scale farmers. It does that primarily by providing technical support to development groups, teaching more efficient and sustainable agriculture methods to farmers, Peace Corps volunteers, and community groups. Those people, in turn, teach others – what they call the ECHO effect. ECHO reaches these people from operational centers in Asia, West Africa, East Africa, and Central America. In ECHO’s Asian Regional Office Seed Bank in Thailand, for instance, they identify underdeveloped seeds and spread their use throughout the region to help supply nutritional food.
In addition to efficient farming practices, ECHO teaches simple technology methods that are primitive to us but dramatically improve the lives of impoverished people. They call this “appropriate technology,” which they research, demonstrate and build to help provide people with food, water, and shelter.
At its Fort Myers headquarters, ECHO conducts one-hour public tours of its Global Farm to demonstrate efficient farming methods in conditions around the world. The farm serves as a training ground for interns who train 14 months before working with small-scale farmers in developing countries.
On this day, veteran tour guide Vic Estoye explained various farming methods and simple technologies ECHO brings to impoverished regions of the world. “We help them make what they need out of what they have,” he said. “Nothing is universal. It must adapt to the country, culture, and skills.” Walking among tall bamboo stands and exotic plants, we stopped to taste cherries from a Barbados cherry tree. Estoye explained that when these trees are planted along schoolyards in poor areas, the cherries provide children with a rich supply of vitamin C.
By mixing animal waste and water in a barrel, ECHO teaches how to produce methane gas to fuel a simple one-burner stove for cooking, which is especially important in areas with a growing wood shortage because so much has been used. Among other things, ECHO teaches how to make cooking stoves of clay, how to build a motor-free well water pump, and how to filter dirty water, making it safe to drink.
The Global Farm demonstrates the value of unusual plants. Farmers, for instance, can plant a special peanut variety whose roots fertilize the nearby soil for growing other farm products. At the farm, you’ll see demonstration of rice paddies, pools of fish (tilapia) that feed on duckweed, and above ground and rooftop gardening methods that don’t need traditional fertilizer.
The Global Farm offers two tours – one focusing on farming, the other on simple technology. The farm also features a nursery that displays exotic plants, with fruits and vegetables for sale. A gift shop and bookstore offers books and seeds that are helpful to Florida gardeners. The tour fee is $12.50 for adults.
As a non-profit organization, ECHO receives the highest marks from Charity Navigator, which rates substantial charities from financial data. According to the latest report, Echo spends little more than 6 percent of money raised on fundraising, about 10 percent on administration and general expenses, and 84 percent directly on programs and services – a top rating. You can learn more about ECHO from its website, echonet.org.