Monday, August 10, 2015

SOIL Fund Project Underway in Africa’s Newest Nation

By Will Mahoney, Jane Wegesa and Elise Pinners


The road from Rongo to Lokichoggio,
Kenya
 was in very poor condition worsened
by recent heavy rains.
In 2011, the southern part of Sudan declared independence from Sudan and became the Republic of South Sudan.  Since then, the northern part of this new nation has been racked by tribal conflicts.  However, the province of Eastern Equatoria in the southeastern part of the country bordering Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia is far removed from the conflicts and has managed to stay relatively peaceful.  Apart from some banditry and cattle rustling, it is on course for economic and social development.

Armed guard with vetiver en route
from 
Kenya to South Sudan.
Earlier this year, the SOIL Fund received a pre-application from an IECA Region 2 member, Elise Pinners, for support of an erosion control project in the Eastern Equatoria town of Narus.  Elise works with PLUS-Kenya, a Nairobi-based non-governmental organization which assists East African communities practice sustainable land use.  In particular, they show people how to use deep-rooted, hardy vetiver plants to prevent erosion of cultivated land. 

Elise’s Kenyan colleague, Jane Wegesa, had visited Narus and found there were no vegetables in the local market.  She learned that the staff of the Bagita Girls' Primary School (a boarding academy in Narus for girls from the area) was trying to develop vegetable gardens.  However, when locations near the school were cleared of vegetation for gardening plots, topsoil was easily washed away by the intense rainfall during the wet season.  In addition, streams near the school were developing gullies. Jane found that the school administration, teachers and students were very interested in embarking on a soil conservation project to provide food security and improved livelihoods for the community.  It was hoped that the students could in turn show their parents how to prevent erosion, conserve valuable topsoil, and start gardens at their homes.
Sacks of vetiver “slips”
successfully delivered to
the 
Bagita School in South Sudan.
 
In April 2015, the SOIL Fund committee approved a grant of up to US$4700 for the purchase and transport of 20,000 vetiver plants to Narus as well as training and supervision.  Jane would provide hands-on instruction in the establishment of a vetiver nursery at the Bagita School and the rehabilitation of gullies.  Getting the plants to Narus was a serious challenge.   The nearest source of vetiver seedlings (called “slips”) was in the city of Rongo in southwestern Kenya.  To get them to Narus, they first had to be transported more than 800km (500 miles) north by pickup truck to the town of to Lokichoggio in northwestern Kenya.  There the plants would be transferred to a pickup truck from the school which would take them the final 46km (28 miles) across the border to Narus.  Not only would this be a long trip, it was complicated by poor roads (which turned to mud in the rainy season when the trip would take place), rivers that had to be forded, and the presence of bandits along the road.  The bandits would not be interested in 20,000 plants but might rob the driver and steal his truck. 

 Establishment of a large vetiver nursery
at the Bagita Girls’ Primary School.
To ensure safe passage of the truck and cargo, the SOIL Fund paid for an armed security guard to ride on the truck.  On May 14, the SOIL Fund received news that Jane had arrived successfully in Lokichoggio with the vetiver.  She was met by the driver from the school.  However, they were having to wait in Lokichoggio because a river they would have to ford was too swollen to cross.  The following day, the river flow subsided enough for them to make the crossing, they made it through customs at the Kenya-South Sudan border, and arrived in Narus with the plants.

On May 16, the SOIL Fund learned that a vetiver nursery had been established at the school and mitigation was carried out on at least one gully with vetiver hedges planted and half-moons constructed above it.  Elise reported that the school was “jealously looking after their nursery” and unwilling to share any of the vetiver plants with others in the near future until the plants are well established and have multiplied.




Editor's Notes
All photos are taken by Jane Wegesa, PLUS-Kenya.
This story previously appeared in the July/August issue of Erosion Control. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

An Overview of the SOIL Fund


The SOIL Fund: Addressing erosion around the world
Erosion and sedimentation threaten food security, impede basic transportation, and even cause loss of life and property when catastrophic slope failures bury communities. Massive soil erosion and river sedimentation can result from large-scale deforestation and unsustainable agriculture practices, which is a current issue in the Amazon basin of South America. However, this is a global challenge that the International Erosion Control Association (IECA) is working to address. IECA is a non-profit, member-supported organization that provides education, resource information, and business opportunities for professionals in the erosion and sediment control industry.

What is the SOIL Fund?
At IECA’s annual conference in 2008, several members formed a charitable arm within the organization, which became known as the Save Our International Land (SOIL) Fund. Management of the SOIL Fund is carried out by a committee of geographically diverse erosion control professionals who develop procedures, promote the fund’s work, approve projects, raise funds, and manage financial resources.

The name “SOIL Fund” emphasizes the worldwide focus of the fund’s activities. With the support of IECA membership, the fund provides technical assistance for programs and projects that address soil erosion and sedimentation through applied technology, education, and research. 

To date, all projects have been located in developing countries, although the committee is open to helping underserved communities in developed countries as well. The fund has also avoided supporting large projects using high-tech imported materials, and instead focuses on the use of local equipment and materials to promote sustainability.

SOIL Fund Past Projects
In 2009, the fund conducted its first project in the village of Tsuraku at the edge of the Amazon basin rainforest in Ecuador.  Two SOIL Fund teams provided erosion and sediment control guidance for a pipeline installation through the jungle from a water intake structure to a water storage tank and village school.

In 2010 and 2011, a SOIL Fund team established a banana orchard on Easter Island – a Chilean territory in the South Pacific. The goal of this project was to show local residents how idle, deforested, eroded land could be used to cultivate a cash crop with a ready market on the Chilean mainland.
 Planting banana trees for a reforestation demonstration project on Easter Island in the South Pacific.  Photo by Pablo Garcia-Chevesich.

In 2011, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) asked for SOIL Fund assistance with erosion problems in Malingua Pamba, Ecuador – a rural agricultural community in the Andes. EWB was assisting the community in developing a potable water system. Approximately 75 eroded sites in the community were visited to create a report recommending low-tech solutions for erosion mitigation. In 2012 and 2013, EWB erosion control teams assisted the community with installation of structural best management practices using local materials and planting native vegetation at several high-priority sites along local roads and in agricultural fields. 

Volunteers from the Malingua Pamba community in Ecuador and Engineers without Borders stabilizing an eroded slope above an important village access road in 2013. Volunteers planted Sigsig, a native grass with a long root system, at this site. Photo by Laura Backus. 


Future Challenges
The SOIL Fund faces three challenges in meeting its goal of supporting projects that improve the lives of people around the world who are directly affected by erosion and sedimentation. The first is finding appropriate projects to support in motivated communities. Additionally, many of the proposals received include budgets for local salaries, administration, and expenses that are far beyond the scope and funding capability of the organization.

The second challenge is finding dedicated volunteer leaders for each SOIL Fund project. Though there is a requirement that an IECA member lead projects, nonmember participation also is welcome. The fund looks for committed volunteers to conduct preliminary assessments, train local workers, supervise community projects, and carry out applied research. It also needs volunteers who provide support with skills such as geographic information systems and fundraising.

The final challenge is, of course, money. In the past, the SOIL Fund has relied on member contributions and the proceeds from silent auctions held during IECA’s annual conferences.  However, raising more than $2,000 to $3,000 per year this way is difficult and limits the fund to one small project at a time. To increase financial resources, the SOIL Fund committee has started to approach erosion and sediment control equipment manufacturers, product distributors, and environmental consulting firms to consider the SOIL Fund as part of their corporate giving programs – a charitable cause relating directly to their industry. The committee also has asked IECA’s regional chapters for financial assistance and to consider “adopting” SOIL Fund projects, a program in which a chapter could raise money for a project and have volunteers from the chapter provide the technical assistance.

Getting Involved
The SOIL Fund encourages IECA chapters and individual IECA members to identify worthy projects and provide technical assistance to further international erosion and sediment control.  The first step is to submit a SOIL Fund Pre-Application. Non-IECA members can apply for technical assistance from the SOIL Fund on behalf of a community using the Request for Technical Assistance form. Both of these forms and information on making a donation to the SOIL Fund are available at: www.ieca.org/soil.   

Disclosure: This article was excerpted from a feature article published in World Water Storm Water Management Magazine, published in April/May 2015. It can be viewed here.

Author’s Note: Will Mahoney is a registered professional geologist and a certified professional in stormwater quality with 35 years of experience as an environmental scientist. His Denver-based consulting firm, Environmental Services International LLC, in Colorado, USA focuses on environmental compliance for oil and gas production and pipeline construction projects.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mexico: New SOIL Fund Work in Oaxaca

My apologies for neglecting my blog for several months.  Fortunately, my colleague Julie Etra has come to the rescue with the following blog post regarding her SOIL Fund volunteer work in southern Mexico.  Julie is the Region 1 Vice President for International Development with the International Erosion Control Association.  - Will

The SOIL Fund has completed 5 Vetiver plantings in and around the southern Oaxacan town of Huatulco, Mexico. Four of the five plantings include nurseries, while three are demonstration projects. Vetiver, a grass native to India, has long been known for its excellent erosion control characteristics, and due to its form (bunch) and lack of seed production is not invasive and will not outcompete native species.

The SOIL Fund hopes that through education and dissemination, the use of this plant will be increased to control erosion on slopes destabilized from road construction, cultivation, and logging.

 
Sign advertising SOIL Fund work at Copalita, near Huatulco, Mexico.  Pictured are Cornelio Gabriel Ramos and his son, Christian Tadeo.  Cornelio is a local bird guide (pajarero). 
photo by Julie Etra.























Monday, August 5, 2013

Why Two Blogs?

I suppose it was inevitable.  Sooner or later in the course of 50+ blog posts I was bound to say some things that ran afoul of the International Erosion Control Association's management team and membership.  After all, IECA is in the business of serving erosion control professionals and businesses that provide erosion control products.  The negative opinions I have occasionally expressed about the policies of foreign governments or obnoxious travelers I have encountered as well as my sometimes "salty" language are not exactly what IECA had in mind when they suggested I do a blog about my 2012 around-the-world trip to attend erosion control-related conferences and meet with erosion control professionals.

In my very first post, "Intro to My Trip" (July 19, 2012), I pointed out that I am an opinionated SOB and didn't "plan on toning it down for this blog."  While I have done my best to stay positive most of the time, I'm no Pollyanna.  Those of you who have done much traveling (particularly if you have ventured overseas without the benefit of a tour guide) know about the annoyances that go along with beautiful vistas and nice people you encounter along the way.  I've shared some of the negatives because I hoped that readers would find them informative and entertaining.  Your feedback has told me that I was largely correct. 

Still I've been uncomfortable about getting too blunt in my blog posts since my principal purpose has been to promote IECA's charitable arm, the SOIL Fund, which provides support for erosion control projects primarily in developing countries.  So when the IECA administration took me to the woodshed for being naughty one time too many, I came up with a solution which they enthusiastically support:  TWO BLOGS. 

Here is how it's going to work.  Henceforth, the "Erosion Control Around the World" blog will stick to erosion control issues outside North America including reports of erosion and sedimentation problems, the work of erosion control professionals, relevant conferences/workshops, and erosion and sediment control projects.  This blog will continue to be associated with IECA and the SOIL Fund and will carry their logos.  The IECA Region 1 administration in Denver, Colorado, USA will provide editorial support and will continue to provide a link to the blog on the SOIL Fund page of their website (http://www.ieca.org/regiononehomepage.asp).     
   
The new blog?  It's called, "Perspectives of a Wandering Geographer" (www.wanderinggeographer.blogspot.com) and will include stories (and photos) not related specifically to erosion and sediment control.   These posts may include information on the history, politics, and physical/cultural geography of the places I visit.  I'll write about travel experiences, good and bad, as well as the people I meet.  I will also share my "self-edited" opinions.  The "Erosion Control Around the World" blog will include links to these stories but the blog will in no way be associated with the International Erosion Control Association or the SOIL Fund.

A few thoughts about the title of this new blog.  Ever since I received an M.A. in geography from the University of Montana 40 years ago, I've often struggled with what to call myself professionally.  Many people with geography degrees have this problem.  What do geographers do anyway?  Are we experts in reciting the state capitals backwards and forwards?  The answer is that people who have studied geography wind up in a great variety of professions and businesses.  In my own case, environmental science has been a good fit for me especially since I have an undergraduate degree in geology and an associate degree (which I earned many years later) in environmental technology.  However, when I travel, I look at the world from the perspective of a geographer.  I see the spatial pattern of the physical and biological environment (the climate, geology, water resources, landforms, soils, and ecosystems) as well as the human interaction with that environment (including human culture, economics, population, transportation, and so forth).  It is this perspective that I bring to my writing, photography, and my general view of our planet and human civilization. 

As of today (August 5, 2013), there are no posts on the new blog.  Over the next few days, I hope to start moving some of my past posts from the Erosion Control blog to the Wandering Geographer blog.  Some posts may wind up on both blogs for now if that seems appropriate.  Next, I need to share several stories from my recent trip to Colombia.

[Update on August 9:  All stories not related specifically to erosion control have now been moved to the Wandering Geographer blog.]

As always, I welcome your email feedback (wbmahoney@gmail.com).