Every week we feature a fun and/or educational activity you can try at home or in the classroom. Tomorrow is Groundhog’s Day, so naturally I chose a simple activity that shows you how to make a groundhog puppet.
Photo credit: strasburg-sam.com
Groundhogs are cute, but it’s no secret they have a bad reputation for digging up yards and farms. Their burrows can be very large, with up to 45 feet of tunnels as far as five feet underground. But groundhogs do have a beneficial role, too. The soil is improved with all that digging, because more air and water goes underground to break down the dirt for more valuable topsoil. And abandoned dens and burrows become homes to other animals like foxes and skunks, who aid farmers by getting rid of harmful smaller rodents and damaging insects.
Groundhog Puppet Materials:
Brown construction paper, or white paper that has been colored brown
Crayons or markers
Images from enchantedlearning.com
Cut a circle or oval from the brown construction paper for the groundhog’s body, making sure it will fit in the cup. Cut a smaller circle out of the brown paper for the head. Glue the two pieces together and draw eyes on the head. Glue your groundhog to one end of the stick. Cut a slit as the bottom of the cup and decorate the cup with greens and browns. Insert the bottom of the stick into the hole, and you now have a pop-up groundhog puppet!
The business of burning wood to produce charcoal has been linked to support of Al Shabbab in the Horn of Africa. While Heifer is not addressing terrorism in Sierra Leone, we are addressing desertification and soil depletion.
The vast swaths of savanna outside Freetown are subject to annual burning during “the dries” of March and April. A single spark or careless match and a fire erupts that lasts for days and threatens villages like Robombeh. There, the Sabenti Women’s Farmers Association is working to establish cashew plantations that will provide long-term income and make the savanna less susceptible to fire, since taller, mature trees are typically above and safe from the flames. Farmers around Robombeh have traditionally harvested any available wood to burn under piles of earth to make high quality charcoal. The charcoal is bagged and sold as fuel for stoves in Freetown and elsewhere in Sierra Leone.
Fire is a danger in Koinadugu District also, where I was yesterday, but that heavily forested and hilly region suffers from traditional “slash and burn” agriculture, rather than the charcoal trade. Heifer is working there to train farmers in integrated agriculture that will replenish, rather than deplete the soil.
In the video below, Heifer Senior Project Officer Val Koker talks about the Sabenti Women’s Farmers Association.
11. Investing in Africa’s Land: Crisis and Opportunity
Okay, so we’re not doing EVERYTHING on this list. But while we may not be creating collaborations between African farmers and foreign entities, land grabbing is on our radar. And we are absolutely working to help farmers in Africa hold onto and make the most of their land.
Have I ever mentioned how much I like biogas? The connection between biogas and eliminating hunger might not be obvious, but it’s certainly there. I’ve written before about the Uganda Domestic Biogas Program, which is targeting 12,160 families over the five-year project period. Not only is the project helping farmers install biogas units on their farms, it is actually establishing a market for domestic biogas installations and accessories, which builds local economies.
Biogas (as compared to charcoal or wood) cooks faster and burns cleaner, which is important for rural women. Healthy women are more productive, for one thing. In addition to being better for the environment, no longer purchasing charcoal or wood for cooking frees up income to be spent on education and health care. And children whose families have biogas lanterns can stay at home and study for school, which could impact their overall success.
Another alternative to traditional stoves are improved cook stoves (ICS), which are smokeless and use considerably less wood. Fund a Project in India that will, in addition to livestock, distribute ICS to participating families.
13. Moving Ecoagriculture into the Mainstream
Heifer began practicing agroecology with our participants since the mid-1980s and officially established an Agroecology Initiative in 2000 to place a greater emphasis on environmental protection as part of our work. Methods used on Heifer’s project participants’ farms include planting trees, using manure and other sources of natural fertilizer, zero- or managed-grazing techniques, contour planting and terracing, and improved cooking stoves or biogas units.
In many of the places Heifer works, pastureland for livestock may either be limited or poor in quality. By helping farmers build zero-grazing pens and by helping farmers identify and improved grow fodder crops, Heifer helps farmers increase the yields of their dairy animals.
While in Uganda, I had the chance to see zero-grazing in practice. Here’s a little footage:
Read about Huruma Mhapa from Tanzania, a 2011 Women in Livestock Development Award winner, and her plans for an improved zero-grazing pen for her cows. What’s remarkable is that more than 9,000 people have visited her farm for training and to learn about zero-grazing and organic farming.
Heifer also improves food production from livestock by teaching and building capacity for crossbreeding and artificial insemination to improve the productivity of local livestock.
15. Going Beyond Production
In the interest of diversity, I’m going to take this one in a slightly different direction, because although we’ve dealt with dairy surplus with our East Africa Dairy Development Project, and we’ve connected these farmers to the dairy value chain, I think “going beyond production” can be interpreted in more than one way.
For example, Heifer Poland’s Agriculture and Tourism Development Project is helping farmers who live within the boundaries of the East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, which protects the ecosystem but also limits certain agricultural activities. Through the project, farmers are becoming beekeepers, converting their dairy cattle herds into beef production (EU restrictions make small-scale dairy farming difficult), and learning to become hosts for tourists interested in the reserve and in other features of agrotourism.
6. Using Farmers’ Knowledge in Research and Development
Heifer Lithuania’s Cooperation and Development of Farmers for Poultry and Rabbits in Plunge Project is increasing entrepreneurship among rural people living near Zemaitija National Park by first creating sources of income for the local community and then providing the foundation for local business creation. Last April, project participants went to a hands-on training on rabbit breeding and keeping on a local, modern rabbit farm. The farmer had received his own training in Spain and was very kind to show his farm, share his experiences and answer project participants’ questions. The farmer had 500 female rabbits, some of which were pregnant, while others already had offspring. The farmer shared his expertise in making rabbit hutches. Upon returning home, project participants were inspired to make their own farms as productive as the one they had visited.
Heifer project participants around the world use a number of soil-enriching agricultural practices. Compost, animal manure and even worms (and their castings) can be used to build the soil. Some of our projects are located in valleys with rich, fertile soil. Other projects, including those in cities, must improve their soil before they can begin to grow anything.
Fund a Project in Oregon that will provide earthworms, among other things, to participants.
8. Safeguarding Local Food Biodiversity
Heifer’s Sustainable Food Systems in Copan and Lempira, Honduras Project will benefit 2,058 families in western Honduras. Families here struggle with poverty that is exacerbated by farming steeply sloping land with low fertility. This project provides cows, hens, fish, goats, sheep, rabbits, bee hives and fruit trees. In addition to promoting agroecological practices, this project is help;ing families establish food gardens with local crops to feed people and livestock, for natural medicine and to protect the environment. The project also works to recover and promote the use of local seeds.
9. Coping with Climate Change and Building Resilience
Read this post on how Heifer’s projects improve local ecosystems, help families out of poverty and cope with the changing environment.
10. Harnessing the Knowledge and Skills of Women Farmers
Much of Heifer’s work, particularly in Asia/South Pacific, is done through women’s groups. Women are severely marginalized in many countries here, but it is the women who are the communities’ best bets. Here’s the story of a project participant from Nepal:
I am Tika Mahato, a member of the Daunnedevi Women’s Group. As the eldest of three sisters in a poor family where both parents worked from morning to night, I was burdened with the responsibility of taking care of my siblings. My father was ver encouraging about my education, but he was also pressured by society’s norms about women.
I come from a marginalized ethnic group in Nepal, the tharu, in which women are considered the family’s honor and treasure. We are not allowed to tread outside of our houses, talk to strangers or voice our thoughts on family matters. Girls from the age of 10 are encouraged to find partners and get married. I was married at the age of 15 and bore two children by the time I was 19. My in-laws were not very well off. The family struggled to provide for every meal. All of us worked as laborers, but money was never enough. In 2006, an incident changed my life as I knew it; my husband passed away, leaving me with two children.
Having always been dependent on him for everything, I was in a state of shock for a long time. I stopped caring for my two children. What would I do with my life? The question and its unknown answers plagued my mind. My mother says I used to stare at nothing for hours. During that time, a group was being formed. Seeing this as an opportunity to engage me, my mother forced me to join. Reluctant to focus on anything except my misery, I did go to the meetings but never took part in any discussions. Slowly, the members started becoming my friends. I felt like I had someone to count on in the time of need.
My group then took the Cornerstones training — it was like four days of continuous awakening. I felt like all my questions after my husband’s death were being answered. I was overcome with guilt for abandoning my children. Yet instead of looking ahead in life, I was burying myself in the sorrows of my past. Though fully capable of working and providing for my family, I was becoming a burden for my parents with whom my children and I lived after the death of my husband.
I now have a renewed sense of faith and belief in myself. I have my goats that I received as gifts from Heifer, and my life has found a purpose with the goats. I plan to be independent and raise my children without the shadow of poverty.
How are you celebrating Earth Day? In this clip from the Nourish Video Encyclopedia, author Michael Pollan describes how the simple act of eating offers us an intimate connection with the soil. From supporting local and organic farms to gardening and composting, we can nourish the Earth through our everyday food choices and practices.
Michael Pollan is the author of In Defense of Food, Food Rules, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and other best-selling books. Pollan currently serves as the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
Stay tuned for more selections from the Nourish Video Encyclopedia, a collection of short films that explore the story of our food.
Nourish is a national educational initiative designed to open a meaningful conversation about food and sustainability, particularly in schools and communities. Explore the Nourish website at www.nourishlife.org. Follow Nourish on Twitter and Facebook.
Be part of the food revolution. Nourish yourself. Nourish the world.
Nourish is a program of WorldLink, a non-profit organization dedicated to education for sustainability. Heifer International is a sponsor of the Nourish initiative.
I recently visited Luis Acosta. He was born in the remote community of La Elencia where he has lived for 60 years.
During his lifetime he has seen a lot of change. “When I was 6 this was still a mountainous area with lots of animals,” he said. Unfortunately, the big trees were cut, and the wild birds, jaguar and deer left. “I think it was a huge richness we lost,” Luis said with a shake of his head.
Luis and his family began working with Heifer in 2006 when they received a cow, rabbits, fruit trees and training. Through the trainings they learned soil conservation techniques and ways to protect the environment. I was happy to learn that in a few of the areas where they restored the forest, deer and wild pigs have returned.
Beyond protecting the environment for animals, Luis points out that healthy land means healthy people. I was amazed to learn that prior to this project the local church had identified 70% of the children as malnourished, and today all of the children are at or above their normal weight.
Christian DeVries is interviewing project participants in Honduras on behalf of Heifer International. This is the fourth in a series of posts he’s sending from the field. You can read his earlier posts here.
Africa can feed itself, if only it pays attention to its soil. This is the argument put forward by Pedro Sanchez, one of the world’s leading agricultural scientists and World Food Prize winner. Sanchez argues that too much attention has been placed on improving crop varieties and too little attention has been paid to improving Africa’s soil. With better soil Sanchez argues that Africa can more than triple its food production.
Heifer’s livestock programs in Africa combine animal husbandry with composting to work toward the very ends that Sanchez is suggesting. Hopefully more attention will be paid to improving the life giving capacity of soil rather than simply relying on genetically engineered crops to solve the world’s food problems.
We are all, from the president to a newborn child, dependent upon dirt. Soil is the stuff of life and without plentiful and healthy soil civilizations fall, people starve and unfortunately, more often than not, wars break out. It is critical then to monitor and understand the state of soil health in any place and work to preserve and rehabilitate areas under threat.
The International Center for Tropical Agriculture has begun an ambitious project to map the soil of Africa using the best in new technology. Their new site AfricaSoils.net will be a clearing house for information about the state of African soils. The information there may seem technical, but it is worth a look–the future of Africa (and all of us) depends on this kind of information.