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On April 18, Worldwatch Institute's blog, Nourishing the Planet, published a list of 15 ways agriculture can "promote a healthier environment and a more food-secure future." In honor of Earth Day 2011, we would like to explore these 15 ways and how Heifer's projects around the world are addressing these issues. We are doing this in three separate posts, matching five Heifer projects with the corresponding Nourishing the Planet concepts. Read 1-5 here.

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.
7. Improving Soil Fertility
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.
Do this experiment to learn how earthworms act as nature's plows and add nutrients to soil and build your own worm bin.
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.

Fund a Project working with women's groups in India, Nepal or Cambodia


Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She and her husband raise two daughters in a house way too small for their four pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping.