TWP is a non-profit organization based in Fort Collins, Colorado with a mission to improve people’s lives by helping communities to protect, conserve, and manage the natural resources upon which their long-term well-being depends. Trees Water & People was founded in 1998 by Stuart Conway and Richard Fox in order to establish reforestation, watershed protection, appropriate technology, and environmental education programs in Central America, the Caribbean, and the American West. Since its inception, TWP has achieved notable successes in its programs that have been recognized in many ways, including receiving the prestigious Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy in 2005. Additionally, TWP has received media coverage by the BBC, CNN International, National Geographic, Worldwatch Magazine, and National Public Radio, among others. The organization’s efforts are guided by the principles that natural resources are best protected when local people play a substantial role in their care and management, and that preserving local trees, wetlands, and watersheds is essential for the ongoing social, economic, and environmental health of communities everywhere.
Using this approach, TWP has established local tree nurseries and reforestation projects across Central America, which help to combat the area’s severe deforestation. Also in this region, TWP has introduced fuel-efficient stoves into numerous communities. TWP’s improved stoves are an alternative to traditional 3-stone open fire cookstoves. Traditional cooking methods threaten the health of families due to toxic smoke that is trapped inside the kitchen. Furthermore, traditional stoves use more firewood than necessary. The stoves that TWP has developed with Aprovecho Research Center use 50% – 70% less firewood. To date, TWP has built approximately 27,000 stoves and planted 2.5 million trees in Central America.
TWP also works in the American West. An important project currently expanding across North American reservations is the Tribal Lands Renewable Energy Program. This program involves local residents in the production, installation and maintenance of solar heating systems in order to reduce exorbitantly high utility bills common in reservation communities. Additionally, TWP volunteers and community members plant shade and windbreak trees at homes on the reservations. The benefits of this program are extensive. In particular, the program reduces the reliance of native peoples on harmful fuel sources, frees up limited family income to be used on other necessities, and provides a link between the people and their traditional beliefs of harmony with nature and responsible stewardship of Mother Earth.
In following their guiding principles for conservation and protection efforts, TWP has developed programs specific to each participating country that promote active local participation in projects.
Tree Nurseries in Nicaragua
An innovative example of one of TWP’s community partnerships in Nicaragua is the Forest Replacement Association (FRA). Currently, TWP is working with a partner NGO in Nicaragua, PROLEÑA, to assist in the establishment of these cooperatives. The emergence of FRAs has been significant in their ability to provide a sustainable local source of wood instead of relying on the destruction of forests for wood resources FRAs operate as partnerships between farmers and fuelwood consumers such as local industry and domestic stove users. In running an FRA, the first step is the establishment of a local nursery to raise tree seedlings. Farmers participating in the FRA partnership are then given seedlings from the local nursery to grow on their own land. The farmers are motivated to participate by a guarantee that once the seedlings have matured, the local fuelwood consumers will provide a market for the resource at a fair-market price. By providing fuelwood to consumers on a local level, FRAs supply an alternative so that the devastating environmental effects of deforestation can be avoided. Additionally, they create an opportunity for income generation for local farmers. So far the FRAs have sold over 1,750,000 tree seedlings to farmers to be grown for sustainable firewood.
Improved Woodstoves in Honduras
In Honduras, TWP’s Micro-Enterprise Stove Project was designed to address the adverse effects of traditional open cookstoves in the homes of Hondurans. The traditional cooking methods produce significant toxic smoke, which is trapped inside the kitchen, leading to severe Indoor Air Pollution (IAP), which can lead to respiratory disease, cataracts, low birthweight babies, and miscarriage. In addition, traditional cookstoves consume large amounts of fuelwood and this contributes to the rapid depletion of native forests. TWP, Aprovecho Reseach Center, and the Honduran Association for Development (AHDESA), have jointly developed several fuel-efficient, healthy stove designs, ranging in price from $10 to $120, that address these problems across Honduras.
Besides offering concrete solutions to the problems of deforestation and IAP, TWP’s Micro-Enterprise Stove Project in Honduras involves community members in stove production, installation, and advocacy to increase opportunity and gain local involvement. Together with a local community, TWP is implementing plans that are making a difference in the lives of many Hondurans. To date, TWP and AHDESA have built more than 13,000 Justa and EcoStoves in Honduras.
Improved Charcoal Stoves in Haiti
In recent news, TWP has initiated a similar stove program in Haiti. Less than 2% of Haiti’s native forests remain today. A cycle of perpetual political and economic instability has led to severe depletion of the country’s resources and has left the vast majority of the population living in extreme poverty. TWP is addressing the situation with an affordable version of the Rocket stove. In Haiti, the traditional cooking method utilizes charcoal. With an understanding that it is best to develop a solution that is locally appropriate, TWP has modified their designs and come up with a clay version of the Rocket stove to use this traditional fuel. The charcoal is burned more efficiently in these stoves and the pressure on natural resources is reduced.
Renewable Energy for Tribal Lands
Within the U.S., TWP has established the Tribal Lands Renewable Energy Program to serve Native American families on reservations. The program began when we learned of the extremely high utility bills on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Many residents of the reservation often spend more than 70% of their cash income on electricity or propane to heat their homes – expensive and environmentally damaging choices inconsistent with traditional Native American beliefs about responsible stewardship of the Earth. This channeling of their income towards utilities limits their ability to provide other family necessities such as food, medicine and clothing.
In response, TWP collaborated with local community members at Pine Ridge to implement a comprehensive conservation project. One part of the program is the strategic planting of trees to save families up to 20% in utility costs by sheltering homes from the winter wind and summer sun. Another component of the Tribal Lands Renewable Energy Program is the installation of supplemental solar heating systems. By harnessing the sun’s natural power through solar energy, these heaters are an important sustainable part of the TWP program. The heating systems provide relief from high utility bills, supply an environmentally-friendly heating alternative, and contribute to the well-being of families on the reservation by providing warmth.
TWP’s partnership with one community leader in particular, Henry Red Cloud, has led to the creation of one of America’s first and only 100% Native American-owned renewable energy company – Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE). LSE has taken the initiative to begin manufacturing and installing solar heating systems. Local heating system production is important because it keeps the revenue from these units on the reservation, and jobs are created in a location where unemployment exceeds 80%.
TWP’s Tribal Lands Renewable Energy Program has already had considerable success and is gaining momentum in Native American communities all across the Great Plains. In 2006, TWP joined the Clean Energy Education Project of the nearby Rosebud Reservation – a demonstration of the potential for harnessing solar and wind energy through small-scale applications. As part of this pilot project, TWP and LSE helped install a residential-sized wind turbine and solar electric system for a Rosebud family in 2007. Through a partnership with Winona LaDuke and her Honor the Earth organization, TWP has now conducted solar heat workshops and installations in ten reservation communities in seven states across the Great Plains. To meet the increasing demand for practical knowledge and training in renewable energy applications among Native Americans, TWP and Henry Red Cloud established the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center at Pine Ridge in 2007. The Center will serve as a residential training facility, resource center and information clearinghouse where tribal leaders can come to learn about renewable energy developments from other Native Americans.