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Students make a difference in Peru using an ancient technology

During the spring, a team of 6 students formed a team with Prof. Gerry Polesky to plan a project in Cusco, Peru, in cooperation with Andes Libres, a Peruvian non-profit Gerry is working with to teach short courses in entrepreneurship. The team was interested in doing a GlobalResolve project that would benefit a community around Cusco and, working with Andes Libres, they developed an interest in biochar, an ancient technology to convert agricultural waste to charcoal that, when plowed into the soil can increase crop yield by as much as 800%. Biochar has the potential to significantly boost the farming economy.

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 12.36.35 PMThe team chose GAIA as its name, both because it is the mythical goddess of the Earth and is the acronym for Growth Alternatives in Action. The team realized that with some help from our partner, they were ready to go to Peru in June to demonstrate Biochar production and use. Two team members volunteered to travel to Peru in June: Jesus Garcia-Gonzales, a grad student in applied biology whose undergrad degree is in Agronomy and who is fluent in Spanish, and Abiola Doherty a freshman in software development. The travelers included 5 others: Prof. Polesky; Stephanie Thompson, from TEM; Meredith Kerrigan, a grad student in Global Health from Tulane; Erin Henderson, a Kyrene teacher; and Prof. Mark Henderson, director of GlobalResolve. One highlight of the trip was seeing Machu Picchu.

With that introduction, the following narrative is written by Jesus about the team’s initial discovery of Biochar and their experience in Peru.

Our project in Peru initially started as part of a class project, Make Your Ideas Happen. Our partner Andes Libres (a non-profit organization, centered in Cusco, Peru) helped us establish communication with Pumamarca, a rural community located thirty minutes away from Cusco. We were told that the farmers have been struggling to produce the same amount of crops as previous years. The soil had been degraded; plant pathogens had become more virulent, crop yields had decreased, and their dependence on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides had increased.

We quickly began investigating ways to increase the soil fertility. The process should be simple, sustainable, reliable, affordable, replicable, but most importantly, it should use local resources. We came across an ancient technology known as “Terra Petra de Indio”(Indian black earth) dark, carbon-rich soils, notable for their high fertility. These soils are believed to have been created by pre-Columbian Amerindian populations in the Amazon, more than 3000 years ago. Terra petra has high amounts of plant available nutrients, high levels of organic matter, high moisture retention and it enables the growth of beneficial microorganisms. The key to their long-lasting fertility and durability is their high levels of biochar (a highly

stable organic black carbon) – produced when organic matter (crop residues, food waste, manures) is pyrolized at low temperatures, in the absence of oxygen. During the process, half of the carbon in the starting biomass will be converted into biochar, while the other half is concentrated in the exhaust gases and liquids. These can be then captured and turn into renewable energy. The more we learned about biochar, the more passionate we became.

Biochar improves the soil quality by acting like a sponge, absorbing and storing plant nutrients and soil moisture. This is due to its capacity to retain positive ions, a soil property known as cation exchange capacity (CEC) and to its huge surface area. Its particles and numerous micropores enable the growth of beneficial microorganisms. This improves the soil fertility, resulting in higher crop yields, and elevating profit margins for farmers, while completely eliminating any detrimental effects to the environment.

In addition to rehabilitating degraded soils, biochar has the potential to mitigate climate change. The production of biochar and its incorporation into soils has been suggested as a possible way to reduce the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Longer lasting soil fertility could present the solution to reducing deforestation, resulting in a higher uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In addition, the production of renewable energy as a co-product of biochar has the potential to minimize our current dependence on fossil fuels.

We traveled to Cusco, Peru this past June to share our research with the community in hopes of resolving their soil fertility issues. During our time there, we met with Paulino, the President of Pumamarca, and several committee members. He showed us around the community and we spoke with several community members, who shared with us that at one point, Pumamarca was formerly known for their flower production. However, due to the loss soil fertility and increasing incidence of plant pathogens, their flower production had greatly diminished.

We held an information session to try to identify farmers willing to incorporate biochar into their fields. During the information session we showed the audience how to make the pyrolyzer; we then discussed the benefits of biochar, and proceeded to demonstrate the process.

We were looking for at least one farmer to share our enthusiasm and volunteer to

try biochar in his own fields. We were fortunate to find Ciprian and his wife Julia (Pumamarca residents), who have a small plot where they volunteered to test the biochar. We showed Ciprian how to mix the hamster (cuy) manure with the biochar in the optimal proportions. By the time we left, Ciprian had already taken ownership of the pyrolizer, made biochar and used it to plant his crops.

We are confident that once the other community members see results they will also begin to apply biochar into their fields. We plan on continuing our work in Pumamarca.

Jesus gave three biochar presentations to classes at the local agricultural college and piqued sufficient interest that some of the students want to do their graduate theses on the topic and work with our community to monitor the progress and spread biochar use. We look forward to working with them.

Since our visit, the neighboring community of Quillahuata, has stepped forward and ask for our help as they too, face the same problems with their soils. We intend to continue to extend our services and share our research with rural communities throughout Peru and hopefully to other parts of Latin America. Currently, we are conducting research on ways to make our pyrolizer more efficient, by developing a way to collect the exhaust gas to produce renewable energy. We intend to continue this project in the fall by forming a team in the course Design for the Developing World and return to Peru next year with an improved pyrolizer and an enthusiastic community.

The world is now facing the need to feed 7+ billion people everyday. As population growth continues to expand, the pressure in the agriculture industry will continue to intensify. Current agricultural practices will not be able to keep up and we simply cannot continue pouring chemicals into our soils without expecting devastating ramifications. It is our responsibility, and in our best interest, to not only focus on increasing productivity, but also consider the environmental and social repercussions (alleviate hunger, improve nutrition, and reduce poverty).

ASU students experience life in poverty on $2/day

Nearly half of the world’s population lives on $2/day or less and sometimes it takes actually doing it to understand the difficulties and to become involved in reducing poverty.

Global Resolve and Esperanca.org partnered to sponsor the Two Dollar Challenge on April 10-12, 2013 at ASU’s Polytech campus where students volunteered to live on $2/ day to raise awareness of poverty in the world, including Arizona. The students committed to live for 3 days within the rules that all of the following must fit within the $2/day individual budget: food, water/drinks, transportation, and entertainment. The volunteers built a cardboard shelter for their use for the 3 days of the Challenge and learned to pool their money for food and to barter for things like rides to the grocery. All students agreed that they have a better understanding of what it is like to live in poverty. The Two Dollar Challenge concept was started by Professor Shawn Humphrey of the University of Mary Washington who started the event 5 years ago.

ASU’s Challenge was led by Mentor Dida, an undergraduate in Alternative Energy whose experience growing up in Kosovo resonated with the goals of the Challenge. Fifteen students were involved in living in poverty and, over the course of the 3 days, were interviewed on live TV by Channels 5, 3 and 12.

This is a very appropriate event for GlobalResolve to sponsor because of the student passion and the relationship to base of the pyramid projects to reduce the effects of poverty.

To become involved, email globalresolve@asu.edu 

GlobalResolve gives local “fruit bandits” a chance to try the Bike Smoothie

GlobalResolve’s Director of Design, John Takamura has been working in Toluca, Mexico with Tec de Monterrey for several years. His design students have produced products that meet the needs of the community of San Antonio Buena Vista, a very low-income area that sits next door to the university. He has taken several trips to Toluca in past years and this year he took some students in summer 2012 and one student, Breck Byington in 2013.

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 12.12.25 PM

This is John’s report on the 2013 trip. Th ere were 2 primary goals for the trip. The first goal was to test our prototype for the Bike Smoothie Maker in the poor rural community of San Antonio Buenavista with a team of Tec de Monterrey and GlobalResolve students from our Spring GR course Design for the Developing World. Th e second goal was to present the clothing brand we developed at GlobalResolve for the Mazahua Indigenous Tribe and to further our work with the tribe’s women to develop the Mazahua fashion product line. We worked with the Tec students adjusting and fine tuning the final bike design.

We sought out local community welders and bike shops to make sure the concept could be produced locally within the rural community rather than in Mexico City or greater Toluca. We also worked at the Tec de Monterrey campus with the students to apply the brand to the prototype. In our tests of the prototype in the community we also made sure to get community input on the brand.

We asked everyone from kids to young adults to the elderly regarding how they felt about our brand FruitBandit (in Spanish ‘FrutaBandito’). Th e objective of project was to use the bike smoothie concept as a way to educate the community about diabetes and how a healthy diet and daily exercise can help prevent this most devastating disease in the community.

The idea of the brand was to make healthy eating and exercise fashionable. Not unlike people walking around with StarBucks cups in the city, we want the rural community to embrace the FruitBandit brand as a healthy lifestyle alternative.

Kids, men, women, and even the elderly participated in the prototype testing and the community seemed very excited about the project. The Tec student volunteers worked with our GlobalResolve students and had a lot of fun at the same time.

We also worked with the women of the Mazahua Indigenous Tribe. We have been building our relationship with the tribe for the past couple years and we were continuing our work from last summer on the Mazahua fashion brand and product line for the tribal venture we are helping them with.

We designed the fashion brand Vittu which means ‘clothing’ in the Mazahua indigenous language and we discussed with the tribe’s women how to build the fashion brand concept as a fair trade indigenous clothing brand not unlike Global Mama’s brand of Ghana.

We created a mock website featuring the dress prototype we developed with them last summer.

We had the opportunity to be on Mexican local TV again and presented our work on the FruitBandit bike smoothie maker prototype. Both GloblResolve and Tec students were interviewed for the TV program.

Takamura also guest lectured for Tec de Monterrey MBA students interested in social entrepreneurship for the BoP.

Global Resolve hosts first annual Innovation Awards

This year Global Resolve began what will be annual awards to top student innovators to encourage continued development and marketing of effective solutions to poverty. The Global Resolve awards went specifically to social entrepreneurship projects to help alleviate the effects of poverty in the developing world. The candidate pool was chosen from those teams submitting proposals to the Edson Entrepreneurship Competition at ASU. We had some impressive submissions and chose the top three awards as described briefly below.

First award – $1500 – to Eric Monaco for his solar vehicle design. Designed for transportation in places with insufficient engine fuel, the solution consists of a bike attached to a solar powered trailer that powers the bike and can transport people, crops, water and other important cargoes with NO external fuel. We feel this has high potential to create sustainable economic development in rural and urban locations.

Second award – $1000 – to GAIA, a team from CTI who are helping improve crops in rural Peru by teaching and using Biochar, charcoal created from agricultural waste that can improve crop productivity as much as 800%. You can see a picture of Abiola and our Peruvian partners in the ASUNews article photo (link below). Team members this past spring were Kathleen Stefanik, Jesus Garcia-Gonzales, Abiola Doherty, Jesse St. Amand, Aaron Carr and Tyson Stevenson. Jesus and Abiola traveled to Peru in June to begin introducing biochar to the farmers. See a companion story elsewhere in the newsletter.

Third award – $500 – SafeSIPP This project also is an Edson award winner this year and last. SafeSIPP is a water transport drum that filters water as it rolls from the well to the village, arriving with potable water. Warren te Brugge from our GR Advisory Board, is the primary mentor for the team.

We are very proud of these teams and wish them well as they advance their designs to the next level.

GlobalResolve and Tec de Monterrey join forces to revitalize town, design solutions

Professor John Takamura and graduate researchers Aaron Smith and Elisa Tostado from ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts are joining forces with design, engineering and business students from Tecnologico de Monterrey to revitalize the town of San Antonio Buenavista in Toluca, Mexico.

GlobalResolve and Tec de Monterrey join forces to revitalize town, design solutions from ASU Video Production on Vimeo.

GlobalResolve Projects Take Innovation Challenge Awards

The ASU Gel Fuel Stove project will help the village of Domeabra, Ghana, start production of gelled ethanol and a high-efficiency stove to eliminate smoke from cooking fires and reduce respiratory disease and childhood mortality.  Production and market testing began in Fall 2010 in partnership with CEESD, a non-profit organization for creation of energy and environmental sustainability.

Daylight Solutions. LLC, is developing the Twig Light for the global market with the intention to manufacture, assemble and distribute the lights in Ghana in the next year.  The Twig Light will provide lighting in off-grid locations using only waste heat from decaying cooking fires or other fuel such as gelled ethanol and LEDs to create safe, inexpensive, high-quality lighting for socializing, homework and reading and village safety.

Carbon Roots International is a non-profit developing a breeder stove for Haiti communities to make and sell charcoal from waste biomass.  This project emerged from the Village Energy Systems course (TEM494) which is a part of the GlobalResolve curriculum.

We are very proud of our GlobalResolve students and their amazing innovations and wish them all the best in making a difference in the developing world.

For a list of all 2011 ASU Innovation Challenge winners, visit http://innovationchallenge.asu.edu/winners/spring-2011.