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ECHO hosts International Agriculture Conference

By Staff | Nov 23, 2015

CHUCK?BALLARO Brad Ward, an ECHO volunteer, discusses composting on the ECHO Farm in North Fort Myers during the 22nd annual International Agriculture Conference last Wednesday.  

More than 200 delegates from nearly 30 countries were in Southwest Florida for three days last week as ECHO held its 22nd annual International Agriculture Conference.

While many of the events and speakers were at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Fort Myers during the morning and evening, the afternoon was spent at the ECHO Farm in North Fort Myers, where the delegates got hands-on work on numerous ways to keep the countries they feed remain sustainable.

The delegates came to the farm on Wednesday afternoon and broke up into groups on subjects that either most interested them or was an area of concern where they worked.

Danielle Flood, ECHO spokesperson, said the delegates ran the gamut of expertise and age.

“We have development workers, students, academics, and they an incredible cross-section of people passionate for serving the poor through agriculture,” Flood said. “There are needs in every country, and many of the countries represented are places where small-scale farming is key to ending the cycle of hunger.”

The conference allows delegates to network and come up with creative solutions to today’s hunger problems. ECHO engages and learns from farmers and encourages them to share their knowledge with others, Flood said.

That knowledge can be put to the test on the farm. Among the many things worked on Wednesday included grafting, composting, propagation techniques, growing fruit trees and different varieties of bamboo, challenges facing small farmers and much more.

Yonus Mekasha, a delegate from Compassion International in Ethiopia, watched as Betsey Langford grafted an avocado and loquat tree. He said he came to learn more to help better feed his country, which has dealt with hunger issues in the past.

“I came here to learn more about agriculture technology and a new way of farming. I learned about grafting and how we can work on different plants and fruits,” Mekasha said. “We still have challenges because we are a rain-dependent country. This helped me understand more about drip-irrigation and other methods.”

Jeff Ploegstra, a professor of biology at Dordt College in Iowa, brings his students to ECHO for summer internships regularly. He saw this as an opportunity to interact with people worldwide, as they have an interest in farming internationally.

“There isn’t a better place than ECHO to get trained in those techniques. They’ve had a great experience and have met people,” Ploegstra said. “Hunger in the United States is a matter of distribution and access. Internationally, you look at access to education or technical expertise that people can take home to their part of the world.”

Jeanpy Clairme of Haiti, represents Double Harvest. His brother was a delegate in 2009 and became interested in the conference.

He became a fish manager with Double Harvest, where he learned to check water and electric levels and raise 50,000 fish per month so he can help feed people.

He was with Rhoda Beutler, a translator, a veteran of these conferences who represented Heart Institute in Lake Wales, where students go through a 15-week program in sustainable agriculture and what they can do around the world.

“I’ve been to 10 of the last 11 conferences, so it’s nice to come home,” Beutler said, who has worked in Haiti and learned to speak Creole. “They always have new speakers so something usually sparks my mind. It’s a community of global practitioners who learn from each other and see what’s growing and changing over time.”