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ECHO plants ‘Seeds of Hope’ in pandemic world

By Staff | May 6, 2020

ECHO may be located in North Fort Myers, but considering its mission is to combat hunger worldwide, it has a huge footprint in trying to help those in need.

Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on the world’s food supply, according to ECHO representatives from its three regional hubs in Southeast Asia, and eastern and western Africa.

Tim Albright, chief operating officer at ECHO, said in Southeast Asia, like the United States, the new coronavirus has resulted in a slowdown of movement, with many ports being closed, impacting the delivery of needed food.

“Schools are closed and internal transport often is on lockdown. There are curfews restricting movement between urban and rural areas,” Albright said. “We are focusing on providing information, knowledge and seed resources in growing food.”

ECHO has started a program called “Seeds of Hope” where they are sending 1,000 packets of seeds to areas hit hardest. There are many unemployed migrant workers on the Thailand/Burma border who can’t readily leave and the seeds will help them grow food.

In Africa, Albright said there are areas where the threat of starvation is very real. In east Africa, there are cyclical locust swarms tag teaming with COVID-19 to create food deficits.

In West Africa, terrorism has been a factor as it has come from the north to cause massive movements of people who are internally displaced. The virus has made things worse.

“It’s a combination of COVID and the disaster-oriented pieces with terror and the locusts. Many of the countries in the west are landlocked and importation has been restricted,” Albright said. “Food process are going up and much of the economic pieces we’re experiencing are being shut down. Food is scarce and COVID is contributing.”

Albright said the fact that many people live in urban areas in close quarters can serve to spread the disease. There are no answers to the question of what these areas will look like a year from now.

“That’s tough to say. Health care isn’t what it is here. People living in crowded communities can make the disease quite deadly,” Albright said. “In Asia, there is a high concentration of people around urban centers and that leads to a rapid spread of COVID.”

Locally, ECHO has cancelled its tours, no longer welcomes outside visitors and has sent many of its office-based people home to work. Its main office and book store are also closed.

ECHO spokesperson Danielle Flood said from her home that the farm is doing all it can to help locally.

“We’ve been able to donate hundreds of pounds of fresh produce to different food distributors and are distributing seeds. Our team on the farm can efficiently do its work with social distancing,” Flood said. “We’re also producing on out farm to help our community for the better.”

Flood said they are waiting to see what’s “prudent and healthy” before deciding on when to reopen things for visitors, but ECHO plans to reopen July 1, pending what the government says is safe.

Until then, people can visit www.echonet.org, to catch up on its goings-on and to buy merchandise.

“ECHO is still selling seeds if people want to start a garden, which are available on our website. We’re seeing an increase in interest in people growing their own food and being outside and healthy,” Flood said. “The same seed we ship around the globe to help their food livelihood, we’re making available to the community.”

Seeds can be purchased at echoseeds.square.site .

Those who wish to aid the seed effort, or who way to make a general donation may do so at echonet.org . The non-profit has added a button to its home page.