ECHOing a Need for Innovation in Agriculture

Beth Doerr, ECHO Intern Manager and Agricultural Consultant

Beth Doerr, ECHO Intern Manager and Agricultural Consultant

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009, Worldwatch Senior Researcher, Danielle Nierenberg, and Research Fellow, Molly Theobald took a trip to ECHO Farms in Ft. Myers Florida to see some examples of agricultural innovations and technologies in action. The following post is the first in a four-part series that discusses this trip and some of the things we learned.

See below for video of Beth Doerr discussing the importance of easy to make and use technologies and stay tuned for more in-depth exploration of specific examples of sustainable technologies at ECHO. We’ll also spend some time getting to know the young interns who help make ECHO’s knowledge global after graduating from the year long training program.

When we first poked our heads into Beth Doerr’s office at ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) last Tuesday morning, we had no idea that the quiet woman with the friendly smile was such a powerhouse of innovations at this Ft. Myers, Florida-based demonstration farm. We knew she was the Intern Manager and the wife of Stan Doerr, the larger-than-life Executive Director of ECHO, but later in the day, we also learned that Beth is at the forefront of collecting low-tech, low-cost ways for farmers in the developing world to grow food better. Listening to Beth describe her experiences living, learning and teaching abroad, we definitely learned that appearances can be deceiving.

Standing in her “workshop” of appropriate technologies, surrounded by efficient and resourceful tools used to clean water, cook meals, and prevent indoor air pollution, Beth talked about the importance of listening to the needs of a specific group of people and having a “collection” of dependable and tested answers, technologies and procedures as a resource. During a year long internship with ECHO a few decades ago, Beth learned about the “rope and washer pump”—a low tech, easy to repair pumping system using locally available technology that originated in Zimbabwe. Beth used what she learned at ECHO while working in a community in Malawi. Beth was surprised, she said, not only about how excited people were about this innovation, but that they had never heard about it or seen it, although it was literally being used in the country right next door.

Today, Beth has used her some 30 years of experience to amass a collection of light weight water pumps, indoor pollution reducing cook stoves, and oil presses that are easy to make, use, and maintain in villages and urban areas all over the world. Available on the farm for testing, comparison and modification, these tools represent the exchange of information that ECHO is all about. “This isn’t about reinventing the wheel,” explains Beth. “This is about finding out what works and making it available to others who could benefit from it.” And it’s also about making sure these options are sustainable. All of the tools in Beth’s collection can be made, replicated, or fixed with basic materials and without too much training, ensuring a long term solution to basic needs in the places in most need.

As Beth lead us around the area dedicated to her collection of innovations, Stan stood by, contributing additional anecdotes and insights into the philosophy behind ECHO’s approach to assembling and disseminating a wealth of information and knowledge.

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