Fertilizer Trees

No, fertilizer as we normally think of it doesn’t grow on trees! But agroforesters and other agriculturalists are using this term for any tree that helps improve the quality of soil. One great example is the Apple ring acacia (Faidherbia albida).

The Apple ring acacia is an unusual tropical nitrogen-fixing tree in that it drops its leaves in the rainy season thus adding some fertility to the soil underneath. It then leafs back out in the dry season. That would sort of be like our temperate trees losing their leaves in the summer and leafing out in the winter!

We have publicized this tree at ECHO (see EDN #107) and encourage planting it as part of a farmer’s strategy to keep land productive in a sustainable way.

ECHO intern alumni, Noah and Katie, have these trees on their site in Senegal and have some more information for us:

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Apple Ring Acacia in Senegal
photo by Noah Elhardt

March 30th, 2015 — Faidherbia albida, or Apple ring acacia. This deep-rooted Sahelian tree is famous for leafing out in the dry season and dropping its leaves in the wet season, unlike the vast majority of trees which do the opposite. (In fact, the term “reverse leaf phenology” is most often associated with this species.) This trait has saved this tree from the fate of most Sahelian trees. Its value to farmers is at least threefold: 1) The plentiful and tasty seed pods and foliage provide valuable forage to livestock during the long dry season. 2) Livestock, attracted by these treats and by the shade created by the dry-season foliage, spend a lot of time underneath these trees, fertilizing the field as they do. 3) The nitrogen-rich leaves, dropped just at the start of the rainy season, provide another source of organic inputs for the crops grown underneath.

This tree, near the farm where I work, is providing shade for cattle, sheep AND goats. 3 months to go till rainy season!


Apple Ring Acacia in Senegal's rainy season
photo by Noah Elhardt

Nov. 7th, 2015 — We’re back in lovely green Senegal! Remember that picture I posted a few months ago of an Apple ring acacia (Faidherbia albida) providing shade for livestock in the dry season? Here is the same species in the wet season.


photo by Noah Elhardt

May 31, 2017 — Faidherbia albida: the Giving Tree. Shade when you need it, none when you don’t. Forage to feed your animals in the dry season or, when you want to keep them out of your garden, thorny branches to build a fence with. This farmer is fencing in his mango trees at the beginning of fruiting season.


Faidherbia at ECHO
ECHO Apple ring acacia understory

At ECHO these trees are growing  where they are highlighted on our public tour as one of the sustainable practices we are “echoing” out to our global network.

Fertilizer Trees!

Apple Ring Acacia at ECHO
Apple ring acacia at ECHO

The 2015 ECHO Annual Conference

Full title “ECHO International Agriculture Conference 2015”. Last week (Nov. 17th to 19th) was the 22nd annual conference. Over 200 delegates listened to plenary speakers, attended workshops and got to know each other. Many have been to a number of conferences and so it feels a bit like a family reunion!

It is the only time during the year that we here in Florida are able to be in the same room with so many people in our global network. I’d like to tell you about one of those people.

Roy and his family have served in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and the Central African Republic for almost 40 years. In their mission work they assist local partners in meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of rural communities He has planted thousands of trees and has been through several coups and evacuations.

He found out about ECHO in the early years of the organization, back in the 80’s. He has read most of our development notes and technical notes, he has received seeds, and we have even sent live trees to him in Africa. He always attends this annual conference when he is in the US on home assignment.

In turn Roy has shared his knowledge and experience with ECHO. Three of our interns have served with he and his family after their internships here in Florida. And Roy has spent time at ECHO as a missionary in residence.

He shared at our closing banquet that part of the purpose of home assignment or furlough is to spend time with people that support their ministry and to spend time with family. And Roy feels that ECHO is family and so he must come see us whenever possible.

Even though Ellen and I would rather be in Africa we count it a wonderful privilege to be able to provide information and give advice to people like Roy and his family who are living and serving in communities around the world.

The Impossible Dream

Ellen and I had a great trip to Tanzania. We spent the first week with James and Daphne in Geita and Mwanza, both near Lake Victoria. In addition I had the opportunity to connect with two ECHO contacts who had attended classes in Florida and are helping communities with agricultural development there.

The next week was the ECHO East Africa Symposium in Arusha attended by 180+ delegates. The three days were packed with excellent presentations and enthusiastic networking. It is very encouraging to be with so many like-minded people who are working hard to fight hunger and improve food security in East Africa.

Food Security — what is that? The widely accepted definition is: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient  safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. (World Food Summit, 1996)

This has been the focus of my study, work and ministry for 35 years now. I have moved from a general awareness and concern for “world hunger” to a deeper understanding of what that means for communities. Is this an “Impossible Dream” (my high school class song!)? Maybe not. Although thousands die daily from diseases that bodies weakened from hunger cannot fight off we can look back and see signs of progress.

Data from the 2012 “The State of Food Insecurity in the World” report from the FAO show that the number of undernourished people in the world has dropped from close to a billion to around 850 million. Progress, yes, but still too many children die  every day from hunger, malnutrition and related causes.

Most of the gains have been in Asia and Latin America. In Sub-Saharan Africa the percentage of undernourished has dropped from 32.8% in 1992 to 26.8% in 2012. But since the population grew by 350 million people the total number of undernourished people has actually increased.

And that is why I am encouraged by the many people I know working daily to end hunger and extreme poverty. And motivated to keep pursuing the dream. ECHO promotes proven sustainable agricultural practices that build the soil, improve the environment and make agriculture more productive for farmers with limited resources. This is seen to be the most effective way of ending extreme poverty. According to that Food Insecurity report:

“Agricultural growth involving smallholders, especially women, will be most effective in reducing extreme poverty and hunger when it increases returns to labour and generates employment for the poor.” (poverty and hunger go hand-in-hand)

I close this post with a quote from “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs:

“Extreme poverty can be ended not in the time of our grandchildren, but in our time.”

East Africa 2011

Dear Friends –

Greetings from the shores of Lake Victoria – Mwanza, TZ! My apologies to those of you that might be on more than one of my address lists and thus have received multiple copies of this letter – Feel free to delete!

You may be wondering, have the Hargraves moved back to East Africa? The answer is – not at this time – We are still based in Fort Myers where Bob is on loan to ECHO from AIM – Africa Inland Mission – and Ellen is working in support of the education of our missionary kids.

The main reason for this particular trip is Bob’s assignment to head up a Symposium to be put on by ECHO in Arusha, Tanzania February 8-10th – eeek – that is next week! There is always plenty for me to do here in East Africa, so since it looked like Bob would need to be on this side of the water for about 6 or 7 weeks, we were able to work it with our mission for me to come as well. Part of the time I have been with Bob and part of the time I have been working on separate assignments in different places.

We left the US on January 9th along with Karyn Traum who just finished her internship at ECHO. She is Bob’s assistant for this particular project. We purposefully routed ourselves through Atlanta to avoid holdups with winter weather – but as you all probably know, the winter storms hit Atlanta brutally at the time of our departure, so we were rerouted through Minneapolis!!!! Although it was very cold and the snow was deep – the skies were quite clear – and we made it to Nairobi at the expected time.

How great to be met at the airport by George who works at our Guest House there and who we have known for many years! We were able to rest there at Mayfield Guest House and then fly on to Eldoret, Kenya where we lived Fall of 09 when we taught at the AIC Missionary College. It was great to reunite there with old friends and stay in the home of Ray & Jill Davis who are now on their Home Assignment in North America. We were able to use the Davis’s car during our week in Western Kenya. That was extremely helpful! A trip was made to the home of our dear friend Hellen- She is a Kenyan woman who lived in Cheptebo when we did and left about the same time as us. Her husband was usually drunk and abusive and she had two extremely mentally challenged children – along with a fine son who loves the Lord and is now in college studying Social Work (thanks to our Sunday School Class in Fort Myers). Our time with Hellen’s family was very encouraging!

Next we travelled to Cheptebo and as always were very warmly welcomed by Sally and Joseph. Joseph, a fine Kalenjin man, took over the project leadership from Bob when we left the summer of 03 – and has moved things way beyond anything we ever imagined. One clear mark is that now people all over the community are growing and marketing many delicious varieties of mangoes – and vast improvements can be seen in the average person’s economic situation. Also, the size of the congregation in the church has about tripled – and there are clear signs of spiritual growth and vibrancy in the church service – and all aspects of community life.

It is hard for me to express clearly all of the emotions that going back to Eldoret and Cheptebo evoke in me. It is very humbling to see “youth” that we ministered to and with come to maturity as such godly and competent leaders in the church and many aspects of social and community life.. Thank you Lord! It is only by your grace –

As you probably know, James is now a missionary in Mwanza, Tanzania. He took a bus from Mwanza, through Bukoba, TZ and then Kampala, Uganda and on to Eldoret meeting us there. Consequently, another delight was the fact that he was able to join us on this leg of our journey. He had not been back to Cheptebo for 8 years – so this was a great time for both James and the community – and of course a joy for us to get to spend this time with him.

It was quite hard to leave the valley – and many pictures of that time are on Facebook – if any of you are not on Facebook and would like to see those pictures, I can send you a link! Let me know!

The following week, Bob and Karyn headed on to Arusha, Tanzania to work on the Symposium, James headed to Nairobi to see a childhood friend who was visiting his parents along with his wife and daughter and I went on to AIM’s ABO – Africa Based Orientation. This is a three and a half week orientation for all of our new missionaries from the US, Canada, Asia, Down Under, Europe, South America and Europe – . I was able to help set things up and be a part of the first few days of this orientation. I met individually with each of the parents, and discussed their plans for educating their children in Africa. I was also able to help part of the day with the Children’s program – specifically the time when they were working on their academic school work that their mothers had assigned. The rest of the day they had a program which basically mirrored the program of the parents at their level – this time there were just 8 children aged 4 – 11. I did not post any pictures from this week.

After a weekend in Nairobi, where I was able to enjoy time with very close friends and James, I headed on to Arusha to join Bob and Karyn, while James went back home to Mwanza. Last week I was with Bob at “Engedi” – this is the base for AIM’s TIMO program – (if you are interested in learning more about this, you can check it out on AIM’s website: www.aimint.org/usa. and find the link to TIMO). Over the course of the years, I have been quite involved with many in our TIMO program, so it was such a delight to be able to come be there myself – a wonderful retreat about a 45 minute drive outside of Arusha with an unbelievable view of Mt. Meru. I have a lot of work that needs to be done by computer – so besides enjoying the environment, I spent a good deal of time working there.

We left Arusha by plane from Kilimanjaro Airport (with a lovely view of the mountain) on Saturday to join James in Mwanza. How special to be surrounded by the community in which he is living and meeting those that are a part of his daily life! He has just moved into his new home which is on the compound of a delightful Tanzanian family that have welcomed him – and thus us – with open arms. After church on Sunday, the folks from his local congregation made their way to his new home for a special blessing which we were delighted to be a part of. It is humbling to see our son thriving as an adult here in the Tanzanian community. His Kiswahili has certainly surpassed mine!

Today, Bob is flying back to Arusha. I will take the night ferry with James across a segment of Lake Victoria to Bukoba where part of his missionary team – all fellow Americans – reside. I will be there until Thursday morning, at which time I will fly back to Arusha to join Bob.

Next week will be the ECHO Conference – and then Bob will stay in Arusha to finish details, and I will travel to Kenya to work in the Children’s program of another AIM Conference and consult with more of our Homeschooling parents after which time we will return to the US!

Thanks to so many of you who pray for us, support us emotionally, spiritually, practically and financially – We could not have the privilege of serving the Lord without you!!!!

Much love and prayers –

Ellen Hargrave – for Bob as well