What is ECHO?

Earlier this month Ellen and I were at headquarters to connect with people preparing to serve with Africa Inland Mission. We made new friends and were encouraged to hear their stories and their plans.

I’m not really part of the schedule but I enjoy being there to renew friendships with the staff and to consult with the candidates about any agricultural questions they have. By far the most common question is “Now what is this ECHO place and what do you do there?” Because I have been in the ECHO network since 1985 and on staff with ECHO for 15 years I find it difficult to concisely answer those questions!

What is ECHO?

Well, here’s the official wording from the organization:
Honoring God by empowering the undernourished with sustainable hunger solutions”

from the strategic plan: “From its very beginnings, ECHO has retained a clear focus on equipping small-scale farmers with training, information, and seeds that reduce hunger.”

So the key words are agriculture, information, training, seeds, hunger. Each day as I enter the building I see a sign by the door that states “ECHO: Fighting World Hunger”.

So What Do I Do?

I fight world hunger. A key duty outlined in my job description reads “1. Serve as a senior member of the team that responds to requests from our overseas network for agricultural and networking information.”

The key word there is “team”. That team includes staff that have worked in many locations and climates globally which means that we can provide information and perspective on a wide range of agricultural questions. And we also have regional center staff with specific knowledge about their areas.

For the 18 plus years we served in Kenya I was on the receiving end of ECHO’s ministry. My kids say that when the quarterly edition of ECHO Development Notes arrived in the mail I was not to be bothered until I had read the whole edition cover to cover! ECHO was one of my main sources of information and encouragement.

So when the time came to hand off the work in Kenya to the completely capable national church, I was thrilled to be invited to work at ECHO for a couple of years. Well, that has stretched to 15 years for family reasons but I am blessed to be here and help provide information, training, and advice on seeds and community development in general.

It is a privilege to serve the countless numbers of people around the world as they work to improve the food security of their communities.

More info about ECHO

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:


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