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ECHO hosts agriculture conference

November 22, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

More than 200 people from 25 countries came to Southwest Florida this past week to help make the world a little less hungry.

ECHO held its 24th annual International Agriculture Conference, with morning and evening programs at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Fort Myers and the afternoon sessions at the 50-acre ECHO Farm in North Fort Myers.

The three-day event gave individuals an opportunity to network and learn more about stable agriculture from speakers and experts in the field worldwide as well as discuss challenges they encounter in their particular parts of the world.

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ECHO founder Martin Price shows how people in dry areas without water wash their hands at the 24th annual International Agriculture Conference at ECHO Farm last week.


"People from universities are working on agricultural training, from non-profits, from government and from all over the world helping small scale farmers raise themselves out of poverty," said Danielle Flood, communications director at ECHO.

The afternoon sessions tend to be the most interesting, as they offer delegates hands-on experience in a variety of topics, from splitting sheets of bamboo into sheets for construction, to strategies to mitigate hurricane damage to fruit trees through pruning and tree size management, something emphasized by Hurricane Irma.

"We lost 60 trees and they weren't landscaping to us. They are demonstration trees, research trees and seed producers. It had an impact to our mission, but people rallied behind us. We had 250 volunteers give 4,000 hours of work and raised funds to help our recovery," Flood said. "Staff documented our recovery efforts, from trees that rerooted to those that did not, the methods we used to protect the bark and help trees stay up. Those techniques will be presented."

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Among the biggest challenges farmers face around the world are political unrest, climate change, getting food to market, transportation and storage and urbanization. Flood said if farmers can thrive, it can reduce hunger around the world.

Delegates worldwide were at the farm for the afternoon sessions. David Balsbaugh, a former ECHO worker who now works for the Chapin's Living Waters Foundation, which provides drip irrigation to dry lands worldwide, said the conference he once ran was going great.

"We get to network and meet people. These kinds of things are great because we learn what other people are doing," Balsbaugh said. "I'm surprised by how the farm has recovered from Irma. It doesn't seem to affect the conference."

Balsbaugh said he was in Haiti, which has a mixed bag of challenges, from political to resources. He said it begins with grass-root level work with local farmers and working with them, whether it be a major issue or a simple pack of seeds.

Katy Mosiman, of the University of Illinois AGREACH initiative, said there was a diverse set of workshops, including classrooms and hands-on experience.

"The love the farm. The amazing way they have divided it into different regions of the world is incredible to see," Mosiman said. "I've learned about organizations I didn't know about and see different career path avenues."

Margaret Tagwira, of Africa University, has come to the conference four times. She has helped chia, a nutritious drought resistant plant, become an important vegetable in Africa.

"I had someone call me and say if you don't help this week, someone will die. I sent dried chia plants and made it part of their diet," Tagwira said.



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