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Recent Activities

International Day of Forests 2018

Egypt’s Bright Food Future—the Potential of Urban Agriculture to Transform Communities

March 21st is United Nations International Day of Forests, a day to celebrate the significant contributions of the world’s forests. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) commemorates the day and its 2018 theme, ‘Sustainable Cities’, with all our domestic and international urban partners. This year, the Forest Service is proud to feature a partner program in Egypt.

View from above of rooftops in Cairo, Egypt

Cluster of buildings in Cairo's informal settlements.

Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is home to nearly 20 million people. It is one of the most vibrant and populous cities in the world. Rapid population growth, urbanization, and the degradation of agricultural land make green spaces rare. Additionally, food prices have increased sharply recently.  Fresh produce like tomatoes, a staple vegetable in the Egyptian diet, has tripled in price. In response, alternative food production is needed to assist the diets and livelihoods of Cairo’s residents.

While green spaces in Cairo are few, buildings are plentiful. Since 2012, the USFS has partnered with the Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment (RISE) at the American University in Cairo (AUC) to design and implement rooftop garden systems. Rooftop gardens have myriad environmental, economic, and social benefits, including high-quality food production, sustainable water use management, temperature moderation, architectural aesthetics, and increased environmental awareness. According to one RISE employee, Rouba Dagher, the green roof, “not only provides sustainable opportunities in disadvantaged neighborhoods, but also has a great impact in building stronger social connections inside the community.”

USFS consultants worked with RISE staff to develop both a traditional raised-bed, soil-based garden and more recently, a hydroponic garden system.  Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrients in water without soil.  It typically uses 85% less water than conventional agriculture, but requires more technical and financial investment up front. Initial tests indicate the hydroponic rooftop garden grew faster, healthier, and tastier produce.  Both systems use locally available materials and show promise as viable alternatives to traditional agriculture in urban communities.

Moving forward, USFS hopes to work with RISE and community groups to develop and implement a simplified, affordable hydroponic system that can be replicated throughout the city. Mrs. Eman El Sawy, a member of the Al Amal School for Deaf Community Garden Team, believes this is a positive first step.  The rooftop ‘farm’ she stated, “motivated us; it keeps us going and now we feel we can keep getting better. The students now enjoy the greener landscape as well as the agriculture classes.”

Photo of mature lettuce plants growing on a rooftop

Lettuce produced from the hydroponic system.

Children and teacher tending to plants in raised beds on a rooftop.

RISE rooftop project manager Abdullah Tawfik works with kids in El Noor Al Mohamady orphanage on their rooftop garden.

 

International Forestry Fellows Program Promotes Global Sharing

When Manuel Lopez Parrondo began his FS International Forestry Fellows Program (IFFP) six-month internship with the National Forests in Florida (NFF) in October 2017, he had no idea that he would get to meet Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at the Forest Supervisor’s Office in Tallahassee, Florida. The chance meeting in mid-December far exceeded Manuel’s expectations for having opportunities to engage with USDA leaders through his program. Along with his FS colleagues and mentors, Manuel learned firsthand about the Secretary’s vision for USDA and expectations for superior customer service. 

A photo of the forestry fellow with USDA Secretary Perdue

Fellow Manuel Lopez Parrondo with Secretary Perdue at the Forest Supervisor’s office in Tallahassee, Florida.

Manuel, a forest engineering student at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in Spain is one of 13 international students from Germany, Spain, and Sweden selected for the IFFP, an experiential training exchange coordinated by the International Visitor Program (IVP). Initiated in 2016 as a partnership between USFS host units, universities abroad, and the International Programs office, the IFFP promotes the exchange of technical expertise, international engagement of future leaders, and broadening exposure to different perspectives and practices around the world.

As an IFFP host, the NFF Ecosystem Program is offering Manuel a broad variety of experiences while integrating him into their projects, office, and community. “We have gained an energetic, multi-skilled, and multi-talented team member for six months,” said Manuel’s host, Marcia Pfleiderer, NFF Natural Resources Officer.  “Manual has been involved with GIS, red-cockaded woodpecker monitoring, surveying, logo design for a special project, prescribed fire training, the Florida Wildlife Festival, a springs management field tour, office administration, and infamous FS potlucks.  It has been a learning opportunity both for Manuel and the National Forests in Florida,” she said.   

“The program is truly a mutual exchange with mutual benefits,” said Brenda Dean, International Visitor Program Coordinator. “Forest Service staff get to exchange ideas, enhance their leadership and mentoring skills, and gain lasting international friendships and professional networks. The international students gain valuable skills from their training with USFS experts, as well as a broader understanding of the United States.”

In 2018, twelve FS units will host International Forestry Fellows in 9 different states.  Please email the internationalvisitorprogram@fs.fed.us for more information about the IFFP.

 

Forest Service Provides Technical Support in Wake of Severe Fire Season in Portugal

Person looking at burned forest

Larry Sutton surveys the burned areas of Leiria National Forest in Portugal, December 2017.

Based on the severity and length of the 2017 wildfire season in Portugal, which resulted in the deadliest summer of blazes in modern history, the Government of Portugal indicated it would accept assistance from the Government of the United States. As a part of this assistance, in mid-December, the U.S. Embassy in Portugal arranged for a team of Forest Service wildfire experts to travel to Portugal to consult with counterparts there, observe the effects of the fires, and provide initial recommendations on methods to improve fire management systems across the response, rehabilitation, and recovery spectrum. These recommendations suggest strategies on how to improve Portugal’s methods of managing and preparing for future wildfires and focus on two particular areas: Incident Command System and Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER).

The three-person team included Liz Schnackenberg, Hydrologist and BAER specialist on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests; Larry Sutton, Assistant Director for Operations for the USFS Office of Fire and Aviation at the National Interagency Fire Center; and Tom Frey, a disaster management specialist with over 30 years of experience in on both the domestic and international level, having worked the US Agency for International Development’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the Forest Service, and the Department of the Interior.

The team met various agencies from the Portuguese government and disaster response sector, including the Mission Structure for the Integrated Rural Fires Management System, the Portuguese Forest Service (ICNF), and the Civil Protection agency.  The team also visited several burned areas and new treatment areas, as well as the Firefighters National School.

At the conclusion of the trip, the team shared their findings and recommendations to the U.S. Embassy in Portugal, who will coordinate dissemination and discussion among the Portuguese hosts.  Both sides hope for continued collaboration in the future.

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