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Emilio Travieso, SJ, is a DPhil student in the Oxford Department of International Development working under Dr. Laura Rival.  He does research in partnership with grassroots organizations that are building sustainable, healthy, and just food systems. Below is the first in a series of reports from the field where Emilio will explain his work and its place in the larger Jesuit mission. 

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Rather than another wordy article, this time around I want to share some simple-but-great ideas for sustainable living, found at the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute (IMAP), in Guatemala, where I am currently doing fieldwork.  They are all low-budget and use locally available materials, as a way to inspire IMAP’s neighbors to integrate these easily replicable ideas into their own homes.


The “banana circle” is a convenient way to recycle greywater – it goes straight from the kitchen sink into a compost pile, surrounded by water-loving banana trees that act as a natural filter.


The balcony of the volunteers’ house has this hanging garden, ideal for growing flowers, herbs and vegetables where ground space is limited.


Another way to make good use of space, and to save time and energy, is the “keyhole design” for vegetable beds – you just turn around as you go, rather than walking back and forth, as you’d have to if they were all planted in a straight line.  It’s also raised, so you can build up good soil anywhere, and you don’t have to bend over too much.


The mountainous land means that we are always walking up or downhill.  Old tyres can be turned into steps to make the climb easier. 


Tyres make nice planters, too.


Most people in Guatemala only have access to poor-quality land on steep slopes, since the best land is unjustly taken by the wealthy few.  In that context, terraces and “living barriers” help to reduce soil runoff.


Waste is kept to a minimum, and what’s left over is reused or recycled.  Here, plastic and foil wrappers are compacted into a 2-liter bottle to make eco-bricks, which will be used for building.


As for glass bottles, they can be built into walls to let sunlight in, reducing the need for electrical lighting.


Composting latrines turn human waste into fertilizer for growing food.  Completing the “poop loop” this way avoids major pollution problems.  (And yes, it’s safe, as long as it’s well-managed.)