Talks With Warm Heart Worldwide

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Lend an ear to Spirit Rosenberg’s “ Talks With” Dana Brown and Michael Shafer, Warm Heart Board President and Founder.

Their subject? How the world’s poorest farmers burn billions of tonnes of crop waste every year, unwittingly contributing to climate change and killing millions with the billows of smoke.

Or rather, they talk about how Warm Heart’s simple system for stopping the burning by giving poor farmers a better alternative that cools the climate, clears the air, improves health and reduces rural poverty – making biochar and selling biochar products through a social enterprise. (In Africa, thousands of poor farmers use the system daily!)

Making biochar averts climate change gas and PM2.5 (smoke). By following DIY videos and training materials on Warm Heart’s website, anyone can convert autumn leaves, bamboo, corn cob or dead branches into biochar. Yes, you and your town can slow climate change, clear the air and improve lung health now!

Interview Transcript [00:00:00]

Every day you and I get bombarded with negative news. Just like the body becomes what we eat, the mind becomes what we’re putting in. It is important to listen to stories that not only give you hope, but also inspires you and uplifts you. In this podcast, we’re interviewing experts who will break down the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. And I promise you, if you listen to this podcast, you’ll not only stay informed, but you’ll also feel more energy. Welcome to talks with.


If you want to help protect planet Earth, make sure you like and subscribe to the channel, because is donating 100 percent of our profit towards the most effective cost areas, like solving climate change by funding climate technology or protecting the rainforest. And today we have the topic is how to make the world a better place from developing strong communities. The guest that we have invited today is from Warm Heart Worldwide, and we have invited two people in this interview. The first one is Dana Brown. She’s the current president for this organization, and also Michael Shafer, who’s the former. What was the pronunciation? It’s Shafer. Michael Shafer, who is the former president for this organization. So I want to start by saying, welcome, Dana and Michael.


Well, thank you very much. We really enjoy being here.


Great to be here.


My first question is to you, Michael. Help us understand what your organization all about? What is warm heart?


Warm Heart is really a community development organization. We believe that the world is made better by strong communities. And so unlike a lot of organizations that decide even before they move into the countryside, what the problem is and what the solution is going to be. And so they arrive in communities to tell people what the people’s problem is and what the solution is going to be to the complete puzzlement of people in the community. We decided that we would do things differently, that we would go into the community and sit and ask. So we spent a year and a half actually asking the community members, what do you think your biggest problems are?


And if you won the lottery, how would you solve those problems? And the answers that we got really broke out in the sort of three primary areas, children in education first and then sort of sustainable lifestyles or sustainable livelihoods, if you will, everything from job creation to cleaning up the environment that they lived in and then care for the elderly and disabled. And I think today probably we’ll be talking mostly about the problems of creating a sustainable lifestyle, because although we run a children’s home with forty five kids in are responsible for another forty five or fifty kids, the people we take care of in our sustainability program are the parents of those children. So there’s a real community sense about everything that we do.


Thanks for clarifying the three directions that you found from my asking, what is the problem that the community wants to solve? And you’re saying that you want to focus on how to live a sustainable life. And I’ll be curious if we go directly into that. What have you found in living a sustainable life? What does that look like?


Well, we live in a mountainous area to the north of the city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is one of the largest cities in Thailand. It’s the second most visited city in Thailand. It’s a really popular tourist hub, but the mountains north of Chiang Mai are full of extraordinarily poor people. So our focus is on ‘how do we improve the quality of lives of those people’, especially the adults who will never have the opportunity to go back to school to get any special training or anything. So we address the problems that they confront. They, in particular, three months of the year, there is so much smoke in the air that airplanes cannot land at the local airport. And so along with everybody else, we coughed and suffered for two years and decided we really had to do something about this because this was literally killing thousands of people, especially infants and adults. But at the same time, the soil is absolutely terrible. And so people have very, very poor crops and they are obliged to use a lot of synthetic fertilizers and a lot of pesticides. And they are afraid to eat the very crops that they grow. They sell them in the markets, but they keep a little patch of garden next to their house that they don’t put any chemicals on. So, you know, for us, we really worried about how we could improve the health of the people we were living with and working with our neighbors and how we could protect them from the very form of agriculture they were forced to practice and to do so in a way that would improve the quality of their lives.


Agriculture would be very important for sustainability in the rural communities, and I guess now we’re talking to specific, you’re located at a specific place. Could you tell us more about the place that you are located? And I’m thinking, Dana, would you like to describe what that looks like, the rural community that you are currently in?


Sure. Well, I think Michael started with a really great explanation of geographically where we’re located, actually the place where we’re located, and it’s quite beautiful. It’s quite rich agriculturally in some sense, but has not had the opportunity really, I guess in some ways to flourish. And so the communities that we’re working in, they are suffering from high levels of poverty. But there’s a, I suppose, a lot of resources there in terms of the human potential and the desire to improve lives. One of the issues that we focus on in our work at Warm Heart is improving the well-being of the community overall. And as one of the big issues for us is the quality of the air and the quality of the air is really affected by the practices of the agricultural community. The burning of the crop waste regularly every year creates a situation in which it’s hard for anyone who lives in the community to breathe. And so this becomes quite a big part of the lifestyle and impacts everything that we do. So some of our projects and some of the projects that I think Michael will talk about are really focused on addressing that problem specifically.


Michael, if we go back to your saying that Warm Heart is more like a network of many different communities, is that you’re quite big in that sense.


Yeah, and I think, you know what Dana started to say, there is this problem of having people burning their crop waste is tremendously important. I mean, I think many people in the world do not understand how big a problem the burning of crop waste is.


I mean, if you think about the developing world, not the United States, not Canada, not the EU and so on, but just the developing world, the developing world grows about 10 billion tons metric tons of food every year, but that growing that food produces at least twice as much waste in the fields as it does food. And if you take corn, which is a huge crop around where we are and is a huge crop globally, it produces about 20 percent of the crop is edible by animals or human beings, and all the rest is simply waste left in the field and a farmer cannot do anything with that except burn it today. And so this creates a tremendous amount of climate change gases of particulates pm2.5, which the World Health Organization lists as the fifth biggest killer in the world today. And 90 percent of those deaths occur among communities such as ours. So we think this is just a huge problem, not just in our community, but around the world. So, as you say, we address lots of other communities as well.


So we are working not only in our immediate neighbourhood, but other places in Thailand, but also in Ghana, in Kenya, in Malawi, all over Africa, where we’re in the process of seeing the techniques that we’ve developed, spread very widely around the world, wherever people are confronting this kind of a problem. And that’s pretty much everywhere around the developing world.


I didn’t know that or I’m not thought about like that, so me as a consumer, I want to eat something and that’s what I want to eat, is coming from like a crop where, to actually produce that it’s producing double the amount of waste and we don’t have a sustainable way to actually, to care less, so people have to burn it, and that creates the poor air pollution, which actually kills people in the rural communities, right?


Absolutely. I mean, if you think about the United States, for example, we have huge corn fields, but our corn fields are quite flat and it’s possible to use a big tractor to go over them. And you can either simply grind up the entire

corn crop, for example, and turn it into fodder using what’s called a fodder chopper. And you make silage or you can plow the remains underneath and compost it underground. But that’s not possible in the developing world, where you’ve got mountainous fields, where you’ve got very steep slopes, where people are too poor to have tractors, where it’s too hot to work during the dry season.


I mean, you know, what are these people supposed to do if they cut down the corn stalks? Well, there’s just nothing to do with it until we came along and invented this system, which makes it possible for them to actually convert their corn stock into something valuable so that they can both make money by doing it and at the same time stop burning.


So, I mean, it was sort of our, if you will, mental breakthrough, I think is the only way to put it that farmers in the developing world burn because they have no better alternative. It’s not that they’re stupid. It’s not that they’re hidebound traditionalists. They are, in fact, extremely smart, but they don’t have any better alternative than fire to clear their fields before they plant again.


So what we recognize is that if you could give them a better alternative, then they wouldn’t have to burn. And by not burning, they could make more money than by burning. That would make them richer.


It would clear the air would make them healthier and it would stop all of the climate problems that they were confronting. So, I mean, that’s sort of the evolution of the idea.


That is a fantastic invention that you guys have or a solution to it. So you’re making people make profit or they can gain from using that waste products for after the crop and instead not damaging the health of the of the planet by.


Burning, it’s fantastic.


It sort of goes beyond that because, I mean, you know, you said, well, I don’t think about what I eat as having a lot of waste associated with it. But people also don’t realize that in order for these people in the developing world to eat, they have to be able to cook. Right. And what do you cook with in the developing world? Well, firewood or charcoal. Right. But charcoal also comes from wood. So the simple fact of cooking and eating becomes the enemy of forests, of habitat, of biodiversity and of watersheds.


So you’re seeing the world’s forests cut down so people can cook. This is crazy. You know, where is it the same time you’re burning all of this agricultural waste? And if you could find it we’ve done a way to convert that agricultural waste into something that you could actually burn instead of wood or instead of charcoal that would not smoke, not release climate change gases, not be deadly in any way.


You know, then you would break that negative relationship between cooking and forests. You know, it’s sort of the ultimate sort of sustainable solution that we’re aiming for here. And farmers have really understood this. I mean, they are really into this. So that I think one of the really important things that we’re aiming for is to try and take the whole process of development and say, look, folks, we’ve been doing this wrong. You know, everybody thinks that development is spending millions of dollars on these interventions in poor countries where expensive experts come in. And so, look, our feeling is there’s just not enough money to do that everywhere in the world, that you cannot do development through interventions. You have to do development through imitation.


So one farmer is doing this. The next farmer over, just like next door looks at him and says, wow, that’s cool. That’s the way to do it. I’d love to do this right. I’ll do it, too. If you’re making money, if you’re living better because of this, I’ll do it too. Right. So that the more people do it, the less smoke there is.


The less greenhouse gases there are, the less forest destruction you have. Right. It’s all kinds of snowballs. I mean, that’s kind of the wrong way to put it when it’s the hot season, you know, and it’s really hot during the hot season.


But nonetheless, I mean, the idea is to make this spread by imitation, not intervention.


Save money, do it cheap, do it low tech, keep it really, really simple. That’s the whole premise.


I just gave you a long lecture, but, you know, I kind of get carried away with this stuff, you know?


I never heard that idea before that the solution will be the imitation. And I guess we could talk more about that just as a topic in itself. And what I want to summarize what I heard before, that when people’s basic needs are dependent on burning for. We’re going to have a problem with climate change. And you’re helping to do not to solve that equation. I want to ask what I said before, we’re going there. Since we’re running at the worst down here, I really want to make sure you have now created an invention or a way to solve parts of the climate change and poverty in these communities. What kind of support? If I direct myself to you, Donna, what kind of support do you guys need or what would you like people to do after hearing that, Cynthia?


Yeah, well, I mean, one of the things that they just built on what Michael was saying about the kind of magic of this solution is that it is owned by the people themselves. It’s a low cost and sustainable intervention that has a lot of impact beyond just reducing the smoke. When the farmers I mean, one thing that’s really lovely about the solution is to see the excitement that the farmers have in being able to solve a problem in their community. But also there’s a lot of opportunity and potential with biochar, as Michael was talking about some of the multiple uses of it and bricks for cooking food. Bio char also improves crop yield and can have an impact on the food security issue and having enough to eat for a family. And biochar is also an opportunity for people to create small enterprises and sell it to others ripe for use in their communities or used to reduce waste. It has a lot of qualities. And so, you know, the way that we get involved really is to intervene in a small way, largely through training farmers. So any kind of donation that’s given is used to to train the farmers. We’re training farmers not only in northern Thailand, but also in several countries across Africa at the moment.


And because it’s a self-sustaining solution, right. Once it’s embraced in the community, the benefits start to trickle down into the community and they can build on it. So it’s not something that needs a constant influx. So when you donate money to us, we’re just bringing more people in where we’re actually using the money to train more farmers in more parts of the world. And as they get more information about it, it’s really growing. So we have on our website a number of videos that have a lot of videos. We have a lot of information. We have instructions as to how you actually use the biochar equipment. So if you go to our website on, you’ll find a wealth of information. And if you’re a small farmer or you are an NGO working with farmers or someone who wants to donate, that’s the place I would go to get more information and to engage with us. We also really love to hear from people who are embracing this little technology and to see the videos and to see the training happening and to hear how it’s affecting people’s lives. It’s really important to us.


And I think yeah, I think to pick up on what Dana just said, I mean, it’s important for people to understand and especially the kind of people who are going to be able to listen to or watch this podcast that you don’t have to leave all this to the United Nations. You know, I mean, it’s not just that we train poor farmers. I mean, villages in the United States, towns in the United States can use the same technology that we’re teaching them to make and use to make biochar out of the dead branches from all of the trees that they have shading their streets. Right. It doesn’t have to just get put into big piles and burn and it doesn’t have to get composted, which releases a lot of climate change gases in the process of compost. Right. Everyone can do something. And how to do something is all there on the website. You know, we have tens of thousands of visitors every single month to our website from all over the developing world. And a lot of Americans don’t realize that 80 percent of the world’s population lives down here where I live and in the developing world, I mean, Dana lives up there in Canada, which is slowly warming up and getting habitable. But down here, where 80 percent of the world’s population lives, you know, it’s really hot. But quite beyond that, you know, this is where the little people are and this is what we’ve designed for. So we get constant inquiries and people are setting these things up by themselves. We have people starting small businesses in India and Pakistan and Iran and Namibia all over the world, people starting small businesses based on the videos that they’ve seen on our website. It’s really fantastic. And they’re always writing and saying, oh, Dr. Schafer, I tried this. I tried that. Why don’t you put up a video about what I’m doing? You know, it’s really, really great. I love it.


So I’m hearing that if an individual made myself would have a climate of anxiety, there is actually a lot of hope where I don’t have to put my actions hoping for the United Nations, I can actually just help maybe donations or engagement into the.


Going to a global giving, that


Yeah, global giving is really an extraordinary crowd funding website, which has wonderful connections with international organizations, with big businesses and so on.


They’ve been tremendously good to us, but they are very good at finding matching funds from the big corporations, corporate social responsibility sites from government and so on, so that if if we, for example, run our stop the smoke campaign, they can sometime match one hundred percent of the funds that we get from the public.


So global giving is really something that everyone should look into. And if they go and look for our site on global giving, they’ll find, for example, our Stop the Smoke campaign, which is directly addressing this whole question of agricultural waste burning. We also support a project about stopping hunger in Malawi, in Africa, the poorest country in the world, where farmers are using biochar that they’re making, using our technique to improve their yields, to include improved water retention in their soil and to essentially fight climate change’s negative impact on their food security.


So, I mean, there are all sorts of things out there.


But also if people want to learn to do stuff, they can go to, which is our website, and they can find five minute videos on how to make the technology one page descriptions about how you can do this or that. It’s all very, very simple, directly oriented towards individual action.


Michael, I would like you to end this interview by telling and help us understand if there will be one thing that you would like for more people to understand. What would that be if you would understand?


Some thoughts, I think the single most important thing for people to understand is that crop waste burning is a global issue and it is a huge issue. It is not an issue that anyone in the US or in Europe sees or understands, but it is an issue that kills tens of thousands, actually millions of people every single year in the developing world. And it has horrendous consequences for habitat, for biodiversity, for forests. This is a major, major, major environmental problem, climatological problem, human problem. There is no getting around this problem and nobody sees it in the developed world. You have to come down here to understand it. And if they can help support us in solving it, we would greatly appreciate it, as would all the people we work with.


Dana, Michael, thank you very much for taking time. To clarify and help me, who lives in that kind of I live in Sweden, I don’t see this problem, I have not heard about it as an issue that would be important for me to think about. So I’m just getting that urgency. Oh, shit. I need to educate myself around this.


We’re in a time when people feel about the problems we’re facing in the world are large and climate change is one that sometimes feels out of our reach, something that we need some big investment or big organization to come in and so that people can own it, do something about it. And this is one way to really empower people to take some action to make a difference.




Absolutely. And I think that may be the ultimate message. You can do something. Don’t don’t give up. It may be a big problem, but you can help solve it.


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