Monday, July 28, 2014

Working with Plan Yaque, Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic

For a change of scenery (from Africa) and a change of industry (from farming), I accepted a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment offered by Partners of the Americas. My assignment was from June 22 to July 11, 2014 and took place in the very pleasant town of Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. This town sits in the central highlands, almost equidistant between the north and south coasts. My task was to work with an environmental organization, Plan Yaque, to guide the development of a strategic plan. This organization seeks to preserve and also repair the Yaque del Norte watershed, the largest in the Caribbean.

Field officer, Mabel Barinas, visiting the Yaque del Norte watershed
There are so many threats to the watershed that I am not sure where to begin. In the upper reaches, deforestation is taking a toll. Fewer trees result in increased erosion, dumping sediment into the rivers.  The sediment eventually overwhelms the dams further downstream and leads to flooding - - a big problem for farmers who have fields near the rivers.

Settlements for the most part have no wastewater plants, so untreated sewage enters the rivers. Jarabacoa, a town of 30,000, also has no wastewater treatment program. Therefore, waste flows onward to Santiago, the DR’s second largest city with over one million inhabitants, where only 60% of the houses are connected to a sewer. The other 40% empty directly into the Yaque del Norte river.

Fortunately, the Farmer-to-Farmer program and the host organization Plan Yaque are very dedicated, environmentally savvy, and well-educated. There are many more problems than Plan Yaque can address in a lifetime. So, in the strategic plan, we selected a few linchpin problems that, if corrected, will create a positive domino effect. First, we will focus our efforts on the upper part of the watershed, as this will provide benefits all the way downstream. Second, we will focus on programs such as reforestation and solid waste management. Planting trees and other plants along stream banks can help to naturally filter wastewater and field run-off. Also, specific anti-litter efforts are easier to take hold in the upper watershed because there are fewer people. And third, we will focus on data collection and monitoring. 


Presenting the strategic plan to the Play Yaque Board on July 4, 2014
On a side note, it is always enjoyable to add a bit of play to a very stimulating work schedule. In Jarabacoa, the Parque Central is the nightlife nexus. Sunday evenings are as throbbing as anyplace I have ever seen. The open air bars spill their patrons, music, light shows, and drinks into the streets. The boom box bearing cars cruise around the park offering deafening techno beats into the night. Hundreds of motorcyclists show off for the crowds by weaving recklessly among the (mostly heedless) pedestrians. Every few minutes, a motorcyclist will lay a block-long wheelie. It would be my pleasure to return to the DR and work with this fine organization again.

- Bill Nichols, Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer in the Dominican Republic

Monday, July 21, 2014

Paving the way to natural and economical beekeeping in Jamaica

By Tom Hebert, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer

A Jamaican couple’s dream of a more sustainable, natural and economical beekeeping using top bar hives has begun to fruit its benefits for themselves and many other beekeepers on their Caribbean island because of Farmer-to-Farmer.

Kwao and Agape Adams had a vision of a more simple and natural way to keep bees in Jamaica upon their return to the island after living in Vermont for five years. Kwao had kept some beehives in the United States in the more common manner of movable-frame Langstroth hives, but they wanted something different for their farm--Yerba Buena Farm located near Robins Bay, St. Mary, on the island’s north coast.


Agape and Kwao Adams, with their oldest son Emmanuel, inspecting a top bar hive on their north coast Jamaican farm.

Their reading and research showed them top bar hives offered the alternative they were looking for—an alternative that could also benefit the other beekeepers in this tropical country.

The Jamaican beekeeping industry has not been sustainable for smaller scale beekeepers, Agape Adams explained. It is a system using a type of hive where most beekeepers cannot afford the equipment to expand, cannot get the wax necessary for foundation sheets, and are unable to buy the other equipment designed for the Langstroth system. They also do not have solutions for dealing with the pest and disease problems that are occurring in these hives because of increasing resistance to the commonly used chemical treatments.

The Adam’s problem was the lack of knowledge and experience with how the top bar hive beekeeping system worked and with ways to keep bees in a more natural and healthier manner. This is where Farmer-to-Farmer’s flex program came into play, sending the first volunteer for this project in July 2012.

Beekeeper Tom Hebert, originally from Wisconsin and a former Peace Corps Volunteer who has been living in Honduras for more than 20 years, gave them their first introduction to top bar hives. Hebert is now back in Jamaica for his third mission during this month, having also spent the month of July 2013 helping to expand and continue the project.


Tom Hebert inspects a comb from a top bar hive during one of the training sessions.

The activities taught to these Caribbean beekeepers through the Farmer-to-Farmer program have included among other things the construction of top bar hives and their management, improving bee hives through selective queen breeding and requeening, and natural methods of keeping bee colonies healthy. Other activities have been the construction of simple pollen traps adapted to these hives, candle making, and building inexpensive cement molds for making wax foundation. Eight volunteers have come on 11 training missions. 1,440 people have attended the trainings.

Kwao and Agape Adams, who coordinate the project, now have a 60-hive apiary because of Farmer-to-Farmer’s technical help. In addition to benefiting their family it is also a model apiary for training. They frequently have other beekeepers and groups visit their farm, wanting to know how this system functions or to be formally trained with the hives. 
 

Two small starter hives are the beginning of a new apiary for Kwao Adams on a property he owns in the hills above the ocean on the north coast of Jamaica. They will eventually be moved into a permanent four- or five-foot hives for honey production, taking advantage of the lush vegetation located on much of the island.

In the two years since this ideal of an alternative beekeeping was set in motion, both the Adams and Hebert agree that it is beginning to show benefits and will be successful. The project has now grown to encompass all the bee farming associations located in the island’s 14 parishes.
                                                                    
The technology and information transfer through the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers is giving hope to these Jamaican beekeepers through practical and suitable alternatives, Agape Adams said. There is now a way for new beekeepers to viably begin and have continued success with honey production.

“Like the implementation of any new type of agricultural technology, you won´t see a change overnight,” Hebert noted. “It takes time. You need to reach the beekeepers and show them the benefits of top bar hives and teach them how to use them. You need to have patience.”

Just in the St. Thomas Bee Farmers Association in southeast Jamaica, where Hebert recently held a training workshop, several of the beekeepers said they have now implemented these hives in their bee operations.

“I see a lot of interested bee farmers every single place we go,” said Kwao Adams. “A lot of farmers are interested in top bar hives and would love to have more training and exposure. All of them talk about wanting to get their own top bar hives started.” 

Kwao added that he has also been hearing from those beekeepers who already have implemented top bar hives that they “want to go deeper into them; they want to increase those numbers.”


A healthy hive of bees housed in a simple top bar hive made from wood and burlap bags. Bees are left to build combs in the way they deem necessary, which helps keeps the bees more healthy.

Both Hebert and the Adams agree that the advantages of the hive are the low cost to build and operate them and the ability to manage the bees in a much more natural and healthier manner.

“Top bar hives allow the beekeeper to do a much more natural-type of management,” Hebert commented. “Bees have been around for millions of years, surviving without the help of man. They know what to do.”

“In Langstroth hives the beekeeper is actually forcing the bees to do something that is unnatural to them, forcing them to behave in a way that is convenient for the beekeeper but not for themselves.”

A top bar hive is a movable comb system that consists of one large horizontal box covered with a series of approximately 30 to 35 bars. The bees build and organize their nests naturally, building one comb from each of the bars. The combs can be removed for inspections or harvests.

By comparison, the Langstroth hive is a movable frame system where the hive can be expanded vertically by adding more boxes. Each box usually contains 10 frames which are equipped with a sheet of wax foundation, a cell embossed guide the bees use to draw out their comb in the frame. The system is also designed to use an extractor, a centrifuge which is used to spin the honey from the combs.


A top bar hive incorporated with Langstroth hives in the apiary of a beekeeper from the parish of St. Mary, Jamaica. Through the Farmer to Farmer trainings, more and more Jamaican beekeepers are seeing these hives as a viable alternative or addition to their beekeeping.

Jamaican beekeepers face a certain set of unique problems, Agape Adams pointed out.  In order to protect the island’s bees from the Colony Collapse Disorder that is affecting bees around the world, the Jamaican government has banned imports of all bee products, including honey, wax and queens. 

Although beekeepers appreciate the protection, according to Agape, the ban has made it difficult to access inexpensive and abundant beeswax for making foundation for the frames in the nation’s Langstroth hives.  Top bar hives do not require these sheets.

“In a poor country, beekeeping offers a way for people to add an income stream that can help to support their families,” she said.  “It is difficult, however, when the only option is the Langstroth method, which can be expensive.  When a pound of beeswax costs the daily earnings of someone working a minimum wage, it is not practical.

“(Langstroth hives) are not always practical here because they are net consumers of beeswax while top bar hives are net producers of beeswax,” Agape added.

Kwao Adams mentioned that a beekeeper could probably get more honey with a Langstroth hive but these fall short with their overall production because of the disease or pest problems many of them usually have. A greater percentage of top bar hives produce an excess of honey when compared with the Langstroth.

“I like to keep a couple (Langstroth hives) as a comparison but I wouldn’t go back, it’s much cheaper and I’m satisfied with the honey production (of top bar hives),” he said. 

Kwao mentioned being able to build five top bar hives for what it would cost to buy the wooden ware for one complete Langstroth hive. The costs of Langstroth equipment is prohibitive for many Jamaicans, even those who already have bees and want to increase.


Top bar hives do not require advance carpentry skills to build. Members of the St. Mary Bee Farmers Association discovered this during a Farmer to Farmer workshop on top bar hive construction. Scrap pieces are used to make the floor.

“Top bar hives can easily be built by the beekeepers,” Hebert said. The boxes are simple and don’t require advanced carpentry skills. The variety of materials that can be used to even further reduce costs is incredible—bamboo, grass, banana leaf ribs, crocus/burlap bags, Celotex hardboard and even tin cans.”

Hebert has been using these hives for the past 20 years in Honduras. He said most of his are made using recycled materials because of the need to keep costs low. Frame hives, by comparison, require the use of good wood and precision carpentry since the measurements must be exact to ensure they function properly, according to Hebert.

“Jamaica and Honduras are the same in the sense that many, many people in both countries have serious economic problems but want to find a way to generate extra income,” Hebert said. “These simple hives offer that to them while not requiring the money that is needed to put food on the family’s table or notebooks in their children’s backpacks.”

Agape Adams added that the income generating projects in Jamaica that donate Langstroth hives to people simply are not sustainable. The cost of the equipment prohibits easily expanding the number of hives or managing them as they are designed.

Kwao Adams also mentioned that top bar hives are easier to inspect, the bees stay calmer, there is no heavy lifting, and you don’t have to deal with a lot of extra equipment.

“(Top bar hives) are a lot easier to manage than Langstroth hives but I think they take more attention,” he said. “They (the bees) are more friendly.”


Kwao Adams and two of his sons check on the progress of a recently caught swarm. The inexpensive nature of the top bar hive has allowed Adams to build many in order to take advantage of the abundance of swarms he sees. His apiaries now contain 60 hives.

The management, although simple, is one drawback. These hives need a bit more management and a different type of management than the more well-known movable frame bee hives, which means more training, Kwao said. At present this training is not meeting the demand.

With a steady supply of training resources the Adams believe there could be a shift in beekeeping on the island. Beekeepers could be running their operations a lot cheaper than what they are now and more effectively.

The result of the present Farmer to Farmer training, however, is evident in Rachel Neil, a mother of one and a grandmother of three who has benefited from this project. She has hopes of improving her life through the sales of honey.

Neil now has one top bar hive on her property in the north coast village of Robins Bay, St. Mary. She has been to many of the trainings around the island and is a member of Robins Bay Bee Club, hosted by the Adams farm and supported by Farmer to Farmer volunteers.  Because of the skills training that she has received, Rachel feels confident as she cares for her hive, and has plans to expand her apiary.
 

Rachel Neil participates in a top bar hive management training held by Hebert in 2013. A bee colony was simulated using photocopies of actual combs, allowing the beekeepers to calmly discuss and learn about different hive management practices.

“This Farmer-to-Farmer program is changing the entire beekeeping industry in Jamaica,” Agape Adams said, “by importing ideas and skills; to make the ideas work. So you have this expansion of people’s minds and expansion of people’s horizons by expanding what is possible.”

Things that were unworkable before with the one option Jamaican had for beekeeping are now workable with these options the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers are presenting. Agape mentioned the only reason her family is managing bees and have hopes and dreams is because of the skills and expertise they are receiving through the Farmer-to-Farmer project.

“I honestly believe that the future of beekeeping in Jamaica will be with the top bar hive,” Kwao Adams said. “It won’t be the only type around but it’s what makes sense.”


Hebert showing the St. Mary Bee Farmers Association members how to build a simple pollen trap that can be used on their top bar hives. Although normally considered feasible only with Langstroth hives, pollen collection is as productive if not better with a top bar hive.



To learn more about top bar hives and economical/sustainable/natural beekeeping, check out Tom Hebert's blog at http://musingsonbeekeeping.blogspot.com/

To learn more about Yerba Buena Farm check out their website at: http://yerbabuenafarmjamaica.com/

Also check out James Imbrie’s blog. James, an intern this summer at Yerba Buena Farm, has been participating in the recent beekeeping trainings and their preparations. http://somebeesplease.tumblr.com/


Friday, July 18, 2014

Reflections on the Farmer-to-Farmer Program

This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID's John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and US volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks


All week, Partners of the Americas has participated in the Agrilinks Blog Carnival highlighting the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program. This has given us a chance to share stories from around the world and to hopefully show that F2F can have an impact.

We shared a glimpse into the "day in the life" of a volunteer team in Nicaragua that gave you a better idea of what a volunteer assignment could be like. Maybe this sparked your interest in being a volunteer yourself? If so, click here to find out more and see some of our open assignments!


We asked the question "can a rabbit change your life?" and gave the answer with the powerful story of Andremene Solomon - a small producer in Haiti. Rabbits changed everything for her. With more food for her family, increased income, the ability to send her kids to school, and much more, her outlook is now brighter thanks to F2F. We also shared how F2F assignments matter and have impacted women in the Dominican Republic, vegetable producers in Nicaragua, and beekeepers in Haiti. These are just a few of the many stories you can find on our blog about what F2F can accomplish.


Our fellow F2F implementers shared equally inspiring stories from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere showing that this program - heading toward our 30 year anniversary - is broader and more powerful that most people know. So we hope that this blog carnival was successful in spreading the word about this amazing program.

Did you miss the blog carnival this week? Visit the Agrilinks page to see stories or use #AgBlogCarnival to find the story links on Twitter. And continue to read our blog even after this week to stay informed about F2F in Latin America and the Caribbean!

As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only! 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Three Stories That Prove Farmer-to-Farmer Matters

This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID's John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and American volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks.

What difference can a F2F volunteer assignment make? Can volunteers really have a long-term impact? The three stories below show they can. Farmer-to-Farmer matters!

Dominican Republic: Women's Empowerment is the Key
Historically, women in the province of San Jose de Ocoa in the Dominican Republic have not had many economic opportunities. With the construction of a small greenhouse, however, the seven women who are members of the Maria Trinidad Sanchez Association are able to 'have something extra'. These women producers receive support from Asociación para el Desarrollo de San José de Ocoa (ADESJO), a local organization of agricultural technicians who regularly visit and assist them. The association members plus technicians from ADESJO have received training from F2F volunteers on a wide range of topics.

Working with F2F volunteers, the women have learned how to apply insecticides correctly, how to fertilize and irrigate, and how to control the temperature in the greenhouses. They also received F2F training in record-keeping and calculating profits and have been able to access loans that were not previously available to women. Greenhouse production has helped the Maria Trinidad Sanchez Association members become more financially independent, allowing them to contribute to their household income and invest in their families. 

But while the F2F technical training was beneficial, more than anything, the women expressed how valuable their self-empowerment was as a result of participation in the association. One member spoke of the pride she feels from being a female farmer, “Often the men said that we were not able to do work that a man does. And we, I say it is a great satisfaction. Because if we are looking for equity and we already do jobs that men do....well for us it has been a great opportunity.” While the greenhouse production itself may have its ups and down, the empowerment and confidence of the group members is an impact that will last a lifetime.

Haiti: Hives = Houses
There was a time when Haitian beekeeper Noe Brazier lost 75 hives to the varroa mite. Noe recalls visits from F2F volunteers like Don Hopkins who helped him identify the parasite that was destroying his bees. The varroa mite had been virtually unknown in Haiti - and therefore untreated. Beekeepers who were losing hives often had no idea why. Don Hopkins was one of the volunteers who traveled multiple times to Haiti to teach people how to identify it and then demonstrated proper hive treatments to address the problem.

After receiving these trainings, Noe felt more at ease raising his bees. He was also able to earn more income. As he improved as a beekeeper, he started not just selling honey but also selling well constructed hives and starter hives (with bees in them) to other beekeepers. These activities really helped him move forward and he credits F2F for improving his life, enabling him to send his children to school, and helping him to build his new house, among other things. In this video clip below, Noe shares some of the impact F2F, Benito Jasmin (local F2F coordinator), and local F2F partner Makouti Agro Enterprise have had on him.

video

Nicaragua: What a Difference Cilantro Makes
One simple F2F volunteer recommendation changed the life of Señora Erenda Lopez of Masaya, Nicaragua. Years ago, a F2F volunteer recommended she plant cilantro seeds in her back yard. She did so successfully and soon had expanded to new crops and increased her production. Erenda's dedication to her community is as strong as her dedication to her farm so she was inspired to start El Centro de Aprendizaje Pio XII - a learning center that trains community members - primarily women - on a variety of things but especially agriculture.

Señora Erenda Lopez (in pink) with F2F volunteers and family members.
Today, Pio XII trains thousands of women on small-scale organic production methods. These women then return to their own communities to start organic gardens and continue training other female farmers. Since becoming involved with F2F, Erenda has not just improved her farm, started her own nursery business, and established the training center but she is also now an agricultural and climate-change education consultant for women’s groups, agricultural organizations, government ministries and schools, and was appointed to an advisory position with her local government. What a change a volunteer recommendation can make!


As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Can a Rabbit Change Your Life?

This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID's John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and American volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks.
 
In the town of Grand Boulage in the mountains of Haiti, Madame Andremene Solomon is the primary caregiver for her entire family. Her husband has a physical disability, and she earns the bulk of the income that supports their family of six. A few years ago, food security was a faraway goal for Andremene. She struggled to feed her family and could not afford to send her children to school. She is one of thousands of Haitians faced with food insecurity.

Andremene transporting some of her rabbits
In Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, although the average standard of living has increased in recent decades, income inequality remains widespread. Impoverished people, particularly in rural areas, still face many barriers to achieving food security, which is defined as having access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Food insecurity is particularly a concern for low-income countries where Partners works, such as Haiti, which is ranked the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program is playing a significant role in tackling some of these issues. Andremene started receiving training and assistance from F2F and local partner Makouti Agro Enterprise in 2007 as part of the rabbit production project in her town. She steadily grew her production and started increasing her income by selling rabbits to her neighbors and friends. 

In 2010, Andremene experienced a significant setback when she lost 83 rabbit offspring to what was later determined to be an unbalanced diet. She did not let this deter her though. F2F volunteers determined the source of the problem and adjusted the diets of her young rabbits to include avocados and other foods high in energy and protein. Andremene and other rabbit producers in Grand Boulage also received F2F training in recordkeeping. They now use record books to track their rabbits’ breeding, fertility and mortality rates, and other information vital to maintaining healthy animals and producing the best offspring

Since her involvement with F2F, Andremene has increased her household income by producing and selling rabbits, paid school tuition for all four of her children, covered family medical expenses, shared rabbit meat with her neighbors, and increased her household food consumption. She credits F2F volunteer Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak, among others, for teaching her some valuable lessons about rabbit production, including the importance of checking the ears of rabbits for skin mage, and ensuring that rabbits have a protein-rich diet.

Andremene (pictured 2nd from the right, with other producers and F2F and Makouti staff) said the best recommendation she received from a F2F volunteer was to expand the variety of food she gave her rabbits to include wheat bran, oranges, sweet potato, syrup, and salt powder. This made her rabbits stronger and prevented them from dying. For Andremene, keeping her rabbits healthy means boosting her rabbit sales, which has direct positive benefits for her family and community. Adremene is highlighted in the Partners F2F Haiti video linked below, sharing first hand her experiences with the program.

The small animal production sector has strong potential for contributing to food security and wealth creation in much of the Caribbean Basin. For small farmers in Haiti, increased small animal production and sales translates into food for family consumption in addition to growth and diversification of family income. Along with F2F in Haiti, Partners has a Nutrition Security Program (NSP) that hinges on a holistic community health, nutrition and livelihoods approach. Some of the activities under NSP promote income generation and food security through small gardens, nurseries, and animal husbandry, particularly among women. Makouti is linking up with NSP to spread the knowledge they learned through F2F to new groups.

Although many challenges still remain, through volunteer visits, technical assistance and training, Partners' Agriculture and Food Security programs are making a long-term impact on the people they serve.


Partners F2F Haiti Program Video



As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Partners F2F Volunteers in Action: A Snapshot from Nicaragua

This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID's John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and US volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks
F2F volunteers have a variety of experiences - some provide assistance directly on farms, others work with agribusinesses, some help universities develop curriculum, or assist the Ministry of Environment with a watershed survey, to name just a few. To have a glimpse into day-to-day activities of a volunteer, Partners is highlighting a team from Wisconsin who worked in Nicaragua:

Amelia Canilho and Jean Tice, both educators from Wisconsin, traveled to provide training in five community learning centers in Nicaragua. Over a period of 2 weeks they trained and assisted over 100 Nicaraguan youth and adults in home and small-scale vegetable production, family nutrition, food preservation, new food product development, value-added processing, and marketing.

Facilitating discussion on group square-foot gardening activities
One of the learning centers they worked with was located in Cedro Galán, a small community on the outskirts of Managua, which despite its closeness to the capital has a country feel: small houses set in medium-sized plots, mostly unpaved streets busy with people, dogs and japoneras - the local motorcycle taxis. This learning center serves approximately 20 women on average and provides craft and sewing classes to community members. The members reported currently having small "wild" gardens where they grew a few vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers, but explained that most vegetables still needed to be purchased at a high and often times unaffordable cost from the market. Because of this, they hoped improve their garden plots for both personal consumption and retail. Additionally, they were interested in learning about the nutritional benefits of food and ways to include more vegetables in their daily diet.

With this group's goals in mind, Amelia and Jean first provided training in small gardening and composting, followed by a lively question and answer session. With Amelia and Jean’s guidance, the group then developed their own garden plot plan. After completing their plan, they split up into two smaller groups. One group worked with Jean to plant a sample garden using seeds and seedlings acquired for this purpose, while the other group prepared a healthy meal with Amelia’s guidance.

Nutrition education training
While the second group cooked, Amelia taught them about the nutritional value of each item used. Once the meal was prepared, the two groups came together to enjoy it and share ideas about types of vegetables they could plant and begin to incorporate into their diets. The cooking team also had an opportunity to teach back everything they had learned to the rest of the group. The model garden looked good and the food tasted even better.

After reflecting on their trip Amelia and Jean shared the following: "As first-time volunteers we were both overwhelmed by the problems we encountered and amazed by the resilience and creative spirit of the people we met. The women and youth we met taught us the value of a word well-placed, a dream well-tended, and an idea worth supporting. The indomitable spirit of {the} leaders ... give us hope for the future of Nicaragua... Whilst reviewing the comments of our new friends in Nicaragua, we are heartened to think that we can make a difference in small ways and at a very human level. Caring does matter."


As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only!