Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Reviving Cocoa Traditions in Panama

In March, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Rebecca Roebber traveled to Panama to support La Asociacion de Profesionales y Tecnicos Ngäbe -Buglé de Bocas de Toro (APROTENG) by providing a two-week training to a group of women in marketing and the production of cocoa by-products.  The local women are participants of Partners of the Americas' EducaFuturo program which focuses on reducing child labor in the region. In a joint effort to improve the livelihoods of families and reduce child labor, EducaFuturo and Farmer-to-Farmer are working together to build the local capacity of community members in Changuinola, Panama.

Below Rebecca gives us a glimpse of the local context and describes her experience:

By Rebecca Roebber

A peak at the inside of the cacao bean.
Cacao is grown locally in the province of Bocas del Toro, Panama and has historically been sold to first world countries who produce and chocolate.  This has made it very difficult for cacao farmers to make a living. Through the Farmer-to-Farmer program, I had the opportunity to work with a group of indigenous Ngäbe ("no-bay") women to create added value, finished chocolate products as an additional way of generating income to support their families.

One of the participant's roasting cacao.
Traditionally, the Nägobe people made and drank chocolate for its medicinal properties and because it gave them strength. Many of the local women have memories of their grandmothers roasting the cacao over a fire to make chocolate, but most had never learned how to make chocolate themselves. 

Grinding the cacao.
After learning the basic steps for making chocolate, the women worked together as inventors to create unique recipes. Their chocolate included ingredients like; salt, cinnamon, fried plantain, vanilla and coconut. They designed a label with a cacao tree with their story and ingredients on the back. They also decided to organize themselves into a group called Mery Nöba, which means women chocolatiers in the local dialect. As part of the process of forming a group, they voted on a directive board. 

Preparing to put the chocolate into the molds.
At the beginning of my assignment I was unsure of whether or not the women would elect to work collectively or take the knowledge they had learned from the workshops and work individually. The women were skeptical of working with one another at first but ended up finding a real sense of community over the course of the training. That was the most empowering part of the project. They were so excited by what they were learning that they would continue working into the evenings after the workshops ended each day. Not only are they united and proud of the products they produced, but they are also carrying on the traditional practice of making chocolate. 

Coloring the product labels.
There are still opportunities to continue supporting this group in refining their products and seeking out locations where they can sell their products. The progress they made in two weeks, however, was very impressive. By the end of the training, people in the neighborhood were curiously poking their heads in and were ready to purchase some of the groups handmade artisanal chocolate. 

Example of the final packaging and label.
Dressed in their beautiful Nägobe dresses these women invite you to try their chocolate!

Products on display for purchase.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Call for Volunteers: Nicaragua and Guatemala

Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program is currently recruiting volunteers for several dairy and livestock related assignments in Nicaragua, as well as marketing and tropical fruit specialists in Guatemala. Take a look at the list of volunteer opportunities below!

Nicaragua

Cattle feed specialist (April - May 2015: 2 - 3 weeks)
A volunteer with specific knowledge in forage is needed to support a local cooperative in analyzing their current feed and developing a new low-cost feed mixture that meets the nutritional needs of different categories of livestock. Guidelines and instructions on how to create high-quality feed are required deliverables.

Meat science expert (April - May 2015: 2 - 3 weeks)
An expert is needed to conduct an analysis of cattle carcasses at 4 slaughterhouses to measure beef quality. The volunteer will analyze fat content, pH levels, color, texture, and morphometry, among other things. A few deliverables include presenting the findings to local beef stakeholders and leading 1-2 trainings on quality beef standards.

Feed mill equipment expert (April - May 2015: 2 - 3 weeks)
An expert is needed to evaluate a local feed mill and make recommendations aimed at achieving greater efficiency in the industrial process. The volunteer will train factory personnel in the proper use and preventative maintenance of the plant equipment and will lead 1-2 trainings.

Nutrition education specialist (May - June 2015: 2 - 3 weeks)
A volunteer with expertise in nutrition education is needed to support association members in launching a dairy education campaign. The volunteer will provide educational workshops in schools and universities on the nutritional benefits of dairy products. Deliverables include 4-5 educational workshops, a presentation for dairy stakeholders, and a trip report.


Guatemala

Marketing expert with experience working with peanuts and Hibiscus sabdariffa (February – May 2015: 2 - 3 weeks)
An expert in the food industry with extensive knowledge in the industrialization and processing of peanuts and hibiscus is needed to train farmers on best management practices and to design a marketing strategy. Knowledge of product diversification (i.e., fried peanuts, peanut butter, hibiscus jam or tea, etc.), packaging, product presentation, setting expiration dates, and nutritional content of products is also desired.

Market research and analysis expert (April - June 2015: 2 - 3 weeks)
A volunteer with experience conducting market research and analysis is needed to assist a small mushroom production company in identifying niche markets and opportunities for the export of natural, organic, or medicinal products made from specialty mushrooms. Experience with evaluating market trends for domestic and international markets and on U.S. export regulations is also required. Expected deliverables are to build the capacity of a specialty mushroom production business to be able to analyze market data and make informed decisions when developing new products made out of mushrooms (i.e., pills, extracts, etc.). The volunteer will also help to promote linkages between U.S. companies and/or identify opportunities to access markets or credit.

Mango production expert (March – May 2015: 2 - 3 weeks)
An expert in mango production with experience in fertilization and proper crop and pest management is needed in Guatemala to conduct an assessment of mango production farms and provide trainings on ways to increase production. The volunteer will produce a report on good crop management practices and the preparation of a fertilization plan.

Avocado production specialist (March – September 2015: 2 - 3 weeks)
An expert in pruning, fertilization, and plantation management of avocados is needed to assist Guatemalan avocado farmers in improving the quantity and quality of production for export. A manual on proper pruning, fertilization, and irrigation of avocados, along with a Farmer-to-Farmer trip report, are required deliverables.

Please contact Adriana Robertson at arobertson@partners.net for more information on assignments in Nicaragua and Courtney Dunham at cdunham@partners.net for information on assignments in Guatemala. As always, our in-country field staff coordinate logistics and F2F covers volunteer travel, housing, food, and other related costs.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Celebrating World Water Day

Today marks the 22nd annual World Water Day - a day to celebrate one of life's most basic elements: water. Every year on this day, the UN World Water Development Report is launched and starts conversations about how best to manage our world’s most abundant natural resource, especially for those members of the global population who suffer the most from water scarcity and related issues.

This year’s theme is ‘Water and Sustainable Development’. According to UN Water, “the current growth rates of agricultural demands on the world’s freshwater resources are unsustainable. Inefficient use of water for crop production depletes aquifers, reduces river flows, degrades wildlife habitats, and has caused salinization of 20% of the global irrigated land area. To increase efficiency in the use of water, agriculture can reduce water losses and, most importantly, increase crop productivity with respect to water.”

Water is essential for agriculture of any kind and always in demand. Without reliable access to water, farmers are at the mercy of the unpredictable elements and cannot depend on their crops for income or sustenance.

In celebration of World Water Day and the importance of its role in sustainable development, we’re looking back on some of the successes of one method of agricultural water management used increasingly in the Global South called drip irrigation. Also known as trickle/micro/localized irrigation, it is a water-saving technique where networks of pipes are placed directly next to the roots and then allowed to drip slowly onto the plants. This saves water as the ground is able to absorb the water without the excess washing away the valuable topsoil or fertilizer. It also helps reduce the loss of water from evaporation.

Dr. McLeod demonstrating drip irrigation.
Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer program has successfully implemented drip irrigation techniques in agricultural communities across the Caribbean. In early 2014, F2F volunteer Dr. Paul McLeod of the University of Arkansas traveled to southern Belize. Dr. McLeod demonstrated the installation and use of drip irrigation at high schools and also to several small farmers. There had been some concern over diseased crops caused by a pathogen that was carried onto the plants when they were being watered, so Dr. McLeod recommended drip irrigation to help reduce the spread of the disease. 

In Nicaragua in 2013, professor of community development Arlen Albrecht worked with residents experiencing a drought. Many local water wells were dry, leaving community members unable to maintain their kitchen gardens. Arlen responded by helping install a gravity-fed drip irrigation system that saved both gas and river water. With more than a decade of volunteer experience in the region, Mr. Albrecht explained, "I feel that although change is happening very slowly, the plight of the rural poor in Nicaragua is improving, and that F2F volunteers are contributing to that along with the hosts."

As part of our Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in the Dominican Republic, Partners' F2F
is currently working to improve water quality and forestry in the Yaque del Norte watershed.

In 2010, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers assisted the Hauraruni Friendly Farmers Society in Guyana in reaching their goals. After overcoming the challenge of growing crops in sandy soil and experimenting with greenhouses, farmers were able to export a large portion of their crop for the first time. Over many months F2F worked together with Hauraruni to increase knowledge and make improvements in hydroponics and drip irrigation. Instead of spending a large amount of money on water and mulch to make the ground hospitable, Hauraruni members were able to use their new knowledge to control the amount of water they were using, cutting costs, and saving a valuable natural resource.

“Water is at the core of sustainable development. Water resources, and the range of services they provide, underpin poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability. From food and energy security to human and environmental health, water contributes to improvements in social well-being and inclusive growth, affecting the livelihoods of billions" (UN Water). Partners F2F is proud of the work our volunteers have done for water sustainability in the past three decades, and we’re excited for all the new opportunities that 2015 will bring!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Two Fun Guys Inspect Guatemala's Fungi

Oyster mushrooms, so called that for their odd resemblance in sight, taste, and smell to the seafood, and other specialty mushrooms have been increasingly in demand.  In Central Guatemala, Asociación Visión Maya, or the Maya Vision Association has been successfully producing these mushrooms for ten years, but asked Farmer-to-Farmer to help them develop their skills and create recommendations for better practices. 

Participants testing, preparing, and inoculating spawn
Starting on February 3rd, F2F volunteers Dr. Khalid Hameed, Professor of Plant Pathology at Duke University and Dr. Henry Van Cotter, a visiting professor in the Mycology Lab at Duke, began a series of training sessions designed to increase the productivity of Maya Vision’s farmers. 

Without the proper supplies, Guatemala’s mushroom farmers have been industrious and inventive in their efforts- for example, without petri dishes readily available, they use old baby food jars instead.  Maya Vision Association farmers have been growing oyster mushrooms fairly successfully for the past ten years; however, their production has been hindered by the lack of technical skills and knowledge necessary to maintain appropriate growing conditions, as well as the undependable availability of high-quality mushroom spawn (the material used to carry the vegetative part of the fungus, called the mycelium, so that the mushroom can be transported and stored).  Drs. Cotter and Hameed set up experiments to test various ways to improve yields, and taught what methods and what facilities are necessary in order to produce spawn. They also visited the growers' production houses in order to give feedback for general improvements and the reduction of losses due to contamination and poor environmental conditions.  Over the course of the week, their participants successfully prepared and inoculated spawn in three different varieties, enough to start their own strain library, which will remove their dependence on external sources of spawn.

Training participant with his mushrooms
Drs. Cotter and Hameed have transferred valuable technical knowledge that farmers can immediately apply to their own crops, but the long-term recommendations of maintaining a strain library and creating their own laboratory for spawn creation will help the Maya Vision Association become independent and even allow members to sell their spawn to non-Association farmers, creating a source of revenue. There is a broad range of opportunities for these growers to develop their operations with a readily available and affordable stock of spawn, including expanding to additional oyster mushroom-like Pleurotos fungi, non-Pleurotos mushrooms like shiitake, and even some species of wild mushrooms native to Guatemala.  With these recommendations put into place, Drs. Cotter and Hameed estimate that the growers' yields could increase by 50-100% from their current levels of production.  


Thursday, March 12, 2015

F2F Country Highlight: Dominican Republic

A woman packaging bananas for export
Since June 2014, we have had 21 Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers travel to the Dominican Republic under the new strategy to "increase the resilience of vulnerable populations to the unpredictable impacts of global climate change". This strategy is the first of its kind in the worldwide Farmer-to-Farmer program, as its primary focus is on climate change rather than a specific agricultural value chain. As a result, it has been a great opportunity to engage new volunteers who bring diverse expertise outside of agriculture. Over the past year, our volunteers' work has focused on agroforestry, irrigation technology, water and soil quality and conservation, plastic and solid waste management, environmental education, and disaster risk mitigation. Below are some highlights of their work.

Soil Conservation

Hillside in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic

"The area around Jarabacoa has suffered from extensive deforestation on very steep land that has been converted to cropland and pastureland. Soil erosion is extensive and widespread, adding high volumes of sediments and fertilizers to surface waters. To combat this erosion, most farmer’s plant their land on the contour using ridges and furrows to slow erosion and to help prevent loss of crops. However, additional practices are needed to filter out sediments from entering streams. The adoption of simple, cost effective Best Management Practices (BMP’s) can help the farmer economically and significantly reduce farm sediments, fertilizers and herbicides from entering streams and rivers. Collaboration between Farmer-to-Farmer sponsors and staff, Extension Service, Plan Yaque and the Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture is also needed to educate and invigorate the farm community to install the needed practices." - Jeff Knowles, Soil conservation volunteer; retired 30 year veteran of the USDA’s Soil Conservation Service/Natural Resources Conservation Service

Jeff Knowles meets with environmental NGO, Plan Yaque
Jeff Knowles inspects ground cover for tajota fields

Plastic Management and Soil Recovery on Banana Farms


Bananas ripen wrapped in plastic to protect from pests
"The opportunity to volunteer with Farmer-to-Farmer demonstrated that agricultural plastics recycling is a global concern and that farmers that I work with in a rural county in Wisconsin have the same concerns as those in the Dominican Republic, producing food for the world in environmentally conscience ways." - Melissa Kono, plastic management volunteer; current faculty at University of Wisconsin-Extension

Ilan Bar assist trains farmers how to use soil and water test kits
"As always, I believe that the real and lasting impact of our work can be achieved if there is continuity to what we are doing. I hope this project will continue, and from my technical perspective, I think that the next most important thing is to get more growers switching to good sprinkler systems and training in applying and maintaining these systems." - Ilan Bar, soil recovery volunteer; agronomist and irrigation consultant

Agroforestry

Agroforestry volunteers Dave Lombardo, Bill Ryburn, and Glen Juergens
"Water quantity and quality is a major concern for rural agricultural families. Protecting the water supply is a necessity to provide sufficient water for human consumption. Agroforestry and crop rotation methods with organic fertilizers and pesticides can improve crop yield and diversify agricultural products while utilizing a single parcel of their land on a permanent basis to grow their crops. A greater variety of tree species that are growing in an area will ensure a more healthy forest, reduce potential damage from insects and diseases, and reduce the amount of pesticides needed to control pests which are common in monoculture agriculture. A diverse forest is a healthier forest, not just for the trees growing there but also for wildlife." - Dave Lombardo, Bill Ryburn, and Glen Juergens, agroforestry volunteers; silviculture, natural resource, and forestry consultants


Disaster Risk Mitigation



Flooding town in Montecristi, Dominican Republic
"Tropical storms and hurricanes occur often in the Dominican Republic and disrupt banana plantation operations, especially when high and medium winds are paired with flooding. The resulting flash floods, destruction of banana plantations and property, sedimentation and endarement of life should be addressed using a mixture of mitigation and prevention measures." - Armando Milou, disaster risk mitigation volunteer and  GIS and water and sanitation consultant



To learn more about volunteering for our Farmer-to-Farmer program in the Dominican Republic, please contact Senior Program Officer, Courtney Dunham at cdunham@partners.net or visit our website here to see open volunteer opportunities in our other countries.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mothers #MakeItHappen

This past Sunday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day. For over 100 years, this day has and continues to represent an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, marked by thousands of events thrown by organizations, governments, charities, educational institutions, women's groups, corporations and the media to acknowledge the political, economic, and social achievements of women. The theme this year was Make It Happen, encouraging effective action for advancing and recognizing women. All over the world, women are making it happen as teachers, leaders, businesswomen, artists, and activists, as well as one more very important role.

In Haiti, mothers Make It Happen.

In the North of Haiti, more than 460 Mother Leaders are preparing to graduate from Partners of the Americas Nutrition Security Program (NSP), which is focused on improving maternal and child health through educating women about proper nutrition and empowering them to go into their communities and pass the information on to other pregnant women and mothers with young children who are the most vulnerable to the dangers of food insecurity. From recruitment to graduation, these Mother Leaders attend a minimum of 24 training sessions with NSP staff, and twice a month visit ten to thirteen neighbors to share their knowledge and promote diet diversity. They are active during the community awareness-raising activities around vitamin A, breastfeeding, family planning, immunization, sanitation, hand washing and hygiene, and are involved in livelihood activities like vegetable gardening, annual review sessions of the lessons on health and nutrition, and cooking demonstrations. The mother leaders draw from their personal and cultural resources to present a variety of topics through sketches and role play, which are often received with rounds of applause. Every mother participates in these presentations and together they build a sense of camaraderie, creating a good morale for the group which encourages the Mother Leaders to integrate the improved practices into their own lives.

Meeting of neighborhood women
Magalie Hubbert is one of the many women in the Nutrition Security Program working to make a difference in her community. Magalie, a 33 year old mother of two, lives in Western Haiti and is involved in several community groups as a health agent and the social chair for a women’s organization. When the NSP held a community meeting to present the project, Magalie was struck by the initiative and sought to become involved. Joining NSP gave Magalie an opportunity to continue doing something she loved; educating others.

In her own household, Magalie has focused on nutrition and prepares balanced meals for her family. The women in her neighborhood group feel more confident in breastfeeding. One of the women was planning to stop breastfeeding her one-year old child but was motivated to continue breastfeeding him. The husband of one of Magalie’s neighbors used to eat “pate kode” (a meat patty) from a street vendor every morning and since he attended some of the nutrition meetings with his wife, he has asked that a nutritious soup be prepared for he and his children.

Recently, Magalie was attending a meeting on family education at her son’s school. Some radio stations were invited at the event. As a note taker and reporter for one of the small groups’ discussion, she requested additional time to talk about another topic. After presenting the Nutrition Security Program and her role as a mother leader, she talked about the importance of good nutrition in households. She presented other topics like breastfeeding, dietary diversity and pregnant and lactating women’s nutrition. Magalie gave some examples on how to diversify the diet with a low budget by using fresh products from the home garden. The participants appreciated her contribution and the school director planned to organize a special lecture on nutrition with the mother leader as keynote speaker.

Mother Leaders view themselves as agents of change. They are very proud to put their talent and time into helping others and sharing experiences with program staff and other mother leaders. These visits offer them the opportunity to serve their communities through regular dialogue with the family members in each targeted household. The home visits lead to a dynamic exchange with family members, particularly with the women on nutrition and other priority issues. They learn how to negotiate the right approach for behavior change and they build confidence visit after visit. They respect their neighbors and they give them attention- A mother leader might be invited to join a radio talk show with other NSP members and community leaders to testify and discuss community activities.
Mother Leaders preparing for their next meeting

Since becoming a Mother Leader, Magalie has become more empowered and has gained notoriety in her community. Her neighbors now refer to her simply as “Maman.” Magalie and the other women participating in the Nutrition Security Program have had the opportunity to create more independence for themselves and to prove that they are able to contribute to the health and success of their country through their accomplishments. “A woman is a school; if you teach her, she can teach an entire generation.” The participants of the NSP are laying the groundwork to create healthier and more prosperous future generations for Haiti. They are proud to be mother leaders because they have something to say, and their audience looks forward to attending the next visit that make them stronger member of the team promoting better nutrition and health.




Thursday, March 5, 2015

Women in Agriculture

Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program focuses on expanding opportunities and providing technical assistance to groups who historically have had little access to such resources. These groups include indigenous groups, small-scale farmers, and women. Our F2F volunteers help promote gender equality by encouraging women to participate in workshops and trainings. Female F2F volunteers also play a key role in reinforcing the value and knowledge that women provide in agricultural production and income-generation. Approximately 30% of our F2F volunteers and 50% of our beneficiaries are women.

F2F Program Officer, Courtney Dunham, with cooperative members of Cuatro Pinos,
the first all-women's cooperative in Guatemala
In preparation for International Women's Day on Sunday, March 8, 2015, please enjoy a few of our blog stories on Women in Agriculture: