Monday, May 18, 2015

From The Schoolyard to the Riverfront: Watershed Education in the DR

Dominican students at a nearby school participated
in some of the environmental education activities
In February 2015, F2F volunteers Maria Moreno and Rick Hall traveled to Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic to work with the Escuela Nacional del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de Jarabacoa, which trains students in environmental management, forestry, park management, eco-tourism and other related fields. Moreno and Hall went to help the school enhance students' knowledge and practice of environmental education and community outreach. Faculty and staff were involved in a week-long planning process for the development of a demonstration rain garden at the Environmental School, and participated in watershed exploration along the Jimenoa River.
F2F volunteers, Rick Hall and Maria Moreno,
lead hands-on learning at the Jarabacoa School

Because environmental education is important for all age groups, the Colaboración Ambiental partnership was created between the Environmental School and the local schools in Jarabacoa. Moreno and Hall, along with students from the Environmental School, conducted a parallel activity at a local elementary school to plan schoolyard habitat projects and a rain garden. Seeing the positive impact and "aha!" moments that the kids experienced moved the goal from simply imparting a curriculum to cultivating an interest in sustainability and its impact on every day life to the general public. The School District Superintendent committed to planning for the inclusion of five additional schools in the project, with the ultimate aim of district wide implementation.

Hall and Moreno found that one of the biggest obstacles for continuing environmental education at the elementary school level was the lack of children’s nature books and supplies that are centered on DR specific flora and fauna. "There is a tendency to look north for models and solutions, before looking locally and regionally in the Caribbean," Moreno wrote. "F2F and Colaboracion Ambiental could help make these connections and teach this basic tenant of community organizing and education; relationship is the basic dynamic of natural and human ecologies." They also recommended incorporating a greater focus on climate change awareness, readiness, and resilience from "mountains to sea" in their watershed education. 

F2F Country Director, Rafael Ledesma, at the Jarabacoa School
In their trip notes, Hall said, "In general, we found people in the Dominican Republic to be open, enthusiastic learners, eager to learn new things that would assist an increased level of knowledge, respect, and care for the natural world, among students, faculty, and the general public, and some extraordinarily positive resources that can be employed to enhance efforts in natural resource protection, enhancement, and use for environmental education."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mama Knows Best: Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Here at Partners of the Americas Agriculture and Food Security Team, we treasure mothers. There have been numerous articles about the positive effects of empowering and educating women, especially mothers, in developing nations (click the links to read more).

Everyone knows how powerful mothers can be, and the mothers that work with the AFS Team are no exception. Back in March, we posted this blog entry for International Women’s Day about the Mother Leaders in the Haiti Nutrition Security Program, highlighting the inspiring work that Magalie Hubbert is doing in her community. To honor World Health Day, we shared the story of Simone Fertile’s efforts educating about child nutrition, and then we celebrated the graduation of a Mother Leader class at the end of April. But that’s not all- recently Justin Hackworth (@justinhackworth on twitter) traveled down to observe and photograph some of the Mother Leader’s in action, working in their communities to educate other mothers and families on mother and child nutrition. 

Of course, Haiti isn’t the only place with amazing mothers, though there are plenty. Volunteers with the Farmer-to-Farmer program have also been working with mothers in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. In 2013 we gave our own tribute to F2F participants for International Women’s Day, telling just a few of the many stories that encourage and inspire all of us on a daily basis.

So as you’re thanking your own mothers or the special women in your life, take a moment to remember all the mothers out there that are working to make a better world for their children and their communities, and celebrate them!

“Yo pa ka achte moso manman nan mache.” - One can’t buy a piece of mother in the market (Mothers are irreplaceable). Haitian Proverb

Friday, May 8, 2015

Working With Rabbit Producers in Guatemala

This post was written by F2F Volunteer Robert Spencer from the field in Guatemala.
I have volunteered internationally since 2006, worked in Haiti, El Salvador, Myanmar, and now Guatemala.  April 26, 2015 began my first visit to this beautiful country work with advancing quality of meat rabbit production to improve nutrition in Guatemala.  Partners of the Americas (a USAID program generously funded by the American people) was my sponsor, and Institution of Nutrition for Central America and Panama (INCAP) and Seeds for the Future (SftF) were my gracious in-country hosts. It appears the staff of INCAP and Seeds for the Future have done an outstanding job of educating and motivating participating farmers to do the best possible with available resources, while tracking qualitative data that is already providing impressive reporting. 
I flew into Guatemala City on Sunday, had an introductory meeting with INCAP the next day, and then was whisked off to Chocola’ to work with farmers for five days of and my primary reason for being here and a little bit of fun and food.  Chocola’ is about three hours northwest of Guatemala City, a relaxing rural area that faces many economic challenges including limited revenue generating opportunities for women and their families. 

During the time spent in Chocola’ and surrounding areas I was part of 7 workshops, 3 meetings, 3 interactive sessions, and 17 local farm tours. The objective of this assignment is to strengthen the capacities of technical field staff and participating families in the SAN project, by addressing practical strategies for production, and consumption of rabbit meat.  At the same time participants received education on nutritional and culinary aspects of rabbit meat.  The majority of farms were observed to be conducting quality meat rabbit production; the more novice producers had varying degrees of opportunity for improvement. Based upon verbal interaction the benefit for those who have been raising rabbits for more than six months was great satisfaction and increased nutrition.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Coffee: from Mexico to Vanuatu to Haiti

by F2F volunteer Arthur Bassett

Working with coffee has taken me to visit and learn about cultures throughout the world. Recently with Partners of the Americas Farmer-to-Farmer program, I went to learn about coffee in northern Haiti and the experiences of the coffee farmers there. For the last 10 years I have been working with Café Justo, a cooperative based in Mexico that sells its coffee in the United States. Using my knowledge about Mexican coffees, I was selected to serve in Peace Corps Vanuatu in their coffee development program. My life is a journey to learn about coffee farming.

Haiti coffee has been grown for many years but due to political crisis and other factors the production has been declining. In 2013-14 the production was 10,000 bags, Mexico and Central America offer 1/5 of world production at 1.1 million bags (USDA, Coffee World Markets and Trade, 2014).
Gonzalez, A. (2015, March 25). Seattle Times.
Retrieved from

So how can the coffee production be increased? Well if only things were so simple… Working extensively in Central America and Mexico, many farmers are currently concerned about “roya” or “coffee rust.” Surprisingly this epidemic has not reached Haiti in these proportions. Rust is evident in Haiti especially in areas where the trees are unhealthy due to too much shade and lack of pruning or too many limbs. In Haiti the coffee struggle comes from lack of resources and support. Throughout Haiti there is no running or plumbed water and so many people spend a lot of time carrying water on their heads from the ground pumps in villages. What are the farmers saying? Women working with coffee say that the credit that they need to run a coffee farm is not enough to actually be effective for their business. Farmers were in need of improved infrastructure and supplies like depulpers and drying areas. Farmers there also talked about a dark time when coffee trees were used to make charcoal. This has changed and now there are nurseries run by the coops and the government to boost coffee production once again but scars on the hillsides still remain as a reminder that deforestation is not too far away. 

This trip reminded me of my Peace Corps experience in Vanuatu, a group of islands in the South Pacific. In Vanuatu, people depended on local agriculture for food and income. Inspecting a farm you would find that the coffee is put in areas where it there is space but not necessarily straight rows of plants perfectly spaced out. Haiti was similar. Not every coffee farm is the same. Some farmers plant subsistence crops like fruit and timber in addition to coffee, while coffee plantations focus purely on coffee production. During our stay in Haiti, a category 5 Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu and now that country is struggling to rebuild its coffee production.

Hope is in the air in Haiti. The graph above shows a slight rise in production in the past few years. Companies like Haiti Coffee and Singing Rooster have been recruiting customers and providing Haitian coffee farmers with direct feedback. This year the government held the first cooperative coffee competition with cuppings and awards going to the best quality cupper and coffee from Haiti. Colombia has come to the aid of Haiti and provided some of its Arabica varieties (Tabi and Castillo) that should be resistant to pests and disease. Our host for this trip, Makouti, provided excellent staff to teach our group as well as local Haitians about Haiti coffee. Makouti had the community connections to help our Farmer-to-Farmer team meet with farmers to discuss issues like cupping, business development, gender issues, plantation techniques and post-harvest storage methods as well. Makouti will be carrying these ideas out to the villages and I was glad to have this opportunity to come and volunteer with Makouti and Farmer-to-Farmer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

F2F and Plan Yaque Team Up in the Dominican Republic

Partners is always looking to expand the reach of the Farmer-to-Farmer program and assist new organizations. In 2014, our F2F field staff met with Plan Yaque, a non-governmental organization with the mission to Clean, protect, and sustain the Rio Yaque del Norte watershed for the benefit of its people. Plan Yaque was established in 2011 and is located in the municipality of Jarabacoa. Plan Yaque has a lofty goal: to guarantee access to water for all individuals who depend on the Yaque del Norte watershed. Not only does the Yaque del Norte watershed provide drinking water to more than two million people, but it also irrigates the most productive banana, rice, and horticultural production areas in the country. However, as the DR continues to face the effects of climate change, it will become more challenging to meet the water demand of the growing population, which will jeopardize the country’s ability to sustain economic growth.

In March 2014, Senior Program Officer Courtney Dunham visited Plan Yaque to provide an overview of the F2F program and to identify potential needs of the organization that could be addressed through F2F. Humberto Checo, the Director of Plan Yaque, stated that their immediate need was assistance in developing strategic and operational plans. As one of the main environmental NGOs in the area, Plan Yaque had identified over 13 activities and projects under four categories (water quality, natural resource management, improved soil management, and solid and liquid waste management) that they hoped to accomplish, too many for an organization with only six staff members.

Bill Nichols with Plan Yaque Director, Humberto Checo, overlooking Jarabacoa
In June 2014, Partners sent Bill Nichols, the first F2F volunteer to assist Plan Yaque, to build the capacity of the staff to develop a strategic plan that emphasized key priorities for climate change adaptation in communities affected by the Yaque del Norte watershed. (See Bill Nichols' blog entry here.) Mr. Nichols helped Plan Yaque to determine their greatest priorities and recommended that their efforts focus on the upper watershed, as the benefits will be seen more quickly and can impact the lower watershed.

Several other F2F volunteers have since provided follow-up to Mr. Nichols' assignment. Agroforestry and forest management specialists, Dave Lombardo, Glen Juergens, and William “Bill” Ryburn traveled in October 2014 to review the environmental programs in the upper Yaque del Norte watershed and to assess current reforestation projects (see blog here). They provided recommendations on maintaining forest health and the role of agroforestry in reducing the impact of climate change on the ecosystem and in the Yaque del Norte watershed. Additionally, F2F volunteer Jeff Knowles, a 30-year retired veteran of the USDA Soil Conservation Service/Natural Resources Conservation Service, traveled in December 2014 to assess current soil and environmental management on hillside farms in the upper watershed (see blog here). According to estimates in his trip report, only about 37 percent of the original native forests in the DR remain intact. Mr. Knowles visited three sub-watersheds of the Jarabacoa river to assess deforestation and soil erosion and provide recommendations on methods to improve sustainable hillside production and soil management to reduce erosion.

F2F volunteer, Jeff Knowles, with staff from Plan Yaque
In February 2015, Courtney Dunham returned to the DR to visit Plan Yaque. Below are her observations: 

Compared to our visit from last year, Plan Yaque has a much clearer and more focused idea of their key areas of work. Last year, they listed an overwhelming number of natural resource protection and conservation initiatives that were infeasible for their small team of six full-time employees. Now, they have a new vision that focuses on inter-institutional collaboration to protect the Yaque del Norte water resources for human consumption and environmental conservation by focusing efforts in three key areas:
  1. Agroforestry: Their ultimate goal is to create a “model forest” where farmers can learn about different types of productive trees they may be able to growto reforest their land
  2. Soil conservation: Plan Yaque is the first organization in the region with a project that solely focuses on soil conservation and protection
  3. Solid waste management: Humberto said that waste affects 80% of waterways in the Yaque del Norte region
Goals and Future F2F Assignments

Plan Yaque is interested in receiving F2F assistance to learn how to analyze and use the data they currently collect on water quality to be able to better monitor and manage the watershed. Other assignments will also focus on assisting Plan Yaque with marketing and promoting their institutional image in order to help raise awareness of the excellent work they are doing to protect the watershed and guarantee water in the Jarabacoa region. Partners' F2F program looks forward to continuing to work with Humberto Checo and his team at Plan Yaque!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Mother Leaders Celebrated during Graduation Ceremonies!

Recently, the Nutrition Security Program (NSP) teamed up with the Departmental Directors of the Ministry of Health (MSPP) to hold graduations for 450 Mother Leaders in the North and Northeast Departments in Haiti. These women completed over a year of training in nutrition and health education in the North and the Northeast regions of Haiti. NSP is funded by USAID/Haiti and is in its second year of operation. The 2015 graduations are an exciting milestone for the project!

The graduation ceremonies marked the completion of a 15-month "learning by doing" training program. The participating women were trained in how to teach things like the importance of a balanced diet, breastfeeding best practices, and various livelihood activities. They were also taught how to use nutrition counseling cards as visuals to better communicate with their neighbors and other mothers in their communities. Each Mother Leader is responsible for visiting 10 to 12 households twice a month to have a face-to-face conversation on diet diversity, food groups, and best practices relating to nutrition and health for children under 5. The target audiences for these conversations are pregnant and lactating women.

Local health staff, departmental and local authorities and family members participated in the graduation where the Mother Leaders were honored for their commitment to volunteerism and their valuable support in promoting behavior change at the household level. Medical staff at all levels recognized the contribution of the Mother Leaders by speaking at their graduation. The importance of reaching out to families in order to educate them and connect them to the health system was reinforced in the variety of speeches. Community members at all levels, from the community health agent to the local health center to the regional hospital were all encouraged to work together to help the messages from the Mother Leaders be heard. 

Mother Leaders have been getting positive feedback from families in their communities. Visit after visit, the dialogues continue to improve and their messages grow stronger. While sharing their knowledge and experiences, participants continue to build trust and solidarity. During the graduation, Mother Leaders showcased what they had learned through their talents. They used theater, songs and dances to express their appreciation of the program and to show what they had learned over the last 15 months. 

As a result, community members are becoming more supportive to the pregnant and lactating women. Kids and the adolescents are also becoming more interested in improving their knowledge in nutrition. Mother Leaders have the strength to meet these interests. They are available to participate in training sessions, visit families on a regular basis, review their approach and are responsible for updating promoters twice a month on their activities. Mother Leaders are very supportive of the families in their communities. They work very hard every day to teach households and communities how to prevent malnutrition. And their efforts are paying off!

To learn more about the Haiti Nutrition Security Program, please visit:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Critical Link between Agriculture and Nutrition: Recap of the Global Food Security Symposium

The Honorable Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, 
discusses "Investing in Smart, Collaborative Science 
to Address 21st Century Challenges"
On April 16th, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington, DC. Partners' Agriculture and Food Security Senior Director, Peggy Carlson, had the opportunity to attend and hear speakers and panels that included everyone from Allison Aubrey, Food & Health Correspondent at NPR News; to Shawn Baker, Director, Nutrition, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and the Honorable Dan Coats, Member, US Senate (R-IN). Panel topics included: How the Private Sector is Moving the Needle on Health, Universities at the Foundation of the Fight Against Hunger, and A Health Sensitive Food Supply

Douglas Bereuter co-chaired the event. He currently is involved in the Global Agricultural Development Initiative at The Chicago Council and is a Former Member of the US House of Representatives but more importantly to Partners, he is one of the founders and sponsors of the Farmer-to-Farmer Program. Ms. Carlson had the opportunity to talk with him about F2F and his fondness for the program and he will be participating in the program's 30th Anniversary events later in 2015.

One of the main purposes of the event was to launch The Chicago Council's new report: "Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition," This report looks at the important role agriculture and the food sector play in reducing malnutrition around the world. The report, which can be found here, recommends that:

  • The US Congress commit to a long-term global food and nutrition strategy focused on agricultural development and convene a bipartisan Commission on how to tackle nutrition challenges globally.
  • The US government, in partnership with universities and research institutes, increase funding for nutrition research to expand access to nutrient-rich foods and address malnutrition.
  • The US draw on the strength of its research facilities and universities to train the next generation of agriculture, food, and nutrition leaders both here and in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • Panelists discuss a health-sensitive food supply.
  • Government and industry work together to support more efficient and wider delivery of healthy foods, especially through technologies that can reduce food waste and enhance food safety.
The symposium was an excellent opportunity to hear from a variety of public and private sector speakers addressing the importance of agriculture and nutrition and offering creative ideas to address some of the challenges. Partners was live-tweeting the event via @PartnersAgFood and we regularly share information about important events like this. Follow us for updates and to read more about the Symposium, see speaker bios, and watch video of some of the sessions, you can visit the website.