Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bananas and Beef Jerky: Addressing Nutritional Deficiencies through Solar Dehydration in Nicaragua

What do bananas and beef jerky have to do with each other? A few weeks ago, that is the question 65 participants set out to answer as they attended Farmer-to-Farmer food dehydration demonstrations hosted by the Fabretto Children’s Foundation. In Nicaragua, rural and food insecure communities face the daily challenge of meeting nutritional needs without access to refrigeration to preserve fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-dense foods.
Participants assist in constructing the dehydrator.
With the help of F2F volunteer Timothy Bowser, however, Fabretto students and staff alike were trained in the use of solar dehydration technology. Products as simple as bananas and beef jerky are examples of value-added agricultural goods that can be preserved through this process.

Timothy assisted in the construction of three solar dehydrators, one at each Fabretto site he visited. Staying true to Fabretto’s methodology of “learning by doing,” participants took part in building the dehydrator and demonstrating its use after completion.  

The simple structure of solar dehydrators makes them ideal for low-resource settings at a very low cost. Not only will the implementation of this technology improve household health and well being, but it will open up new business opportunities for Nicaraguan families and foster excitement for agricultural innovation among young people. Timothy’s recommendations for continued success of the project include investigating local dehydrated food markets and organizing cooperatives to build larger-scale dehydrators. 

Fabretto students pose with their newly
completed solar dehydrator.
In addition to demonstrating solar dehydration, participants learned drip irrigation theory at two sites in an effort to improve fruit and vegetable cultivation. Timothy's work shed new light on the value of innovative agricultural solutions for food insecure communities. Both projects served to build Fabretto’s capacity to energize youth around hands-on learning that will make them leaders in their communities.

Read more about our other F2F projects hosted by organizations in Nicaragua, the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Aromatics Expert Trains Essential Oil Makers in Jamaica

Workshop participants gather to learn about essential oils.
Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Clare Licher is nothing if not passionate about her family-run business, PhiBee Aromatics, based in Sedona, Arizona. Building on almost thirty years of experience in aromatherapy and essential oils, Clare recently took her expertise to the Jamaican coast to work with Yerba Buena Farm in St. Mary. During her two week stay, Clare consulted with YBF on the logistics of establishing a commercial distillery and the growth potential of local and export markets. 

Why are essential oils so important to this community? 


Essential oils have a high price tag on the commercial market, both due to the time and labor intensive processes of producing them and the plethora of health benefits they provide consumers. While Jamaica is home to a variety of aromatic plants, there are currently no major distilleries located on the island to produce these unique products. Although they would like to break into this promising industry, YBF has faced technical difficulties in the past obtaining proper equipment and technical training to reap the benefits of the native plants that surround them.

Clare leads a distilling demonstration.

This is where F2F comes in.

Upon her arrival, Clare hit the ground running by repairing tools and gathering materials needed to successfully distill the oils. After performing a successful trial distillation, it was time to run four one-day workshops! From across the island, beekeepers, farmers, owners of cosmetic cottage industries, and professors gathered to participate in hands-on demonstrations of the distillation process. Some participants traveled from as far as four hours away and a total of 118 participants learned the basics of essential oil distillation. 


Clare reported overwhelming enthusiasm and stressed the exciting possibility of creating a high quality artisan oil industry in Jamaica. Community members appeared to be energized at the prospect of forming a co-op to produce the oils both for personal use and for supplementing their incomes.

Highly specialized volunteers like Clare are what make technical projects so successful in communities like St. Mary, Jamaica. Clare is the first F2F volunteer to work with essential oils, but is optimistic about the expanded potential of Yerba Buena Farm to create an artisan oil market with exotic and unique native plants.

To read about other F2F work in Jamaica, click here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Father and Son Team Supports Guatemalan Coffee Farmers

F2F volunteer Tommy Bassett
demonstrates coffee cupping.
As two-time volunteers with the Farmer-to-Farmer program, Arthur and Tommy Bassett have formed a dynamic duo working in rural coffee production. In May of this year, the pair traveled to the western highlands of Guatemala to work with Federacion Comercializadora de Café Especial de Guatemala (FECCEG) and Kishé Coffee. With previous experience working with a Mexican coffee cooperative and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu, Arthur arrived in Guatemala City ready to dive into the project.

The strength of FECCEG and Kishé Coffee lies in their grassroots mission to improve the livelihood of local farmers by creating a quality product in a sustainable and equitable way. Of the 22 departments of Guatemala, 20 are capable of growing coffee, making the industry a promising source of income generation for local farmers. Working primarily in Quetzaltenango and San Marcos, FECCEG met with the volunteers to discuss previous F2F projects and best business practices that will allow their certified organic, fair trade, kosher product to thrive in specialty coffee markets in the United States.

During their stay, the Bassetts evaluated product quality through several coffee cuppings, or tastings, where each participant ranked several varieties according to flavor, acidity, body, uniformity, and other factors discernible only by a true coffee connoisseur. Farmers participated in the tastings to evaluate their own products for quality and taste as well. Additionally, the volunteers placed an emphasis on marketing and social media to improve the visibility of Kishé, as most of their business with U.S. businesses is conducted online. Because Kishé is such a unique coffee brand, telling the story of the company through social media plays an important role in attracting consumers. These recommendations included updating marketing materials to include an international phone number, WhatsApp information, and a scannable code that immediately directs consumers to the company’s website.
FECCEG farmers review coffee
cultivation techniques.

At the end of two weeks, the Bassetts left FECCEG with a strategic marketing and business plan providing a framework for monitoring, evaluating, and revising their practices from here on out. The Bassetts found FECCEG to be extremely receptive to their recommendations and are confident that their work will improve the branding and marketability of the product. We are lucky to have such a qualified and dynamic team and look forward to their continued work with F2F and Partners of the Americas!

Partners of the Americas’ F2F program has a long term partnership with FECCEG. To read more about our work with the organization, click
here.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Welcome to our new field officers in the DR!

Partners is pleased to welcome José Almodóvar and Rafael Marte as our two new field officers for the Farmer-to-Farmer program in the Dominican Republic! Our field officers in Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic play a key role in the Farmer-to-Farmer program. They typically have strong backgrounds in agronomy, environmental science, business development, or rural development and are also bilingual, allowing them to easily translate during highly technical assignments.

They also provide regular follow-up to our host organizations to make sure that the knowledge shared by volunteers is properly understood, being applied, and successfully replicated. This allows them to cultivate strong relationships within the communities we work in as well as contributes to the sustainability of the Farmer-to-Farmer program.

Our two new field officers, José Almodóvar (left) and Rafael Marte (right), with Partners HQ Senior Program Officer, Courtney Dunham (center)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sustainable Agriculture and Cacao Best Management Practices in Ecuador

by F2F volunteer Thomas "Rip" Winkel, F2F Volunteer to Ecuador. Read about Rip's previous assignment in Ecuador here

EducaFuturo certificate recipients in
cacao and soil management
Yet again I have been fortunate to have worked on another Farmer to Farmer assignment, an organization that is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) via the Partners of the Americas. This time, however, it was on the northwest side of Ecuador, in a town named Viche, located in the coastal province of Esmeraldas. The date for this project was February 27th through March 11th, 2016, and was in conjunction with EducaFuturo, an Ecuadorian organization directly affiliated with Partners of the Americas. The mission of EducaFuturo is to significantly reduce child labor in Ecuador (and Panama), especially among Afro-descendants, indigenous, and migrant populations. Its desire is to improve educational outcome for children and teens involved in labor, while working towards increasing family income at the same time.

The main objective of this assignment was to train EducaFuturo field technicians and participating community members in sustainable agricultural as well as cacao best management practices. This short-term project was divided into two main endeavors; the first was a series of lectures that dealt with various agricultural topics, where the second effort was to conduct hands-on workshops both in the field and in the classroom [...]. 

Workshop participant trying out grafting techniques
There were a total of six slightly informal lectures given, covering subjects such as: the evolution and cultivation of cacao (background), the objectives, purposes and proper techniques of pruning cacao, the various methods and techniques of grafting possible with cacao. Also discussed at some length were organic (homemade) pesticides including discussions of certain diseases and plagues common with cacao, of soil pH and nutrient availability, of various soil qualities (structure, and texture), and alternative cash crops with basic information about each. A number of informative hand-outs were given in support the topics being presented, and to offer as a source of information for future references. Many questions were asked by the class participants over the topics being discussed as well as other agricultural issues, like crop marketability/prices, synthetic vs. organic fertilizers, etc.

In addition to the lectures, there were four workshops given; three of them were in the field, and the fourth was a hands-on laboratory styled class conducted back at the school complex. The first field workshop entailed a review and a demonstration on correct methods and procedures of pruning, as well as grafting methods and techniques of cacao trees as per the lecture given on the subjects. The second field workshop consisted of each class member having to correctly prune an entire cacao tree according to the criteria given in class and on the hand-out. 

Laboratory workshop on soil analysis
The third workshop was a hands-on practicum where each participant was asked to single-out healthy scions (a bud strip or a small branch with buds) and prepare them for grafting. They were also asked to locate cacao trees that would best be benefited from the graft, and then to graft the scion onto the root stock (cacao tree) in tee-bud and side-veneer graft methods. This class also included wrapping the graft up correctly for protection. The fourth workshop was a laboratory session, where the class participants took soil samples brought in from various farms around the area, and analyzed them for pH, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium levels, using the LaMotte Portable Soil Test Kit with which to analyze.

Overall, I feel that the time spent in Viche with the field technicians and the members of EducaFuturo was not only well spent, but was a great experience for everyone involved. There was a lot of information presented, discussed, reviewed and applied in cacao best management practices as well as issues in sustainable agriculture that these members waded through. And yet, they were patient with my Spanish blunders, helping me with pronunciations whenever needed. It was a definite pleasure to have worked with the EducaFuturo staff, and especially with those community members and field technicians in Viche-Esmeraldas, Ecuador.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Marketing Peanuts in Guatemala

by Robert Bond, F2F volunteer to Guatemala 

F2F volunteer Robert Bond working with members of Grupo Union Esperanza
Guatemala possesses a rich and distinct culture, characterized by a fusion of Spanish and indigenous (Mayan) influences, seen in its colorful handicraft markets and regional costumes. However, it is also a predominantly poor country, and the most populous in Central America, with a GDP per capita roughly half of the average for Latin America and the Caribbean; its agricultural sector accounts for nearly 1/3 of the labor force (Source: CIA World Factbook). 

My recent trip to Guatemala in April 2016 was my 27th volunteer F2F project over the past 15 years, and my first to the country. With a sales and marketing background rather than farming, I was delighted by the opportunity to help strengthen horticulture value chains in order to stimulate productivity of small and medium scale farmers, and improve income and living standards for them, their families, and their communities in Guatemala.


The name Farmer-to-Farmer is actually somewhat of a misnomer, however, as the program provides technical assistance to agribusinesses at many levels, including distribution and marketing. My hosts were the 30 women entrepreneurs of the Union Hope Women’s Group (Grupo Union Esperanza) from the village of Buenos Aires, in the municipality of Santa Ana Huista, Department of Huehuetenango, in the northwest of the country, who have been processing locally-grown peanuts into packaged fried, salted, sweet, and spicy varieties for 10 years.

Although I was not directly working with farmers on this project, if the Women’s Group business succeeds, local farmers will also benefit, and the women will increase their incomes and help strengthen the economy of their community as well. At presentations and workshops we covered how to do market research and how to enter new markets. In addition, we constructed and discussed their own P&L (profit and loss) statement, discussed customer sales record-keeping, route-to-market, and after some classroom practice, we conducted actual in-market selling.

F2F Country Coordinator Jose Cano (left), members of
Grupo Union Esperanza (middle), and Robert Bond (right)
It was very gratifying for me to witness actual selling taking place by members of the Women’s Group in the stores in Huehuetenango, extolling the Group’s mission and the products’ benefits, just as we practiced in the classroom.

This combination of classroom training sessions on marketing information and decision-making with actual in-field market research, and in this case, making actual sales calls, will help achieve the overall objective to build the Group’s capacity to support the profitable marketing of the peanut products as well as to improve the entrepreneurial skills of Group members. F2F projects like this one are a great use of retired people. The quid pro quo is that you’ve helped some folks and spread goodwill, and hopefully they will benefit.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Leadership Training in Haiti

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers Jennifer Kushner and Larry Jones recently traveled to Haiti to work
Senior Program Officer Andi Thomas, F2F volunteer Jennifer Kushner,
F2F Field Officer Stessy Auguste, F2F volunteer Larry Jones
with F2F field staff on strategy, and meet with F2F hosts in northern Haiti. While in country, Ms. Kushner and Mr. Jones also conducted a training on Leadership and Monitoring & Evaluation for a group of association and cooperative leaders. This was the first time that leaders from groups receiving F2F assistance in Haiti had gathered together across sectors. The key lesson of the training was that effective leaders are always learning. Ms. Kushner and Mr. Jones shared that leaders have vision; leaders act; and leaders step back and reflect. One workshop participant asked if stepping back was part of evaluation and this led to a dynamic conversation about the importance of reflection in monitoring and evaluation efforts.

Ms. Kushner leading a training
The F2F volunteers shared that three important habits around learning are 1) every opportunity is an opportunity to learn; 2) always get different perspectives on a challenge; and 3) sharing with others what you learned. Training participants had the chance to meet in pairs and discuss their leadership experiences, including successes, challenges, and lessons learned. A small group of university students was also present and they had the opportunity to share some experiences around learning. During an informal interview, Jean-Jacques Lucas, the coordinator for the Association des Traveilleurs de Dondon - a coffee cooperative based in the North - shared that "If you don't know where you are, you can't know where you're going." Making time to learn and reflect is an essential component of leadership.