Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Digital Marketing in Colombia

Digital Marketing is one way that entrepreneurs and producers across the globe can reach new markets and increase sales. But what is digital marketing and how can a small Colombian business use it to maximize the number of people who come across its brand? These are the questions that Zen Naturals was asking itself.

Zen Naturals is a natural cosmetic manufacturing company based in Cali, Colombia. Zen Naturals develops natural cosmetics made from exotic ingredients from Colombia’s outstanding biodiversity. Through ethical manufacturing and fair trade practices, they are also taking a leadership role in re-investing in the communities that grow the ingredients used in their products. Currently, Zen Naturals supports more than 95 Colombian quinoa farming communities through Fair-Trade Practices and technical assistance on their production.

Zen Naturals is preparing to launch their quinoa facial care products in Whole Foods Markets in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. in 2017. As U.S. retail business is unexplored territory for the company, they reached out to Partners of the Americas' Farmer-to-Farmer program to request a digital marketing specialist to assist them in properly promoting and positioning their brand for the U.S. market.

In July 2016, F2F volunteer Nicole Opie, who has over 20 years of experience working in marketing, traveled to Cali, Colombia to work with Zen Naturals on their digital marketing strategies. “In just over two weeks,” Ms. Opie shared, “we were able to cover digital marketing in general and in great detail. We successfully completed tutorials for all of the major social media channels which had to also be translated into Spanish in real time. . . We also had classes and practiced continuity marketing: content marketing that actually leverages audience interaction in one channel to generate content for other channels.”

Zen Naturals website home page

Zen Naturals's new Facebook page
Some key tools for digital marketing are website, social media, and email outreach. So, Ms. Opie also helped Zen Naturals develop and refine their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google My Business and Bing for Business pages. She trained the Zen Naturals staff on how to ensure that the image shared on digital marketing matches Zue's business model, goals and resources. Ms. Opie said, “This was all facilitated by the fact that [Zen Naturals] is an avid user of social media, and they had done their homework. They were well aware of the terminology, the acronyms, the differences and the likenesses of the channels. They were always prepared with questions and eager to ask for examples. All in all, they were great students.”

As a result of Ms. Opie's work, Zen Naturals now has a new and improved website as well as several new social media accounts. Zen Naturals continues to work on optimizing the navigation, font sizes, email capture, and social plugins of their different social media accounts. They also have started to discuss how often they should post and what type of content they will share to interact with their audiences. Ms. Opie discussed content management with the team at Zen Naturals at length and the importance of monitoring and analyzing what is published. Through their new digital market strategies, Zen Naturals hopes to be able to start building a relationship with its clients and further telling the world about the amazing products they are creating and the wonderful work they are doing to support Colombian communities.

Visit Zen Naturals' website here: http://www.zenaturals.co/

Friday, October 21, 2016

Leading High-Quality Calves to Markets

As Partners reaches the halfway point of its 2013-2018 Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, our staff are reviewing and analyzing program data and reflecting on the program so far. Below, we take a closer look at the Calf Quality Improvement Program, a partnership between F2F Nicaragua, CONAGAN, and CANICARNE. 

The European and US markets are interested in importing high-quality beef from Nicaragua. In order for Nicaragua livestock industries to take advantage of these opportunities, they need to ensure that best agricultural practices are in place throughout the livestock value chain. Partners of the Americas’ F2F program is ideally situated to play a leading role in these efforts given the long history of collaborating with partners across the livestock value chain by facilitating the transfer of technical assistance that contributes to the adoption of good agricultural practices. The Livestock and Dairy project strategy aims to build the capacity of Nicaragua’s livestock producers, processors, and marketers in the area of agro-enterprise development in order to improve their competitiveness in the domestic and international dairy and beef markets.

Two of the key partners in this strategy are the Nicaraguan Chamber of Beef Exporting
Plants (CANICARNE), a non-profit association composed of four slaughterhouses exporting beef products, and the National Livestock Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN), a non-profit organization supporting livestock producers. Together, F2F and these national cattle organizations have created the Calf Quality Improvement Program to help develop and promote a brand that guarantees good agricultural practices of grass-fed beef and dairy farms, which enables producers to sell their raw materials with added value to the industry. By providing training and helping producers to obtain certifications, F2F links producers and their value-added products to international markets.

For years, F2F has been a leader in providing technical assistance to small and medium-sized grass-fed beef and dairy farms in Nicaragua. In the past, F2F facilitated expert volunteer assignments to assist with the production side of the livestock industry. During the current 2013-2018 program, F2F is building off of the success of the production volunteer assignments by taking an integrated, systematic approach that brought together various actors across the livestock value chain to address the key factors to achieving best practices grass-fed beef and dairy farms. In the words of Nicaragua F2F field officer Elisa Estrada, “If we want quality meat, then we need heathy calves. If we want healthy calves, then we need good livestock practices. If we want good livestock practices then we need technical assistance and incentives.”

Doussou Traore, a volunteer who visited Nicaragua in October of 2014, recommended that CANICARNE organize and hold an inter-professional consultation/meeting to address finance and required inputs constraints (e.g. better breeds, feeding formula, cost comparisons, cost of production analysis). All main stakeholders should be involved in these meetings (e.g. direct market participants, service, policy makers). With the support of several other F2F volunteers, CANICARNE implemented this recommendation and created a commission to explore creating a brand for the Nicaraguan beef in order to access to niche markets and better opportunities for the cattlemen. F2F helped organize this commission and after a year of meeting, they decided to launch a “Calf Quality” Pilot Program. Many of the practices that this pilot program is based on come from F2F volunteer recommendations. For example, Ashley Conway visited Nicaragua in April 2015 and recommended that farmers increase their feeding adjustment period from 3 days to a minimum of 5 days, with first diet step-up being 30-40% of final ration. After another 5 days, she recommended they increase to 75%, and another 5 days before moving to 100% of final ration. This specific recommendation has been adopted by CANICARNE and is now used as the good feeding practice for the Calf Quality pilot program.

The main objective of the Calf Quality Pilot Program is for a calf to gain 220 kilos in the first year. In order to achieve these weight gains, producers sign a contract with a slaughterhouse that stipulates a number of best practices including: 1) giving the calf milk the first month as opposed to selling that milk, 2) castrating the calf, and 3) after milking for a month, giving the calf a concentrate. If the calf reaches 220 kilos, at the feedlot they are expected to reach 400 kilos after 120 days (which is faster than other methods). When the producer sells the calf at 200-220 kilos, they receive the market price of the calf plus an additional 8% as an incentive. The program also offers an advance of 3,000 cordobas or about $100 US dollars without interest or any kind of guarantee. In Nicaragua, there are no banks or creditors that would offer a similar advance.

As of late July of 2016, the Calf Quality Pilot Program had enrolled 30 producers with a total of 40 calves. All of these producers have signed a contract with the slaughterhouses and some have already delivered their first calves at the target weight of 220 kilos. In addition to the market price they receive from the slaughterhouse, those producers have also received, on average, $15,600 cordobas or about $540 US dollars in incentives. The pilot program is still in its infancy, but early results are promising. One of the most tangible outcomes is the economic incentive that the producers are receiving. There is now a premium paid for quality meat that did not exist before. The premium is small at the moment but plans are under way for it to increase as the program expands. The formalization of production system through the contract indicates that the producers are adopting best practices and the potential exists to transfer those practices to other producers. Another emerging outcome of the pilot program is the positive relationship between producers and the slaughterhouses, which has not always existed. Finally, the pilot program has led to the creation of a new fertility service program in CONAGAN.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Host Profile: the ATD Coffee Cooperative in Haiti

Haiti is re-emerging on the international coffee scene and is being led by some innovative and forward-thinking coffee producers. These producers are not just growing and selling great coffee, but they are reforesting the country and developing rural enterprise as they go.

Political instability and failed development efforts are part of the story of Haiti’s decline on the international coffee market. But that did not stop Makouti Agro Enterprise from working as a backbone organization to fill the gaps and reboot the coffee industry. Makouti, a local Haitian-led host organization and partner organization of the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, has been working with producers in northern Haiti and one of their coffee field technicians was Jean Jacques (Jacquelin) Lucas. Jacquelin, who has over fifteen years of experience as an expert producer, along with Benito Jasmin, Makouti founder and F2F country coordinator, had the vision to create a coffee cooperative that would leverage the strengths of many smaller producers toward a fully-functioning rural enterprise. Jacquelin believes: “Each producer has his own strengths…. it might be high elevation coffee, or a lower-humid place for drying… together we can take care of all our needs.”

Out of this vision grew the Association des Travailleurs de Dondon (ATD), a thriving, young, coffee cooperative that is leading the charge in this region’s resurgence. As they head into their third harvest season, founding director Jacquelin Lucas takes time to reflect on where they’ve been and where they are going:

“It first starts with Myriam [Kaplan-Pasternak], a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, who helped us see that it was not a waste of time to focus on increasing the value of Haitian coffee. She’s been involved with many aspects of our business, from seedling production to processing to cupping. There are not enough words to describe Myriam’s influence on our effort and success.”

Myriam, who owns and operates Haiti Coffee Inc. (a US-based export/import company), has been a key influence in the launch and ongoing development of ATD. Myriam had been working with Jacquelin in his role as a field technician for Makouti and supported him in the creation of the cooperative. In the beginning, Jacquelin needed to educate the producers on quality standards for the international market. Thanks to F2F and volunteers like Myriam, he was able to teach other producers how to assess and meet quality standards at every step of the process. In addition to providing training and technical assistance, Myriam, through her role with Haiti Coffee, invested financially and emotionally in the success of the effort.

Today ATD is successfully competing in the international market. They have a contract with Haiti Coffee for the US market and are in negotiations with Vasco International, a Chinese company and potential buyer. Part of what has led to ATD’s rapid success has been the way they do business. They are singularly focused on quality and quality improvement as a core operating value. They apply a ‘quality lens’ at each point on the value chain and provide services to help their producers. For example, when producers bring their cherries (green beans) to sell, ATD does an initial sort on quality. They have visual tools to help educate producers about standards. They’ll pay 40-50% upfront to help bridge costs, and have other services such as de-pulping, drying and marketing, in addition to this credit function. Within the past two years, ATD has gone from 80,160 Haitian Gourdes ($1,781) in gross sales to 850,000 Haitian Gourdes ($13,077), and their coffee, is now consistently ranked 82 on the international ranking system. Dramatic improvements in quality bode well for the future. On the gender and environmental fronts, of its 200 members, 80 are women, and in 2015 their nursery had 14,000 seedlings of coffee and 5,000 seedlings of cacao.

When asked what has contributed to ATD’s success, Jacquelin said it works like a family; everyone works together. To be a member of ATD, there are rules that producers must agree to: they must agree to be trained by the cooperative, and must live in the community. Other values are reflected in their vision which focus on well-being of community, environment and of course superior quality coffee. Since inception, ATD has been supported by seven F2F volunteers, each building on the work of the previous volunteers.

When talking about the future, Jacquelin’s focus on quality shines through:

“There are several areas we need to improve on but the ultimate goal is getting to “gold”… the d’Oro status of a 90 score or higher on the international market. But even if we arrive there, we can still improve.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How Coffee Farmers Are Being Left Out of the 'Local' Coffee Movement Around the World

By Rebecca Roebber, Marketing Director at indi chocolate and F2F volunteer

Kishé coffee has some of the best coffee in the world, grown at high altitude in rich volcanic soil by a majority of women farmers. They go above and beyond to meet international consumer demand by paying for their coffee to be certified Fair-Trade, Organic and Kosher. (Yes, these are expenses that farmers pay to third party entities.) They roast their beans in Xela, Guatemala and sell green beans internationally. They also sub contract work to a roaster in LA who fulfills any roasted coffee orders within the United States.  The goal is to eventually sell the majority of their coffee as roasted coffee beans in the United States, however, competing with the ‘local’ coffee movement has proven to be a challenge.

Why does a cooperative of farmers, with some of the highest quality coffee beans in the world have trouble selling their roasted coffee beans?

I live in Seattle, home of Starbucks and a coffee roaster on every block. The coffee culture and competition is fierce and having a local presence is crucial. Coffee does not grow in Seattle or within any part of the continental United States, however the term ‘local coffee’ is used everywhere. Even if the coffee is locally roasted it is not like a tomato or an apple that can be locally grown.

The challenge becomes; how can a cooperative based in Guatemala, where coffee  grows, compete with coffee companies that roast locally in the United States? I had the opportunity to work with Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer Program - a USAID-funded program - and the Kishé team for two weeks developing a marketing plan.  We evaluated marketing techniques and analyzed strategies that competitors are using to be able to compete on a global level. What I realized is that there are hardly any other cooperative owned coffee companies out there, which means educating the consumer about what Farmer-Owned Coffee is becomes a priority.

I believe that educating the consumer in any industry is fundamental to creating momentum and loyalty behind any brand.

I work full time as the Marketing Director at indi chocolate, located in Pike Place Market. We make bean-to-bar chocolate. Everyday people from all over the world come into the store and have never even thought about where chocolate comes from, how it is grown, or the process of how cacao is made into chocolate, but everyone is curious.  When they learn that we work directly with farmers, that we are using high quality cacao beans, and we are doing it all in small batches, they understand the value of the chocolate we are making.

Kishé has the disadvantage of not having a permanent location, but with tools like the internet we as consumers can become more informed and keep in touch with Kishé through their website and other social media platforms. In fact, it is very important to Kishé coffee to be transparent in their practices so that even if the consumer cannot come to their coffee shop or to one of their coffee farms they know that the Kishé practices are the best for farmers, for the environment and for the people drinking their coffee.

I’ve visited coffee farms and met coffee farmers before throughout South and Central America and although they grew some of the best coffee in the world we would sit around drinking Nescafé, because they couldn’t afford to drink their own coffee. At the Kishé cooperative there was a tradition of starting the day out with a French press full of freshly roasted and ground coffee, occasionally we would stop what we were doing and everyone would participate in a coffee cupping. They are passionate about growing and roasting the best tasting coffee. They encourage one another and anyone else who comes to visit to be educated about the whole process.

Kishé coffee is community in a cup!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Coffee and Climate Change

A report recently released by the Climate Institute – "A Brewing Storm: The climate change risks to coffee" – uses existing data and compiles information from a variety of studies to indicate that climate change will have a strong effect on the global coffee supply. Rising temperatures threaten farmland, reducing the land area suitable for coffee farming. Extreme weather like worsening drought and heavier downpours also impact yields. Climate changes are intensifying the prevalence of diseases and pests like coffee rust and coffee berry borer, which contribute to millions of dollars in lost coffee beans every year. Additionally, farmers and laborers exposed to rising temperatures experience heat related illnesses that affected their long-term well-being, as well as their productivity. Complicating matters is the fact that the coffee market is currently saturated and producers are subject to price volatility. Because the majority of the world’s 25 million coffee producers are smallholder farmers, they often don’t have the capacity to modify their practices in response to climate change.

Between plant disease, pests, and changing weather, farmers face more than enough challenges related to growing, harvesting and producing their crops. Once the crop has been collected, there is another set of problems for farmers to address in order for them to sell their goods-ones that require a whole host of management skills that many small farmers lack. Partners’ F2F program works with coffee farmers throughout the Caribbean region on issues from plant disease to harvesting all the way to marketing and cooperative management. The climate change risks to coffee are vast and complex but working directly with smallholder coffee farmers and cooperatives is one small way to effect change.

Cooperatives allow farmers to work together, share tips and strategies, and organize policies for the whole sector. By pooling their resources, smallholder coffee farmers are better able to access financing, obtain technical assistance on improved farming practices, and sell their product at higher prices. For coffee cooperatives in Haiti’s northern regions surrounding Cap-Haitien, recordkeeping is an invaluable asset for monitoring and controlling day-to-day business costs. F2F volunteer and accountant Howard Fenton took on this challenge as he traveled to Haiti in June to conduct site visits and led several trainings with the coffee cooperatives. As a result of his work, producers will be able to recognize best business practices and opportunities to capitalize on them. Specific items like developing a business plan, setting goals and planning the steps to achieve those goals, and self-evaluation are essential to a successful farm operation.

In the Dominican Republic, where our F2F Country Strategy is focused on Climate Change Adaptation in the Yaque del Norte Watershed, volunteer Judson Reid recommended diversification into fruit and vegetable crops as an alternative for coffee growers who currently face unprecedented pressure from coffee rust. Crop diversification is more easily said than done but it is one widely accepted practice to deal with a host of agricultural issues. Another crop adaptation strategy, according to the Climate Institute Report is shifting coffee plantations upslope. The research recognizes that farmers are resilient, resourceful, and creative but faced with a possible increase in temperature of 2 degrees Celsius in the next half-century, the global agricultural system needs to brace itself for big changes.

Read the full A Brewing Storm report here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Improved Branding Helps Producers in Nicaragua

López (top left) giving the Benchmark email marketing
seminar to CONAGAN and CANICARNE participants.
About a year after his first visit to Nicaragua, Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Volunteer Eddy López returned in July 2016 to update and reinvigorate the branding and promotional efforts he previously developed with several beef and dairy organizations and small-scale producers. Over the course of his three week assignment, López reconnected with three national organizations, the National Livestock Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN), the Nicaraguan Chamber of Dairy (CANISLAC) and the Nicaraguan Chamber of the Industry for Beef (CANICARNE).

With CONAGAN, López created new promotional materials to increase the organization’s visual presence and garner attention for their upcoming VII National Livestock Congress. He also developed branding proposals for their new national training center and for their regional congresses. Reuniting with CANISLAC allowed López to redesign their logo and strengthen their brand identity. Building on the capacity of his past assignment, López also led a seminar for CONAGAN and CANICARNE on a free email marketing platform called Benchmark to promote sustainable and proper email marketing practices, such as running maintenance on email lists, designing email layouts, and measuring the efficacy of each email campaign. In addition, López met with three small-scale dairy producers, to address their branding needs, such as logo design, label placements on their products and design concepts for future marketing campaigns.

López’s design samples for Tias Especiales’s
Yogurt con Amor brand.
During his trip, López was able to learn, collaborate and meet the specific needs of the organizations and producers he worked with, using the resources available. While noting small marketing and promotion budgets as a limitation, he utilized his expertise to offer more feasible yet effective recommendations. For instance, Lopez worked with host Tias Especiales during his assignment. He worked with two of his design students from Bucknell University - Ellen O’Donnell and Lena Miskulin - and together they redesigned Tias Especiales’s Yogurt con Amor labels for their individual flavors. The team recognized color printing was not a sustainable option and instead recommended black and white printing on different colored paper, which would not increase the cost of printing and producing the labels. In the long run, it was also recommended that they group purchase a black & white laser printer to allow internal production of labels and save even more on printing costs. Another example is that he recommended the Benchmark software mentioned above, which is a free marketing tool that the organizations can use over time.

After branding recommendations and specific proposals are approved and finalized, these organizations and producers will be able to raise their brand visibility to greater heights. However, it’s important to note that marketing and branding isn’t a one-time job, it requires continuous improvements over time. López hopes future F2F volunteers will be able to travel to Nicaragua to help these organizations and producers continue to review their branding and marketing, and to set up individual brand identity guides for greater professional implementation of their respective brands.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Greenhouse Vegetable Production in the Dominican Republic

When you think of the Dominican Republic (DR), you probably imagine endless fields of bananas and rice. However, there is another agricultural sector booming in the northwest region of this Caribbean nation: greenhouse vegetable production. By 2014, the DR exported more than US$111.6 million of greenhouse vegetables, making it one of the most dynamic sectors in the agricultural industry of the country. Currently, there over 930 million square meters of greenhouses throughout the DR.
Dr. Liburd (far right) meeting with researchers
from the agricultural research center

One of the key organizations in the greenhouse sector is the Cluster de Invernaderos de Jarabacoa, or the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster. The Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster was established in 2002 and is comprised of over 100 member farmers in the Jarabacoa region who produce vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant for local consumption and for export. The Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster offers technical assistance to its members on topics such as credit management, best management practices, business management, etc. They also help members identify and access new market opportunities. 

Recently, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service detected the presence of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Ceratitis capitata), or medfly for short, in the eastern part of the country. The medfly is capable of causing extensive damage to a wide range of fruit, flower, and vegetable crops. In 2015, the DR lost an estimated US$50 million in vegetable production due to the presence of the medfly. As a result, the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster requested the assistance of a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer to train technicians and farmers on how to identify the medfly, take precautions to prevent the medfly from entering greenhouses, and treat greenhouses that may already be infected.

Dr. Liburd visiting a tomato production facility
in the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster
In June 2016, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Dr. Oscar Liburd, an Associate Professor from the Department of Entomology and Nematology at University of Florida, arrived to the DR. Dr. Liburd trained 105 (85 men and 20 women) technicians, farmers, and university students specializing in crop protection in strategies to mitigate and intercept medflies from entering greenhouses. His trainings also focused on managing medflies in the Dominican Republic, the biology and ecology of the medfly, monitoring devices and the use of attractants to manage medfly populations, and the implementation of reduced-risk pesticides.

Dr. Liburd also provided recommendations on how to establish a surveillance and quarantine program to impede the entrance of the medfly into greenhouses. As a result of his assignment, the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster staff and members now have a greater understanding of methods to prevent and control the medfly in horticultural and agronomic crops, as well as a greater understanding of reduced-risk pesticides for medfly management. By providing producers with information on methods to identify the medfly and monitoring and management techniques to control populations, growers can hope for increased sales and exports in the upcoming growing season.