Thursday, April 17, 2014

Report from the Field: Ellen Lewis, OD Volunteer

Ellen Lewis meets with female association members
in the DR to discuss OD needs (2009).
Ellen Lewis has served as an organization development (OD) F2F volunteer on three different occasions. For her first two assignments in 2009 and 2011, she met with several micro- and small-enterprises in the Dominican Republic to assess their individual, group, and organizational needs and develop appropriate support and interventions. In 2013, she conducted workshops on leadership, organizational systems and processes, and change management in Honduras and Guyana. During her time as an F2F volunteer, Ellen became interested in the role that gender plays in organizational development. Since then, she has decided to study the role of women in improving the sustainability and impact of the F2F program for her PhD dissertation. Ellen is currently completing her fourth F2F assignment in Nicaragua where she is conducting OD trainings with the F2F staff and dairy cooperatives to help them achieve their goals of gaining greater access to domestic and international dairy markets through improved marketing and branding of their value-added products. She is also gathering data for her research. Below is her report from the field and a discussion of how her work as an F2F volunteer inspired her to pursue this area of study.

F2F field staff, Elisa Estrada, shows
off a dairy cooperative's new milk label.
"All of my F2F projects, many working with micro-enterprises owned by rural women, are located in cultures where the role of women-owned businesses continues to evolve. The empowerment women experience from managing their own businesses and learning new knowledge often spills over to other parts of their lives as they step into leadership roles, organizing themselves into business co-ops and advocating for their communities with local politicians. However, even with the documented successes, I also have observed that besides the best efforts and deep commitment of the F2F staff, volunteers, and farmers, some of their projects blossom and become sustainable, while others struggle to find their footing.

[During this F2F assignment], I will make use of my cumulative experiences in organization development to strengthen the OD role in the empowerment of women, using systems thinking methodology. Through observations, interviews, and the introduction and development of a locally relevant methodology of systems thinking, the resulting knowledge could help support organizational and cultural change that leads to sustainable results in the empowerment of women."

Ellen has met with three dairy cooperatives to assist with baseline data collection, discuss their successes and challenges in their efforts to include women in more prominent roles in the value chain, and identify areas of support for future F2F volunteers. She states, “Their willingness to discuss their successes and their challenges with their value chains and their efforts to include women in more prominent roles is heartening. I see the opportunity for a greater impact not only on income levels for rural dairy farmers but also a keen interest in the involvement of women as decision makers and planners."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Women and Agriculture

Local women in a greenhouse in the Dominican Republic.
Throughout Latin America, agriculture plays an important role in the lives of many. In recent years, the role of gender in agriculture has gained greater attention, particularly the important and substantial role that women play. Globally, women comprise approximately 43% percent of the agricultural labor work force in developing countries. USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative specifically focuses on closing the gender gap and addressing the constraints that women face in accessing land, water, agricultural resources, and labor markets. According to USAID, if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase their farm yields by 20-30%, in turn reducing the number of hungry people by up to 150 million people worldwide (Feed the Future 2012).
A women's group in Nicaragua prepares produce
to be dried in solar dehydrators and sold in local markets.
Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer program focuses on expanding opportunities and providing technical assistance to groups who historically have had little access to such resources. These groups include women, indigenous groups, and small-scale farmers. 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.

Organizational capacity specialist Ellen Lewis is currently working with F2F field staff in Nicaragua to demonstrate hands-on methodologies for increasing women’s engagement in the F2F program. More specifically, she has met with Nicaraguan host organizations to assist them in identifying and addressing barriers to women’s inclusion in organizational leadership. Check back soon for Ellen’s update from the field!

Cited: Feed the Future. 2012. “Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture.” Accessed April 11, 2014.
Available at:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hydroponics and the Santoy Farmers Cooperative

Last month, F2F volunteers Tom Evans and Wally Pill traveled to Jamaica to assist the Santoy Farmers Cooperative in establishing a hydroponic system for their microgreen production.

The following includes excerpts from Dr. Evans’ and Dr. Pill’s joint trip report:

Constructing the hydroponic system. 
“This cooperative, under the leadership of Mr. Milton Murdock, has expanded their production of microgreen vegetables over the last several years. More and more resorts and restaurants are being served by the Cooperative. […] One of the major costs in microgreen production is the cost of the substrate in which the microgreens are grown. Since there are no locally produced substrates that the cooperative could use, peat-based substances from overseas must be imported. Such substrates are very expensive. One way to reduce the cost of microgreen production is therefore to eliminate the need for peat-based substrates and produce the microgreens hydroponically. Hydroponics has many forms, but the form chosen for the Santoy Cooperative is the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). In this system, a diluted solution containing all the essential nutrient elements for plant growth is run down a sloping trough in a thin film. The plants are raised on some sort of inert material placed in the trough. This inert material varies greatly, but can be phenolic foam or rockwool cubes or matting. For microgreens, matting is used, but the choice of matting material is a critical concern. Normally the effluent from the lower end of the trough is collected and recycled through the trough system.”

Roots ramified the burlap to anchor the microgreens.
Dr. Evans and Dr. Pill worked with the Cooperative to construct the NFT system. Steps included constructing benches that could support the troughs, installing electrical and plumbing components, and selecting the type of matting to use in the trough. Each part of the process required some trial and error to best customize the NFT system to the Santoy Cooperative’s needs. Matting, for example, “needs to prevent seeds from moving with the flow of nutrients solution down the trough, must be able to retain sufficient moisture to support plant growth between irrigations, and must also be economical.” To determine which type of matting would work best, the F2F volunteers and Santoy Cooperative members set up a small experiment using four different types of matting in four different troughs. They found that the most effective matting material was either burlap or a wick mat depending on species of crop and size of need.

Baby salad lettuce. 
In light of increased local demand for baby salad lettuce, Mr. Murdock also requested that F2F volunteers assist the Cooperative in lettuce production. Dr. Evans and Dr. Pill worked with producers to sow the lettuce seeds in plug trays, select the appropriate nutrient solution and calculate the nutrient needs of plants in the troughs. By improving and increasing production of microgreens and slightly larger plants like baby salad lettuce, the Santoy Cooperative can more effectively penetrate the direct sales market of its products, selling directly to resorts or high-end restaurants rather than selling to brokers. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

“Le Retour au Bercail” or "Coming Home"

The following blog post comes from Katyana André, Haitian-American businesswoman and first-time Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, who writes about her past two weeks in Haiti:

Haiti: An experience that is overwhelming, while also being deeply profound. Moreover, it is an opportunity to connect with an incredible group of people. And, in my case, it was an occasion to reconnect to my roots on a deeper level. What has captured me so far is that the people of Haiti possess a great sense of courage and tenacity for life that I have not seen anywhere else. A part of a culture, already my own, which I unfortunately had forgotten even existed. Farmer-to-Farmer made it possible for me to find it again.
Katyana conducting a business training for coffee producers

Elaborating on how I operate my own small business (Madame Sara) and being a Haitian-American woman who also speaks Creole, has allowed me to better relate to farmers and helped me to make them feel more comfortable with me. Coffee farmers in this area have limited business skills and little understanding of the kind of market for which they are producing, or the importance of servicing on a consistent basis a fast-paced market like the U.S one for instance. Many of my meetings/trainings have involved teaching farmers business/marketing tools and strategies necessary to build any business. Topics include understanding a market, and understanding how to create and meet demand, on both the domestic and international scales. Through the efforts of Farmer-to-Farmer and Makouti, farmers are coming to understand that for example, quality coffee is what the international market is interested in, bottom line and it is the market which will offer them the most benefits anyway.

Producer identifying next steps in building a better future for coffee 
Aside from the trainings, I also interviewed 9 coffee cooperatives on their current activities, current needs, as well as potential needs for the future. It was a thorough examination and questionnaire which helped clarify farmers’ obstacles and difficulties and how these can be addressed.

I believe that as a Haitian-American, this has been a well-needed experience not only to remind myself of who I am but also to help others in knowing that the world is much larger than we have made it, and, find a true sense of purpose. 

Kind regards,
Katyana C. André

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

F2F Overview Video

Take a moment to watch this short video about the global Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program! Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), F2F promotes sustainable economic growth, food security, and agricultural development worldwide. Partners of the Americas currently implements F2F in Latin America and the Caribbean, working primarily in Nicaragua, Haiti, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. Through the program, U.S. agricultural volunteers share their knowledge on an individual basis to help increase farm production and farmer incomes while preserving the natural resource base. U.S. volunteers participating in F2F spend two to four weeks on assignment working directly with local counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean to address previously identified local needs. Technical assistance is focused on agricultural commodity chains, from field to market, addressing bottlenecks wherever they are identified. This video provides a great overview of the work F2F does around the world. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Improving Dairy Production During Nicaragua’s Dry Season

In general, there are only two seasons in Nicaragua: the “dry season” and the “wet season.” The wet season is characterized by strong downpours that allow plants and flowers to thrive and cattle to have enough pasture to graze. However, water becomes very scarce during the dry season. This is a particular problem in Jicaro, Nicaragua where community members rely on homemade cheese as their primary source of animal protein. During the dry season when forage is scarce, their cattle suffer from low dairy production.

The dry season negatively affects milk production in Nicaragua.
In March, returned F2F volunteer Arlen Albrecht, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Extension (UWEX), traveled to Nicaragua to provide technical assistance on improved dairy production and dairy cattle management during the dry season. During this time, dairy cows are typically fed corn stalks, dried corn husks, and dried sorghum. Arlen stressed the importance of supplementing these diets with other nutrients, as well as water, in order to increase milk production. He assisted the National Cattlemen Commission of Nicaragua (CONOGAN) in a workshop on making mineral and protein lick blocks. Dry matter, calcium, cement, urea, and molasses are packed into a pail until solid and then left to dry. Animals then lick the surface of the block to obtain essential minerals and nutrients. Mineral and protein licks are a low-cost way to supply protein to cattle. 

Community members learn how to make a mineral/protein lick.
Another way to contribute to cattle health is improved pastures. Arlen engaged producers in a conversation about the feed value and zone suitability of certain grasses and small bush plants. The group discussed leaves, stems, and seeds that could contribute to enriching pastures and identified specific plants that could grow well in the area. By diversifying options for cattle feed, producers can ensure prolonged animal health and potentially increase cows’ milk production.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Haiti Coffee

Benito Jasmin, F2F Haiti coordinator, examining coffee seedlings 
First-time F2F volunteer Katyana Andre and long-time volunteer Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak are currently in Haiti assessing coffee production and marketing in target regions. They're focused specifically on individual cooperatives in the North. While coffee from Haiti has long been exported, the quality of coffee in certain regions has not been up to international standards. Haitian coffee is facing considerable agricultural challenges with pests (including CBB and rust), the infrastructure for processing coffee is often in disrepair, and cupping evaluation scores are frequently low. Additionally, many Haitian cooperatives and producers have a poor understanding of quality standards for export. By interacting with these individual groups and visiting their operations, these F2F volunteers can gain a better understanding of the steps necessary for improving coffee quality and develop cost-analyses of coffee production and potential export for producers.

Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak with Haitian workers sorting coffee beans
It was while working with host Makouti Agro Enterprise, that Dr. Kaplan-Pasternak realized the potential for high quality Haitian coffee in the international market. She and fellow volunteer Yves Gourdet, a US businessman and Haitian native, developed a business plan and launched, Inc. In the first year, Haiti Coffee imported 11,000 lbs of coffee, ending the year with a small profit, and was extended a line of credit from a private supporter. The next year, Haiti Coffee imported a full shipping container of coffee and expanded to a second production site. Coffee bean sales have now impacted the lives of nearly 3,000 farming families in Haiti, and the company has started reintroducing Haitian coffee to the world. 

What is most significant about Haiti Coffee is not only that is the result of cooperation between individuals and groups affiliated with F2F, but also that it is working to build a sustainable network to support viable, income-generating agricultural opportunities for Haitian farmers, and moving up the value chain to access a larger market.

Visit the F2F blog again soon for an update on Ms. Andre's and Dr. Kaplan-Pasternak's work in Haiti!