Friday, March 16, 2018

Nutrition, Fertilization, and Irrigation in the Guatemalan Ornamental Plant Business

Agronomist Ilan Bar recently traveled to Guatemala to work with producers associated with the Commission of Ornamental Plants, Flowers and Foliage (AGEXPORT) on ways to strengthen the nutrition, fertilization and irrigation of their crops. Ilan Bar was truly impressed by the level of expertise of the owners of the large greenhouse operations he visited. AGEXPORT works with over 150 producers and exporter groups across Guatemala. Many are educated agronomists and highly trained technicians doing a lot of great work. 

These dedicated producers and Ilan were determined to make the most of their time together and spent as many as 14 hours a day running through all of the production operations and outlining areas of improvement. They achieved this by conducting extensive hands on assessments and discussing various methodologies to ultimately improve quality and production of their ornamental plants and flowers. Reoccurring recommendations centered around plant nutrition and fertilization, specifically ways to lower fertilizer usage, ideal quantities, and types of fertilizers that might be more beneficial. Conversations also focused around irrigation systems, water and leachate analysis, salinity, pH and EC levels, nutrient level field tests, as well as soil moisture sensors. 

During all of these sessions, extensive notes were taken and Ilan concluded his journey by generously condensing the specific recommendations for each farm into 8-13 solid recommendations. He is confident that a good number of these recommendations will be implemented. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sustainable Landscaping in the Dominican Republic!

First-time F2F volunteer, Joy Noviello, was recently sent on an exciting assignment on landscaping for sustainability and beautification of a central park in the Dominican Republic. Joy’s landscape design expertise came in handy as she extensively surveyed the park and gave many recommendations of specific plant species that will not only visually enhance the public spaces but also facilitate soil erosion protection and water absorption rates.
Joy Noviello, Saul Abreu & Alexander Blumberg (APEDI), and Rafael Marte (F2F Field Officer)
The Association for Development (APEDI) is dedicated to investing in infrastructure and landscape enhancements within the central park to improve the usage and enjoyment among community memebers. APEDI is a non-profit organization that currently consists of 70 members, most of whom are businessman and entrepreneurs that have big roles in the Dominican Republic. The Association focuses on developing ideas and initiatives into programs and projects that will eventually become self-sustaining. APEDI has been working on the development of a central park for the last 10 years in the city of Santiago that will serve as an open and green space for its citizens. The location of the park, which previously held the city’s airport, is now completely reforested. 
Joy and staff members developed a plan of action to continue developing the park by using the guiding methodologies of sustainable gardening, landscaping and urban forestry.  Joy enthusiastically dove into the work as she kept her focus predominantly on both native and flowering plants to optimize the natural terrain and improve the potential of the local area. Joy stresses native planting as a way of balancing the ecosystem.  She also recommended a variety of different flowers and plants with vibrant colors to accentuate the space and properly welcome visitors. Now, APEDI staff will implement recommendations to further advance the development of the park and serve as a model for sustainable urban forestry in the city of Santiago.

Current state of the park

Monday, March 12, 2018

Soil Science in Haiti

F2F volunteer Eli Gottfried collaborated with F2F Country Director, Benito Jasmin, on a soil fertility assignment. During his assignment, he conducted a series of experiments in order to (1) figure out ways to lower the pH level of coffee seedlings in a cost-efficient manner; (2) add nutrients to the soil to promote growth, and; (3) control common diseases on coffee plants. The results of these experiments will ultimately help other crops like coconut and cacao that are grown by Makouti Agro Enterprise since they share similar nutritional compounds to coffee. Some of the experiments are set to run for 6 months, so we will await the results!

Coffee seedlings grow best in slightly acidic environments, so Eli set up experiments to analyze seedling growth in a variety of conditions. These experiments included: (1) spacing out seedlings to see how this affects growth; (2) the effects of different dilutions of urine of pH levels when applied to seedlings; (3) the effects of long and short bag planting and; (4) tire planting effects on seedlings. From the short-term observations of these experiments, Eli suggested soil mixtures that will promote growth in seedlings.

Eli and Benito also worked directly with thirty six agronomy students to test six different composts of fresh animal manure to measure its nutritional components to ultimately find a manure that will be a cost-efficient and a sustainable additive to lower the pH levels in the soil, which should improve soil health. The students responded extremely well to the field demonstrations and the material presented by Eli. Benito is making efforts to organize weekly or monthly lessons for the students to supplement their agronomy lessons with practical and theoretical demonstration classes. Eli left behind several topical materials for these lessons.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Happy International Women's Day!

Our organization is so thrilled to work with such incredible women hosts, staff, program participants, organization leaders, and business owners. Below are highlights of some of the incredible women we work with!

Altair Rodriquez in the Dominican Republic

Altair Rodriguez is the owner of a 66 hectare demonstration farm called Finca Tierra Negra in the Dominican Republic. She has invited specialists from the Farmer to Farmer program to evaluate the land and help her create a strong agroforestry landscape with a variety of climate-smart crops! Through her farm, she is hoping to create a platform for local farmers to observe and learn about sustainable farming practices and systems.

Vision Maya in Guatemala

Vision Maya is an association located in Sololá, Guatemala comprised of almost 200 individuals dedicated to the production and marketing of fresh oyster mushrooms. Because more than half of the association is made up of women, Maya Vision is dedicated to the economic development of female farmers. Recently, an F2F volunteer traveled to Vision Maya and conducted hands-on workshops and trainings with mushroom producers in the use of compost in their gardens. Some of the participants, as well as our wonderful field officer, Andrea Fion, are pictured below.

Sarah Brinkley in Haiti

Sarah Brinkley trained farmers and extension agents in climate-smart agriculture practices to sustainably increase production, including how to rejuvenate coffee plots with rust-resistant varieties, properly manage shade levels, and implement integrated pest management schemes. Now, smallholder coffee farmers have a better understanding of how to achieve higher levels of production through best management practices.

Pine Needle Basket Women’s Cooperative in San Jose de Cusmapa, Nicaragua

Eight women basket weavers recently took part in a product pricing and financial literacy workshops in Nicaragua in order to be equipped with tools to be competitive in local and national markets. One of the main goals of the project is to focus on women and youth in agricultural projects so that they can operate their own cooperatives when equipped with proper business and administration skills and technologies.

Melanie Forstrom and Junior Achievement in Nicaragua

Junior Achievement Nicaragua has hosted many volunteers to equip their youth and women participants with various entrepreneurial and leadership skills. One of the most successful recent assignments was when 4-H Specialist, Melanie Forstrom was sent to work with the women of the organization to integrate her renowned experiential learning method in a variety of activities and games. This style of teaching entails engaging in an activity and then asking reflective questions to speak about the skills that were applied during the activity. The programs were very well-received by the participants!


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Communication Skills Workshops for Junior Achievement Nicaragua!

Oswaldo Leon traveled to Nicaragua as a communication specialist to prepare an official communication plan for Junior Achievement (JA). The aim of the plan is to bolster JA as the leading organization helping young Nicaraguans develop vital entrepreneurial and leadership skills. During his workshops, Oswaldo and participants had conversations about social media and various ways to communicate ideas through words and photos. At first, Oswaldo found it challenging to figure out how to relate intricate communication techniques into practical concepts and engaging activities. He was effective though and people dived right into the activities as seen in the photos posted below!

He discovered that Whatsapp can be used as a social network, which is an app already widely used by young people throughout Latin America. In some rural areas, Oswaldo discovered that it is used more frequently than the internet websites like Facebook and Twitter. Intrigued by this, Oswaldo encouraged JA to research the app’s potential further to use it as a tool for JA to connect with young people and participants themselves. He also worked with a group of young entrepreneurs on a project called POLARIS on marketing and public relations tips to effectively promote their products and services. Oswaldo embraced this assignment and appreciated the special opportunity of working at the JA headquarters with the staff as well as directly with JA participants in the communities. Looking forward, Oswaldo is eager to see how Junior Achievement implements the communication plan and to check in to see how it's going soon!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Soil Expert Gives Farmers Tips in the Dominican Republic

deforestation is prevalent throughout the province
Last Tuesday, it was Independence Day for the Dominican Republic! So, here is a blog about some awesome work that is happening there now!
Soil expert Jeff Knowles visited a staggering fifteen farms as he engaged with informal discussions with community leaders and farmers on soil quality. Mission ILAC is an organization that focuses on agricultural problems in the remote  and poorer communities in the Santiago and La Vega provinces. A principal goal is to work directly with community leaders to help farmers achieve food sustainability while also reducing chemical usage. 
ILAC focuses on cacao and rust resistant varieties of coffee to reverse the effects of farms devastated by coffee rust. Deforestation is extensive in the region due to severe coffee rust years ago followed by the conversion of forest to pastureland as farmers switched to cattle raising. Because of this, Jeff focused on discussions and training centered around soil conservation methods to maintain soil quality.
ILAC agronomist Naciso doing a soil analysis 
A reoccurring discussion point was addressing the misconception of leaving soil bare between planting seasons. This method destroys the existing microorganisms. Instead, the discussions addressed how the soil should be seen as a living organism and nurtured with consistent amount of nutrients. Establishing a habitat for soil microbes is vital and can be achieved by covering the soil with plant growth and farm waste. This is crucial to the goal of building resilience to climate change as well because if soil is covered, it can re-absorb atmospheric carbon.
Training the trainer was a prominent methodology used by Jeff and our Field Officer, Jose, to equip the ILAC agronomists (Naciso and Otavio) with proper tools to pass onto the farming communities that ILAC serves.  Jeff and the team visited farms and entered into discussions about proper soil management and soil analysis in the lab using the soil from the visited farm.
Jeff also left behind various guide-sheets on best management practices and PowerPoint presentations to review methods of improving soil quality and sustaining long-term health. Looking forward, Jeff is confident that farmers will see positive yields and subsequent profits as a result of using some of these techniques to improve soil health.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Empowering Women and Youth Entrepreneurs in Nicaragua

In January of this year, F2F volunteer, Janet Hernandez, had the opportunity to work with Junior Achievement Nicaragua (JA) in Sisin, a Miskito community located in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RAAN), and a community of young leaders in Managua. The Miskito communities of Sisin and Bilwi are comprised of mostly farmers and tend to have traditional family structures, with the women tending to the household needs. During this assignment, Janet sought to empower young girls with both communication skills and tools to build their self-esteem.

In Sisin, Janet conducted workshops on themes focusing on leadership, empowerment, team-building, sexism and gender roles, and 
community assessment and reflection. She also integrated activities that analyze systems of oppression and build leadership and relationship skills. Janet believes that JA would benefit by incorporating themes of gender and self-esteem into their programs. Interestingly, unlike most workshops, these lessons were done in Spanish and then translated to Miskito to better connect with the participants. 

In Managua, Janet held four training sessions on leadership and soft skills for a total of 106 individuals. Two of these sessions were open to the public while the others were directed at JA staff. In additon, Janet also held meetings with JA staff to create plans to make their programs more effective moving forward. Junior Achievements programs have had noticeably positive impact on participants. Due to this success, JA is seeking to be more cohesion with other branches in the different communities that they serve. This means developing a system to monitor and evaluate the programs as well as creates work plans so that facilitators and coordinators can work with the same material and cater the programs best to their audiences. To go along with this, Janet spoke extensively with various program leaders about updating the current leadership manual. She believes that the manual can be more effective if it is updated to adapt to new leadership and community organization methodologies. She is eager to continue to engage with these individuals to assist in this process. 
Looking forward, Junior Achievement is seeking to expand into other rural communities like Sisin and Santa Marta. The organization will also begin collaborating heavily with local community leaders in order to garner more support and resources for their programs. We are excited to continue supporting Junior Achievement Nicaragua in this process!