Thursday, February 11, 2016

Value-Added Products: Are They Economically Beneficial for Small Farmers?

F2F Volunteer Diane Twete leading a peanut
butter-making demonstration in Guatemala
Agricultural value-added products are typically defined as a crop or raw product whose value has been increased by changing its physical state through activities including  washing, processing, packaging, etc. Common examples of value-added products include jams, cheeses, canned produce, roasted coffee, soaps, chocolate, breads, cured meats—you name it.

Many F2F hosts - often small farmers - want to shift towards selling value-added agricultural products because they know that such products can typically be sold at much higher prices than their raw materials. The desire stems from a seemingly straightforward logical thought process— higher price means higher profit. However, higher sale price does not always mean higher profit. There are a multitude of factors that determine whether that logic holds true and those factors differ for every particular case. 

F2F host processing cacao beans in Panama
F2F engages with these farmers and producers, many of whom do not keep records or have other information about their current production to help them answer the question: “Is it economically beneficial to make and sell a value-added product?” F2F volunteers train program participants in basic budgets, farm records, and market analysis. Part of this process includes investigating various factors affecting the profitability of value-added products. Some questions that volunteers and farmers ask include: 

1. What are the available inputs? 
Inputs include raw agricultural products, labor, energy, and transport among others.

2. Given the available inputs, what value-added product(s) can be made?
As mentioned above, value-added products include washed and packaged produce, jams, cheeses, canned produce, roasted coffee, soaps, chocolate, breads, cured meats, etc.

3. Is there an accessible market for the product(s) and is there demand for the product(s)? 
Analysis of the market is critical. If there is no accessible market or specific demand for the product, the conversation should stop here. If this is a new product not currently available anywhere, some more detailed research may need to be done to survey people on potential demand. But this question about market and demand is the most important. 

4. How much will it cost to process and sell this value-added product? 
The long answer to this question includes many details beyond the cost of production but often when working with small producers, focusing on the cost of production is best.

5. Will a higher price give me higher profit? 
Answering this question may be especially challenging for small farmers who have limited capacity for recordkeeping and accounting. Calculating profit can be difficult because it involves thinking through all the costs of production. At the most basic level, profit is the difference between total revenue, or money earned from the sale of the product, and total cost of production. To see positive profits, total revenue must be greater than total cost of production. To determine if the sale of the new value-added product will result in higher profit compared with profits earned from selling raw agricultural products, small farmers must calculate profit in both scenarios and then compare them to see which is greater.

So are value-added products economically beneficial to our F2F hosts? It depends. And F2F volunteers can help hosts answer this question. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Call for Volunteers!

Partners has some exciting volunteer opportunities! If you are interested in volunteering with the Farmer-to-Farmer program, please send your resume and all program inquiries to Orli Handmaker at ohandmaker@partners.net or call (202) 524-6295.
GUATEMALA

Greenhouse Production Expert (Ornamental Plants, Flowers, and Foliage) (Guatemala, March-May 2016: 2-3 weeks)

F2F is seeking a professional with experience in greenhouse production and management, new greenhouse production techniques for ornamental plants, and foliage and flower farms. Experience with tropical and subtropical crops is desired. It is important that the selected volunteer is aware of innovative methods in greenhouse management and production for small and large producers of ornamental plants, foliage and flowers. The goal of this assignment is to teach ornamental plant producers about new greenhouse production and management methods. The methods currently used are out of date and do not take into consideration the different characteristics, needs, lifespans, and requirements of the different species produced by the farms in the sector. Therefore, the volunteer will assist producers in addressing their greenhouse production problems and provide techniques and recommendations to increase production. The hope is that these new techniques and processes will lead to increased sales revenue and increased exports for the producers. The producers have also asked that the volunteer provide information on ways to access new information (i.e., trends, technology, etc.) on greenhouse management and production so they can continue to learn after the assignment is over. The expected deliverables for this assignment are a manual of guidelines for greenhouse production, a trip report, at least one outreach activity, and recommendations for further work.

Expert in Propagation Methods (Ornamental Plants, Flowers, and Foliage) (Guatemala, March-May 2016: 2-3 weeks)
F2F is seeking a professional with experience in new propagation techniques for ornamental plants, foliage and flower production farms. It is best if the volunteer has experience working with tropical and subtropical crops. It is important that the assigned volunteer is aware of innovative methods in propagation and fertilization for small and large producers of ornamental plants, foliage and flowers. The goal of this assignment is to teach growers of ornamental plants, flowers, and foliage about new propagation techniques. The methods the host currently uses are outdated and do not consider the different characteristics, needs, lifespans and requirements of each species and variety that they grow. This assignment is intended to educate these producers on the different techniques available for the propagation of ornamental plants, foliage and flowers. The hope is that by adapting new and improved methods and practices, the host will see an increase in production volumes followed by an increase in sales revenue and exports. The expected deliverables for this assignment are a manual of guidelines on propagation techniques, a trip report, at least one outreach activity, and recommendations for further work.

NICARAGUA

Fruit Processing Specialist I (Dried Fruit) (Nicaragua, January-March 2016: 2 weeks)

Due to large amounts of post-harvest waste and loss, a F2F volunteer is requested to train members in several women’s cooperatives in Nueva Guinea to produce dried fruit using several fruits including pineapple and guava. The volunteer will need to help the women construct a basic low resource solar fruit drier as machinery is not available. It is expected that at the end of the assignment hosts will be able to rustically process pineapple and guava to reduce post-harvest losses and increase their income. The volunteer should have experience with artisanal processing of various fruits into dried fruit, experience building low-resource solar fruit driers, and experience working in low resource communities in developing countries is preferred, as is Spanish speaking proficiency. The expected deliverables for this assignment are hands-on workshops and trainings on fruit processing, construction of a solar fruit drier for each participating host, a one-page guide with pictures on fruit drying processes, a trip report, an outreach activity, and recommendations for further work.

Fruit Processing Specialist II (Canned Fruit and Jams) (Nicaragua, January-March 2016: 2 weeks)

Due to large amounts of postharvest waste and loss, a F2F volunteer is requested to train members in several women’s cooperatives in Nueva Guinea to produce several artisanal value-added products (possibly including jam, canned fruit, etc.) from pineapple and guava. Please note that machinery is not available and any canning or other processing will have to be done with access to very few resources. It is expected that at the end of the assignment hosts will be able to rustically process pineapple and guava to reduce post-harvest losses and increase their income. The volunteer should have experience with artisanal processing of various fruits into jams, canned fruit, etc., and experience working in low resource communities in developing countries is preferred, as is Spanish speaking proficiency. The expected deliverables for this assignment are hands-on workshops and trainings on fruit processing and canning, a one-page guide with pictures on fruit processing and canning, a trip report, an outreach activity, and recommendations for further work.

4-H Leadership Specialist (Nicargua, March-May 2016: 2 weeks)

F2F is currently seeking a 4-H leadership specialist volunteer. The main host for this assignment is the Fabretto Foundation, whose mission is to ensure that children, families and communities in the most disadvantaged areas of Nicaragua, reach their full potential and improve their future opportunities through education and nutrition. Fabretto implements an innovative high school program called SAT (Tutorial Learning System) in rural and remote communities; the program is tailored to the real needs of these young people and the curriculum is based on the methodology of "learning by doing". Since tutors are community leaders that don’t necessarily have formal training to teach it is critical that they are consistently building their capacity to ensure the program is effective. The F2F volunteer will meet with Fabretto leadership in Managua to discuss their needs and develop a strategy to build 4-H (or similar methodology) leadership activities and trainings into their current curriculum. Following this assignment tutors should have a basic understanding of 4H leadership activities and trainings and be able to implement them in their classes throughout Nicaragua. The ideal candidate for this assignment will have experience training trainers (teachers and student leaders) in 4-H (or comparable) methodology, specifically in leadership topics. It is also preferred that the volunteer have experience working with disadvantaged populations and have Spanish working proficiency. The expected deliverables for this assignment are trainings of trainers, a plan and curriculum materials for future trainings, at least one outreach activity, a trip report, and recommendations for further work.

Youth Entrepreneurship and Business Specialist (Nicaragua, March-May 2016: 2 weeks)
F2F is currently seeking a youth entrepreneurship and business specialist to work with the Fabretto Foundation. The Fabretto Foundation is the main host for this assignment and their mission is to ensure that children, families and communities in the most disadvantaged areas of Nicaragua, reach their full potential and improve their future opportunities through education and nutrition. Fabretto implements an innovative high school program called SAT (Tutorial Learning System) in rural and remote communities; the program is tailored to the real needs of these young people and the curriculum is based on the methodology of "learning by doing". Since tutors are community leaders that don’t necessarily have formal training to teach it is critical that they are consistently building their capacity to ensure the program is effective. The F2F volunteer will first meet with Fabretto leadership in Managua to discuss their needs and develop a strategy to build youth business skills (i.e. how to develop a business plan, feasibility study, cost-benefit analysis, marketing, managing, etc.) trainings and activities into their current curriculum. Following this assignment tutors will know how to deliver basic business skills trainings and activities to youth. The tutors’ ability to conduct these trainings will help empower rural youth in Nueva Guinea and other parts of Nicaragua create livelihood opportunities for themselves. The ideal candidate for this assignment will have experience training trainers in youth entrepreneurship and business skills, experience working with disadvantaged populations, and preferably have Spanish working proficiency. The expected deliverables for this assignment are trainings of trainers, a plan and curriculum for future trainings, at least one outreach activity, a trip report, and recommendations for further work.

Soil Conservation Specialist (Nicaragua, April-May 2016: 2 weeks)
F2F is currently seeking a soil conservation expert volunteer to work with smallholder farms in Nicaragua. Smallholder farms in the province of Nueva Guinea are typically found on rolling hills and contain tropical clay soils. The topography of the land, combined with poor soil management practices and hard rainfall leads to excessive soil erosion and declining soil fertility. Although crops produced on the farms vary, including cassava, taro, pineapple, guava, passion fruit, maize, bananas, plantains, peppers, cocoa, and coffee, soil erosion is an ongoing issue that limits farm productivity in both the short and long term. An F2F volunteer is needed to train members of the hosts, UNAG and The Fabretto Foundation, in soil conservation best management practices. Through trainings, workshops, and demonstration plots, farmers with UNAG and Fabretto will learn how to sustainably reduce soil erosion and increase soil fertility on their farms. The ideal candidate for this assignment will have experience working with agriculture and soil conservation in the humid lowland tropics, and preferably a graduate degree in agronomy, horticulture, soil science or a related field, Spanish language skills, and experience working in low resources communities in developing countries. The expected deliverables for this assignment are workshops and trainings on soil conservation practices, the creation of demonstration plots with the hosts that will help teach them about soil conservation practices, at least one outreach activity, a trip report, and recommendations for further work.


Integrated Pest Management Specialist (Nicaragua, April-May 2016: 2 weeks)
F2F is currently seeking an integrated pest management expert volunteer to work with smallholder farms in Nicaragua. Smallholder farmers in Nueva Guinea are low resource, with limited access to agricultural inputs. A variety of pests and diseases are a common problem among smallholder farmers that leads to lower yields and subsequent income. Furthermore, the prevalence of pests and diseases are increasing due, in part, to changing climate and weather patterns. Although crops produced on the farms vary, including cassava, taro, pineapple, guava, passion fruit, maize, bananas, plantains, peppers, cocoa, and coffee, smallholder farmers in Nueva Guinea have requested assistance to develop integrated pest management schemes for their farms to mitigate losses in both the short and long term. An F2F volunteer is needed to train UNAG and Fabretto in integrated pest management practices for a variety of cropping systems. Through trainings, workshops, and demonstration plots, farmers with UNAG and Fabretto will learn how to implement integrated pest management systems on their farms. The ideal candidate for this assignment will have experience working in agriculture and integrated pest management in the humid lowland tropics, and preferably will have a graduate degree in agronomy, horticulture, entomology, or a related field, experience working in low resource communities in developing countries, and Spanish language skills. The expected deliverables for this assignment are workshops and trainings on integrated pest management practices, the creation of demonstration plots with the hosts that will help teach them about integrated pest management practices, at least one outreach activity, a trip report, and recommendations for further work.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC


The objective of our Farmer-to-Farmer program in the Dominican Republic is to increase the resilience of vulnerable populations to the unpredictable impacts of global climate change. We are looking for experts in a variety of fields such as:
- Soil and water conservation
- Agroforestry
- Solid waste management
- Pest and disease management of bananas
- Irrigation technologies for banana sector
- Alternative energy (i.e., wind, solar)
- Environmental education
- Greenhouse management and production

If you have experience in those areas and are interested in future assignments, please let us know. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sustainable Agriculture: Working with Kichwa Communities in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin

Thomas "Rip" Winkel recently returned from a F2F assignment near Puyo, Ecuador working with smallholder cacao farmers in the Amazon Basin. Below he shares his experience:

Once again I was privileged to work with Partners of the Americas on a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This time the volunteer assignment I completed was in Ecuador, South America – an old stomping ground of mine when I served in the Peace Corps. A unique aspect of this assignment, however, is that it lasted for six weeks compared to the standard two- to four-week assignment in order to have more follow-up on trainings and maximize impact.

The main goal of this assignment was to train Arajuno Road Project (ARP) – a local NGO – extension agents and leaders from several communities in sustainable agricultural practices and cacao best management practices. This included facilitating workshops/training sessions on sustainable cacao production (pruning, grafting, soil fertility, etc.) and developing demonstration plots displaying proper planting practices of slips, roots or seeds, spacing, soil amendment practices, maintenance, etc. of possible tropical crops not being grown currently. Additionally, I conducted soil sampling and analysis of the various communities for its pH levels, and N, P, K availability.

I arrived in Quito late Saturday night along with Alex Matthews, another F2F volunteer assigned to this project. The next morning we traveled to Puyo, a small city over on the east side of the Andes mountain range in the province of Pastaza. The trip lasted about five hours. By the time we arrived, it was mid-afternoon, and not too late to find something to eat down in the center of town.

That very next morning we met with the ARP staff to get aquainted and discuss the assignment goals and objectives. We met with the six different communities that ARP currently assists, although our primary hosts were the communities of Esfuerzo, and Chuya Yaku. Esfuerzo is an easy 20 minute bus ride north of Puyo, while Chuya Yaku is much deeper into the undeveloped Amazonian basin – a two hour bus ride (one way) that snakes through the lush jungle along steep, winding dirt roads that are hardly wide enough for one vehicle. 

F2F volunteer Rip Winkel analyzing soil samples
During the beginning of the assignment, Alex and I went to many of the communities to meet the host farmer groups and conduct a rapid rural appraisal, assessing the agricultural, environmental, social and economic realities on the ground. Part of the agricultural assessment consisted of conducting basic soil analyses in the communities. The results of the soil analyses indicated the region to be a typical ‘tropical soil’, similar to what I came across in Nueva Guinea, Nicaragua on my last Farmer-to-Farmer assignment. The pH was around 4.0 in all the samples taken, and the levels of N, P, and K were all low to very low. One characteristic I found different from the Nicaraguan soil samples, however, is that soil textures here have very low percentages of clay particles. This coupled with the low pH and high amounts of precipitation received make for soils that have little to no available nutrients. This in turn, would almost necessitate a regular addition of fertilizer, chemical or organic, to any cultivar being grown.

After the appraisal was complete, we planned trainings, sourced materials for upcoming workshops, and made contacts with businesses that could serve as useful market linkages for the communities now and in the future. In the following weeks we conducted trainings and consulted with farmers regarding their cropping systems.

Pineapple demonstration plot in Esfuerzo
Highlights from Esfuerzo
One highlight was working with local farmers in Esfuerzo to establish various demonstration plots. One plot was established using three different pineapple (Ananas comosus) cultivars to gauge the potential productivity and profitability of each in their community. While a common planting scheme in Esfuerzo is to plant pineapple slips at distances from to 60 cm to 75 cm apart, we planted 100 pineapple slips using spacing recommended for commercial production – one 15 m bed with two 60 cm spaced rows and 30 cm between each plant.

Additional small demonstration plots were developed for coffee (Coffea arabica) and cacao (Theobroma cacao). Five coffee trees and five cacao trees were planted using recommended planting distances within recommended densities for commercial production (3m x 3m). The demonstration plots were divided into three even sections; where two of these areas received treatments. One area was given an application of locally made compost incorporated into the soil. The second area was given an application of calcium incorporated into the soil, where in 30 days an application of a complete fertilizer will be applied. The third area is a control. These treatments are to demonstrate effects that amending the soil might have on plant growth and more importantly their yields.

ARP extension agents will follow up with the community members to make sure the demonstration plots are properly maintained. As the demonstration plots in Esfuerzo mature, farmers will be able to see a multitude of options available to them to increase their yields and household income.

Highlights from Chuya Yaku
Another highlight from the assignment was working deep in the rainforest with cacao farmers in the community of Chuya Yaku. This community consists of 10 families, each with their own cacao orchard, totaling over 40 hectares combined. The majority of cacao trees were planted between three and seven years ago. Most of the trees had never been pruned or managed to any extent, with many of them on the verge of being engulfed by the aggressive jungle.

Conducting hands-on grafting and pruning workshops in Chuya Yaku
We conducted weekly presentations and sessions on how to manage and prune cacao trees at all stages of development. Our workshops were very hands-on. On a given day, groups of community members met with Alex and me on a different farm to properly prune approximately 40 trees. These plots of 40 trees will be used for two purposes: 1) serve as an example for farmers to prune the rest of their trees; and 2) serve as an experimental plot so farmers can see the impact that pruning has on their yields. In addition to pruning workshops, I also led hands-on grafting workshops. We would select scions from high yielding cacao cultivars to graft on to the farmers' established trees. Using grafted trees that are well pruned will substantially increase the farmers' cacao yields and ultimately their household income and food security.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How to Make a Square-Foot Garden

Adapted from training materials from F2F volunteer, Arlen Albrecht

In poor urban communities near Guatemala City, families live in small houses on very limited plots of land. In more rural areas such as Chiquimulilla (southern Guatemala), families face high rates of malnutrition. Square-foot gardens are a useful way for families with limited space to grow fresh vegetables. Square-foot gardens can also be built using local materials and resources, and fresh vegetables can contribute to improving household nutrition and food security. In December 2015, F2F volunteer Arlen Albrecht traveled to Guatemala to train urban and rural community members in building square-foot gardens. Below are his notes on how to make a square-foot garden.

Square-foot garden
7 Easy Steps to Build a Square-Foot Garden

  1. Location – Build the square-foot garden in close proximity to the house for easy access and maintenance. Choose a spot that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun each day and has good drainage.
  2. Size – start with a 1 meter x 1 meter garden. Create a border using wood, bricks, rocks, or other local materials. The size of the garden can be expanded in the future.
  3. Compost – Fill the square-foot garden with compost. In Guatemala, the following organic compost recipe was used:
    • Dry (brown) material (i.e., corn stalks, dry grass, leaves, straw, dried legumes, dried potatoes and tomatoes, etc.)
    • Green material (i.e., banana peels, rotten fruit, vegetable peelings)
    • 1, 4, 9. 16 grid
    • Cow Manure (i.e., fresh or partially composted)
  4. Grid – Use branches, sticks, or wood to create a grid. The grid helps to:
    • Align plants
    • Group plants by type
    • Maintain order
    • Improve general maintenance for growing
  5. Fencing – Build a fence around the garden to protect it from chickens, rabbits, pigs, or other animals. Use local materials such as branches, large coffee sacks, or bamboo.
  6. Planting and Spacing – Plant seeds using the 1, 4, 9, 16 method. (See more information on this method here).
  7. Water, Maintain, and Harvest!


F2F volunteer, Arlen Albrecht, conducting a training on building a square-foot garden

Friday, January 22, 2016

Panamanian Women Embrace Microcredit for Improved Livelihoods

Ian Robinson recently returned from a F2F assignment in Panama working with another Partners’ project called EducaFuturo. Below he shares his experience: 

“Located in eastern Panama along the country’s border with Colombia, the Darien region is known for being a difficult-to-access swath of jungle. The northern stretch of the Pan-American highway ends in the town of Yaviza, and reaching most of the surrounding indigenous communities requires a pick-up ride along dirt roads to nearest port and navigating the rivers in boats with an outboard motor. The challenges are the same if residents need to leave their community.

Women participating in the workshop
There are no formal banks in the indigenous communities, and the common strategies for residents if they need a quick influx of cash are to get a loan with usurious interest from a loan shark or to sell off some of their chickens. Furthermore, most community members would not be able to qualify for loans in traditional banks in the cities because they do not have the necessary paperwork or enough assets to apply for them.

In December 2015 and January 2016, Farmer-to-Farmer partnered with EducaFuturo, to empower women in the community of Lajas Blancas to start and maintain their own community bank. EducaFuturo works with communities throughout the region to eradicate child labor through after-school programs. Parents will often take their children out of school in order to have them work in agricultural fields, depriving them of the opportunity to receive an education. EducaFuturo’s work in Darien strives to keep children in school while training their parents with skills to improve their livelihoods.

The community bank that the women started is structurally similar to a village savings and loans association where members make weekly deposits to a common pool of money. After a few weeks, they begin to loan money to each other using that pot of money with a one-month payback at a lower level of interest than they would find in their community. At the end of the year, all of the money in the bank gets divided among the members, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of savings, in addition to credit.

F2F volunteer Ian Robinson and workshop participants
with their new savings box
In Lajas Blancas, the women were starting from scratch. So over the course of the two-week workshop, each member of the women’s group had learned how microcredit works, followed all of the necessary steps in starting a community bank, and made their first $1 deposit into the organization. By the end of January, they will begin to take out loans. In addition to the bank workshops, the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer also trained the women on how to perform a feasibility analysis and what key questions to consider when starting a small business.

In addition to being an opportunity for savings and credit, the bank represents a chance for women to assume leadership roles. As a self-managing organization, each participant plays an integral role in ensuring that the bank functions as they intend. Furthermore, six women have leadership positions with greater responsibilities to allow the bank to achieve its goals. In a society where women rarely hold formal positions of power, the community bank represents a new opportunity for empowerment.

The members understand that this institution will not be a vehicle to get them out of poverty. But they understand that it can be a valuable tool to support their family’s livelihoods.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Conservation Agriculture: 3 Keys to Reducing Soil Degradation

Soil degradation, often caused by a combination of physical, chemical, and biological factors, is a serious issue that the majority of farmers throughout the world face. Although degradation occurs globally, it is of particular concern in tropical regions due to numerous factors including topography, climate, and highly weathered soils. Furthermore, climate change is exacerbating the problem, with heavy rainfalls and extreme weather events such as storms and floods causing increased soil erosion. Many of Partners’ F2F volunteers work with smallholder farmers and farmer associations throughout LAC to minimize soil degradation in their cropping systems, frequently through the use of conservation agriculture.

F2F volunteer Dr. Andrew Egan investigates soil erosion and its impact on the Dominican Republic's Yaque del Norte watershed in March 2015.
Conservation agriculture is a set of three soil management principles that greatly reduces deterioration of a soil’s structure, composition, and biodiversity:

1) Maintain soil cover at all times. Maintaining soil cover throughout the growing season may include the use of intercropping, mulching, and reducing plant spacing to decrease soil exposure. During the offseason, farmers can maintain soil cover by mulching their field using crop residues and other organic matter and/or growing a cover crop. Maintaining soil cover in this manner can help increase the soil organic matter, available nutrient levels, and soil water holding capacity. It will also help protect the soil from erosion caused by wind and rain.

2) Minimize tillage. Tillage should only be performed enough to sow the seed. Excess tillage, especially in the tropics, leads to rapid decomposition of organic matter and major soil losses in heavy rainfalls. Depending on the climate, vegetation, topography, biota, and parent material, it can take at least 100 years to form an inch of top soil. As tropical soils are frequently low in organic matter and fertility, it is critical to protect the little that exists.

3) Practice regular crop rotations. Rotating crops will help reduce pest and disease pressure in the soil. Additionally, since different plants have different nutrient requirements, this can allow soils to replenish their nutrient bank – especially when rotating with nitrogen-fixing crops.

Using these principles and other soil conservation practices, Partners' F2F volunteers continue working with hosts throughout LAC to reduce soil degradation and help farmers develop more sustainable cropping systems. For more global research and resources on conservation agriculture, please visit: http://conservationagriculture.mannlib.cornell.edu/

Friday, January 15, 2016

Managing Fruit Trees in Guatemala

This post has been adapted from a trip report written by F2F volunteer Tim Dahle, who worked with ANAPDE in Guatemala. 


I spent the first two weeks of December in Guatemala on a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment for Partners of the Americas. The focus of this assignment is to improve nutrition practices for peach and apple production through ANAPDE (National Association of Producers of Deciduous Fruit), the host organization.

We began the assignment by meeting with the directors and staff of ANAPDE at headquarters. We discussed the purposes of ANAPDE and some of the challenges growers face. The staff and growers were energetic, able and invested in improving the industry. 
We set out next to visit as many growers as possible in the time allotted. I found growers to be already well versed in orchard sanitation, weed control and generally following nutrition guidelines that have been published by Clemson University. We set out to improve on the areas of the nutrition programs that were not efficient.

Most of the assignment was spent visiting farms, holding one-on-one discussions on issues specific to each farm. Zinc and soil deficiencies in the soil are best corrected with foliar (plant) application rather than soil applications. Pruning demonstrations were given at almost every stop. Currently, sulfur is supplied as ammonium sulfate to the soil, which acidifies it. Growers may be better served by incorporating more sulfur in the nutrient spray program, applied directly to the plants. 


I made several interesting observations during my time in Guatemala. One must be careful in trying to apply U.S. solutions to issues here. The climate, market, infrastructure, availability of materials, chemicals, equipment and plant material are very different here. That being said, the growers are generally progressive and hard-working, and are clearly implementing several practices that have been published in periodicals by U.S. universities.

I made recommendations to increase pruning practices, monitor soil health, and eliminate pests. Pruning helps more moderately strong shoots grow, which in turn will improve fruit quality. With the adoption of creating at least two entrances for air movement to each tree, we can expect better efficiency in thinning and picking. There will be improved control of bacterial and fungus diseases. The use of more chicken manure and other manures should help slow or stop the loss of organic matter in the soil. It will benefit soil biology and the overall ability of the soil to provide nutrients. The healthiest old orchard, that we visited, received regular applications of manure.


As far as future steps go, another assignment is scheduled for this area to help improve frost control. It was helpful of ANAPDE to investigate the practicality of heaters. This helps the next volunteer be better prepared with useful strategies. The acquisition of later blooming varieties may be significant in helping to deal with frost. Experts from the nursery industry and Clemson recommend looking to Mexico and Brazil for such varieties.

Overall, it was a very productive trip. The special graciousness that the field staff and local growers have been afforded me is humbling. This has been a lesson to be more warm and uplifting towards others.