Wednesday, April 29, 2015

F2F and Plan Yaque Team Up in the Dominican Republic

Partners is always looking to expand the reach of the Farmer-to-Farmer program and assist new organizations. In 2014, our F2F field staff met with Plan Yaque, a non-governmental organization with the mission to Clean, protect, and sustain the Rio Yaque del Norte watershed for the benefit of its people. Plan Yaque was established in 2011 and is located in the municipality of Jarabacoa. Plan Yaque has a lofty goal: to guarantee access to water for all individuals who depend on the Yaque del Norte watershed. Not only does the Yaque del Norte watershed provide drinking water to more than two million people, but it also irrigates the most productive banana, rice, and horticultural production areas in the country. However, as the DR continues to face the effects of climate change, it will become more challenging to meet the water demand of the growing population, which will jeopardize the country’s ability to sustain economic growth.

In March 2014, Senior Program Officer Courtney Dunham visited Plan Yaque to provide an overview of the F2F program and to identify potential needs of the organization that could be addressed through F2F. Humberto Checo, the Director of Plan Yaque, stated that their immediate need was assistance in developing strategic and operational plans. As one of the main environmental NGOs in the area, Plan Yaque had identified over 13 activities and projects under four categories (water quality, natural resource management, improved soil management, and solid and liquid waste management) that they hoped to accomplish, too many for an organization with only six staff members.

Bill Nichols with Plan Yaque Director, Humberto Checo, overlooking Jarabacoa
In June 2014, Partners sent Bill Nichols, the first F2F volunteer to assist Plan Yaque, to build the capacity of the staff to develop a strategic plan that emphasized key priorities for climate change adaptation in communities affected by the Yaque del Norte watershed. (See Bill Nichols' blog entry here.) Mr. Nichols helped Plan Yaque to determine their greatest priorities and recommended that their efforts focus on the upper watershed, as the benefits will be seen more quickly and can impact the lower watershed.

Several other F2F volunteers have since provided follow-up to Mr. Nichols' assignment. Agroforestry and forest management specialists, Dave Lombardo, Glen Juergens, and William “Bill” Ryburn traveled in October 2014 to review the environmental programs in the upper Yaque del Norte watershed and to assess current reforestation projects (see blog here). They provided recommendations on maintaining forest health and the role of agroforestry in reducing the impact of climate change on the ecosystem and in the Yaque del Norte watershed. Additionally, F2F volunteer Jeff Knowles, a 30-year retired veteran of the USDA Soil Conservation Service/Natural Resources Conservation Service, traveled in December 2014 to assess current soil and environmental management on hillside farms in the upper watershed (see blog here). According to estimates in his trip report, only about 37 percent of the original native forests in the DR remain intact. Mr. Knowles visited three sub-watersheds of the Jarabacoa river to assess deforestation and soil erosion and provide recommendations on methods to improve sustainable hillside production and soil management to reduce erosion.

F2F volunteer, Jeff Knowles, with staff from Plan Yaque
In February 2015, Courtney Dunham returned to the DR to visit Plan Yaque. Below are her observations: 

Compared to our visit from last year, Plan Yaque has a much clearer and more focused idea of their key areas of work. Last year, they listed an overwhelming number of natural resource protection and conservation initiatives that were infeasible for their small team of six full-time employees. Now, they have a new vision that focuses on inter-institutional collaboration to protect the Yaque del Norte water resources for human consumption and environmental conservation by focusing efforts in three key areas:
  1. Agroforestry: Their ultimate goal is to create a “model forest” where farmers can learn about different types of productive trees they may be able to growto reforest their land
  2. Soil conservation: Plan Yaque is the first organization in the region with a project that solely focuses on soil conservation and protection
  3. Solid waste management: Humberto said that waste affects 80% of waterways in the Yaque del Norte region
Goals and Future F2F Assignments

Plan Yaque is interested in receiving F2F assistance to learn how to analyze and use the data they currently collect on water quality to be able to better monitor and manage the watershed. Other assignments will also focus on assisting Plan Yaque with marketing and promoting their institutional image in order to help raise awareness of the excellent work they are doing to protect the watershed and guarantee water in the Jarabacoa region. Partners' F2F program looks forward to continuing to work with Humberto Checo and his team at Plan Yaque!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Mother Leaders Celebrated during Graduation Ceremonies!

Recently, the Nutrition Security Program (NSP) teamed up with the Departmental Directors of the Ministry of Health (MSPP) to hold graduations for 450 Mother Leaders in the North and Northeast Departments in Haiti. These women completed over a year of training in nutrition and health education in the North and the Northeast regions of Haiti. NSP is funded by USAID/Haiti and is in its second year of operation. The 2015 graduations are an exciting milestone for the project!

The graduation ceremonies marked the completion of a 15-month "learning by doing" training program. The participating women were trained in how to teach things like the importance of a balanced diet, breastfeeding best practices, and various livelihood activities. They were also taught how to use nutrition counseling cards as visuals to better communicate with their neighbors and other mothers in their communities. Each Mother Leader is responsible for visiting 10 to 12 households twice a month to have a face-to-face conversation on diet diversity, food groups, and best practices relating to nutrition and health for children under 5. The target audiences for these conversations are pregnant and lactating women.

Local health staff, departmental and local authorities and family members participated in the graduation where the Mother Leaders were honored for their commitment to volunteerism and their valuable support in promoting behavior change at the household level. Medical staff at all levels recognized the contribution of the Mother Leaders by speaking at their graduation. The importance of reaching out to families in order to educate them and connect them to the health system was reinforced in the variety of speeches. Community members at all levels, from the community health agent to the local health center to the regional hospital were all encouraged to work together to help the messages from the Mother Leaders be heard. 

Mother Leaders have been getting positive feedback from families in their communities. Visit after visit, the dialogues continue to improve and their messages grow stronger. While sharing their knowledge and experiences, participants continue to build trust and solidarity. During the graduation, Mother Leaders showcased what they had learned through their talents. They used theater, songs and dances to express their appreciation of the program and to show what they had learned over the last 15 months. 

As a result, community members are becoming more supportive to the pregnant and lactating women. Kids and the adolescents are also becoming more interested in improving their knowledge in nutrition. Mother Leaders have the strength to meet these interests. They are available to participate in training sessions, visit families on a regular basis, review their approach and are responsible for updating promoters twice a month on their activities. Mother Leaders are very supportive of the families in their communities. They work very hard every day to teach households and communities how to prevent malnutrition. And their efforts are paying off!

To learn more about the Haiti Nutrition Security Program, please visit: www.haitinutrition.org




Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Critical Link between Agriculture and Nutrition: Recap of the Global Food Security Symposium

The Honorable Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, 
discusses "Investing in Smart, Collaborative Science 
to Address 21st Century Challenges"
On April 16th, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington, DC. Partners' Agriculture and Food Security Senior Director, Peggy Carlson, had the opportunity to attend and hear speakers and panels that included everyone from Allison Aubrey, Food & Health Correspondent at NPR News; to Shawn Baker, Director, Nutrition, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and the Honorable Dan Coats, Member, US Senate (R-IN). Panel topics included: How the Private Sector is Moving the Needle on Health, Universities at the Foundation of the Fight Against Hunger, and A Health Sensitive Food Supply

Douglas Bereuter co-chaired the event. He currently is involved in the Global Agricultural Development Initiative at The Chicago Council and is a Former Member of the US House of Representatives but more importantly to Partners, he is one of the founders and sponsors of the Farmer-to-Farmer Program. Ms. Carlson had the opportunity to talk with him about F2F and his fondness for the program and he will be participating in the program's 30th Anniversary events later in 2015.

One of the main purposes of the event was to launch The Chicago Council's new report: "Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition," This report looks at the important role agriculture and the food sector play in reducing malnutrition around the world. The report, which can be found here, recommends that:

  • The US Congress commit to a long-term global food and nutrition strategy focused on agricultural development and convene a bipartisan Commission on how to tackle nutrition challenges globally.
  • The US government, in partnership with universities and research institutes, increase funding for nutrition research to expand access to nutrient-rich foods and address malnutrition.
  • The US draw on the strength of its research facilities and universities to train the next generation of agriculture, food, and nutrition leaders both here and in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • Panelists discuss a health-sensitive food supply.
  • Government and industry work together to support more efficient and wider delivery of healthy foods, especially through technologies that can reduce food waste and enhance food safety.
The symposium was an excellent opportunity to hear from a variety of public and private sector speakers addressing the importance of agriculture and nutrition and offering creative ideas to address some of the challenges. Partners was live-tweeting the event via @PartnersAgFood and we regularly share information about important events like this. Follow us for updates and to read more about the Symposium, see speaker bios, and watch video of some of the sessions, you can visit the website.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Growing" the Extra Mile

On March 22nd, Steve Oberle, owner of Hidden View Farm in Wisconsin, and Arlen Albrecht, a retired professor from the University of Wisconsin-Extenstion (UWEX), traveled to Guatemala to volunteer their time and expertise through Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program. The main objective of their assignments were to teach organic, small scale/urban gardening techniques to urban and semi-urban women’s groups and family groups. Through three NGOs (Creative Works, International, A Couple of Christians Foundation, and the Association Libres y Triunfadores), Steve and Arlen trained 115 women and 46 men in 10 group sessions. They incorporated the use of Community Asset Mapping (CAM) to identify local resources to make compost and small-scale gardens, as well as assisted the NGOs in identifying potential future markets for the sale of surplus production or compost. Below are excerpts from their trip reports:

Arlen and Steve's Volunteer Assignment

The urban setting of Guatemala City can be overwhelming when trying to grow organic fruits and vegetables in a sustainable fashion. All of the participants had very few personal resources and very small house lots---but huge hearts, aspirations and dreams. During our work here, we helped them discover unique ways to grow fruits and vegetables in small areas, on walls, and on their roofs or patios. There is even great potential to grow these small garden systems year round - traditionally, people plant their fields just before the rainy season, but these proposed small garden systems do not have to follow this seasonal planting, and can be irrigated with about 2 gallons per day. However, traditions are hard to change, so it will take time.

F2F volunteers, Arlen Albrecht and Steve Oberle, demonstrate how to build
square foot gardens
Each of the communities visited had an informal leadership structure. The person in charge usually was the “early adapter” of new ideas. We recommended that these early adapters be encouraged and helped to grow in their skill sets, and thus more progressive change ideas will slowly move into the mainstream society. One of the men present raised chickens and agreed to provide chicken manure for everyone’s compost. He also had a vacant lot that would be a source for dry compost material, and a local small store owner offered to provide over-ripe fruits and vegetables for making the compost. The participants are also thinking about the idea of a community garden plot in the empty lot for participants who do not have room on their small properties/lots.

Two of the sessions were held at an orphanage in Guatemala City. Children of mixed ages and adults alike were very enthusiastic and asked many good questions about composting and gardening for the purposes of developing their own individual gardens, sharing a garden with their friends, and create their own small garden system when they leave the orphanage.


Arlen conducting a training on potential layouts for square-foot gardens
The two women’s groups we presented to were lead through the CAM process so they could identify practical local resources for compost materials and garden necessities. They also discussed leadership skill sets that the two women’s groups have, and they will be meeting regularly to talk about their gardens and other “community needs projects”. We reported that further group facilitation for needs assessment and leadership building could be very helpful in these types of groups. Future volunteers could provide leadership building exercises focused on women empowerment. The host organizations want to help participating women grow self-esteem, and seek self-actualized efforts to improve their family economics and well-being. Perhaps they will not be able to grow 100% of their fruits and vegetables as they can in the more rural areas, but they can supplement their diets and improve their self-esteem and self-worth as women and families through the mediums of composting and gardening.

Reflections on the Assignment

When asked to provide their personal reflections, Arlen said, “There are many important aspects of this work for all of the individuals, families, community groups, and host organizations involved. From my perspective, in addition to the teaching/learning of organic gardening systems and composting, if these initial efforts are successful and expanded upon, they could go a long way toward improving the self-sufficiency, food security, public health/safety, and environmental perspective/quality of the Guatemalan people. Potential, future efforts involving appropriate school age children and their teachers in organic garden development/maintenance and composting, and development of school curricula along similar lines will help transfer these efforts to additional families and future generations.”

Arlen added, “I am always humbled and impressed with dedication of leaders in small communities. In the communities of Guatemala this is no different. Local leaders care for their neighbors and friends. They go the extra mile to help them when possible, they give from the heart. I feel that the work that Steve and I did during the short two week assignment is just the tip of the ice berg… with the 146 people we met and grew together with there was change. Yes it was small but it can be significant in their lives… to grow at least some of your own healthy food is a hand up, not a hand out.”

Monday, April 13, 2015

Partners' F2F Volunteer Collaborates on a Financial Analysis of Nicaraguan Livestock Production

By F2F Volunteer Eric Rama

Nicaragua’s economy is heavily dependent on agricultural exports. Of these exports, beef and dairy generate the most income. Despite this, Nicaraguan beef and dairy productivity levels are significantly lower than their Latin American counterparts. There are many reasons for this, but one worth highlighting is the dual-purpose nature of livestock raising in Nicaragua. Dual-purpose production systems are characterized by selling a portion of the milk a cow produces and leaving the remaining milk for their offspring. This creates a situation in which a cow produces very little milk compared to a normal dairy cow, and underdeveloped & under-performing calves which do not grow and thrive in the same way as calves from specialized systems. It goes back to the saying that you can do two things at the same time, but not well. However, producers in Nicaragua are willing to produce less in exchange for the daily income provided by the marketing of their milk.

Given the economic importance of beef and dairy exports, Nicaraguan producers could significantly benefit from increases in productivity. This is why the Nicaraguan Cattlemen’s Association (CONAGAN), with the support of the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program, is conducting a financial analysis of Nicaragua’s current dual-purpose system, and utilizing financial models to estimate the impact of specializing in beef or dairy production on the industry. Because of my experience in the modeling of beef production systems, I was asked to assist CONAGAN with this study.
I traveled all over the country with Roberto Blandino, an Animal Scientist who has recently retired from an upper level administrative role in Nicaragua’s College of Agriculture, and interviewed producers about the productivity and profitability of their enterprises. We saw a range of cattle operations in various parts of the country, from the grasslands of El Rama to the green hills of Wiwili. Visiting these producers on-site allowed us to document their current financial reality and estimate the impact of specializing in beef production on their personal economy. This also allowed us to document valuable information about the international competitiveness of Nicaraguan producers in terms of their cost of production. Our findings will provide helpful information to industry stakeholders and aid their efforts to gain entry into new, quality driven markets. This information will also be useful to policy makers who aim to create a policy environment that stimulates Nicaragua’s international competitiveness.

This trip was a great experience for me! I enjoyed seeing and learning more about tropical production systems, and was humbled by the hospitality, drive, and work ethic of my Nicaraguan counterparts. Despite the obstacles that Nicaragua faces, I have no doubt that, if the CONAGAN and Farmer-to-Farmer staff are examples of the nation’s drive for positive change, they will be successful in their efforts to improve the competitiveness and productivity of their livestock sector. I would like to thank all of the CONAGAN and Farmer-to-Farmer staff (in Nicaragua and in Washington) for this opportunity and look forward to assisting with the program in the future!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

F2F Country Highlight: Nicaragua

Since February 2014, Partners has sponsored 29 Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers to travel to Nicaragua to train livestock farmers to achieve three primary goals. The first is to promote the nutritional value and stimulate demand for Nicaraguan beef and milk through branding and country marketing. The second is to develop a market for 100% natural dairy products that are produced and processed under certified quality standards, with competitive traits for niche markets. The third is to add value to Nicaraguan beef and milk by producing on natural pastures and certifying farms for adoption of best practices for hygienic, safe, and environmentally-friendly products.

DAIRY EDUCATION CAMPAIGN 

To support the dairy sector in launching a dairy education campaign, F2F volunteer Katherine Wingert supported the National Dairy Chamber in leading focus groups with children and mothers to gain a better understanding of why the general population consumes little dairy. Some of the results surprised the host organization.  The women and children explained, for example, that although they understand the benefits of consuming milk, it is not offered at schools so the children end up choosing other options.  They also expressed concerns about the quality of milk and said that local street vendors sell milk that has been sitting outside for several hours. The information gathered from these focus groups will be used to determine the best strategies for promoting increased milk and dairy consumption. To read more about Katherine’s experience, check out her blog post here


BEEF BRANDING 

For the first time in the country’s history, representatives from the livestock sector came together and formed a committee to discuss the creation of a national beef brand that would highlight the use of Nicaragua’s natural pastures. To identify common goals and work together, a committee of representatives was formed. F2F volunteer Doussou Traore recommended that to improve the country’s competitiveness and trade, productivity and quality would first need to be addressed. This process would involve getting different actors within the industry to agree on concrete goals for improving the quality of beef. F2F volunteer Daniel Shaneyfelt followed up to Doussou’s recommendations and added that to achieve the desired production rates and quality, producers must shift from dual- to single-purpose cattle. The committee continues working toward achieving these shared goals and are currently identifying ways to improve the quality of beef through improved feed and to increase reproduction rates by better understanding cattle fertility and genetics.

F2F Volunteer, Otto Wiegand, assesses current nutritional practices of livestock
CATTLE PRODUCTION 

Some of the work related to cattle production has involved training farmers and cooperatives in rotational grazing systems, balanced forage, and reproductive management. As an example, Wayne Burleson traveled to Nicaragua to train farmers in the benefits and implementation of rotational grazing and low-cost electrical fence systems to improve soil quality. After his return, Leonardo Castro wrote him to express his gratitude and let him know that within just twelve days he was noticing regrowth, and the land still had another 16 days to recover before the cattle would be rotated into the first pasture again.  

F2F Volunteer, Doussou Traore, prepares to enter a processing facility.
VALUE ADDED PRODUCTS 

Daniel Hewitt worked closely with individual farmers, Leonardo Castro and Rojer Monje, and trained them and other community members in the production of gouda and cheddar cheese. To learn more about the cheddar cheese making process, read about Daniel Hewitt’s experiences here. Melvin Pascall worked with Cooproleche cooperative and shared techniques for extending the shelf life of dairy products to prevent contamination. According to Rosalino Lazo, a member of the cooperative, these newly acquired techniques doubled the shelf life of their yogurt products from 15 to 30 days, which led to a 10% increase in revenue. 

F2F Volunteer, Melvin Pascall, trains Cooproleche's staff in testing for mold and antibiotics.
To learn more about volunteering for our Farmer-to-Farmer program in Nicaragua, please contact Program Officer, Adriana Robertson at arobertson@partners.net or visit our website here to see open volunteer opportunities in our other countries.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

World Health Day - "From farm to plate, make it safe"

April 7th is World Health Day and this year, the World Health Organization highlights the challenges and opportunities associated with food safety. In Haiti, where Partners of the Americas has their own Nutrition Security Program (NSP), agriculture has been the mainstay of the economy since the 1980s. Food security is all encompassing, and includes not just food safety but also food supply, quality of that food, and the access all individuals have to it. 

In honor of World Health Day, NSP has elected to highlight one of our many Mother
Cooking demonstration focused on nutrient
consumption and food safety
Leaders. Candidates for Mother Leaders are women who are pregnant and/or have children five years or younger that have been chosen by their community to undergo a year-long training. The 24 trainings focus on the value of both quantity and quality of the food being prepared in households. The trainings also encompass a number of other things including Vitamin A, breastfeeding, immunizations, hygiene and family planning. In addition to attending the trainings, the Mother Leaders are responsible for visiting women in their communities to share this information by way of culturally appropriate skits, cooking demonstrations, and simple conversations. Mother Leaders work together to empower the women in their communities and participate in various livelihood activities including community gardening, goat breeding stations, and small scale agriculture transformation products. 

Mother Leaders gathered for a Care Group meeting
While every Mother Leader has her own inspiring and amazing story to share, to honor World Health Day, NSP has chosen to share with you the story of Simone Fertile, a 39 year old from Western Haiti. Similar to a lot of women in her community, Simone is married, has 4 children, goes to church, and is involved in minor commercial activities. Prior to being presented with this opportunity, Simone was not involved in any social activity outside of her home and her church. Her husband strongly encouraged her to get involved once she expressed her interest. Supportively, he knew it would be good for her to get out of the house, learn something new, and become a positive role model in the community. After being involved in the project, Simone agrees that Mother Leaders bring a positive image to the community and that the work that they are doing is noble, valuable. 

A Mother Leader meeting a neighborhood woman
When asked about her success stories, Simone had two that came to mind. The first involved her neighbor who worked full time as a nurse in the local health clinic. After she learned of Simone’s status as a Mother Leader, she asked that Simone come over and explain a little bit more about the project and what she learned. The nurse, upon hearing all of this, was impressed and immediately requested that Simone work with her untrained nanny. Simone was able to train another woman in the community and was given a paid opportunity doing something that she felt passionate about. The nurse has never stopped expressing her gratitude. 

The 2nd success story Simone shares with us today is one of her interventions. Through her trainings she was able to identify malnutrition in children. She noticed that two of her neighbor’s children were showing extreme signs of malnutrition and recommended that they go to the health center to get a doctor’s recommendation. After the visit to the health center Simone took the necessary time to give her neighbor nutrition counseling. The neighbor followed her advice and the two children made full recoveries. 

Partners of the Americas is proud to be able to showcase what Simone and the rest of the NSP trained women continue to do in and with their communities. Their trainings and leadership experiences through this program are valuable to them as individuals, as mothers, as wives, and as members of their community. 

For more stories on what Partners of the Americas is doing in relation to food safety, check out these stories: