Friday, September 23, 2016

Coffee and Climate Change

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

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

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

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

Read the full A Brewing Storm report here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Improved Branding Helps Producers in Nicaragua

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Greenhouse Vegetable Production in the Dominican Republic

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 8, 2016

'Big Ag' in Nicaragua: A Volunteer's Perspective

Mike Doherty serves as Illinois Farm Bureau senior economist and policy analyst. He spent two weeks as a F2F volunteer in Nicaragua with Partners of the Americas. Below are his reflections: 

Mike Doherty in the field
Nearly all the growth in demand for Illinois’ agricultural production is in developing countries, also known as “emerging markets.” As the U.S. Grains Council has noted, the cattle-producing areas of southern Mexico and Central America represent a significant potential market for distiller’s dried grains from Illinois ethanol plants as well as other feed grain products. Most of this new demand will be from households that are generating income sufficient to afford daily meat consumption for the first time.

I had an opportunity to learn something about that process of rural income generation, and hopefully help accelerate it, via a Farmer to Farmer (F2F) volunteer assignment in Nicaragua last year. Although I felt well prepared and supported (thanks to the Partners of the Americas (POA) specialists I had met in the capital city of Managua and via reports from their Washington, D.C. office), I was excited to be exploring the real backcountry with another F2F volunteer from Illinois and a local POA-contracted guide.

Touring dairy plant - far left, F2F volunteer Michael Lofstrom,
center, GRINSA's agricultural engineers,
far right, F2F volunteer Mike Doherty
Tucked away in the upland farm town of Jinotega, our first project involved a dairy plant and its well-motivated sales and production staff, and managers. Standing proudly before their line of cheeses and yogurts, they gave us a tour of their operation. Later that week, after meeting a second time with the office managers, followed by a Skype call with the owners of the plant, they were open to our recommendations on strategic planning and marketing. They recognized they were facing a fast-changing value chain in an increasingly global world. I was glad to have had the opportunity to apply 30 years of agribusiness experience in creating a list of recommendations for them to implement, so that they might absorb and respond to the rapid changes they were facing in a competitive marketplace.

A second F2F Nicaragua project awaited me in the town of Chichigalpa, located at the foot of the dramatic San Cristobal Volcano. Famous for its Flor de Cana rum factory, this bustling farm town is centered in a broad valley, backed by the smoldering summit of the volcano. I gave a presentation on strategic planning to a group from the Chichigalpa chapter of Nicaragua’s national business development association, called INDE. We had a robust question and answer session that morning, which revolved around agricultural development. On the way out of town, I noted a few tractor dealerships along the main road and a few tractors being driven out to the fields. It reminded me of a vibrant and diversified farm economy in the U.S. rather than a post-revolutionary Central American socialist country!

Cacao drying 
Nicaragua offered a lot in terms of agricultural diversity: an impressive array of high-value industries that process specialty crops like cacao, coffee, sugar cane, and products from beef and dairy cattle, all of which are rapidly evolving. Nicaragua is known as tourist friendly, but it’s also the “Big Ag” breadbasket for the entire region of Central America.

Nicaragua’s retail is also developing quickly, and not just in the form of new, gleaming, modern supermarkets and shopping malls in Managua, but also in the form of intermediate-sized “country” grocery stores in the smaller towns and cities. In all of these stores, one sees an increasing presence of “made in Nicaragua” agricultural products such as roasted coffee, chocolate bars, rum, flavored yogurts, various cheeses and more.

Assuming their country’s development stays on track, Nicaragua can be safely added to the list of up-and-coming emerging markets. I promised myself I would be return someday, not only to see that progress for myself, but perhaps to build even stronger relationships.

This article was previously published under the title "Nicaragua: 'Big Ag' in Central America" on the Illinois Farm Bureau's FarmWeekNow blog and in FarmWeek's hardcopy edition. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

An Interesting Source for Organic Fertilizer

Over the years, a number of our F2F volunteers have worked in the area of soil fertility. As synthetic agro-inputs can be pricey, oftentimes our volunteers teach hosts about organic soil fertility management practices such as the use of green manures, compost, companion crops, crop rotations, and animal manure. One common and inexpensive source of macronutrients, however, frequently gets overlooked: urine.

Stored goat urine at CEPROCAL
In March 2016, F2F volunteer Rob Crook traveled to Guatemala for a two week assignment to train extension agents with the Center for Goat Production in the Altiplano of Guatemala (CEPROCAL) on how to make liquid fertilizer and compost using goat urine. CEPROCAL currently captures and stores the urine produced by stabled goats at their production center. While CEPROCAL technicians have speculated that the urine is an excellent source of nutrients for fertilizing home gardens and pastures, they did not know how to best utilize it and in what quantity. After working with CEPROCAL technicians over the assignment, Crook recommended that CEPROCAL takes fresh and stored goat urine samples to analyze the difference in nitrogen content (due to volatilization). Additionally, he recommended that they conduct several independent variable experiments with goat urine on pasture and row crops to better understand the effect that the urine has when applied directly as opposed to using in compost. After conducting the experiments and analyzing the samples, CEPROCAL extension agents will in turn teach rural families and beneficiaries of the program how to use the organic fertilizers for improved pasture and vegetable production to supplement and diversify the family diet.

It is important to note, however, that all urine - including human urine - contains valuable macronutrients and micronutrients that can be used for crop production, especially a simple home garden. While using human urine may be viewed as an unpleasant concept at first glance, the potential benefits are undeniable. The primary macronutrient found in urine is nitrogen. Additionally, that urine contains anywhere between 2.5 and 3.5 grams of potassium and 0.5 to 1 gram of phosphorus in plant soluble form. Worried about urine acidifying your soil? Fresh urine typically has a pH that hovers around 6, while stored urine often becomes moderately alkaline.

Stabled goats at CEPROCAL
Ok, so it has macronutrients and won't substantially mess with the soil's pH, but is it safe to use? Actually, yes. Human urine - except in very rare circumstances - is sterile when it leaves the body. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the few pathogens that may be transmitted through urine are not considered a major health risk, especially in temperate regions.

Right, right, so it's safe to use, but what about the smell? That strong smell is due in large part to the volatizing nitrogen in the urine as it comes in contact with oxygen. In other words, storing the urine in a hermetically sealed non-corrosive container will greatly limit the odor. Additional steps taken during the application (described below) will further reduce any foul odor.

How much should be applied and what is the best method of applying it? As the quantity of nitrogen in urine varies (as do plant nitrogen requirements), using trial and error with dilution rates and frequency of application is critical. It should be noted, however, that studies conducted by ECHO with corn, okra, and pak choi, indicate that the plants that received a 9:1 water to urine application rate once a week performed the best. Preferably shortly before rainfall, the diluted urine should be poured into 1 to 2 inch furrows and covered with soil shortly thereafter.

For more information about sustainable and sanitary human waste technologies, please visit

For more information about other F2F volunteer assignments, please visit:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Controlling Black Sigatoka in the Dominican Republic

F2F Volunteer Cynthia Ocamb recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to complete an integrated pest management assignment focused specifically on Black Sigatoka. The DR is one of the biggest producers of bananas in the Caribbean and one of the most devastating diseases affecting crops is a leaf spot disease called Black Sigatoka, or black leaf streak. This disease causes significant reductions in leaf area, yield losses of 50% or more, and premature ripening, a serious defect in exported fruit. 

Dr. Ocamb examining leaves for disease
In meetings and field visits with producers and technicians, Dr. Ocamb explained why infected leaves should be removed regularly: “to reduce the leaf area with active infections and suppress subsequent spore production” and showed each producer what the early stages of Black Sigatoka look like and how the spores travel via water from infected leaves to uninfected ones. She also noted that leaf tips (rather than the entire leaf) can be removed if less than 50% of the leaf area is affected by the disease. 

In addition to field visits, Dr. Ocamb also conducted several trainings on recognizing disease symptoms and understanding management strategies for controlling Black Sigatoka – including cultural practices to reduce Black Sigatoka and fungicide applications for Black Sigatoka. Dr. Ocamb suggested that producers carry out weekly monitoring at geo-climatologically different areas in order to accurately time and monitor fungicide treatments and assess sanitary conditions. Regular monitoring and current information are key to stopping the progression of the disease.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Organic Certification from Hawaii to Guatemala

Rincon Grande Farming Operation
F2F volunteer Colehour Bondera recently traveled from his home in Hawaii where he owns and operates a certified organic vegetable farm to complete an assignment in the Central Highlands of Guatemala. Mr. Bondera worked with agribusinesses to clarify the path to organic certification for mixed vegetable and fruit production operations near Antigua and Guatemala City.

In addition to field visits and intensive discussions with host leaders, Mr. Bondera led several interactive workshops covering topics related to organic certification, discussions of the differences between “the ideal and the actual” organic plan, distinctions between production and processing, how to change an existing system, and effective planning.

His recommendations included increasing the use of worm composting for soil and nutrient enrichment; incorporating trees and/or perennials for crop diversification, shade, nutrient access and/or border protection for overall organic system health; and incorporating diversity into the planning and strategizing of organic systems planning. Mr. Bondera also noted that the development of marketing strategies will be key for producers to access international markets – it is currently not economically viable to seek organic certifications solely for local markets. Additionally, Mr. Bondera suggested that producers from Guatemala should visit USDA-certified organic production and processing facilities in Hawaii because producers could learn from their shared experiences. Although this suggestion does not fall under the scope of the Farmer-to-Farmer program, perhaps there will be a future opportunities for that type of exchange!
Group working together during one of the workshops