Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Assisting Small Farmers One Hectare At A Time in Guatemala

Young dragon fruit plants (on poles)
surrounded by sweet potato
This post was drawn from a volunteer trip report written by Paul Wojtkowski.

The overall objective of this assignment was to strengthen horticulture value chains in order to stimulate productivity of small- and medium-scale farmers. Volunteer Paul Wojtkowski went to assist the host organization, Rincón Grande, in improving their agronomic management of organic fresh fruits like dragon fruit and vegetables like spinach, kale, rainbow carrots, and sweet potato. Its facilities are located in the municipality of San Andrés Itzapa, Department of Chimaltenango. Rincón Grande has about five hectares of land where vegetables are grown and is currently developing a dragon fruit plantation, as well as a plant that is equipped for receiving, processing, packaging, refrigeration, and shipping fresh and processed produce. The company places special emphasis on the development of healthy foods (i.e., organic and natural ingredients and inputs) that are easy to prepare and reduce waste by using packaging that prolongs the shelf life and nutritional value of the product. Rincón Grande also promotes the fair treatment of suppliers, employees, and partners; thereby meeting international standards of quality and safety.

Currently, the host organization is working towards the propagation of golden dragon fruit and also has over 10,000 pylons of red dragon fruit, for which the grafting process began in January 2015. Rincón Grande is interested in securing its own sources of nitrogen and other micronutrients by producing compost and employing vermiculture. The organization is in need of developing and systematizing the processes to achieve organic certification.

Over the first week of his assignment, Mr. Wojtkowski focused on one five-hectare farm, located in the highlands near the town of Antigua. This farm was singular in that other farms in the area raised mostly maize with beans, while this farm was in the early stages of converting to dragon fruit production. The farmer employed a classic taungya approach and was growing sweet potato between the young dragon fruit plants. There were about 50 fruit plants on the farm. 

Landscape of farming area
Given the young age of the dragon fruits, this is not technically challenging. Issues arise when the dragon fruit plants are older and the plant/plant interactions with a second species become more profound. The dragon fruits were initially raised in a nursery in bags of soil.  These were then transplanted to the field. One volunteer suggestion was to spread out the root ball immediately before transplanting. This should speed plant growth. A second suggestion was to plant vetiver in contour rows in the steeper section of the farm. This would be a cheaper erosion counter than the contour ditches currently being employed.

Later in the first week, the volunteers visited a second farm whose main crop was peaches. This farm was located higher in the mountains, about one hour's drive from the first farm.  Upon inspection, the volunteers noted that the chief threat to production was peach dieback. Although present on only three or four trees, peach dieback can kill infected trees. This could be serious if it became more widespread. The cause is below ground, involving insects and/or a virus. Local farmers do not have a solution. One solution could involve soaking the ground around newly infected trees with a soap solution.

During Farmer-to-Farmer assignments, most of the impact comes through direct, face-to-face, on-the-farm interactions.  The next week, Mr. Wojtkowski visited several farms that are raising vegetables such as broccoli and snow peas for export to the US.  The final day of his assignment consisted of a visit to the University of Guatemala and a discussion with the Dean of the Agricultural School and those involved in agroecology. The expected outcomes of this assignment will be to generate demand for value-added products and to strengthen producers’ national, regional, and international market competitiveness. In turn, this will improve income and standards of living for farmers, their families, and their communities in Guatemala.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Raising Awareness About the Agricultural Impact of Climate Change in the Dominican Republic

By Dr. Gary Linn, F2F Volunteer

In the Dominican Republic, one of the most productive agricultural areas is the Yaque del Norte river basin. Over the past decade, hurricanes, floods, mini-tornadoes, strong winds, and now, a strong drought have impacted banana and other agricultural production in the area. These farm communities are very vulnerable to the impact of global climate change (GCC). Irrigation canals that were once full are now depleted, crops are stressed by extreme heat, and soils are becoming degraded. Long-time agricultural practices are becoming ineffective and the usually plentiful fruit, vegetable, and rice production of the region is dropping. For the present, and possibly for future decades, farmers in the Yaque del Norte river basin (and other agricultural areas of the Dominican Republic) must rapidly adopt new climate smart agricultural practices and technologies that mitigate the effects of climate change and help them adapt their farming to the extreme weather conditions. However, awareness of the widespread effects of GCC and measures that can be taken by farmers to effectively deal with it are low. Unless agricultural producers/ decision-makers comprehend the scope and threat of climate change in their area, they are unlikely to adopt climate smart farming practices and technologies that will make them and their rural communities more resilient.

To raise awareness of GCC among producers, community leaders, and members of communities in the Yaque del Norte river basin, this assignment included four multi-hour workshops in Monte Criste, Mao, and Jarabacoa from July 12-25th. Contacts on the subject of GCC were also made with farm managers, elected officials, directors and professors of technical schools and universities, agricultural business leaders and administrators of producers associations. The workshops were attended by 456 participants, each of whom received a diploma-sized Certificate of Participation from Farmer-to-Farmer. In the communities, contacts were made with another 501 individuals. Workshop participants included agricultural producers, farm managers, agribusiness leaders, directors, professors and students of technical schools and universities, civil defense officials, and agricultural technicians. The workshops were hosted by an agribusiness, Banelino, two banana producers associations, Grupo Banamiel and Associacion de Pequenos Productores de Santa Cruz, a government project, Proyecto La Cruz de Manzanillo, a technical college, Escuela Medioambiente and a university, The Technical University of Santiago – Mao Campus (UTESA).

Discussions with workshop participants following the PowerPoint presentation on GCC and its impact on the Yaque del Norte watershed showed increased understanding of GCC and its human causes (emissions) and international, national, and regional impacts on agriculture, rural communities, and individuals. Further, at each workshop there were many requests from producers and other participants for expert assistance with the future adoption of new agricultural practices and technologies that would help them mitigate the negative effect of GCC and better adapt their farms and communities to changing climatic conditions. Although targeted education on GCC in the Rio Yaque del Norte watershed should be a continuing process, several key recommendations were made for the people, groups, and organizations that we assisted; New agricultural practices/technologies which will help mitigate the effects of GCC and help adapt regional agriculture to climate change must be disseminated and adopted by producers; Prior to the visits of the Farmer to Farmer experts, producers who are likely to adopt recommended climate smart practices/technologies and lead other producers to do the same should be selected for participation in the workshops/trainings; Following the workshops and trainings, the participants should discuss the positive and negative characteristics of the proposed climate smart agricultural practices; Prospective adopters of the climate smart agricultural technologies and practices should receive a cost analysis of the recommended practices; Producers adopting the recommended climate smart agricultural practices should follow up with the agricultural experts via email and Skype; One year following the workshops/training on climate smart agricultural practices, producers who participated should be surveyed with regard to their adoption of the recommended practices.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Week in the Life of a Mother Leader

by Yves-Laurent Regis - NSP Deputy Director, Gaetane Blanc - NSP Communications Officer, Dr. Jutile Loiseau - NSP Senior Nutrition Advisor

Women are making a significant contribution to improving the lives of their families in Haiti. They account for 52% of the country’s population and are involved in economic activities and participate in a variety of social initiatives in their communities. At home, women are responsible for their children’s education, the management of the household, and have their share in various decision-making processes affecting family members and neighbors.
Mother Leader - Marie Guerline Ostine

Women are also the backbone of the Haiti Nutrition Security Program (NSP). Much of NSP depends on Mother Leaders - women who have completed or are in the process of completing a 15-month “learning by doing” training program in nutrition and health education. Each Mother Leader is responsible for taking what she has learned and communicating it to her neighbors and other mothers in her community. NSP has chosen to highlight one of the Mother Leaders through a typical week in her life, seeing the role that the program has on her daily life.

Marie Guerline Ostine is a Mother Leader living in Carrefour, one of the four districts in the greater metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. Carrefour means “intersection” in French. And true to its name, Carrefour connects people commuting to and from the four Southern departments of Haiti. Many residents of Carrefour are migrants from the South of the country and struggle to assimilate to their new community.

As a Mother Leader, Marie is responsible for visiting 10 to 12 households twice a month for a face-to-face conversation on diet diversity, food groups, and best practices related to nutrition and health for children under five. She is committed to visiting her neighbors and having these important conversations. Some neighbors are available only on Sundays and they are happy to dialogue with Marie about health and nutrition. On Sundays, Marie takes her three boys, ages two, six, and ten, to the local church where she is an active member. She is well-known in her community and her neighbors respect her dedication to teaching her children and motivating them to participate in different activities organized by the congregation.
Nutrition counseling card used by Mother Leaders

Throughout the week, Marie continues the visits with the neighbors depending on their availability. To help facilitate their training, she uses counseling cards provided by NSP to deliver nutrition education to the families. Marie walks her kids to school early in the morning - classes start at 7:30 am and end at noon. Her oldest son walks home by himself but she goes to pick up her younger son and then ensures they both take a bath and eat a hot meal. After that, she hits the road with the goods she offers all the way to the market. On school days, Marie sells clothing but she shifts to toiletries over the summer because there is more consumer demand during that period. Marie prefers selling toiletries like toothpaste, toothbrushes, and soap, because they have a rapid turnover of stock. Additionally, the wholesalers who supply her business are located at her market and so this avoids the transportation costs of traveling downtown.  

After 5:00 pm, Marie makes another new round of visits to other neighbors.

On Tuesdays, she joins other community members to learn and study religious matters at the local church.

On Wednesdays, Marie resumes home visits and provides counseling in hygiene, nutrition, and health and supports other community members.
Marie and her sons

On Thursdays, Marie takes time to worship, and fasts along with other members of her church. In Haiti, Tuesdays and Thursdays are often days observed by various religious groups to worship, fast, or go on home or hospital visits.

Marie’s mother lives with her family and watches over the children while Marie goes on her Mother Leader visits, and also when Marie goes downtown to restock for her business. Marie’s husband Millien Pierre-Louis is also a salesman and leaves home early to sell his flashlights and electronic accessories for cell phones at a very busy intersection. He doesn’t arrive home until nightfall.

The Nutrition Security Program uses a cascade model to train the staff on infant and young children feeding. Sites supervisors regularly train the promoters to support the Mother Leaders responsible for teaching their neighbors. Marie spends two Fridays every month attending refresher classes or training sessions on new lessons with the promoters. Some of the other trainings she has participated in cover topics such as savings groups and vegetable production, and soon, capacity-building in malnutrition screening using a tape to measure the Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC).
Training of Mother Leaders

With the time she has left, Marie makes additional home visits and counsels the neighbors of other Mother Leaders who can’t cover their area or have unanswered questions.

Two neighbors enrolled in Marie’s group migrated recently: one to the countryside and one to Cité Soleil, a neighborhood in the metropolitan area. This is not uncommon as Carrefour is a hub of people moving to and from the region but Marie is particularly worried about the neighbor who moved to Cité Soleil. This woman is pregnant and did not show much interest in her health and nutrition lessons. Marie continues to visit the woman’s family and teaching other family members about best practices for nutrition and hygiene. Marie hopes that some of these family members will be able to help the woman when they visit her in Cité Soleil before and after she delivers her baby.

With her three boys, 11 neighbors to visit twice a month, cooking demonstrations, and other community-based activities, Marie Guerline Ostine is a great resource and a leader for her community. She provides engages with her neighbors, leads by example through the education of her children and a good family relationship with her husband, and delivers counseling on nutrition to neighbors and people in need in her community.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Haiti Celebrates International Youth Day

On August 12th, several hundred Haitian young people gathered to celebrate International Youth Day. This day celebrates youth as partners in today’s global society, and promotes the engagement and participation of youth in sustainable development. Youth engagement is at the heart of the strategy of Partners’ Nutrition Security Program (NSP) for the promotion of good nutrition practices for sustainable change. Partners supports the Haitian Ministry of Health and Population by strengthening the capacity of community health workers and traditional birth attendants in nutrition. Partners has also improved coordination with health ministry staff and health institutions in order to achieve better coverage of services such as prevention, screening, referral and managements of cases of malnutrition.

Young people aged 10-19 account for more than 37% of the Haitian population and can play a key role in the promotion and adoption of good nutrition practices. NSP and its local partner organization FOSREF have mobilized young people in fourteen towns in four departments to enhance youths’ nutrition capacity. Because there is great need but also a great desire to learn among young people, NSP facilitates bi-monthly meetings of youth groups to discuss health and nutrition, values, principles, decision making, life skills, civic engagement, and leadership. Acquiring these skills enables youth to gain experience and arms them with the confidence to participate in social change in their communities. These young people are empowered to be leaders among their families, their peers, and in their communities. Currently, 1,875 young girls and boys regularly participate in these groups.  Other school-age children and students attend Vendredi Vert (Green Fridays), weekly sessions on environment, sanitation and hygiene.

Young people are also supported by the entire community network set up by NSP. This network consists of Care Groups and other influencing leaders, and regularly engages 20,597 women, 1,278 grandmothers and 1,362 fathers. Community leaders, community-based organizations, participants in the farmer field schools established by another USAID funded-program called AVANSE, and local institutions also come to support youth. As a result, young leaders become aware of their role and prepare to become tomorrow's active citizens, striving to be worthy, accountable, honest, brilliant and committed to ensure the progress of their country, starting in the communities and counties in which they live.
The theme of this year’s International Youth Day was "Youth Civic Engagement" and focused on the value of involving and including youth in contributing to their future. In Haiti, the event’s slogan was "Jèn Yo La" (Youth Engagement) and was promoted by a logo that dynamically represented key skills for young people: leadership, nutrition and participation. Young people were full of energy and promise in the Canaan commune of Croix-des-Bouquets, in Thibeau, the commune of Milot, in Caracol, in Fort-Liberté and in Ouanaminthe. NSP organized six large gatherings where 973 young men and women participated in thematic discussions and presentations related to the potential of youth as partners for social change and opportunities for the local associations and authorities to take appropriate steps to meet the needs of the younger generation. The talks were facilitated by NSP staff, youth leaders and personnel from local health institutions. During time between sessions, young people also showcased their talents and eloquence and expressed their wishes to see more quality education, and improved vocational training and job placement. Participants also received booklets covering topics related to adolescence, health, values, principles, life skills, hygiene, sport, and nutrition.

As part of NSP, young people are connected with Care Groups and meet at least once a month to discuss and seek solutions together to the challenges and barriers to their initiatives and proposals. They want answers to their questions about society and about themselves. They share their experiences and seek further training. Young leaders are getting ready to significantly contribute to changes in health, nutrition, and much more. Young people want every citizen to become aware and know that today's youth are committed to the advancement of their community and the progress of their country.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Supporting Social Entrepreneurship in Colombia: Zen Naturals and F2F

In April 2015, Gabriel Maya, the CEO of a small eco-cosmetic company called Zen Naturals, traveled from his home country of Colombia to Washington, D.C. under Partners of the Americas’ Bavaria Entrepreneurship Exchange program. These Bavaria Fellows won a national entrepreneurship competition in Colombia and were then selected to travel to the United States to meet with experts in investment, small business development, and experts in their individual industries to gain skills, ideas, and contacts for future growth. During his visit to Washington, Gabriel learned about the Farmer-to-Farmer program and was able to request a F2F volunteer to visit his company in Colombia in June 2015. Below is an interview with Gabriel Maya and his experience working with Partners of the Americas.

Gabriel Maya and one of his suppliers
What’s your name and title?
Gabriel Maya, CEO of Zen Naturals. My younger brother is the marketing specialist and Director of Marketing and Advertisement.

Tell me about Zen Naturals.  How did it start?
Our beginnings are that we wanted to create the best natural cosmetics that have the best impact socially and environmentally for the world. Our company started as a dream of social entrepreneurs to integrate beauty with social causes.  We’re addressing [the development of Colombia] in three different areas.  First, through farmer support. We are training the farmers that supply us with raw materials to help them achieve better quality crops so they can sell to many industries.  This helps them have better living wages, more sustainable jobs, and improves the economy and helps their families.  The second is our community where our manufacturing facility is located.  We are working with single mothers in the community. We have an eight month training process and have eight mothers working with us [who] are loyal to the cause, the movement, and the products. The third and final part is our consumers.  We are giving our consumers the opportunity to give back with every purchase they make.  We not only want our products to make you beautiful on the outside, but also beautiful on the inside.

How did you first learn about Partners and Farmer-to-Farmer?
We learned about Partners through the Bavaria fellowship. We won an entrepreneurship contest, so we were granted some capital and a trip to the United States for a week, and Partners was the NGO in charge of working with us.  We came to Partners in April where we got many many opportunities to improve our company and improve our social and environmental goals.

When we came here initially we had never heard of the Farmer-to-Farmer program. When we got here, we had a meeting with [Farmer-to-Farmer Senior Program Officer] Courtney Dunham. That’s when we learned about [the] program and we said hey, we can actually get great things from this and improve our company!

Who was the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer that you chose and what did he do during the assignment?
Our initial requirement was for a green chemist.  We chose Bruce Akers from California.  He’s worked with many green companies.  With Bruce, many good things happened.  He helped us improve our research and development area.  He started changing things up.  We started buying equipment, so he gave us tips to get cheap but great equipment.  Also, he started playing with our formulas, doing certain modifications to improve our formulations, and started to do a great assessment about the legal requirements for the American market.

What surprised you the most about having a volunteer?
We never had a volunteer before.  The greatest thing about having a volunteer is that it’s a completely new world of knowledge that comes to your company, things that you might never have had the opportunity to achieve before, and you have people who have completely different backgrounds giving you new ideas and new tips for your business. It’s a huge enrichment process for your company. It’s amazing what happens before and after you have a bond with Farmer-to-Farmer.

Could you describe some memorable moments from the experience?
Something that I always say is that I love my country, I’m really passionate about my country. Our country has suffered many social and violence issues.  It was funny to see how when someone from abroad comes to your country to see has many, many ideas or a misconception about what it is like in your country.  When Bruce came into Colombia, he thought we were in danger all the time. But then he started seeing how things were completely different then he thought.  Now, Bruce Akers is actually a part of our company.  He loved the project so much that he joined us and he’s now on the Board of Advisors. 

What was the impact of being a Bavaria Fellow and receiving a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer?
The impact was huge.  Our core business was improved 100% thanks to the Fellowship and our other meetings with Partners.  One of the long-term goals we have right now is getting into the American market. Farmer-to-Farmer and the Bavaria Fellowship have helped me in this process- the fact that I am here right now about to go into the American market is thanks to Partners, they really opened the doors for us.  It was great; I think we are a stronger company, with stronger goals and core values. If it wasn’t for them, it would have taken a much longer time. It changed our life.

How do you hope your connection with Partners will influence your company and country?
Employees at Zen Naturals
Partners is an organization that is addressing really important issues, one of which is poverty reduction.  Partners supports the leaders that will fight the issues of their country.  Just in four months in having a relationship with Partners our company has changed 100%. We are really, really excited about our future with our company and the relationship with Partners of the Americas.

In October 2015, Partners of the Americas will sponsor a second Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, Margaret Woodward, to travel to Colombia to work as an international marketing specialist with Zen Naturals.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Photos from the Field: Women and Youth in Nueva Guinea's farming communities

F2F volunteer Laila Salimi just returned from an assignment in Nicaragua. The purpose of this assignment was to complete a community and organizational diagnostic on farming cooperatives in Nueva Guinea, Nicaragua. These groups will receive F2F volunteers as part of Partners' new country strategy focused on Women and Youth in Nicaragua.  Laila met with producers in 4 communities and visited their farms to understand how their organizations and farms were functioning.  

Below are some photos from her trip!

Seeing the pineapple production of Nicholas, a member
of the La Ceiba cooperative.

Capturing a harvest calendar with members of La Ceiba.

Chatting before lunch with some members of the 
cooperative from the community of Montevideo.

Walking around the farm of Christina with
other members of Montevideo.

Discussing some of the resource gaps in the community.

Chatting with Lesbia on her farm in Serrano to better understand Yuca production.

Walking down the land that Mirella (not pictured) leases 
with her partner Ismael (hat) and Flora (bandana),
another member of the Escobin cooperative.

Visiting the farm of Maria with neighbors and members of
the Escobin cooperative.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Marketing Peanuts in Guatemala with Grupo Union Esperanza

This post was written by F2F Volunteers Katie Plaia and Jennifer Rangel from the field in Guatemala.

Jennifer explaining how to set up proper presentation for fair events
My teammate Jennifer Rangel and I are graduate students at Florida State University. Jennifer is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Media and Communication Studies and I am pursuing a Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communication. We both have a passion for travel and helping others so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Farmer-to-Farmer program in Guatemala this summer. The Farmer-to-Farmer Program is implemented by Partners of the Americas and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Group Background
We worked with Grupo Union Esperanza, an organization of 30 women who sell all-natural peanut and peanut butter products. They are located in the community of Santa Ana Huista in Huehuetenango, Guatemala.

The group formed in 1998 when five women wanted to improve their economic situation and the lives of their families by developing a business that could provide for them. In 2000, they began to process fried, sweet and salty peanuts. In 2006, they began to produce peanut butter. Now in 2015, the group is making spicy peanuts as well.
Practicing sealing jars

The Assignment
Our task was to create an integrated marketing plan to help raise brand awareness for Grupo Union Esperanza and ultimately help the women to make a profit off their products. We wanted to emphasize the all-natural attribute of the products and the values of the organization through their branding. The plan included rebranding of the logo and development of a tagline. In addition, the plan included techniques they could use for sales promotions, personal selling, business cards, business-to-business brochures, and development of a website.

Based on extensive research done in order to understand the country and the available resources in Santa Ana Huista, we found that personal selling would be essential to the marketing plan. We recommended that Grupo Union Esperanza approach various stores in the area of Huehuetenango and provide businesses with an informational brochure and sample in order to establish relationships with vendors. Throughout our two weeks here, we better understood the market, established a brand image including a mission statement, and educated the group on personal selling and B2B networking. We also created a website for the women to share product varieties, recipes and contact information.

For the first week, we worked with the non-profit currently supporting the women, ASDECOHUE- CSEM, learning more about this organization and what it does to assist women in developing business management skills. We then visited stands and stores that already had Grupo Union Esperanza’s peanuts in stock and were able to ask which of their variety was the most popular and if among other brands of peanuts was Grupo Union Esperanza’s doing well in comparison. During the second week, we met the women of Grupo Union Esperanza at the non-profit and presented the marketing plan to them. Jennifer was able to teach them how to seal their new jars for their peanuts using a hot air gun. They were also taught how to properly set up a presentation for events such as town fairs.
Both volunteers with the group on the last day

While working, we also got to experience Guatemalan culture, including delicious food and amazing views of the mountainous landscape. We spent our first night in Antigua upon flying into Guatemala City, where we got to meet one of our F2F hosts, Andrea. She gave us a tour of the beautiful town and talked to us about living in Guatemala. The next day we drove five hours to Huehuetenango with our other wonderful F2F host, Abraham. At the conclusion of our trip, we enjoyed a couple of days back in Antigua before heading back to the United States.

Overall, this experience opened our eyes to a fascinating different culture. We experienced first hand the challenges that the people of Guatemala face when trying to market a brand and create a lucrative business. With that being said, we felt humbled by the business aspirations of these women and honored to be a part of making their dream a reality.