Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Follow us on Twitter!

Partners' Agriculture and Food Security unit has a new Twitter handle! Follow @PartnersAgFood for updates on the Farmer-to-Farmer Program, as well as our Haiti Nutrition Security Program and other stories. Be the first to know when Partners programs are in the news or when there is a new story posted on this blog. The team also live-tweets agriculture, food security, and natural resource management events to keep you informed of what is happening if you cannot attend. And finally, we share stories and links from other organizations in the field to help you stay up-to-date on key issues.

Follow us today! @PartnersAgFood

Friday, September 12, 2014

Happy Friday!

On his most recent F2F trip to Jamaica, volunteer Tom Hebert spent a Sunday afternoon working with the Robin's Bay Bee Club, the island's first children's beekeeping club. The main item on the agenda was a presentation about beekeeping around the world. Tom wanted the children to see how beekeeping can differ greatly from one country to the next and how it can also share some commonalities. Halfway through the presentation, the children wanted to do some hands on activities so they went outside to help Tom assemble materials for making a top bar hive from banana leaves. Once the kids went back inside, they drew some pictures of bees. Enjoy some of their creations below! 

Taking a break
Collecting banana ribs

Tom looking over some of the artwork

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Analysis of Agricultural Plastics Recycling for the Banana Industry in the Dominican Republic

Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer program supports organic banana producers in addressing one of their biggest challenges: the disposal of the plastic bags used to protect the bananas from disease and pests during the growing process. Melissa Kono, a plastic recycling and processing specialist, recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to address this problem. Below are excerpts from her trip report:

Plastic protects bananas from disease and pests
as they develop
Assignment Overview and Observations:
The Dominican Republic is the main exporter of organic bananas in the world. This emphasis on organic and fair trade bananas has encouraged the industry to strengthen environmentally conscience production methods and further address recycling efforts in banana production.

I volunteered with USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program from June 29 through July 12, 2014 in the banana producing region of the Dominican Republic to analyze the use of plastics in the banana industry and address ways to recycle the plastic after its use. The Farmer-to-Farmer field staff and I met with the three major banana producers in the region as well as environmental agencies and recyclers. We toured several farms, plastics collection facilities, landfills, and recycling facilities. 

Each of the three main banana producers in the banana producing region of the Dominican Republic have some sort of plastic collection process. Despite these collection efforts, the plastic is not recycled as there is no end-use for it. In addition, there are no well-established means of preparing the plastic for transport, such as baling or compressing. The low-density composition of the bags make it an undesirable product for recyclers who will collect denser plastics such as beverage bottles. Additionally, the bags are fairly inexpensive (about .003 cents per bag) so there is little incentive to reuse them, which would require thorough washing as to not introduce disease from plant to plant.

Potential Solutions and Recommendations for Follow-Up:
Truck used by organic banana producers to collect plastic
I believe there is tremendous opportunity to create subsidiary industries to recycle the plastic into other products, particularly products that can be reused in the banana industry such as pallets, corner posts, and support stakes. Currently, the area of Montecristi has a 73% poverty rate. However, there is high potential for job growth in the area. Producers mention the possibility that the plastic can also be sold, or at least taken by a recycler, to be reused and/or shipped to another country for disposal and/or reuse. A strength of the banana producers is the collection efforts that are already in place. Several of the top producers already have well-established collection methods to collect plastic from the field. Producers also seem eager to convert the plastic into fuel. At least two companies are able to convert plastics into fuel in the United States, and I left contact details with the field staff.
Potential follow-up assignments could focus on:
  • Further research on converting plastics to fuel or for plastic to be sold and/or shipped to recyclers 
  • Addressing logistical issues such as compressing/baling plastic for ease in transport 
  • Conducting a feasibility study of creating a factory to recycle plastic into other products
  • Bringing in a solid waste management expert to analyze the logistical needs of both collection and transport of the plastic

Personal Reflection:
This trip was a wonderful opportunity for me personally and professionally, and a dream come true. I studied economic development in Latin America as a college student, and frequently would do papers and projects on the banana industry. In my current profession, I work with farmers on recycling agricultural plastic. The opportunity to volunteer with Farmer-to-Farmer demonstrated that agricultural plastics recycling is a global concern and that farmers that I work with in a rural county in Wisconsin have the same concerns as those in the Dominican Republic, producing food for the world in environmentally conscience ways.  I am so honored to have been chosen to participate in USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program, the staff is well organized and the programs and assignments are well thought out. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Farmer-to-Farmer Supports the First Artificial Goat Insemination in Guatemala

In July 2014, Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Bill Knox made history by visiting the western highlands of Guatemala to provide the first-ever training on artificial goat insemination. Months of preparation by both Bill and his host organization, CEPROCAL-Altiplano (run by Save the Children), went into his assignment. From January to April, Bill conducted research on the restrictive Guatemalan import protocols for goat semen to ensure he would be able to successfully import 120 breeding units of frozen goat semen. He also sent photos and instructions to CEPROCAL to construct a simple breeding stand made of local materials that would be used to restrain the goats during insemination. His assignment was also timed so that he would arrive when the goats were in heat.

F2F volunteer, Bill Knox, arrives with 115 pounds of
instruments, supplies, and 120 units of frozen goat semen

Given the urgent need to improve the food security of thousands of rural families in Guatemala, Save the Children and the Agros Foundation developed a program to develop a goat milk production center in the department of Quiché. They founded CEPROCAL-Altiplano that trains technicians and hundreds of farmers in the management and production of dairy goats. The goal of CEPROCAL-Altiplano is to have approximately 320 goats on-site with a daily production of 700 liters of milk that will be used to improve the nutrition of local families and also to make dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. CEPROCAL-Altiplano also seeks to provide breeding stock to improve the genetic quality of native goats in the surrounding communities, thereby increasing milk production. There are approximately 2,200 female goats in the local communities that are involved in this program.


Veterinary students learn about artificial goat
insemination at the University of San Carlos
Bill trained almost 100 producers, technicians, and veterinary students in two methods for artificial goat insemination. He also provided training on the use of estrus and ovulation synchronization and how to complete internal parasite assessments. Artificial insemination can be as effective as natural breeding by local bucks but the offspring of AI bucks will have superior genetics. This means that Bill’s training will help improve goat production in the country, which will thereby help improve families’ nutrition and food security through greater access to goat milk.

Bill also got a chance to visit some of the villages involved in the program and was impressed with how successful the program has been despite only being in existence for eight years. He notes that they are not only teaching children and their families to drink goat milk, but also how to raise goats and take care of them. On his assignment, Bill states, “There was earnest interest in the subject of AI and ovulation and estrus synchronization by faculty, students, and producers. . . This was a wonderful learning experience, and I hope the information I delivered will be helpful. Guatemala is a great country that is full of promise”.

Practicing artificial goat insemination at CEPROCAL
At a smallholder family farm that has received a doe from the
goat production program in Guatemala

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Call for Volunteers!

Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program is currently recruiting volunteers for several open assignments in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. Please see a list of volunteer opportunities below. As always, our in-country bilingual field staff coordinate logistics and F2F covers all travel, housing, food, and other related costs. 

Please contact Courtney Dunham at cdunham@partners.net for more information on the below assignments.

Dominican Republic:

Specialist in soil conservation and agroforestry (2-4 weeks in late October through mid-December):
A specialist in soil conservation and agroforestry is needed to work with the NGO, Plan Yaque, in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. The volunteer should have experience in implementing soil conservation practices on stepped slopes for hillside production (i.e., dead and live barriers). The volunteer will train farmers and technicians on improved soil management and erosion control and appropriate methods and techniques for sustainable production of crops on hillsides. The volunteer will also complete an assessment of the current soil and environmental management of hillside farms in Jarabacoa and identify opportunities for improved soil conservation practices that are economically and environmentally feasible for the area.
Banana production specialist (2-4 weeks in October through December 2014):
A professional with experience in banana production and cultivation is needed to assist banana producers in identifying potential problems and solutions related to: 1) planting and plantation development; 2) production and productivity, 3) organic and conventional fertilization; 4) pest and disease management; and 5) climate risks in banana production. Expected deliverables are a set of recommendations per farm visited on ways to increase production and/or address problems related to banana production.

Expert in disaster risk management (2-4 weeks in October through December 2014):
An expert in disaster risk management is needed to train banana producers on strategies to mitigate their risk to the impacts of hurricanes, flooding, and other climate change effects. The volunteer will train 30 technicians from four banana associations on mitigation measures they can take to increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change and will support them in developing an adaptation strategy.


Ornamental plant disease and pest management expert (2-3 weeks in October, October 19-31 is ideal):
An expert with a PhD in plant pathology or entomology and/or with experience in pest and disease management is needed to train farmers on methods to reduce the incidence of pests and diseases on ornamental plants that are exported to the United States. Expected deliverables are a manual on the treatment of specific pests and diseases and conventional and non-conventional management options as well as a Farmer-to-Farmer trip report.
F2F Guatemala field staff (from left to right):
Andrea Herrera (admin assistant), Andrea Fión (field officer),
Abraham Jarquin (field officer), and José Cano (Country Coordinator)

Ornamental flower fertilization and irrigation specialist (2-3 weeks in November or December; November 23 to December 6 is ideal):
A professional with experience in fertilization, soil and analysis, and irrigation for ornamental flower production is needed to train producers in low-cost irrigation and organic fertilization methods. Expected deliverables are a manual on best practices in irrigation and fertilization of ornamental flowers and a Farmer-to-Farmer trip report.

Market research and analysis expert (2-4 weeks in February 2015):
A volunteer with experience conducting market research and analysis is needed to assist a small mushroom production company in identifying niche markets and opportunities for the export of natural, organic, or medicinal products made from specialty mushrooms. Expected deliverables are to build the capacity of a specialty mushroom agribusiness to be able to analyze market data and make informed decisions when developing new products. The volunteer will also help to promote linkages between U.S. companies and/or identify opportunities to access markets or credit.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Supporting Dairy Marketing Initiatives in Nicaragua

Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program provides technical assistance along all levels of an agricultural value chain. This means that F2F volunteers may have expertise that is not related to production or the specifics of an agricultural product but may provide training in more cross-cutting areas. Last month, F2F volunteer, Diane Griffin, returned from her assignment in Nicaragua after spending two weeks providing technical assistance in marketing and strategic planning to three dairy cooperatives –COOPROLECHE, Nicarao, and CANISLAC.  Diane’s strong background in business development, leadership and management, and strategic planning allowed her to support the leadership of these organizations in several ways.

Diane with CANISLAC and F2F staff.
At COOPROLECHE, Diane mapped out business partners, donors, suppliers, and consumers in order to illustrate the strategic relationships that exist within their value chain.  She also supported COOPROLECHE in identifying opportunities to maximize their organization’s strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. During a marketing training for Nicarao, Diane helped identify how members of the organization contribute individually and collectively in shaping the future goals and objectives of the cooperative, thereby increasing members’ motivation and sense of ownership. Finally, Diane supported the development of CANISLAC’s Dairy Consumption Campaign by facilitating discussion on the direction and goals of their campaign and providing recommendations on how to address information gaps. Her work has helped COOPROLECHE, Nicarao, and CANISLAC identify organizational goals and develop a plan for achieving them.

Diane leading a workshop for Nicarao's leadership.
To read more about Diane’s experience in Nicaragua check out her blog here. Or to find out how to become a F2F volunteer and share your skills, visit the Partners website.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Artisanal Cheese Production in Nicaragua

Leonardo Castro with some cheese made during this visit.
Since 2012 the Nicaragua Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program has been working with Leonardo Castro on improving his family-owned dairy farm’s practices, production, and cheese quality.   His goals for the upcoming years include diversifying his cheese products, improving cheese quality, and increasing production, sales, and access to niche markets. About a year ago, shortly after receiving technical assistance from F2F volunteer Daniel Hewitt, Leonardo began producing and selling raw-milk Gouda through his start-up enterprise, Queso San Ramon.

Salting the milled curd before placing it in molds.
Due to customer demand, Leonardo has decided to diversify his cheese products by beginning to produce a cheddar-style cheese.  To support Leonardo in meeting his goal, Daniel returned to Nicaragua in July 2014 to train Leonardo and other community members in cheddar-style cheese production.  

Through hands-on activities and a five-day cheese-making workshop at the Queso San Ramon facility, Daniel was able to teach the principles and practices of artisanal cheese-making. Activities included tweaking and experimenting with different starter culture and salt amounts, milk heating schedules, and pressing weights. Throughout these interactive trainings, Daniel facilitated discussions with Leonardo and his team about how these changes could impact the final cheese product. The group also learned how to use new cheese-making equipment.

Testing the pH of the cheese after overnight press.
Thanks to Daniel’s trainings, Leonardo and his team are now well on their way to producing a cheddar-style cheese and there are also plans to increase Queso San Ramon’s production to twice a week. As Queso San Ramon continues to grow, Leonardo hopes to eventually expand and include two dairy neighbors.  

To learn more about this F2F assignment, watch the video below (in Spanish). A big thank you to Daniel for putting this together! And to find out more about how to become a F2F volunteer, please visit our website.