Thursday, October 16, 2014

Partners’ F2F Volunteer Ellen Lewis Pilots Long-Term Organizational Development Assistance and Feminist Systems Thinking in Nicaragua

I was fortunate to spend two extended periods of time (March–April 2014) and (May–June 2014) with F2F Nicaragua. During these visits I engaged in two roles. First, I piloted the role of a longer-term (instead of the normal two-week assignment) F2F volunteer Organizational Development (OD) Consultant. In this capacity, I provided OD support to the Nicaragua staff in the identification and orientation of new ‘hosts’ using two F2F assessment tools (the baseline from and the Organizational Development Index). My second role was as a joint F2F volunteer and doctoral student from the University of Hull, where I worked in partnership with the Universidad Nacional Agraria (UNA) to introduce and culturally adapt a systems thinking methodology that asked people to reflect on their micro and small businesses and identify areas of improvement based on their reflections. 
F2F Volunteer Ellen Lewis provides training on Feminist Systems Thinking.

Organizational Development

The relatively new discipline of OD sprouted in the 1940’s and draws from many fields of study, notably psychology, sociology, organizational behavior, anthropology, biology, and the systems sciences. OD has become the multi-discipline lens through which responses to increasingly complex organization and human systems are studied and understood, creating improvements that are sustainable. With F2F as a backdrop, and systems thinking as a context, F2F staff and I conducted organizational needs assessments of new F2F hosts primarily in the dairy and livestock sector. By identifying strengths, weaknesses and the needed support, the F2F field staff in partnership with host organizations were able to identify and request the appropriate technical assistance needed to strengthen and increase production, marketing (local and national), animal husbandry practices and gender equitable participation. The Nicaragua staff, a group of hard-working individuals, were remarkable in their commitment to support their hosts which ultimately will facilitate increased access to domestic and international value-added beef and dairy markets. Furthermore, this outstanding group of people (can you tell they are great?) working with the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Program Evaluation team identified specific and measurable strategies to increase the participation, decision making, and leadership opportunities (access and abilities) of women in business matters of the cooperatives at the three organizational levels of the cooperative: board of directors, management, and staff and local activities provided to producers.
Local training participants learn how keep the boat afloat by working as a whole.

Feminist Systems Thinking

As in many countries, Nicaragua's rural women are largely charged with labor intensive household tasks along with the demands of any small business enterprise, primarily the making and selling of food products (sold on the street, on buses, to their neighbors). From my conversations with different women these activities are also barriers to their interest in taking more active leadership roles on boards, business projects or community efforts. In an effort to create awareness about how to mitigate some these barriers from the women and men’s perspectives, FST  concepts were introduced as tools with which to analyze their businesses and provide an atmosphere of problem solving and dialogue. Working in partnership with F2F stakeholder groups (e.g., staff, volunteers, hosts and partners), Anne Stephens’ FST principals and OD strategies were culturally-adapted and introduced to strengthen rural businesses. We held six participatory workshops with 73 participants over a three month period; in each, the participants adapted the methodology to ensure cultural practicality and relevance going forward, as they replicate the workshop. The five FST principles are:  adopt a gender sensitive approach; value voices from the margins; incorporate the environment; select appropriate methods; and undertake action that promotes desirable and sustainable social change.
Interactive activities or "dinámicas" add fun to the workshops.


As always, I am so grateful for the care and kindness that the F2F staff here (and in Washington) have so graciously given me in this endeavor, particularly since it was not a typical two week assignment. I felt equally supported in my role as a volunteer as I did in my research capacity. Everyone wanted me to succeed, and so I feel I have. I believe that the new country strategies that are being put into place will have a significant impact on the country’s effort to support people as the exit poverty in the most respectful and thoughtful manner. I look forward to visiting Nicaragua in a year to see how things have progressed if time and circumstances allow.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dr. Barakat Mahmoud (Food Safety Specialist) volunteers with Royal Produce Company in Guatemala

Dr. Barakat Mahmoud recently returned from completing a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Guatemala where he worked with Royal Produce Company, one of the largest vegetables exporters in the country. The purpose of his assignment was to develop and implement an effective food safety plan to ensure compliance with the regulations and/or requirements of the United States. Dr. Mahmoud conducted two workshops: a) Good Agricultural Practices & Good Handling Practices (GAPs & GHPs) workshop with 17 farmers, packers, and managers and b) FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) workshop with seven managers and F2F field staff.

Additionally, Dr. Mahmoud conducted an audit of a green bean packinghouse, including an assessment of their cafeteria, water storage tanks, restrooms, hand-washing stations, instruments cleaning areas, chemical storage facilities/rooms, worker personal hygiene practices, processing areas, packaging materials, and transportation tracks. He then visited four smallscale farms (20-40 acres) that produce snow peas, green beans, green peppers, and tomatoes to provide other recommendations and information on food defense, biosecurity, HACCP, and sanitation control procedures. Approximately 50 (42 females and 8 males) participants (farmers, packers, and managers) have received training and/or technical assistance during his visit. ​

Below are photos from his assignment:

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, Barakat Mahmoud,
with the F2F field staff

Dr. Mahmoud makes recommendations on monitoring chlorine
levels in sanitizer solutions for food safety

Checking traceability systems at the Royal Produce packinghouse

Dr. Mahmoud conducts a workshop on GAP and GHP
at Royal Produce training facility

Inspection of processing lines for green beans

Personal Reflection: On his assignment, Dr. Mahmoud said:"As a food safety extension specialist, I always like to teach food safety to producers, especially to international producers. I was surprised how eager the participants were to learn about food safety, particularly FSMA, HACCP, GAPs, GHPs, food defense, sanitation control procedures, etc. The Farmer-to-Farmer program is an amazing program that gives opportunities to developing countries to improve the quality of their lives. I am really glad to be able to volunteer and donate my time to this great program. I am going to use my experience in Guatemala to educate my students, colleagues, fresh produce producers, and other interested stakeholders."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

History of Agriculture and Food Security Programs at Partners

The Agriculture and Food Security team held a session at the Partners of the Americas 50th Anniversary Convention highlighting the long history in these program areas. Since it was founded in 1964, Partners has implemented diverse projects and carried out activities that increase agricultural production, improve post-harvest handling, develop new products, strengthen agribusiness and cooperatives, increase sales and income, protect natural resources, and improve food security. As part of our session, we presented a timeline highlighting news articles, social media, publications, historical photos, and other information showcasing our history. Stay tuned for a recap of the event!
Timeline of Activities

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