Friday, September 22, 2017

Transforming Goat Milk into Valued-Added Soaps & Lotions

Team Presentations at the CEPROCAL Center in Nebaj

The first concrete evidence of soap-like substance is dated around 2800 BC., the first soap makers were Babylonians, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, as well as the ancient Greeks and Romans. While volunteer Robert Spencer does not have that many years of experience he does have sixteen years of experience in making cold-process goat milk soap, shampoo, and lotion.  And has done multiple trainings in Myanmar, Haiti, and Guatemala. 


The overall goal of this project was to provide economic opportunities for women in small-scale production of value-added agriculture products (oils, animal byproducts, herbs, vegetables, and fruits), along with goat milk in making skin care products including soap, shampoo, and lotion in rural areas of Guatemala. This project host was CEPROCAL who collaborated with Save the Children Foundation, and the first week of training was conducted in Nebaj (El Quiche Department) at the local CEPROCAL office.  Students for this class were Save the Children field officers and technicians who would later be responsible for going out into their respective communities and train clientele.

During these four days of training agriculture products used included: goat milk, vegetable oils, lard avocado, tomato, coffee grounds, aloe vera, and flower petals. One of the objectives of this project was to utilize as many readily available agriculture products as possible while using the cold-process for making soaps. The only heat involved was a small propane stove to melt the lard and solid oils (cocoa oil), and the chemical process between the sodium hydroxide, oils, and liquids.

Photos in this blog will verify the strategy worked. Spencer said it was inspiring to watch the trainees learn and implement the process, then take it further to packaging, labeling, and presenting in team competitions


The second week of training was conducted in Cunen (El Quiche Department). Our goals and objectives, and training agenda were very similar to the first week. Trainees in Cunen were also associated with Save the Children along with a few of the local population. The ingredients used were the same with additional botanical products specifically beneficial to skin and hair.  Trainees in Cunen also readily adapted to the training and did outstanding jobs of the packaging, labeling, and presenting in competitive teams.

Quantitative outcomes for combined trainings were as follows:
o   31 men & women trained at these two locations, all were adult, 18 were females, 13 males
o    80% increase in knowledge regarding production of soap, shampoo, and lotion
o   65 % plan to implement production & marketing of soap, shampoo, and lotion
o   100% will train others on all aspects associated with production and marketing of soap, shampoo, and lotion


Soap Mold (Left) and Packaging (Right)

This was the first time for Spencer to experience using unrefined animal lard and it worked out just fine. The training also utilized lard so the people could compare, and it too worked out just fine. Every time Spencer does this in rudimentary conditions he is always impressed with how well everything works out, and really enjoys working with people in various countries.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Strengthening agroforestry systems in smallholder Dominican farms

Altair Rodriguez’s demonstration farm in La Vega Province, Dominican Republic

In August 2017, Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer Tom Gaman traveled to the Dominican Republic to support the agroforestry efforts of Altair Rodriguez’s demonstration farm.

Located in La Vega Province, Finca Tierra Negra is a 66 hectare farm that is made up by partially-shaded cacao trees grown primarily under a broken canopy of nitrogen-fixing native (e.g.Erythrina) and non-native trees (e.g. African Tulip). Much of farm sits on land that was previously used to produce conventional plantain (Musa paradisiaca) and cassava (Manihot esculenta). 

The land is also susceptible to excess concentrations of pesticides and inorganic fertilizer runoff emanating from nearby farms. There are also a series of non-organic crops in the farm that have been neglected for years, and are hampering the ability of the Rodriguez family from obtaining organic production. Altair and her family are currently trying to integrate more organic agro-forestry systems at Finca Tierra Negra. With these systems in place, they hope to restore and improve soil quality, increase production, and generate a higher and more diversified income base for the family and the surrounding community that benefits from the demonstration plots.


With these challenges in mind, the purpose of Tom Gaman’s assignment was to help the farm complement the farm’s existing base of cocoa trees, permaculture systems, and nursery with more robust agroforestry systems. As part of these efforts, Tom carried out an extensive forest inventory of the demonstration farm, which included using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in order to inform the long-term agroforestry implementation and monitoring plan for the property. Based on his field observations, Tom and Altair discussed ways to put in place a diverse set of financially-viable climate-smart crops, such as breadfruit and locally-appropriate spices (e.g. turmeric). Prior to ending his assignment, Tom also generated a series of practical recommendations that Altair and her family can use to incorporate new agroforestry systems into their farm. 

These recommendations included:
  1.  The use the GIS tools and agroforest inventory plots established during the assignment to inform on-site management decisions (e.g. planting locations & species combinations) 
  2. Based on GIS maps and inventory, continue to develop a business plan and financial spreadsheet that includes projections for the next 5 years.
  3. Maintain cacao cultivation and production with nitrogen-fixing trees.
  4.  Prior to harvest, survey or monitor the most productive cacao trees. This will facilitate monitoring and assessment of changes in productivity and to eliminate/replace unproductive trees.
  5. Experiment with different products such as pepper, turmeric, breadfruit and spices, using windbreaks and symbiotic out plantings.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Strengthening the Digital Branding and Online Marketing of Artisanal Kits in Guatemala

By Andrés Varona, Program Officer - Agriculture & Food Security

Through the manufacturing of educational kits, DIDART is a small Guatemalan enterprise that teaches children about the cultural heritage of the country. In order to spur community development, DIDARD purchases the materials that go into their kits directly from rural artisans from across Guatemala. Since 2015, Partner of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program has been sending volunteers in order to assist the company with various organizational, financial, and sales aspects of their enterprise. In the latest F2F assignment, Kate Senn traveled to Guatemala City in order to support DIDART with a series of digital branding and online marketing efforts.

In preparation for her F2F assignment, Kate reviewed DIDART’s websites and social media platforms as well as identified areas that could help her draft a “Social Media Strategy Handbook” for the small company. Upon her arrival in Guatemala on August 13th, Kate had the opportunity to travel to various rural communities in order to see firsthand the locally-sourced materials and indigenous traditions that go into each of DIDART’s educational kits. In the village of Guanagazapa, for example, the volunteer was able to learn about the morros, a “hard-as-coconut-like fruit that can be hollowed and used for the musical instrument known as a chin-chin, souvenir bowls, or for making jewelry.”


DIDART Staff members with F2F Volunteer Kate Senn (Center) with F2F Field Officer Andrea Fion (Right


Once back at the DIDART office in Guatemala City, Kate began working alongside Anna Lucia, the company’s graphic designer. During her first week at the office, Kate led trainings on Pinterest marketing strategies, editorial calendars as well as social media branding. In the second week, the volunteer and Anna Lucia revised the interface of the DIDART’s new mobile app that DIDART in order to ensure that it was consistent with the company’s brand identity. At the end of the assignment, Kate generated a comprehensive ““Social Media Strategy Handbook” with a series of recommendations that DIDART can use to grow their web and social media presence. Some of these recommendations included:


1. Targeting key stakeholders (e.g. school teachers) with more personalized online /social media messaging such as “Are you a teacher in Guatemala? We want to hear from YOU!” Encourage them to be DIDART ambassadors”, receiving additional fluffy discounts or free stuff to support and promote the educational kits to their teacher friends.

2. Setting a monthly agenda for Social Media campaigns so posts do not need to be done last minute. Foresee posts about holidays, special celebrations, school year calendar, etc. Change the cover page photo with the season. This technique will allow DIDART staff to identify gaps in the schedule and plan out future content.

3. Leveraging the power of Pinterest in order to 1) create photos sequence of the educational kits (e.g. before, during, and after the manufacturing phases are complete), and 2) promote a link long Pinterest Pin, with a link to where to buy the specific kit (etsy, shopify, DIDART’s website).

4. Create quick speedy videos for each of the kits being produce and share them on YouTube and Facebook. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Host Highlight: Fundación para la Autonomía y el Desarrollo de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua (FADCANIC)

One of the newest hosts that Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer program has been working with is FADCANIC (Fundación para la Autonomía y el Desarrollo de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua). FADCANIC is a civil society organization based in the two autonomous regions of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast (e.g. RAAS and RAAN). Partners of the Americas began working with FADCANIC in mid-2016. Since then, the relationship has already proven fruitful.

FADCANIC was founded in 1990 after a government statute recognized the autonomy of the Atlantic coastal regions of Nicaragua. FADCANIC’s mission is to support the autonomy of these areas by improving the livelihoods of its inhabitants. FADCANIC achieve these through two different educational centers: 1) the Center for Agroforestry (Centro Agroforestal or “CAF”) and 2) the Center for Environmental and Agroforestry Education (Centro Educación Técnica Ambiental y Agroforestal or “CEAA”. Through these centers, FADCANIC offers free three-year technical program that focuses on environmental management, horticulture, animal science, carpentry, and forestry, as well as some basics such as history, music, and art. The hope is students who graduate from these programs will be able to return to their rural communities’ better prepared to find ways to improve their income and also with an environmentally conscious focus in their work.

In May 2016, Partners of the Americas sent the first F2F volunteer to FADCANIC in order to determine the best way for them to collaborate with the Farmer-to-Farmer program. During this initial visit, Dr. Andrew Margenot, a professor from UC Davis, noted that FADCANIC’s centers and agricultural facilities demonstrated a high diversity of crops, largely agroforestry species, that were being well-managed by a team of FADCANIC agronomists. He noted several areas where volunteers could work. First, in the forest reserve, Dr. Margenot noted severe erosion in the surrounding grazed pasture that had been illegally converted from reserve forest. Dr. Margenot also noted that many of the producers in the area were still practicing slash-and-burn to renew pasture growth and to clear the forest for new pasture. FADCANIC has several demonstration farms that serve as an “outdoor classroom” for the students, as only about 20% of the activities are in the classroom setting and the remainder is in the field demonstrations and hands-on practice. Dr. Margenot noted a variety of potential future assignments such as citrus production, ecotourism to financially sustaining a forest reserve, as well as the implementation of biogas systems that run on farm waste.

FADCANIC agronomist and F2F field officer Noel Diaz discussing pineapple cultivation

Later that month, F2F volunteer Barbara Brown arrived to Wawashang. After a brief tour of the Center and the Kahka Creek preserve, the innovation center, and the agroforestry center, she left recommendations to develop a strategic plan for FADCANIC to seek additional funding. As far as food processing, Ms. Brown recommended that FADCANIC consider expanding the number of dried products they offer that could be marketed jointly, such as pineapple, coconut and banana chips sold in small bags as a snack. Efforts to implement a consistent method to determine acceptable dryness of each product also needs to be developed. An HACCP plan for products and best practices for food safety also need to be developed.

Most recently, in April 2017, two Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteers traveled to Wawashang in order to support FADCANIC with the construction of several biodigesters. This assignment included the participation of Vance Haugen (a University of Wisconsin Extension professor specializing in biogas production) as well as James Rhode (Director of the 4-H Adventure Project in Crawford County, Wisconsin). Mr. Haugen and Mr. Rohde’s assignment was centered on the implementation of bio-digesters systems for FADCANIC’s Wawashang School. Due to the school’s remote location, the administrators are actively trying to strengthen the institution’s self-sufficiency by generating all the food, energy (e.g. biogas), and agricultural inputs (e.g. fertilizers) it needs to function properly.

F2F Volunteer Vance Haugen leading a interactive
lecture on bio-digester design at the Wawashang School

After a year of collaborating with our program, FADCANIC now has a better idea of the type of work that it can do with Farmer-to-Farmer. In the coming months, Partners already plans to send several more F2F volunteers to support FADCANIC both in their headquarters in Managua as well as in the field offices along the Atlantic Coast.  Future assignments will focus on fruit dehydration and artisanal coconut oil production. Additionally, more specific assignments were identified such as agricultural economists to assist in the development of market analyses and agricultural engineers to work with food processing staff to develop low-cost technologies to equipment generate value-added products (e.g. jam, jellies, and preserves).

Friday, September 8, 2017

Host Highlight: Fabretto Foundation (Nicaragua)

During the last four years of the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, Partners of the Americas has been actively working to strengthen the production and organizational capacity of numerous women and youth-based groups in Nicaragua. As with other country-specific F2F projects, the “Women&Youth” project in Nicaragua relies on the mutual collaboration of a myriad of local agricultural cooperatives, foundations, as well as educational institutions. Among these various entities, Partners will like to take the opportunity to recognize the work of our local host, Fabretto Foundation.

With their HQ in Managua and field offices throughout the country, Fabretto’s mission is to ensure that children, families and communities in the most disadvantaged areas of Nicaragua, reach their full potential and improve their future opportunities through educational and nutritional programs. Currently, Fabretto implements an innovative high school program called SAT (Tutorial Learning System) in rural and remote communities. This program is tailored to the real needs of these young people and the curriculum is based on the practical methodology of "learning by doing". Simce many of the Fabretto tutors are community leaders that don’t necessarily have formal training, the program is facing an increasing need to strengthen the capacity of these mentors in order to ensure that their grassroots youth initiatives are effective and their impact is long-lasting.

In May 2016, F2F Volunteer Dustin Homan took his passion
for 4-H to Nicaragua to work with youth
at Fabretto Foundation on their community goals.
In the last three years, the Farmer-to-Farmer program has sent dozens of volunteers to assist Fabretto and their commitment to empower both underserved women and youth in Nicaragua. These volunteer assignments have cover a wide range of areas including 1) the implementation of 4-H programs for rural youth centers, 2) the development of business skills training courses for youth entrepreneurs, as well as the 3) interactive workshops on soil conservation and integrated pest management (IPM) practices for women-led agricultural cooperatives.

In August 2017, F2F Volunteer Megan Roberts
taught several accounting workshops for women
and youth groups in the Department of Madriz
These specialists are just some of the long list of F2F volunteers that have assisted Fabretto’ s initiatives. In the coming months, the F2F program at Partners of the Americas plans to send several other volunteers to strengthen the foundation’s capacity in several strategic fields, such as crop-processing, soil analysis, brand marketing, as well as supply chain management. In the coming years, we hope to continue this ongoing partnership with Fabretto in order to advance the capacity and skills of women and youth in all of Nicaragua.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Major Findings & Recommendations from the “Food Security and Emigration: Why People Flee and the Impact on Family Members Left Behind in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras” Report.

On August 21st, Partners of the Americas’ Agriculture & Food Security (AFS) team had the opportunity to attend a ceremony at the historic Hall of the Americas in Washington, D.C. The event was centered around the launch of a new collaborative report between the the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the World Food Programme (WFP), titled “Food Security and Emigration: Why People Flee and the Impact on Family Members Left Behind in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras”. As the title of the document shows, the report was focused on the food-related factors that prompt people from Central America’s Northern Triangle region to migrate to other countries, mainly the United States.

As the international development organization in charge of implementing the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in Latin America and the Caribbean, Partners’ AFS team though it would be strategic to deepen our understanding on how challenges in agricultural production and food security can translate into large-scale migration in the countries where we work. As such, we have developed a brief summary of the report’s major findings as well as practical recommendations for addressing food insecurity in Central America’s Northern Triangle region.

While for us, as with many of the entities in charge in developing this report, the rural exodus and consequent emigration flows in Central America is a matter of great concern, nowhere is the sense of urgency more profound than along the region’s Corredor Seco. Throughout this dry corridor, which encompasses most of El Salvador and a great share of eastern Honduras and Guatemala, there are a higher proportion of people immigrating to the United States (and other countries) than in other areas of Northern Triangle. In many ways, the reasons behind these emigration flows (e.g. high unemployment rates, limited or seasonal labor demand, and low wages/salaries) are directly interlinked with poor agricultural yields and food insecurity. According to a separate Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, the Corredor Seco also suffers very high rates (between 50 and 90 percent) of crop harvest loss. Due to these conditions, the region is now home to more than 1.6 million individuals who are food insecure. These rates of food insecurity, according to collaborative report, are exacerbated by both food availability and prices and, consequently, by adverse climatic events that affect local harvests and, in turn, food security. In terms of food prices, a great proportion (58 percent) of people in the Corredor Seco spends well over 2/3 of their income on food costs. While the food supply are diminishing due to climate change (extremes temperatures and droughts), which are not only having an impact on agricultural output, but also on many rural livelihoods (e.g. smallholder farming).

Another of the major findings of these collaborative reports concerned the impacts and benefits that migration can have on agricultural production and food security in the Central America’s Dry Corridor. One of the negative impacts associated with migration is that because migrating requires substantial economic costs (e.g. supplies, payment to trafficker), many households must often sell or use their homes/land as collateral to pay for these costs. On the other hand, for those households whose family members are able to migrate from the United States (and elsewhere), they can experience nutritional improvements as they are able to purchase more food with the remittances they receive from abroad.

Given the challenges and promises highlight in this report, there are substantial steps that the international community, civil society, the private sector, as well as host governments can do to address the food security that is driving so many (young) Central American to emigrate. Among the various recommendations presented by the “Food Security and Emigration: Why People Flee and the Impact on Family Members Left Behind in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras” report, it is worth highlight the following two strategies:

1) Reducing vulnerability to root causes: In this regards for inter-sectorial efforts are needed to strengthening the resilience of rural communities to adapt to the effects of a changing climate. This could be done through increase investment and capacity building programing for community-driven weather monitoring, soil analysis, and watershed conservation. Moreover, increasing the market access of smallholder producers in the Corredor Seco could also be a viable strategy to curb the unprecedented rates of emigration emanating from these communities.

2) Enhancing International cooperation: In addition, there is much that international and national institutions in the host countries (e.g. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) can do collectively to foster opportunity and mitigate emigration along the Corredor Seco. For instance, national institutions (e.g. Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment) should adapt their existing programing and projects to ensure that they are in lined with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), among which are the objectives of no poverty (Goal 1), zero hunger (Goal 2), clean water and sanitation (Goal 6), decent work and economic growth (8), climate action (Goal 13), as well as partnership for the goals (Goal 14). Moreover, when formulating public policies and development strategies, national government should also consider the interlinking role between food insecurity and migration. As this internal commitment are consolidated, host government should work to establish meaningful partnership with international donor institutions, finance institutions and civil society in order to widen the support of frameworks that reduce both food insecurity and migration flows.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Goat Milk is a Solution for the Socio-Economic Wellbeing of Rural Guatemala

By Young W. Park, Ph. D., F2F Volunteer


While sometimes overlooked, goat milk can be an important source of essential nutrients and animal-based proteins for the people of developing countries. During the last four decades, the reputation of the dairy goat has been changing and is now has become a vital member of the world dairy industry. The FAO statistics (2001) have shown that goat milk makes up 55% of all milk consumed in Bangladesh, 51% in Somalia, 24% in Iran, and 16% in Sudan, demonstrating the significance and nutritional value that goat milk has for emerging economies. The world statistics of goat milk production also shows a 62% increase from 1993 to 2013 or from 11 to 18 million metric tons, with France, Spain, Turkey and Greece leading in tonnage in that order. To my knowledge, there has been no comprehensive statistics on how much goat milk has been produced or how many small dairy goat producers are currently working in Guatemala.

Currently in Guatemala, there is a series of interlinking challenges facing the dairy goat industry. These obstacles include 1) an apparent gap of trained personnel for manufacturing dairy goat products, 2) lack of dairy goat production and management systems, 3) very limited processing facilities and equipment available as well as a 4) lack of financial support for communities engaged in dairy goat production. Then why produce goat milk in Guatemala? While dairy cows are still number one in terms of global milk production for human consumption, dairy cows can be difficult and expensive to rise in the topography of mountainous countries. Guatemala is a good example of a mostly mountainous country with a clear lack of feed resources and pastoral lands for raising dairy cows. Goat farming, on the other hand, has a distinct advantage in areas with harsher climates, steep mountainous terrain and high altitude. As such, Guatemala’s mountainous regions are much more adaptable for dairy goat production.

Moreover, as goat meat and goat milk have become more popularly consumed in the more affluent nations of the world, the global demand for goat farming has also increased substantially. This can prove to be a good opportunity for rural Guatemalans to engage in dairy goat production. After all, goats have a superior growth rate in numbers compared to other milk producing domestic animals, especially in the developing countries with large population increases and high rates of undernutrition and malnutrition. Not to mention that if the right set of intensive management systems are practiced, goat farming can be profitable in most countries.

In the case of Guatemala, there are three main reasons why more dairy goat operations should be considered: (1) Goats are more adaptable to the local climate conditions and terrain than any other domestic milk producing mammal, (2) Goats are easier and cheaper to be kept than any other domestic milk producing dairy species, and (3) Goats’ milk has superior nutritional and health advantages compared to the milk of other domestic milk producing mammals.

For my Farmer-to-Farmer assignment I was entrusted to develop and lead hands-on-trainings for smallholder dairy goat producers, university students and faculty, as well as professionals, staffs and technicians associated with the Save the Children/ Centro de Producción Caprina del Altiplano (CEPROCAL) program. In particular, my volunteer assignment focused on improving the capacity of these groups on how to 1) adequately process goat milk, 2) manufacture goat cheese, as well as 3) adapt basic dairy technology for smallholder dairy goat farmers. Overall, these trainings had two main goals in mind. The first would be to build a strong foundation for the community-based dairy goat industry that is taking root in Guatemala. The second objective would be to enhance a viable, profitable, sustainable and replicable dairy goat enterprise model in the country. Given the existing lack of a comprehensive dairy goat sector/industry in Guatemala, I am hopeful that this assignment will provide some of these communities and enterprises with the knowledge and skills they need to scale their current operations.

Overall, there were two key accomplishments that were achieved during this Farmer-to-Farmer assignment. The first achievement included leading a cheese-making seminar with smallholder dairy goat farmers at the CEPROCAL facility in Nebaj. While these farmers had no previous formal training in cheese-making, they are now they now able to produce various goat cheeses with little to no access to equipment and/or processing facilities. If organized effectively, the local dairy goat owners have the potential to start manufacturing goat cheese and selling their products across local and national markets. This process, in turn, will allow them the chance to boost/diversify their incomes and help improve the nutrition of local communities. The second of these accomplishments was related to the lectures and trainings I led on the economic and nutritional benefits of goat milk products. In total, 186 participants took part of these interactive lectures and trainings. While these trainings were especially valuable for the small dairy goat producers in Nebaj, they were also beneficial for the numerous Save the Children nutritional technicians, Guatemala government officials, USAID representatives as well as professors and students Universidad de San Carlos and Universidad del Valle de Guatemala who participated in these activities.

Upon completion of this USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer assignment, I found the F2F program at Partners of the Americas to be an outstanding initiative to strengthen rural enterprises in the developing countries of the Western Hemisphere. I was delighted to be able to use my experience and skillset as a dairy goat production specialist and Food Science Professor at Fort Valley State University with the dairy goat producing communities of Guatemala. I have been convinced and strongly feel that this F2F volunteer assignment has provided me with a unique opportunity to strengthen the foundation for the emerging dairy goat industry in Guatemala.