Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On The Edge of Civilization and Success

If you take a look at a map of Guyana (many confuse it with Ghana, Africa) and locate the little town of Charity (west of Georgetown), you will see that there pretty much isn´t anything else west of there...or south of there either. Charity is on the frontier of civilization and in fact is found at the end of the highway from Georgetown. Although somewhat remote and challenged with some economic issues common to developing nations, this little town is not without several signs of economic success. One of them I was honored to meet during my volunteer visit to Guyana between March 12- March 26. I was accompanied by FTF Field Officer, Mr. Ryan Nedd, of Georgetown.

In 2001 a group of women from the Pomeroon River Region, of which Charity is a part, decided to create an all-women, agro-processing association to (in their own words) ¨create meaningful employment for women in our community, improving their skills, knowledge and income to alleviate poverty.¨ I was sent to this all-women´s association to assist them with their continued marketing efforts, and shortly after speaking with the Association Leadership, we decided that some additional business plan development would be very helpful as well.

In 2007, with the help of various donor agencies, the 14 member Association built a modern facility which is sufficiently equipped to produce 5 products under sanitary conditions governed by strict GMP standards. Their product line includes a Hot Pepper Sauce, a spicy Mango Achar, Coconut Oil, Fruit Mix, and Season Sauce which is largely a by-product of the Fruit Mix. Mr. Nedd and I had the pleasure of sampling all products, however, he balked at tasting the Hot Pepper Sauce; and maybe for good reason. Before trying the pepper sauce, we asked a visiting consultant from India if he thought it was hot. He replied that it is the hottest sauce he had ever tasted. I think that´s when Mr. Nedd decided. In spite of the rather intense heat, the pepper sauce has an excellent flavor array, which would compliment pretty much any food that needs a little ¨heating¨ up.

These ladies indeed have a gift for producing excellent quality food products which come from locally grown farms. I found that The Association not only has great prospects for solid distribution in Guyana but also, within a short period of time, specific Caribbean island nations, like Trinidad/Tobago, St. Kitts, Antigua, Jamaica and St. Lucia.

Before leaving the Pomeroon Women´s Agroprocessors Association, I left them with a detailed, 3 phase plan that is a combined Business and Marketing Plan to assist them in realizing greater penetration within the Guyanese market and later on how to enter the select markets within the Caribbean. The Plan also gives specific recommendations for criteria which should be met before moving to Phase 3 of the Plan which includes details about how to begin developing distribution into the USA.

The coordinated efforts of FTF and EMPRETEC and the hard work of the Women of Pomeroon, create a powerful team of success on ¨The Edge of Civilization¨.

The volunteer assignment was facilitated through a partnership arrangement between the FTF Program and EMPRETEC Guyana - an institution that is involved in promoting the development of small and medium enterprises by means of various capacity building initiatives.

Submitted by: Daniel Shaneyfelt

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Update from the Field: Marketing and Horticulture in Guyana

Daniel Shaneyfelt just finished his trip to Guyana, having provided expert assistance in marketing to help small processors position themse access international markets. They produce products such as hot sauces, honey, and jams.  Mr. Shaneyfelt collaborated closely with EMRETEC-Guyana, which supports local micro-enterprises and entrepreneurs.

Dr. Buckner (left) and Garner (2nd from left) meet with the KKFCLA
Currently in Guyana are Drs. James Garner and Steven Buckner, who have traveled to Guyana to support local groups, including the Kuru Kururu Farmers' Crop and Livestock Association, in eddo (taro) production and soil fertility, and water quality management and testing, respectively.

Dr. Garner maintains a longstanding collaboration between the University of Arkansas - Pine Bluff and the local groups participating in the FTF-Guyana Program, especially the KKFCLA.

Consulting a map of the surrounding farms and waterways

Members of the KKFCLA discuss ideas with Dr. Garner

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Farmer to Farmer Honors the Life and Dedication of John Malcheski

John Malcheski pauses for a photo during a 2005 FTF Trip to Haiti
The Farmer to Farmer Team at Partners of the Americas would like to share our appreciation for the support, dedication, and friendship of volunteer John Malcheski. John passed away in his home on the evening of March 22, 2011, at the age of 78, after a brave battle with cancer. Click here if you would like to read the obituary. We continue to appreciate and benefit from his guidance and his keen sense of humor.
Benito and John, 2007

John completed 7 trips to Haiti with the FTF Program between the years of 2005 - 2009 and became an important adviser to "Makage", now Makouti Agro Enterprise, during its early years and beyond. He first traveled after a tumultuous time in Haiti's history in 2004, shortly after the creation of a vegetable producers' cooperative, Makage.

Through the years John has supported its leaders and members, especially founder Benito Jasmin who is almost like family to John. He also established a productive partnership between Partners' FTF Program and the Friends of Haiti in Green Bay, WI. Six years later, Makage is now Makouti Agro Enterprise, a diversified agribusiness providing goods and services throughout Haiti in the areas of animal production, vegetable production, nursery development, beekeeping, processing, marketing, and technical assistance.

John and Benito build rabbit nest boxes in Grand Boulage

With his humor and direct way of speaking, we have always found John to be very quotable. We thought you would enjoy some quotes from his trip reports over the years, which show both how far Makouti has come with his support, and how much he cared for his friends and work in Haiti.

"Despite being down during the revolution, there has been significant progress in developing this model of production and marketing. The future of Makage is very positive, with some additional help. In some 22 assignments I’ve worked on over the years, this one is going to succeed and benefit its members. It has given members about 3 times more for their product than they used to get." -2005
Checking the progress of the garden

"Makage, with an influx of capital, can build strong rural communities. They know what the market needs. We volunteers and U.S. groups must try to increase our efforts to meet the needs of this model co-op." -2007

"Benito and I spent 2 days in a mountain village, Grand Boulage, where Makage would like to introduce rabbit production to that area...It can give these people an excellent chance to increase their income." - 2007

"The rabbits are growing and doing very well and are being expanded to many different areas. Those that do it well are starting to sell rabbits and rabbit meat." -2008
Sampling some good Haitian cooking

"Makouti brings so much education in the form of training. This helps thousands of people who are in animal productions, bees, vegetables, tree planting and food processing. The training centers for the rabbits is coming into full bloom with plans to expand the teaching area and even provide food & lodging to future participants who come from greater distances." -2009

John was able to see his hard work pay off. As of early 2011, Grand Boulage now has 3 commercial-sized rabbitries which bring in US$1,537/yr, a good sum in Haiti. The rabbitries greatly enhance the income of the community, and at least one of the rabbitry owners has used the money to pay for a tutor and fulfill her dream to learn to read and write.

John meets the schoolchildren in Grand Boulage

"The work of POA and Benito Jasmin is absolutely outstanding. POA and FOH have been good for each other in the common effort to improve people's lives in Haiti." -2008

"I truly enjoyed working with such dynamic people who are trying to improve Haiti." -2005 

"As i leave this project, I can say that i learned a lot. I’m sure there are other efforts that are successful, but this one, is a grass roots effort with minimal outside help. It is building  pride and confidence in a group of producers. It gives them positive hope to improve their lives and help this country." -2005

The video below was shot during the first few years of John's travels to Haiti. The children of Grand Boulage are singing and celebrating, to the delight of their guests who are present, including John on the right.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nicaragua: Mark your Forage Calender!

Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer Program printed 2011 forage calenders for dairy producers in Nicaragua. The photos and forage information can be accredited to Farmer to Farmer volunteer, Yoana Newman, an Extension Forage Specialist at the University of Florida. Dr. Newman traveled to Nicaragua with the Farmer to Farmer Program in June of last year and during that trip Dr. Newman recognized the importance of distributing forage calenders to the producers to improve pasture management. The calenders were designed and printed in a way so each month of the calender has a photo of forages and pastures in Nicaragua and the page also indicates "things to consider" for that month, including tips on dividing pastures, cutting forages, weed control, the frequency of grazing and other useful and practical instructions. Dr. Newman designed the forage calender in collaboration with FAVACA, University of Florida, UNA (Universidad Nacional Agraria), INTA (Instituto Nicaraguense de Technologia Agropecuaria), CONAGAN and Camoapan.

Front Cover with a view of beautiful Nicaragua!
The month of March (please note on the right side the useful tips in Spanish for pasture management)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Before and After: Organic Farming in St. Kitts

Three months after FTF Volunteer Tom Syverud traveled from Wisconsin to St. Kitts to assist the Community Achievers Project's (CAP) Riches of the Earth Farm in implementing organic production practices, the fruits of their labor are beginning to show. Thanks go to Victoria Baucom of CAP for sharing these photos and stories.

These youth are receiving vocational training through CAP to allow them to go back to high school with the hopes of graduating and having a better future.

The farm was not currently producing, so Tom (right) and Sydney Berkeley (Riches of the Earth farm manager, pictured with colorful hat) taught the participating youth about composting and how to set up their own individual gardens. Nine square meter gardens were established.

They also taught the younger kids about cultivating the land, while planting seeds together.

Conducting soil tests provided instruction on the necessary soil nutrients.

3 Months Later:

Quotes below are from Victoria Baucom, CAP Coordinator:

"We have expanded our farm and are now growing peppers, squash and watermelons. On Friday, Sydney has broccoli, bananas, papayas, and greens to sell."

"We just harvested the broccoli and greens and we are waiting for the tomatoes to ripen. The students from 5 A Ganar [Partners of the Americas' Sport for Development Program in St. Kitts] are harvesting their crops today."

"We have started our program with our little ones (about 19) who come from Basseterre and they come from the country every Tuesday after school. They are cleaning the area where they will start their square meter garden and another project."

"Sydney is grateful for the lessons he learned from Tom. As a result we are experiencing success in further teaching our youth about agriculture.  Our young children are simply fantastic and the older ones are slowly becoming more serious. They realize they will be on their own soon and that the economy is suffering here in St. Kitts. As unemployment rises and the cost of living increases, our youth are now feeling the effects. Whereas before, it was a struggle, they are now working with Sydney learning how to graft trees, reproduce banana trees, making organic pesticides, identifying pest and adding carbons and nitrogen to the compost piles."

"Thank you for selecting CAP to participate in the USAID Farmer to Farmer program. Just learning a few new techniques have strengthened our program. In fact, several other programs in St. Kitts are now asking CAP to send them our youth to participate in their programs. Tom's visit was a success for CAP in St. Kitts. The knowledge we have acquired will certainly be passed down to the youth. Youth in St. Kitts will determine if agriculture will become a viable industry in St. Kitts."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Farmer to Farmer "Reading List"

If you are interested in farming systems in the US and abroad, you may be interested in reading one or both of these books: A Farmer for the World: A Biography of Richard Clarence Waybright, and Where the Road Ends: A Home in the Brazilian Rainforest. Both are related to Partners' Farmer to Farmer Program in one way or another.

The first follows the interesting life of Dick Waybright (2010 FTF volunteer to Brazil) in his quest to grow the now-cutting-edge Mason Dixon Farms in Pennsylvania, plus his many agricultural and other adventures abroad.

The second follows the travel adventure of Binka Le Breton and her husband Robin as they move their life to Brazil to set up a farm and home, and eventually create the Iracambi Research Center (2011 FTF host organization) to help conserve Brazil's Atlantic Rainforest.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"...One of the Richest Experiences a Volunteer Can Have"

When Robert Spencer reflects on his recent Farmer to Farmer trip to Haiti, he says it just may be his best yet. Spencer, a volunteer from Alabama who has just returned from his trip focusing on meat quality and safety, always appreciates the genuine interest and thirst for knowledge shown by those who attend his presentations in Haiti, not to mention the delicious food and coffee!

To learn more about his trip, visit this article published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Also, below are some excerpts and photos from his trip report.

"The focus of this trip was to present advanced training of food safety and meat quality. Additional concepts addressed included: zoonotic and biologic issues, process improvement for rabbit processing, and consumer options for purchasing meats. Programmatic efforts to serve north and south regions of Haiti. All the aforementioned issues are a serious issue for producers and consumers in Haiti, while the problems do exist in a small-scale; the biggest problem is misconceptions by consumers, lack of knowledge on causes, management, and options. Using a fundamental outreach approach is essential to helping the people understand causal relationships, prevention, and options. Otherwise they assume bad food is just a part of living in Haiti. The heartwarming aspect about these seminars is the interaction, the comments, questions, and discussions that are generated; which helps a presenter to realize the people grasp and accept these ideas."
All get a laugh when Robert proves the food was safely prepared!
"Things are not as bleak as some might consider, there are plenty of food options, choosing bad meats is not an option once consumers know what causes problems with meats, how to manage against it, and they do have powers such as spending (or not) power, and power of their voice. The people of Haiti have lots of valid questions, some misconceptions, and a sincere desire to see things improve. This was probably my most successful visit with many rewarding seminars. The additional week and opportunity to participate in additional workshops really seemed to work efficiently. The faces seen at these seminars were new, they were very receptive to the idea of food safety and meat quality, now have an understanding how the whole concept works (from farm to table), and see potential for these programs in Haiti. If each of the seminar attendees will take this concept to home, family, and friends, the concept and practice of food safety and meat quality will spread. At each seminar the consensus was this whole concept has great potential. Knowing this I feel like my efforts were a success, my mission was accomplished!"

"[I] Am always humbled to serve the people of Haiti and sincerely want to see them and their children experience long-term success with food safety, meat quality, industrial development, and a booming tourism."

"To laugh with the Haitians is one of the richest experiences a volunteer can have."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Crossing Boundaries for Food’s Sake

Please see below a piece written by Farmer to Farmer Volunteer, Dr. Julie Keown-Bomar. The volunteer traveled as part of a horticulture team to Nicaragua and the article reflects her observations and findings on the local food systems.

Learning about food systems in poor communities is an important step to address nutritional deficiencies, generate family income, develop local economies and promote better health. Three UW-Extension educators recently spent time in Central America asking people about their food situation and the barriers they face securing a healthy diet and a sufficient income for their families.

University of Wisconsin Extension educators, Rob Burke (Door County), Arlen Albrecht (Taylor County) and Julie Keown-Bomar (Eau Claire County) spent time in Nicaragua with the Farmer to Farmer program, a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program implemented by Partners of the Americas. Burke, Albrecht and Keown-Bomar volunteered to work with non-profits, cooperatives and neighborhood organizations and troubleshoot problems with local food systems. They taught workshops and spent many hours talking with people about their ability to cultivate, process and sell vegetables and fruits. In evaluating the food value chain, they surveyed all stages of the system, from sowing seeds to putting food on the family table and/or in the market place. What they learned was both daunting and inspiring.

Many Nicaraguan adults earn only three to four dollars a day. Family diets are composed primarily of rice, corn and beans and few social support systems exist to help families who lack basic necessities. Neighbors, churches and family help when possible, but most people the educators interviewed expressed serious concerns about access to nutritious food in their communities. Rural families may have excess crops like mangos or tomatoes during peak harvest times, but they have very little access to nutritious food at other times of the year. People mourned the loss of thousands of pounds of vitamin-rich mangos that they could not consume or sell all at once and they had no way to preserve the fruit. Most families have no refrigerators or freezers; canning equipment is not to be found; and people do not have the knowledge and resources to dehydrate the food.  

Keown-Bomar solicited donations from local garden supply businesses before her trip. Chippewa Valley Growers and the Potting Shed contributed greatly to this project by donating packets of seeds.  Hundreds of gardeners and their families will benefit from their contributions. Tools, seeds and hoses are very expensive for Nicaraguan consumers to purchase on their limited incomes and this financial barrier prevents many people from attempting to grow their own food.

UW-Extension has offered people in Wisconsin research based classes, one-to-one assistance, recipes and tips on growing and putting up food for over 80 years, but Nicaragua presents even the most seasoned gardener or food preserver numerous challenges.  Few homes have electricity, transportation is difficult, families have little money to buy seeds if they can find them and food safety is a big concern in communities with unsafe drinking water. 

What the educators did find in some of the Nicaraguan communities they visited were enthusiastic learners, hard scrabble gardeners, and foodies— people who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and sharing. Porfidio Campos Muñoz from the village of Pio XII, for example, is a gardening enthusiast and an expert in composting.  He manages to grow an amazing quantity and variety of food in his mother’s urban garden and on his own plot of land very close to the city dump. He is the Pied Piper for vegetable consumption in his community. He not only cultivates a wide variety of vegetables unfamiliar to the Nicaraguan palate, but he earnestly seeks out new ways to prepare the food he grows and gives away.  

When the UW-Extensionists appeared in town ready for a food preparation workshop, Porfidio was waiting with cornucopia of foods unfamiliar to him and a whole lot more ready for the picking in his family garden.  Kohlrabi, Swiss chard and kale are chock full of vitamins to supplement the Nicaraguan daily diet, but if people don’t know when to harvest the vegetables and how to prepare them so they are appetizing, they won’t be added to anyone’s diet. In the workshop, twenty five participants tried two vegetable salads with produce from Porfidio’s gardens, learned about the nutritional benefits of eating “a rainbow of vegetables,” discussed how to get children to eat vegetables, and taste-tested kohlrabi to determine ideal harvest size.   

Porfidio took this culinary information and experimented on his extended family the next weekend. At his nephew’s graduation party he served fresh vegetable salads, kohlrabi and meat empanadas (very similar to fried pocket pies), and other unexpected dishes.  People had never tried these vegetables before but he said they were sold on the new concepts and the food was, “really, really delicious.” In fact, he had to go back to his home garden to pick more produce because his family members wanted to take these new veggies home.

The next week, Julie Keown-Bomar led the group in a hands-on workshop focused on dehydrating different kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs using an oven. Rob Burke led a discussion focused on the value chain, problems, gaps and barriers. Keown-Bomar said it was challenging to find appropriate technologies that would be available to the participants. She and the workshop participants worked over wood fires to blanch vegetables and she used a wood stove oven for the first time.  She said it was “absolutely one of my most treasured experiences in a kitchen, learning and sharing with others.”

The two-way process of cultivating foods and minds at the same time is an experience these Wisconsin educators won’t forget for some time. Food, is indeed, a common ground and a universal experience.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Vanishing of the Bees Screening: Fundraiser for Haiti

Partners of the Americas is screening the new documentary film Vanishing of the Bees on March 17 in Washington, DC, as a fundraiser for the beekeepers in Haiti. This is a captivating and educational new documentary about Colony Collapse Disorder. See below to view the trailer, or visit

Although the film is not about the FTF Program, one of our beekeeping volunteers, Dennis van Engelsdorp, is interviewed in the film and we plan to show previously unreleased footage of him working with the bees in Haiti. We will also have copies of the film and Haitian honey and jam for sale. The screening is free; proceeds from the products will benefit the beekeepers who collaborate with our Farmer to Farmer Program in Haiti.

We hope you can attend! Please RSVP to

Vanishing of the Bees - Trailer from Bee The Change on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nicaragua: Farmer to Farmer Volunteer Team Helps the Dairy Sector

A team of Farmer to Farmer volunteers traveled to Nicaragua to provide assistance to the dairy industry. Each volunteer had a separate assignment but they were in constant collaboration and took a real team approach to the issues at hand. The volunteers worked with dairy producers, extension agents from dairy cooperatives, and university faculty.The volunteers were:  Dr. Jerry Doll - Assignment in Weed Control; 
Dr. Gerald Nolte - Assignment in Animal Nutrition; and Dr. Anthony Jilek - Assignment in Animal Reproduction and Health. Please see below photos and excerpts from their trip report.

Left to Right: Jerry Nolte, Daniel (FTF field officer), and Tony Jilek talk with a producer about his forages.
Visiting a pasture in the Camoapa area. The grass is Brachiaria, an improved grass but showing a lack of nitrogen.
Jerry Doll (right) speaks with Carlos Ruiz, an agronomy professor about the quality of the grass and the weed pressure. 
Jerry Doll and Freddy Alemam, a key agronomist at UNA (an agricultural university) exchange ideas about weed management for forages in Nicaragua. Apparently, Freddy was impressed to meet Dr. Doll since he had been using his published works for years.   
A new cacao garden! The hardwood trees provide the main shade and the bananas the secondary shade. The ground cover is forage peanut, a legume, grown to capture nitrogen to feed the cacao plants.
In Nicaragua, this is advanced technology. A lot of milk still gets brought to the collection and processing plants by horseback. Farm bulk tanks are still in the future here.
On a side note - big thanks to University of Wisconsin River Falls and Wisconsin-Nicaragua Partners for donating and shipping computers to UNA.