Thursday, April 28, 2011

Harvesting Green Gold in Guyana

Partners of the Americas, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers, Cheryl Diermyer and Pat Fellows of Wisconsin, have been working with staff at the Guyana Hydroponic Shadehouse Production and Marketing Project on the production of a hydroponic gardening training video, “Harvesting Green Gold.” The video will support the Hydroponic Shadehouse Project extension officers’ face-to-face training activities. The Shadehouse Project is managed by the Guyana Chapter of Partners of the Americas.

Planning for the video began in February when four individuals in three different time zones and two different countries met via Skype to discuss the video design. Meghan Olivier, the project coordinator in Washington D.C.; Cheryl Diermyer, a humanitarian media producer in Wisconsin; and Kelvin Craig and Ryan Nedd of the Shadehouse Project in Guyana discussed the approach to the video and began a rough draft of an outline.

The training manual produced by the Shadehouse Production and Marketing Project staff guided the initial phases of developing the rough draft and provided invaluable information to Cheryl and Pat on the steps to a successful hydroponic garden.

Stakeholders in the Shadehouse Production and Marketing project gathered at the Guyana office to watch the preview of the video and give their feedback to the video producers.

“I knew we had a good video, but one never really knows how it will be received until you show it. We made some last minute changes, and I was just really hoping they would like it,” said Pat.

The shadehouse project stakeholders commented on the effectiveness of the personal story approach, where farmers are learning from other farmers through a sharing of personal experiences.

“The goal was to show the rich personal stories of Guyanese farmers and balance that with just enough technical information to inspire in viewers a desire to want to learn more about hydroponic gardening. By the comments we received at today’s meeting, I’m very pleased to say that I think we met that goal.” said Cheryl.

Dr. Bernard Denison, an information technology consultant to the shadehouse project, appreciated that the video engages the viewer and sets the space for them to ask follow-up questions. This will help to generate discussion during the face-to-face training sessions. After viewing the video training participants can immediately ask the extension officer the questions they most want answered.

Several individuals at the meeting mentioned that they were happy that the video was not filled with too much technical information, but just enough to wet the appetite.

Gavin Gounga, the extension officer working on the project, said, referring to his upcoming training sessions, “The video is the appetizer, wait for the main course.”

John Woolford, a network development consultant to the shadehouse project, said, “In addition to a training video, the video has public appeal for all ages to promote shadehouse gardening.”

Attendees at the meeting wanted to see the video a second time. At the end of the viewing everyone applauded.

Cheryl and Pat bring a unique set of skills to support the good agricultural work being done in Guyana. Cheryl says, “I’m a media producer, not a farmer. I’m just glad that the skills I have to offer can support the great work being done here. The individuals we’ve worked with at the Partners of the America’s Guyana Chapter have been terrific, including the farmers and their families. It’s been a good partnership. The goals for the training video were successfully met due to everyone involved.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wisconsin Volunteers Travel to Guyana

On April 17th, two volunteers from Wisconsin traveled to Georgetown, Guyana to fill a “non-traditional” Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer assignment: video production. This is the second volunteer assignment for video producer, Cheryl Diermyer, and the first for Pat Fellows. Their assignment the first week is to produce a training video on Hydroponic Shadehouse Gardening.

Over the past few years the unpredictable weather patterns, long periods of drought and especially rain and flooding, have made traditional gardening challenging and not profitable for many gardeners in Guyana. A new method of gardening is being introduced to the Guyanese, Hydroponic Shadehouse Gardening. While it is beginning to catch on among some gardeners/farmers, it is hoped this video will assist Hydroponic Shadehouse staff with training. The video will also help to introduce Hydroponic Shadehouse gardening to farmers, assist those who have already built their Shadehouses, make improvements to their structures as they expand, and better manage pests.

During the first week in Guyana, Cheryl and Pat interviewed and videotaped two Hydroponic Shadehouse owners who shared information that will be used in the training video. Over 200 photographs and approximately 2 hours of video was shot of the Shadehouses, the owners, and their yield.

This past weekend, Easter weekend, a huge holiday in Guyana, was celebrated. In addition to the traditions of attending church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the Guyanese eat hot cross buns on Holy Thursday and have a huge celebration on Easter Monday where everyone gathers near the seawall to fly kites, celebrating the Resurrection. This was quite an amazing sight, hundreds of kites in the air at one time.

The first week here was very productive, as well as very fulfilling for us. Getting to know the families we spent time with during recording and learning more about the Easter customs of Guyana has given us a wonderful glimpse into the lives of the Guyanese people as we continue our work here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

The Farmer to Farmer team wishes all our volunteers, collaborators and friends a Happy Earth Day!

Partners' approach is to promote economic growth in an environmentally sustainable way. Many Farmer to Farmer assignments focus specifically on the environment, such as training in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon auditing, natural resource and forest management, bird preservation or water conservation. Others focus on organic production, integrated pest management, biogas and responsible waste use/management, and more.

Visit the rest of our blog to see more stories about Partners' work in agriculture and environment!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Qualities of Effective FTF Volunteers

Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer Program recently benefited from a thorough qualitative evaluation conducted by a specialized team from the University of Wisconsin-Extension Program Evaluation Unit. We are eager to share results once the full report is complete. For now here are some excerpts that we thought our readers would find interesting: responses from field staff and beneficiaries (or "hosts") on the common qualities of effective volunteers.

Qualities of effective volunteers
Hosts were extremely pleased with the volunteer support they had received to date. Host and staff alike agreed on a number of qualities that made volunteer assignments successful, including: simple; flexible; patient; professional; interactive; encouraging; participatory; skilled to work with ‘ordinary’ people; open-minded; does not “direct” or “order”; good communicator; good listener; someone who does not bring “old thoughts” or out-dated approaches; and able to respond to the needs on the ground. One host talked about FTF volunteers as people who can “come down to this level”.

...FTF volunteers are unique in that they “really listen” to the people, and explain to them why they need to make specific changes in their practices; a necessary approach for transferring knowledge in a contextually relevant and sustainable way.

...being specialized in their field of work (i.e. “experts”); able to articulate information in a language that rural farmers can understand (using simple, less technical terms); friendly and open to sharing their skills; flexible (e.g. someone who doesn’t complain about not having air conditioning in his hotel room); culturally sensitive; able to transfer knowledge in a contextually relevant way; previous international experience; and having Spanish language skills [for Spanish speaking countries].
These excerpts come from our different country programs. Recurring themes are flexibility, value of the repeat volunteer who is already familiar with the local context, value of volunteers who remain in touch with beneficiaries after returning home and helping make linkages to resources or materials, local language skills, and good interpersonal/intercultural skills.

Thank you to all our wonderful volunteers!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Update from the Field: Soil Conservation in the Dominican Republic

Farmer to Farmer volunteer, Ira "Buck" Richards, traveled to the Dominican Republic in March to support producers with soil conservation techniques. Mr. Richards worked with producers and gave them technical assistance on how to conserve soils while producing avocados on hillsides that are prone to erosion.

 Mr. Richards showing producers how to use soil conservation and land surveying equipment.

Mr. Richards giving a practical demonstration.
A group of 30 producers in the community of La China-los Guanos in San Jose de Ocoa were trained by the volunteer on how to use soil conservation equipment. Mr. Richards recommended the use of mucuna and canavalia as a way to recuperate eroding soils on the hillsides. Also, Mr. Richards recommended that the live and dead barriers should be built following the slope of the area. The producers acknowledged that this was useful training and that if they want to prevent erosion they have to take in consideration the slopes of the land and utilize contour barriers. Contour barriers are contour strips which intercept down slope flowing water and soil particles. The barriers slow down the water movement and reduce erosion. They also trap many of the suspended soil particles, keeping them from being washed out of the field. A long term advantage of barriers is that soil tends to build up behind them, creating a terrace effect and is more beneficial for planting trees and crops. Barriers can be classified as live (strips of living plants), dead (rocks, crop residues), or mixed (a combination of the previous two). Erosion has been a challenge for producers and a real threat to the environment so these soil conservation techniques are much appreciated.

Field day to work with Mr. Richards, a Farmer to Farmer volunteer and specialist in soils.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jamaica Vegetable Production Project

Partners’ Farmer to Farmer Program has been providing Santoy Cooperative in Jamaica with volunteer technical assistance since 2003. A range of volunteers have helped the vegetable producers, from plant pathologists and irrigation engineers to graphic designers and marketing specialists. One team of volunteers has been especially invested in supporting Santoy and helping them to improve the quantity and quality of their production. The team members are the following: Dr. Tom Evans, Professor of Plant Pathology at University of Delaware; Dr. Wallace Pill, Professor Emeritus of Horticulture at University of Delaware; Dr. Cliff Keil, Professor of Entomology at Pontificia Universidad Catolica in Ecuador and Dr. Ian McCann, Agricultural Engineering Consultant. Partners’ Farmer to Farmer Program is extremely gracious and proud of the work that has been accomplished between the volunteers and Santoy. 

Farmer to Farmer volunteers with Jamaican counterparts.
Please read below the latest update on the Jamaica Vegetable Production Project (written by Dr. Evans, Dr. Keil and Dr. Pill): 

The Santoy Cooperative (hereafter Santoy) is one of the best producers of a wide range of field and greenhouse grown vegetables in Jamaica. However, there are several impediments to direct sales of vegetables by Santoy to resorts and high-end restaurants in Jamaica. We believe that the lack of unique, high quality products grown locally and available continuously throughout the year has been one of these impediments. Without such products Santoy has not yet penetrated this direct sales market which is much more lucrative than the secondary market; that being, selling to brokers or supermarkets. Our approach over the past year has been to support the development of a production system to deliver such products; microgreens and sprouts.

 In January 2011, we re-started the microgreens and sprouts project and determined its feasibility. Additionally, we re-branded Santoy as a custom grower of vegetables and tropical fruits and supported their sales and marketing program. During this trip, Drs. Evans and Keil carried out much of the initial work for pesticide evaluation field-trial in scotch bonnet peppers and did initial assessment of Santoy’s ability to move forward on the production and marketing of microgreens and sprouts. Over the five years we have been working in Jamaica we have routinely attempted to make linkages with Jamaican researchers both in academia (University of the West Indies-Kingston) and government (Ministry of Agriculture) to further the objectives of the Farmer to Farmer vegetable production and marketing project. During our trip in January, Drs. Evans and Keil held the first such meeting. We met with most of the researchers working in areas related to agricultural plant health (plant pathology, entomology, horticulture). This meeting took place at the Ministry of Agricultures Bodles Research Station near Spanish Town in St. Catherine Parish. The meeting resulted in an agreement by all to collaborate on a number of projects of mutual interest and importance to the researchers and to Jamaican agriculture and to seek funds to support this work. This is a significant accomplishment for the team and the FTF program in that it ensures future collaborations with Jamaican scientists. 

By the end of our trip in January, Santoy was extremely close to a breakthrough in accessing the direct sales market. However, much work was left undone with regard to the scale-up of microgreens and sprouts. A request was made to FTF to support the trip of Dr. Pill once Santoy had substantially completed the needed infrastructure improvements for a new specialty crops production facility. During late January and early February Drs. Evans and Pill stayed in close contact with Mr. Murdock and Santoy by phone and e-mail and continued to support his planning and development efforts. We made initial production cost estimates for a wide range of microgreens, sprouts and edible flowers. We also produced a modified logo for Santoy that included Mr. Murdock’s name and phone number. Sticky labels printed with this logo were produced in two sizes for use on packaging. Business cards using this logo were also designed and produced (see attachments at end of report). These were transported to Mr. Murdock on the subsequent trip by Dr. Pill. At the request of Santoy, we facilitated their purchase of seed for many of these crops from U.S. sources. In late February, Dr. Pill traveled to Hanover, Jamaica to support the new specialty crop production facility at Santoy.”

Building Friendships and Life-Long Collaboration

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Update from the Field: Avocado Production in the Dominican Republic

Farmer to Farmer volunteer Dr. Jonathan Crane, a specialist in green skin avocados from the University of Florida, traveled to the Dominican Republic to provide assistance to avocado producers. The producers and local extension agents were thrilled to receive this support because the green skin avocados make up the majority of avocados produced in the DR and require different care than other varieties. 

Farmer to Farmer volunteer, Dr. Crane shows producers how to identify pests on their avocado trees.

Dr. Crane gave various workshops for producers and extension agents and made field visits to the orchards of individual producers. At one of the workshops with 25 people in Sabana Larga, San Jose de Ocoa the volunteer spent the morning training on good pruning practices, production processes and pest management. In the afternoon they went to the orchard of a producer to do a hands-on training in pruning, pest identification and pest control. The volunteer was well recieved because he gave recommendations that were economical and practical. For example, the volunteer suggested using sulfur as a way to control mildew pests and demonstrated the proper way to put organic compost or manure around the base of the avocado tree so that it does not touch the trunk at all and cause more harm than good. The training was useful, practical and so relevant the producers ended up staying out with the volunteer until it was too dark out. Jose Armando Bautista, an extension agent with ADESJO claims he learned new technical concepts for avocado production and especially the proper fertilization for green skin avocados and enjoyed working with the Farmer to Farmer volunteer.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Feedback from a Farmer to Farmer Volunteer!

Volunteer Dr. Karen Jacobsen with dairy producers.
Farmer to Farmer volunteer Dr. Karen Jacobsen recently returned from an assignment in Nicaragua working with cattle nutrition. Dr. Jacobsen provided technical assistance and shared her professional expertise with dairy producers in regards to their feed rations and forage quality. Additionally, Dr. Jacobsen had feed samples analyzed at Dairy One Laboratory in New York so the producers can have an exact understanding of their cattle's nutrition.

Dr. Karen Jacobsen on her work with the Farmer to Farmer Program in Nicaragua:
"This is my 5th Farmer-to-Farmer assignment, and the 1st time in Nicaragua. I have been 3 times to the Republic of Georgia, and once to Malawi. This has been, by far, the most successful and effective of the 5 FtF assignments I have completed, partly because I know the language, but especially because my hosts with Partners of the Americas organized my time extremely well, enabling me to reach as many dairymen as possible during my stay."
"In the time here, I visited 4 dairy farms near Leon, 2 dairy farms and 2 beef cattle ranches near Chinandega. On the average, we spent ½ day per farm. Thus, my understanding of the dairy & beef farms is greatest for these 2 hot & dry, Coastal Plains regions. I also analyzed rations for a dairyman in Boaco who was involved with an artisan cheese factory."
"I also delivered 5 formal presentations (with PowerPoint & computer projector), one each at the 10th National Dairy Conference in Managua (X Congreso Nicaragüense del sector Lácteo) and at the Universidad Nacional Agraria to animal science and veterinary students, and one each to producers in Leon, Rio Blanco, and Camoapa."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

¨Sweet Prospects¨ For Guyana Business

The country of Guyana is approximately the size of the State of Idaho and has a total population of well under 1 million. That combined with the fact that most of the country is undeveloped, boasts one of the highest levels of plant and animal biodiversity in the world, has an extraordinary network of massive rivers, and warm temperatures year around, opens up some ¨sweet prospects¨ for commercial honey production.

While visiting Guyana (March 12-26) I had the opportunity to visit with 2 Guyanese honey producers, Kingdom Apiaries and Rajkumar Apiaries. Both are long time beekeepers with Rajkumar Apiaries spanning 3 generations. The owners confirm that Guyana honey producers are still a long way off from meeting domestic demand for honey. The beverage company, Banks Beer which uses large volumes of imported honey, alone would be a sizable contract for any honey producer. Not to mention the fact that most grocery stores throughout Georgetown are selling imported honey. The reason? Not enough domestic production as of yet. Additionally, nearby neighbors like Trinidad/Tobago and Barbados have a healthy appetite for honey and also rely heavily on imported honey.

After spending time with both Apiaries, several recommendations of action were made to assist them increase honey production efforts and begin to reap the benefits of developing the Guyanese honey market.

If developed properly while taking advantage of 2 key issues, proximity to the USA and Western Europe and fluency in English, Guyana could play a significant role exporting industrial quantities of honey worldwide. Just 10 years ago, Brazil was not a honey exporter and today, they are an important supplier of bulk honey worldwide, exporting USD $43.7M to the USA alone in 2008 (Source-National Honey Board/USDA).

-Submitted by: Daniel Shaneyfelt

The volunteer assignment was facilitated through a partnership arrangement between Partners of the Americas' 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.

Friday, April 1, 2011

In the News

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has published an online article featuring FTF Volunteer Robert Spencer's recent trip to Haiti, where he worked with Makouti Agro Enterprise to give trainings in food safety and meat quality assurance. We, along with the farmers in Haiti who participate in these projects, are thankful for the US institutions such as the ACES who value the professional development opportunities that FTF trips can bring to their employees. To view the article, click here.