Thursday, December 29, 2011

Producers and Technicians Learn Post-Harvest Handling Techniques

Twenty-eight greenhouse vegetables producers in Constanza, Dominican Republic, along with technicians from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Dominican Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Research (IDIAF), completed a course entitled "Development of Management Skill in Post-Harvest Handling of Greenhouse Vegetables for Export."  The course was implemented by the Farmer to Farmer Program with the support of the Cluster de Invernaderos (Greenhouse Cluster), the Universidad Interamericana (UNICA), the Ministry of Agriculture and the IDIAF.

During the graduation ceremony, the Director of the Farmer to Farmer Program in the DR, Dr. Rafael Ledesma, urged the graduates to use the knowledge they received because they know first hand that losses due to mishandling vegetables during post-harvest significantly reduce the quality and price of product in the markets, both local and export markets.

The Farmer to Farmer Program in the DR supports the development of the greenhouse sector as a means of improving the lives of small and medium-scale farmers. By providing technical assistance, producers can improve the quality and quantity of their products and can earn more income.
Presentation of a graduation certificate to a greenhouse producer. From left to right, Ing. Jose Rafael Espaillat from IDIAF; Dr. Rafael Ledesma, Director of the DR Farmer to Farmer Program; Javier Carrasco, Constanza producer; Dr. Oleg Daugovish, Farmer to Farmer volunteer; and Ing. Kalvin Bencosme, Farmer to Farmer Field Officer.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays from the Farmer to Farmer team in Washington, DC!

Marcela Trask, Peggy Carlson, Meghan Olivier, Christine McCurdy and Samantha Mitchell
Whether it is Felices Fiestas, Happy Holidays, Jou konje Happy, Boas Festas or Joyeuses Fêtes, the holidays are a time to celebrate. During this season, we would like to thank all the dedicated volunteers, field staff, program collaborators, host organizations, funders and all the others who have made our Farmer to Farmer Program a success.

Thank you and best wishes for 2012!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Partners of the Americas' Chapter News

Analyzing plant health - Guyana shadehouse project
A few of the local Partners of the Americas Chapters who collaborate with the Farmer to Farmer Program have some recent news-worthy stories.

The Guyana Chapter of Partners of the Americas, leaders of the local shadehouse project, have recently created a Chapter Facebook page to share their news with you! The page will feature their activities, especially those related to Youth Programs and Farmer to Farmer. To check out and follow their page, click here, sign into Facebook, and "thumbs up" or "like" their page.

The Haiti Chapter of Partners of the Americas is celebrating the accomplishments of chapter member and past president Guy Etienne, who was recently named one of 20 finalists in Haiti's Digicel 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year contest. Guy heads the competition's education category due to his innovations as Director of the College Catts Pressoir in Port au Prince. Guy was also instrumental in facilitating trauma counseling and related trainings for teachers shortly after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when the Farmer to Farmer Program received special permission from USAID to send a team of three post-trauma specialists to Haiti. Congratulations and best of luck to Guy! To read more, click here (article in French).

At the College Catts Pressoir (2010): teacher training in recognizing the signs of post-disaster trauma

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Farmer to Farmer Volunteer Works with Colombian Youth

On December 2nd, the Farmer to Farmer team sent our first Colombian-bound volunteer to the rural community of Anaime, located in the central-western department of Tolima. John Rushing of Cary, North Carolina is working with la Fundación Colombianos Apoyando Colombianos (Colombians Helping Colombians Foundation), an organization designed and coordinated by Partners of the Americas with the mission of improving the quality of life of Tolima’s citizens and helping provide employment and income-generating opportunities. A specialist in food technology and dairy processing, John is working with a group of youth in Anaime to assist them with a small dairy production enterprise that they have initiated through Colombianos Apoyando Colombianos. The group plans to focus on products including condensed milk, arequipe (dulce de leche), cheese and yogurt.

Students in the processing room in Anaime.
When John met with the youth for the first time, he found that their biggest challenge is limited facilities, and that the facilities they have access to do not meet proper sanitary standards. This restricts them to an informal market. On a positive note though, the local mayor has offered a location for construction of an improved processing plant. John was able to meet with the students to begin the initial phase of the new facility by providing detailed plans and a budget, and discussing the basics of dairy processing technology. He also worked with the youth on basic product development and marketing issues.

John has also gained valuable cultural experiences. Many of the students participating in the project were graduating from high school and John was able to participate in the graduation activities and parties. And he was also in Colombia for Día de las Velitas - Day of the Little Candles - which Catholic Colombians celebrate by placing candles and paper lanterns everywhere. He had some comical experiences, including trying to ask for a hand towel in Spanish and instead he was given everything but that: hand-soap, hand-cream and more. Finally, after just taking his shirt and performing the action of drying his hands did the store clerk understand what he was asking for.

As John's trip comes to a close, there are many follow-up activities planned and the Farmer to Farmer Program hopes to continue to support the work in Tolima and elsewhere in Colombia.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mahindra's Story

Below is the story of Mahindra, one of the shadehouse growers participating in Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer Program in Guyana. He recounted this compelling story when I was in Guyana this past August, and he is eager to share his good news with others! The video mentioned below can be viewed this previous post.

Mahindra had invested nearly all his family’s money in his field crops, but they failed due to weather or other conditions. He was at the end of his rope, and was worried about how he would make ends meet for his wife and 4 children. He began exploring all options, including difficult manual labor jobs and assistance for his agriculture activities. With the phone book in hand, he cold-called organizations in Georgetown, Guyana, looking for someone who could point him in the right direction to get back on his feet. 

Crops growing in Mahindra's shadehouse, August 2011
No one was able to help him, but one day he called an international agency and a person there knew Kelvin, the coordinator of Partners’ Farmer to Farmer Program in Guyana, and put them in touch. Mahindra had never heard of Partners of the Americas or the Farmer to Farmer Program. When Mahindra called, Kelvin was in the middle of an activity so he took Mahindra’s phone number and promised to call him back. The next day was the first day that Kelvin had formalized collaboration with Gavin, coordinator for Partners'  shadehouse project developed with CASRI and the Inter-american Development Bank, and supported by FTF technical assistance. 

When Gavin called Mahindra that day, he was surprised because he thought he had been politely written off by another organization. The following day Gavin visited Mahindra and within no time he was starting his shadehouse on a wing and a prayer. He had borrowed money from him neighbors to get the shadehouse running, and he and his family constructed the structure on their own to save money. Mahindra explains that he had to put blind trust in Partners and the shadehouse project. He had been skeptical, like most, of farming on raised table beds in a covered area. 

The youngest shows newest section, using palettes as low-cost materials
That was January 2011. As of August of the same year, he had developed a successful greenhouse operation growing celery, lettuce, and other crops. He is paying off his debts and he beams with pride, saying that he couldn’t even think of a sum of money that would be able to repay Partners of the Americas for what he was “given”. He says that he wasn’t given a meal for one day, but the ability to feed his family for a long time, and the technical assistance that the FTF Program provides at no cost is the most effective project. He’s expanding his operation and has started a small seedling nursery. He will become a key supplier of seedlings for this area of Guyana. 

His wife and family help with the operation where they can. He dreams to expose his children to the development of this small business and expand to other regions of Guyana in the future. He tells everyone about the project so those like him who are seeking a means to support their families, without as much risk as in-field farming, may also be exposed to the appropriate technology.

Recently, he sent his very first email ever to a team of Farmer to Farmer volunteers in Wisconsin who helped capture part of his story in a video they produced, which teaches people the basics of shadehouse growing. His relatives in the US saw the video before him and he heard that they loved it. By now, Mahindra has seen the video show in front of other farmers and stakeholders in Guyana. He says that he now feels like a part of a family – the network of shadehouse growers and FTF staff and volunteers, and he’s excited about the future. 
Four months later (Dec 2011), Mahindra's newly added palettes are full of vegetables. Mahindra (left) is pictured with Lauren Bernsten (center) of Partners' Youth Engagement Program and Ms. Myrtle Richards (right), Chairperson of the Guyana Chapter of Partners of the Americas

Friday, December 2, 2011

News from St. Kitts and Nevis

Farmer to Farmer volunteers are in the news again! Jim and Jackie Resick from Wisconsin are finishing up their trip to the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, where they were conducting assessments and trainings related to gardening, small business development, and direct marketing with the Community Achievers Project. Click here to read the article announcing their visit, on ZIZ online news.