Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Long Time F2F Volunteers Make Local Paper in River Falls, Wisconsin

Jerry Nolte & Tony Jilek are veteran F2F volunteers who have worked in Nicaragua for the past few decades, building upon the work and relationships they have developed in the country.  Both are retired University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF) Agriculture professors. Jilek taught at UWRF in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science (CAFES) for 26 years and Nolte taught for 30. In addition to their continuous support to the Farmer to Farmer program, both Jilek and Nolte are active members of the Partners of the Americas' Wisconsin/ Nicaragua Chapter.

Yesterday, December 18th,  the River Falls Journal in Wisconsin wrote an article about their Farmer to Farmer trips and work with Nicaragua/Wisconsin Chapter.  Please check it out:

Nolte & Jilek in the field during their 2011 FTF trip

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Update from the Field: Planting Gardens in Haiti

US and Haitian farmers creating a garden with donated seeds
This week in Haiti, Farmer to Farmer volunteers and field staff are busy working together with a group of women in Lory to plant gardens, improve their seedling nursery, and advance their chicken production and processing.

Lory is a small town in the North of Haiti, about 10 km from Cap Haitian. The women in this community have made the most of the training they have received - beginning with small gardening and later moving on to rabbit production and now chicken production. They have expressed the desire to beautify their town and even explore future options for agri-tourism. Traditionally, Lory is known for the pottery that they hand-craft with the clay from their area.

The group in Lory recently received a follow-up visit by Master Gardener Tom Syverud from Wisconsin, focusing on organic production. Continuing with the momentum of this visit, currently in country are three farmers from Vermont - John Hayden, David Marchant, and Mimi Arnstein - also bringing an organic focus and a wide array of knowledge in chicken production and fruit and vegetable production. This team assignment will focus on ways to make community agriculture economically sustainable, including exploring micro-enterprise opportunities such as chicken processing and oil extraction from fruits and nuts.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Work Can Be Fun! An Action-Packed Staff Trip to "The Land of Many Waters"

Meghan, Kelvin and Chrissy on their way to visit hydroponic
producers in Essequibo.
From October 7 - 15, 2012, the F2F field team in Guyana was privileged to be able to host our colleagues from F2F Headquarters (HQ) in Washington, DC. The visitors were Mrs. Meghan Olivier, Deputy Director of the F2F Program and Ms. Chrissy McCurdy, our Program Officer. For a long time, Chrissy had been affiliated with F2F activities in Guyana via e-mails, photographs and second-hand information from her teammates and volunteers, but this was going to be her first visit to the “Land of Many Waters”. Guyana Field Staff wanted to ensure that the visit was both meaningful in terms of HQ staff exposure to as wide a range of activities as possible and, at the same time, experiential in terms of exposure to various local cuisine and sight-seeing.

Meghan presenting a hydroponic production sign to
producer, Verna D'Aguiar.
Because the F2F program has had activities in 6 of Guyana’s 10 administrative regions, it was possible to achieve both of these objectives. In Georgetown and the nearby East Coast of Demerara, Meghan and Chrissy met with several local F2F collaborating or potential collaborating agencies. These included the Ministry of Agriculture, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, St. Stanislaus College Farm, and and the Guyana School of Agriculture. These visits helped to strengthen existing relationships as well as to solicit ideas on areas for future F2F technical assistance.

In addition, Field Staff had an opportunity to showcase some recent successes resulting largely from F2F volunteer inputs. We visited several hydroponic shadehouse vegetable producers in various regions, beekeepers, and beneficiaries of organizational strengthening training. These visits took us across the mighty Essequibo River – 21 miles wide at the mouth - ,up the black water Pomeroon River; across the Berbice River Floating Bridge, and on to the Eastern tip of Guyana to Crabwood Creek (where we met F2F intern, Tristan Mohabir's, grandmother) and Molsen Creek, where we showed them Suriname across the Corentyne River. To the South, we took the HQ team to the Soeskdyke Linden Highway (part of the Guyana-Brazil road link) where they met with beekeeper, Uncle Charlie, and shadehouse operator, Anna, and also explored the dugout bauxite mines and sandpits in Linden.
Sigmund McKenzie showing what we're all about:
Cultivating Change!
Ryan Nedd , Meghan, Kelvin Craig and Chrissy at the
Guyana/Suriname Ferry Station - Suriname is just across the

Chrissy trying a freshly-picked guava
We in Guyana solemnly believe that all trips for F2F volunteers and staff must be experiential. So, in between the serious stuff, HQ had time to unwind and enjoy some Guyanese cuisine (cook-up rice, roti and curry, Guyanese fried rice, etc), fruits (star apple, West Indies cherry, golden apple, guava, etc), drinks (coconut water), and even a swim in the black water of Lake Mainstay. In fact, we counted at least 12 freshly picked fruits that Meghan and Chrissy tasted while here!

“In a coconut shell”, we here in Guyana would like to send many thanks to Program Director, Peggy Carlson, for organizing this visit. We were able to attend to a lot of serious matters while also laughing and having fun. Our local team enjoyed the entire week, which was very intense as there was a lot to do and see within a short period of time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beans, Beans: They're Good for More than Your Heart!

Distributing seeds.
In October, Farmer to Farmer veteran Ira Richards returned from Nicaragua after having successfully carried out a promotional campaign for the use of Mucuna pruriens, better known as the velvet bean. The plant, infamous for its itchiness, is widely used across the world as a forage, fallow and green manure crop, as it fixes nitrogen and fertilizes soil. Mr. Richards followed up with farmers producing the velvet bean as a nutrient supplement for their cattle and soils, providing technical assistance to further optimize the use of the beans in hopes that increased production and usage will result in better cattle nutrition, increased milk production, and more sustainable agriculture in general.

Velvet bean vines climbing a tree
Working with the dairy cooperative San Felipe de Boaco, Mr. Richards distributed 20 pounds of velvet bean seed for demonstration trials and seed multiplication for each of the 26 farmers who participated in a planned field day at the farm of Dr. Juan Ramón Aragón. The 20 pounds of seed was enough to plant half a block. Since May 2011, Farmer to Farmer has provided approximately 20 quintals of velvet bean seed to dairy cooperatives, private ranchers, and small farmers in the communities of Boaco, Camoapa, Rivas, and Carazo.

The simplest way farmers mention using the bean is feeding its pod husk to their livestock. Some farmers give a stew of boiled beans to their milk cows, while still others prepare concentrated beans that have been treated to facilitate processing by drying or roasting the beans, then grinding them. All farmers claim increases in milk production from using the bean. In addition to its virtues as a living plant, dead vegetative matter from the velvet bean protects soil at the beginning of the rainy season and allows agricultural production in plots with steep slopes without causing water erosion.Over time, this debris adds a tremendous amount organic matter to the soil, which improves its structure, permeability, and water-holding capacity.

A field of planted beans.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

From the Field: A Very Hands-On Investigation of Ecotourism Opportunities in Cimarrones, Baeza, Ecuador

Volunteeer Alan Robinson exploring Cimarrones' biodiversity.
Alan Robinson, retired Community-Based Tourism Consultant hailing from Buena Vista, CO, will be wrapping up his 3-week trip to Ecuador in just a few days. Mr. Robinson has been in the Baeza region of Ecuador (2.5 hours SE of Quito) since November 14th, where he and host Noé Pinto of La Corporación Ecológica Cimarrones (Cimarrones Ecological Corporation) have been exploring sustainable and environmentally-friendly ecotourism opportunities for Baeza’s Cimarrones sector. Key objectives of Mr. Robinson’s visit include: completing an evaluation of the potential value of Cimarrones’ natural resources and biodiversity; providing recommendations on how to utilize these resources to initiate an ecotourism project; and connecting with other ecotourism companies in the region to discuss collaboration.

Last week, Mr. Robinson provided the following update from the field, describing the activities that he and Noé have carried out to-date. Enjoy!
Host, Noe Pinto, during a hike in Cimarrones.

"I think I may have discovered a potential mountain bike route that both Quito operators and yet-to-be-developed operators here in Baeza might take advantage of.  Has similarities to a very successful 15-year-old route developed commercially from La Paz in Bolivia up and over the Andes, which I helped out with.

We're now back from backpacking in the Cimarrones lands.  We managed to do all we had to in two days, although it was a tough trip. Many photos, many birds (45 identified by sight and another 10 heard, almost all by really great guides whom I hope we can integrate into future Corporación activities). Beautiful primary forest (Bosque Nublado), but so difficult to access that it's probably not conducive to the typical foreign birder groups who prefer short walks on beautifully maintained, mostly flat trails. Only the real fanatic birders would do what we just did, but there are some of those and it may still figure into the planning. But the Corporación is a legal entity which can develop activities outside of the forest, so we will likely focus on that. We've already visited several of the other activities: kayaking, birding lodges, scientific stations in the valley, and we have an idea of some other activities that might complement these. I met with Noe's father, who is the "godfather" of the whole process, which began as an agricultural coop over 40 years ago and has only recently morphed into the Corporación."

La Corporación Ecológica Cimarrones is a member-managed ecological organization that collectively owns 440 hectares of primary forest on the flanks of the Antisana Volcano in Ecuador’s Baeza region. Here, biodiversity is abundant, with species including the spectacled bear, black tucan, yellow-headed parrot, Andean ocelot, the polilepis tree, orchids, bromeliads, etc. The Corporation itself owns 9.8 hectares of land, while each of its members owns 33 hectares.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Discovering Guyana through the lens of a volunteer : Video production specialists Jack and Chelsey

"Guyana is a weird country, you know. But I'm sure you've figured that out by now.." mused the newest guest at the bed and breakfast.

In fact, we had.

Jack and I met up in Miami, him having come from a hectic five weeks campaigning for the elections and I from 5 months teaching in Patagonia, Chile. It was an appropriate meet-up. As two young travelers, naturally we would be sharing a bacon pizza in Miami before heading out to teach video production in Guyana. We were excited, for the project as well as visiting a country neither one of us had considered visiting prior.

Nearly two weeks later, we are both in agreement that this country is unlike any other. From the parade of rescued dogs that meet us every time we unlock both security gates to get to our house, to a different style of chicken and rice being served at every corner, we have ceased to be surprised.

Men with dreadlocks drive horse-drawn carts, competing with traffic and taxis. Lotus flowers are "weeds" here, and manatees swim in the park pond. Chinese restaurants, curry, mosques and churches point to the mixed culture. Their English is tinged with British mannerisms and a Caribbean cool, and the buildings take you back to a colonial past.

Besides teaching video, we were taught how to experience Guyana as a local. We listened to Christmas carols played on steel drums, while eating Chinese food. We shopped at the local market, and filled up as people urged us to try new fruits like cashew, genip, jackfruit and an especially strange one called sapadilla that tasted just like brown sugar! And when it was time to get out of Georgetown, we figured out how well speedboats mix with jungle, and swim in black water. Of course, we also toured the DDL factory that makes the worlds best rum, and discovered how heat and strong rum are better if experienced separately.

Our two weeks here have been a whirlwind adventure, not only as we passed along our knowledge of video to field staff of the FTF Program, IICA and FAO, but also learning about a whole new culture.We've seen huge growth with participants ability to shoot and edit videos (with many bloopers along the way), and we've grown ourselves as we experienced a new culture. We are so thankful for the opportunity and can't wait to see the videos that come out of the team in the future!

To hear more about the trainings, our experiences and more keep posted on Chelsey's adventures at 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Books Need Care and Feeding Too!

The libraries in the Dominican Republic face serious challenges when it comes to book stacks and storage. Library materials require stable environmental conditions. Spikes in humidity and heat are unkind to books. The library at the Universidad ISA faces such challenges. The library windows are open with no glass panes or screens. There are some wooden blinds that are often closed to keep out the sun.

While this helps keep the students and library staff comfortable, the books in the stacks suffer from the heat and humidity. Since the library is not air conditioned some ceiling fans keep the air moving. Because the windows are open, pests such as termites, polillas, and moths have direct access to the stacks. They enjoy a diet of glue from the bindings and paper from the textblock.

Mold and mildew thrive in tropical climates and the books in the Biblioteca ISA are not immune to this. We found evidence of mold and mildew in many books in the stacks. Other effects of high humidity are book covers droop and place stress on the bindings. The call number labels fall off easily as the adhesive loses its strength in the heat and humidity. It also becomes gummy. With no AC in the building the library material is subject to many spikes in heat and humidity. Industrial size dehumidifiers placed in the stacks would not be a good option as the building is open air and there are frequent power outages.

What to do? The ISA library is at a serious disadvantage for library material storage. Proposals for a new library building, or reconditioning the existing building have fallen to the wayside due to lack of funding. Metal shelving is rusting and will continue to do so with this environment. With no AC and no plans for adding to AC to the existing building, will keep the library material at risk.

Many flat roofed buildings will eventually leak and the Biblioteca ISA is no exception. Several areas on the ceiling indicate leakage and unfortunately the wooden ceiling in damaged in those areas. Any library material located below those leaks of course are at risk for getting wet and mold spores will sprout quickly.

The ISA library staff work hard to keep the stack areas clean. They wear dust masks while using clean paint brushes to dust the books.

Our recommendations for a library in this climate is to keep good air flow. The ceiling fans should be in working condition and used to keep the air circulating. The university maintenance staff should also check the ground moisture from the concrete floor and walls. If dampness is detected, a waterproof barrier should be placed between the slab and soil/wall. The shutters should be used when direct sun is hitting the library from the east and west. Universidad ISA should also consider purchasing several dehumidifiers for the stack areas. We would also recommend investing in some environmental control equipment such as a thermometer for monitoring the stacks temperature and a hygrometer to monitor the humidity. More sophisticated equipment is available but more costly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Biochar Yields Exciting Results in Haiti

This photo, received from F2F Volunteer and Carbon Roots International co-founder Ryan Delaney, shows the power of biochar for soil fertility in Haiti

In August, Carbon Roots International co-director and founder Ryan Delaney traveled to the North of Haiti to team up with Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer Program and conduct trials and trainings on biochar. Biochar is agricultural waste which is transformed into a potent soil amendment; it sequesters carbon and can be made into charcoal to be used for cooking fuel. To read more about biochar visit CRI's website.

While in Haiti this month, Ryan and Farmer to Farmer staff checked on the trials and trainees they had previously visited and were impressed with the results. Perhaps most astounding was the change that occurred at Matelot Placid's farm in Acul du Nord, pictured above.

While in Acul du Nord in August, Ryan had trained 30 men and women in making biochar and left instructions for combining with compost and applying to the soil. Matelot applied what he learned, and his young papaya tree stands as an example to others about the potential for biochar to improve soil fertility, agricultural yields and reforestation in Haiti.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A "Participatory Approach" to Strengthening Community-Level Natural Disaster Mitigation

From October 5th - 28th, Maryland resident Maixent "Izzy" Ralaingita provided training in Natural Disaster Risk Mitigation to residents of 3 communities in El Salvador. Mr. Ralaingita, an Emergency and Disaster Management professional, was requested by Salvadorean non-profit PROBUSQUEDA to work with these 3 communities to build their capacity to live safely with natural hazards and deal effectively with natural disasters.

Community members listen attentively as Mr. Ralaingita
reviews disaster mitigation concepts. 
PROBUSQUEDA, which advocates for victims of El Salvador's civil war and provides food security programs for victims and their families, recognized the need for community Natural Disaster Mitigation training when heavy rains in the Fall of 2011 flooded homes and destroyed crops. Community members found themselves inadequately prepared for such an event and unable to effectively and efficiently respond. Thinking about the future and strongly considering the potential negative impacts of climate change, PROBUSQUEDA saw the need to educate communities on the fundamentals of disaster and emergency management and climate change, and to directly involve them in developing a mitigation plan for their respective communities.

Mr. Ralaingita led a total of 8 training workshops in the following target communities: Arcatao, located 6 hours northeast of San Salvador; Huisisilapa, 2 hours north of the capital city; and Guarjila, also in the country's northern region. All together, 166 community members and 16 technicians from the Office of Civil Protection - in charge of national emergency management - participated in Mr. Ralaingita's sessions.
Technicians from the Office of Civil Protection receive
certificates for their participation in Mr. Ralaingita's training.
1 day-long training session was carried out in both Arcatao and Guarjila, but perhaps the most success was achieved in the community of Huisisilapa.   There, residents enthusiastically participated in 3 training sessions, successfully developed a community mitigation plan using a "participatory approach", and organized a Community Disaster Virtual Team to lead disaster mitigation efforts in Huisisilapa going forward.   Mr. Ralaingita noted,
"The community of Huisisilapa has now become one of the most motivated communities energized by our training and support from PROBUSQUEDA. It has become an example community to be declared a 'pilot project' by PROBOSQUEDA."

Mr. Ralaingita believes that the trainings were very successful in promoting a culture of disaster prevention in each of the 3 communities, though he notes that response and mitigation processes "must be updated and must evolve based on contextual change and reality".

Monday, November 12, 2012

From the Field: Animal welfare in Haiti

The following blog post comes from Robert Spencer, Alabama Cooperative Extension personnel and repeat Farmer to Farmer volunteer, who writes about his past week in Haiti:

Robert and producer in La Coline inspect teeth to determine age of buck
The first five years of my visits to Haiti have primarily focused on meat quality and food safety as it relates to rabbit production and processing; much of is based on HACCP guidelines. During the past year (year 6) I have added production quality, or as I call it “Animal Welfare”, to my subject matter. This topic was the result of my realization that producers lacked a basic understanding of production essentials in regards to caring for their animals. Based on my observations, I decided to focus on specific areas including nutrition (vegetation, feed, and water), care of newborn, shade and protection from harsh environmental conditions, sanitation, and more. I felt this area was more important knowing that without quality production, producers will not have adequate numbers for processing and marketing.

Robert and Anderson train La Coline producers in animal welfare

It was obvious there were health and mortality problems, much of which could be attributed to poor nutrition, dirty or no water, direct exposure to elements and heat stress, poor sanitary conditions (dirty cages and accumulation of manure and urine under cages), and no shelter for newborn rabbits. I also realized much of this applied to other forms of livestock, including poor nutrition (limited access to forage), inadequate access to water, continuous exposure to sun, and etc. My theory is, as producers develop basic production quality skills, from there they can move forward with better results.

The first week of my visits included the following regions and communities: South: Riviere Froide, Southwest: La Coline and Passe Bois D’orme. The purpose of the visit to La Coline was to address meat goat production, in Passe Bois D’orme the area of focus was marketing of rabbits, and in Riviere Froide we delivered rabbits and talked about basic considerations for rabbit production. This was my first time to address meat goat production in Haiti, but it is one of my areas of specialty. The people in La Coline were eager to discuss this topic so we had a good time interacting. The rabbit producers in Passe Bois D’orme have an impressive inventory of rabbits, but lack in marketing ideas, so Anderson Pierre [F2F Field Officer] and I spent a significant amount of time sharing ideas with them. The special needs school in Riviere Froide is new to rabbit production, we delivered thirty-four rabbits and conducted an educational workshop. The next day we returned to build rabbit cages, then distribute cages and rabbits to those who had attended previous trainings.

Women in Riviere Froide receive rabbits and cages
I always enjoy my visits to Haiti, and working with the Farmer to Farmer staff. They are like family to me, and I consider Haiti my second home. Everywhere I visit the people are so friendly and receptive to trainings. These factors keep me motivated with return visits and striving to improve situations through education and encouragement. As producers’ abilities to understand quality of production increases, and their desire to apply this knowledge increases, their animals will remain healthy and more productive, thereby leading to increased inventories, whereby they can start thinking about best management practices for processing and marketing. This has remained my primary area of focus for almost a year, and as I revisit communities from previous trainings I see results and hear testimonials regarding improved situations and increased production.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

4,320 Nicaragua School Children Reached By Nutrition Campaign

This year, the Nicaraguan Dairy Chamber (CANISLAC) joined the first Pan-American milk consumption campaign, promoted by the Pan-American Dairy Federation (FEPALE). As part of this initiative, CANISLAC developed a campaign that aims to raise awareness and engage various stakeholders in promoting dairy consumption as highly beneficial to human health.

A campaign flyer with nutrition facts
The campaign is centered around talks given during school visits. These talks focus on the importance and nutritional benefits of consuming dairy products and their derivatives. In addition to visiting schools, the campaign utilizes the mediaincluding three TV channels, the backs of buses, billboards and commercialsin an attempt to reach most of Nicaragua's population.

Farmer to Farmer volunteers with Nicaraguan counterparts
This year, Farmer to Farmer volunteers Danitza Tomianovic and Batya Silva participated in the movement. During their assignments, which focused on promoting the consumption of dairy products, Danitza and Batya visited a total of 14 preschools and primary schools in Managua, Ciudad Sandino and Camoapa, reaching the eyes and ears of an incredible 4,320 Nicaraguan children.

Batya Silva presenting to a group of schoolchildren

Saturday, November 3, 2012

la biblioteca ISA/the library at ISA

Our first day was spent working with Mario Torres, the Technical Services Technician a the library at the Universidad ISA. Mario gave us a tour and explained the library processes and services. The library offers photocopying services on the first level and a small computer/multimedia lab just across the way. Many students use the breezeway between the two areas as a study space. Upstairs is a reading room and the library collection. The students can use one computer in the reading area to access the library catalog and databases as well as in the computer lab. The library catalog is not available through the internet.

There is a small alcove with journals and then a closed stack area. A library staff member must retrieve the material for the library user as the material is not readily available to the library user. All of the technical services work is done in Mario's office. Currently, the focus is on scanning the older theses. The plan is to make them available to the students electronically. There is wifi available for use in the library but often cannot accommodate the demand.

The library is open between the hours of 8:00 am- 10:00 pm Monday-Friday and 8:00-5:00 pm on Saturdays. The library closes during the lunch hour.

Friday, November 2, 2012

First Assignment and First Impressions

Bright and early on Monday morning, our field officer, Don Rafael picked us up at the hotel. Our first stop was the Universidad Nacional Henriquez Umana. The Farmer to Farmer office is located in the university. We met a volunteer, Brit, who is taking photographs around the DR for F to F. We also met Felix who was starting his first day as a field officer. Rafael took us to the library on campus where we had a short tour of the library. It had AC, several computers available for searching the internet, a reference area, special collections, a Dominican collection, and several reading rooms. It was a nice impromptu introduction to academic libraries in the DR.

We continued on to Santiago and our assignment at the library at the Universidad ISA. Along the way we stopped for a morning coffee and some quipe. Quipe is similar to falafel but made from wheat. It was delicious. After a two hour ride we arrived at our hotel in Santiago. The area where the hotel is located is primarily commercial businesses. We had a quick lunch and then we were off to ISA.

We were struck by the grounds around the university, lush, green, and tropical. As we approached the library we were greeted by many peacocks, large and small. The peacocks run freely around the grounds and seem to like the front of the library!  The library is has a small open air lobby with two large fish tanks and some seating. One tank has many tropical fish and the other is home to Sofia, the snapping turtle. And she snaps! The day we arrived many of the fish had died due to a power outage over the weekend. Around the exterior lobby is the photocopying center of the library and the digital library which houses some PCs for students' use and they also loan out laptops and other audiovisual equipment.  The Registrar's office is also located in this area. A staircase leads you up to the second floor where the general collection is located. A reading room, small closed stack area, a circulation desk and two offices and one all purpose room make up the library.

From the Field: Organic Pesticide Formulation in Guyana

This post below comes from our Farmer to Farmer Team in Guyana:

Volunteer Samuel Schaefer-Joel with formulations of organic pesticides
On September 16, 2012 Mr. Sam Schaefer-Joel, a Product Review Coordinator of the Organic Materials Review Institute based in Oregon, USA, travelled to Guyana to help the Guyana F2F Field Team come up with appropriate recipes of home-made natural pesticides made primarily from locally available raw materials, such as neem and hot pepper. He also provided advice on how to use and how to store the natural pesticides.

Samuel, who is also a Master Gardener and Master Composter / Recycler and who had farmed for several years in Mexico and California, was most suited for this hands-on type of assignment. While in Guyana he visited several shadehouses and met with shadehouse operators in order to understand the production system as well as the types of pests that are common to that system.

Samuel’s main focus was to modify an existing natural pesticide made from locally available materials such as neem leaves, hot pepper and garlic. The aim was to produce a stable mixture using kitchen equipment. Hence, field staff were exposed to in-house mixing so as to come up with a recipe that was easy to follow and at the same time effective. A Training / Exposure Workshop was subsequently held and samples along with a one page recipe with instructions on application of the pesticide were distributed to shadehouse operators who attended. The objective is to test the effectiveness of the product. The vision is that in the future operators would make the pesticide for themselves or purchase it from others who may choose to set up a cottage industry.
Sigmund McKenzie's seedlings benefit from organic pesticide
To date many are using the natural pesticide and are seeing improvements in terms of reduction in leaf damage to crops. Through feedback from a sample of shadehouse operators who are piloting the use of this natural pesticide, F2F Field Officers are monitoring the results with a view to recommending any changes that may be required to the formula.

Thanks to Mr. Samuel Schaefer-Joel we have move one step closer to improving the quality of vegetables produced under the hydroponic shadehouse system.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ya Llegamos! we are here!

Update from the field from F2F volunteers Valerie Malzacher and Felice Maciejewski...

Valerie and I arrived in Santo Domingo. Our trip went well. We met up in Miami, our flight was on time and our luggage arrived. Rafael and his lovely wife, Sofia, picked us up at the airport. We saw many interesting things along the way. Hurrican Sandy has stirred up the Caribbean. The water which is usually a beautiful blue, now looks like the Big Muddy. Waves crashed along the Malecon. Lots of palm trees and other vegetation such as bougainvilia. It is Sunday, so there are lots of folks out spending time with their families near el caribe.

We both have been up since early, early this morning. Off to find some dinner and then to bed early. Tomorrow, bright and early, we head for our assignment, Universidad ISA in Santiago. About a 2.5 hour drive. Nos vemos!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Librarians/Bibliotecarias: On Our Way to the Dominican Republic!

It all happened because of a very colorful woven market bag.

 About a year ago, my colleague, Valerie Malzacher, library director at the Chalmer Davee Library at UW-River Falls, came to a meeting with this very cool bag.  I had to ask where she got it as I suspected it was from Latin America. I am attracted to all things colorful and Latin American! She told me she got it in Nicaragua. Since I had lived in Costa Rica for almost six years I was very interested in hearing about her experience in Costa Rica's neighbor to the north.   She told me about her experience with Farmer to Farmer and her assignment to a Nicaraguan agricultural library. Intrigued, I told her that I would love to do something like that, especially since I speak Spanish and I am a librarian.

Fast forward to today. I have the honor to have been selected to participate in the Farmer to Farmer program in the Dominican Republic. As library director at the Rebecca Crown Library at Dominican University, I of course, am eager to share my expertise with our Dominicano colleagues.  ( I have also learned that I need to be careful to call the Dominican Sisters (founders of Dominican University (formerly known as Rosary College)) Dominicas instead of Dominicanas (those from the Dominican Republic).

Valerie and I are headed to Santiago and we have been assigned to work with the library at the Universidad ISA. We will be working with Pavel Corniel, Library Director at Universidad ISA. Our agenda for this assignment includes coordinating an inventory of the library collection, meeting with librarians from around the region to talk about collaborative and consortial programs, database management, and discussions about digital and institutional repositories.

We will begin our journey in Miami, arriving in Santo Domingo Sunday evening, and arriving in Santiago bright and early Monday morning.

Both Valerie and I are excited about our assignment and eager to meet our colleagues. And of course we hope that they will be just as excited to meet us!

Hasta la proxima!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Harnessing the Benefits of Honey

photo credit: Justin Hackworth
You may have heard that honey can soothe a sore throat or that it is a good alternative for sugar, but have you heard about the other multifaceted health benefits of raw honey? Many types of honey you will find in the typical grocery store is processed (heated and pressure-filtered) to ensure a longer shelf-life without crystallizing. But raw, unprocessed honey sold by beekeepers, farmers markets, or organic food stores contains a multitude of health benefits that you will want to know about.

Can raw honey increase the calcium that your body absorbs? Ease insomnia and anemia? Treat ulcers? Fight gum disease? The website of a North Carolina nurse and beekeeper gives a comprehensive list of these and other wonders of honey for health, nutrition, and even beauty, and explains the properties of honey which enable such health benefits. Publications which report on benefits which have only been medically-proven by research studies take a more conservative stance, but also report that honey has been proven more successful at reducing nighttime cough for children and aiding sleep than some pharmaceutical medicines, and note the antioxidant and antibiotic properties which are present especially in darker types of honey.

In Haiti, Makouti Agro Enterprise is harnessing the natural properties of honey to develop an energy- and protein-rich snack product. "Myel Nana" combines honey, peanuts, and other locally-available ingredients into a small but potent combination which is good for quick energy. Whether in Haiti, the US, or elsewhere, even a teaspoon of raw honey can have many benefits. So, have you had your honey yet today?

Click here to read more about how Partners' Farmer to Farmer Program assists beekeepers around the world to increase the quantity and improve the quality of their honey.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Volunteer Makes a Splash in Ecuador

In July, Farmer to Farmer volunteer Chase McNulty journeyed to Ecuador to use his animal health expertise to assist local farmers with a host of issues. Mr. McNulty, making his second trip with the program,  focused on improving animal husbandry, milk production and sanitation. He also addressed a critical concern of local dairy farmers—the prevalence of mastitis and brucellosis among cattle. Mastitis is a disease of the mammary glands, while brucellosis decreases the reproductive abilities of infected cows and can also be transmitted to humans, causing further complications.

Mr. McNulty inspecting a cow with a fellow veterinarian.
Working with two veterinarians in Chaco and the Andean region of Ambato, Mr. McNulty went on farm calls, gave lectures to groups of small and large scale farmers and even made appearances on radio and television to promote proper dairy practices. Through hands-on instruction, Mr. McNulty trained farmers in brucellosis testing and management. He also tested 180 cows himself, with hopes of integrating the results into a multidisciplinary research project that would lay the groundwork for a permanent testing facility in Ecuador.

A group training session.
 Mr. McNulty is currently a veterinary medical student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has previously volunteered with Farmer to Farmer in Nicaragua and has also done volunteer work in Mexico.

Mr. McNulty giving a talk on a radio show in El Chaco.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Happy World Food Day October 16, 2012!

World Food Day is designed to increase awareness and understanding, and spark year-round action to alleviate hunger. The theme this year is “Agriculture Cooperatives: Key to Feeding the World,” chosen to recognize the role cooperatives, producer organizations and other rural institutions play in food security.

Partners of the Americas’ Farmer to Farmer Program contributes to food security and helps fight hunger in many ways in the communities and countries where we work. Volunteers have assisted cooperatives, producer organizations, and rural institutions to improve practices and increase knowledge and technical skills. This results in higher crop yields, better quality agricultural products, and higher profits from product sales, which gives families more purchasing power to buy healthy food. Training in nutrition is also critical and volunteers have helped families learn how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets.

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy lifestyle. This blog contains many examples of how Partners’ Farmer to Farmer volunteers have contributed to food security and hunger relief. If you would like to be a part of the Farmer to Farmer program, find out how you can volunteer today!

And to learn more about the activities taking place in your community for World Food Day, please visit the World Food Day USA website.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Volunteers Say "Yes!" to Sí a La Leche

It's perplexing that Nicaragua, Central America's leading producer of dairy exports and livestock, lags the furthest behind in terms of the region's dairy consumption. In fact, although estimates put annual per capita milk production at 75 liters, eight liters of soda are consumed for every liter of milk consumed in Nicaragua. Across the country, dairy consumption is declining, while sugary drinks and canned goods are being downed in increasingly large numbers.

Ms. Brathwaite giving a presentation to a group of students.
To combat the health hazards this trend presents, Farmer to Farmer volunteer Kshinte Brathwaite joined forces with the Sí a La Leche campaign two years ago to promote the nutritional aspects of dairy products to school children. The initiative partners with the Nicaraguan Chamber of Dairy (CANISLAC) to give presentations at various schools and learning centers near Managua through hands-on activities. At the schools and learning centers, volunteers also share information about the benefits of dairy consumption with mothers and members of the community. The target age range is 3-8, though adolescents as old as 15 have been educated.
Students awaiting milk samples.

During her dairy assignment in 2010, Ms. Brathwaite, a Farmer to Farmer veteran, served as the campaign's "official nutritionist" and instructed groups of up to 400 students and caregivers through interactive presentations and printed materials. She also participated in news and radio interviews to stress not only the nutritional value of milk, but its cheap price relative to other beverages such as soda and juice, as well. The main message Ms. Brathwaite conveyed related to the nutritional benefits of consuming dairy products and recommended servings, with the desired end result being increased knowledge of dairy products and their value among the local schoolchildren. 

A small group discussion using Sí a La Leche materials.
Continuing where Ms. Brathwaite left off, Betania (Batya) Silva will be traveling to Nicaragua this month to further promote and work with Sí a La Leche. Ms. Silva has previously volunteered with Farmer to Farmer in Nicaragua to educate communities about nutritionspecifically, the importance of having a balanced diet that is heavily reliant on home-grown vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk and protein foods. Both Ms. Brathwaite and Ms. Silva have worked for the University of Wisconsin as extension nutrition education specialists.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Signs of Farmer to Farmer Assistance in Guyana

This week, headquarters and local Guyana Farmer to Farmer staff are taking some time to visit project sites to monitor progress and talk to the farmers about the recommendations they've received by past volunteers. In just the first day, we already have seen and discussed a lot! Below are some pictures from just four visits. There are many more to come!

Several of these images feature our collaboration with the local shadehouse and hydroponics program implemented by the Guyana Chapter of Partners of the Americas. F2F volunteers have provided a great deal of technical assistance, most recently in cost of production, marketing, making organic pesticides, shadehouse design and irrigation systems, and creating hydroponics training videos.

Shadehouse operator "Valo" describes a hydroponic system new to Guyana which is being developed following the assistance of FTF Volunteer Michael Driver. Once completed, this system could reduce costs of production and increase profit margin for farmers, while maintaining the high quality of produce.

Mrs. Isaacs, shadehouse operator, and Guyana F2F Coordinator Kelvin Craig display new sign
Lettuce and pok choi from Mrs. Isaacs' shadehouse. She sells to caterers who love the quality of her produce. They say they would buy from her or no one else! Her shadehouse is screened on the sides, which has been recommended by IPM volunteers for reducing pest damage.
Solar fruit dryer constructed at the Guyana School of Agriculture with the assistance of F2F volunteer Ralph Bucca. Still in use today, making plantain chips, after several years. The small size of the dryer is ideal for students to manage as a project or micro-enterprise.
FTF Field Officer Sigmund McKenzie showing off his hydroponic seedling nursery, and a box of lettuce seedlings to soon be delivered to a shadehouse operator. Several recent volunteers have identified specialized seedling nurseries as a key limiting factor in the value chain, so the success and growth of these nurseries are a key component to the industry.
Organic pesticide at use in crop and seedling production, through the assistance of recent volunteer Samuel Schaefer-Joel. Following Samuel's recommendations, staff and growers are using the formulated spray and also experimenting with varied formulations to arrive at the mose effective solution. The spray is also well labeled, consistent with recommendations of past volunteers in pesticide safety.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tropical Forage Management in Nicaragua

Group of CONAGAN participants
Dr. Yoana Newman and Dr. Rocky Lemus are tropical forage production specialists that volunteered with Farmer to Farmer in Nicaragua September 14-26, 2012. Dr. Newman and Dr. Lemus worked with the National Agrarian University (UNA) at their demonstration farm in Camoapa (114 km from Managua).  Camoapa is the largest cattle producing region in Nicaragua as a result the local industry is focused in cattle raising, trading, and dairy.

Forage management is an important issue in Nicaragua because feed intake and availability are major constraints for the local dairy cattle industry especially during the dry season, which lasts from December to May. Silage and hay can be used to provide fodder during this period to maintain a diet high in nutrients for the dairy cattle. Dr. Newman and Dr. Lemus worked with both students, university staff and local producers to make silage from locally available resources. They made a one and two ton silage supply that local producers can replicate in their farms and use during the upcoming dry season.

Local youth helps make silage
Together with the National Cattleman's Association (CONAGAN) the team was able to hold both theoretical and practical trainings with producers, agricultural students and technicians on the management of improved pastures and soils. They will also be putting together a forage calendar for 2013 that will be available to participating producers in Spanish and with local contextual information.

Dr. Newman is an Assistant Professor in the Agronomy Department at the University of Florida, this is her second Farmer to Farmer trip to Nicaragua, the first was in June 2010. Dr. Lemus is an Assistant Extension/Research Professor in the Plant and Soil Science Department at Mississippi State University Extension Services. 

Group showing silage depository

Friday, September 28, 2012

Taking It to the Next Level: Honduran Farmers Begin Shift from Subsistence to Commercialization

Howard Fenton, Accountant with University of Wisconsin - Cooperative Extension, will be wrapping up his 2-week flexible volunteer assignment in Honduras this weekend. Since arriving in Tegucigalpa on September 15th, Howard has been working with Sustainable Harvest Honduras (FUCOHSO) to provide training in basic accounting and record-keeping to approximately 100 of FUCOHSO's participating families.

FUCOHSO's goal is to help families from Honduras' rural farming communities overcome poverty while at the same time conserving the region's natural resources. A number of families who have been part of the program for a while are now shifting from subsistence farming to income generating activities. As they begin to form cooperatives and make a move toward comercialization, it is necessary for them to develop basic business skills for managing their enterprises. This is a need that Howard has been addressing through his trainings in basic accounting and record-keeping.

The following updates, sent by Howard to Farmer to Farmer Headquarters in Washington, DC, provide a glimpse into the successes that have been achieved so far.

Thursday, September 20th:
The farmers are actively participating and discussing amongst themselves as we work through the exercises, and they express their appreciation for a recordkeeping system they can use for their farming operations and in their homes (quite a few women have attended the workshops and they participate as well as the men ' I love it!).
Friday, September 21st:
We had our best day yet today in Santa Ana, Santa Barbara. The workshop was well attended (including two women who participated more than some of the men), and the crop we used for an example (beans) allowed us to touch on some topics (loans and rents) not covered in previous days.

I cannot tell you what an experience this has been. It is going so much better than I ever anticipated. The farmers are so eager to learn and keep focused for the whole time. (Workshops have typically been lasting at least 5 hours not including lunch.) I certainly appreciate the opportunity.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Building for the Future in the Dominican Republic

Farmer to Farmer volunteer Aaron Chevalley is completing the last leg of a Green Building Concepts & LEED Design assignment in the Dominican Republic. For the past week and a half, Mr. Chevalley has delivered presentations and taught a course at Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña's School of Architecture in Santo Domingo on LEED standards. These guidelines provide a framework for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings, structures that are resource-efficient and environmentally sound.

Mr. Chevalley presenting to students
In order to promote measurable community improvement, the class focuses on hurricane and earthquake resistant design, sustainability, and even goes beyond the scope of architecture by touching on community connectivity and cultural sensitivity. The course is no easy A, as it is centered around discussions, which lead into student participation and handouts. Daily assignments are given, including a midterm exam, and the class culminates in a final project in which the students, architects themselves, must research and design a basic structural plan that follows LEED principles.

Mr. Chevalley during a class discussion
Mr. Chevalley earned his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Arkansas School of Architecture in 2007. He is a LEED Accredited Professional and has previously applied his expertise to help improve communities in Peru and Nicaragua.