Monday, February 27, 2012

Excerpts from the Travel Log of a Haiti FTF Volunteer

Robert Spencer, Alabama Cooperative Extension staff and Farmer to Farmer volunteer currently in Haiti, sent us some comments for the blog! Below are some excerpts with some highlights from his trip so far:

During my past discussions with other Farmer to Farmer (FTF) colleagues, and based upon my visits to many rabbit and small animal farms, I have come of the opinion that my role as an educator is currently best served by helping the target audiences better understand the essentials and benefits of proper animal care as it relates to productivity. 

Producer in Sibert shows her production practices
February 18: I arrived in Port Aux Prince, Haiti late Sat. afternoon, embraced by warm temperatures which were a welcome relief after leaving temps of 50 degrees back in North Alabama. ... all five of us [FTF volunteers and field staff] then headed to an exploratory meeting with the Haiti Chapter of Partners of the Americas. This initial meeting involved finding out what projects the Haitian POA chapter and Makouti Agro Enterprises (and their FTF volunteers) had been addressing in the past, and what potential successes all parties might pursue through collaboration. It was a very positive meeting with promises of follow-up meetings to be held in the near future. 

The next day ... The four of us including Marc drove to Siebert to visit with a group of rabbit producers who varied in their success of production and were trying to learn more about best management practices that would equalize and advance their group to a level where they could expand and begin marketing their products locally. From what I leaned on the ride up there Marc/Haiti Dept. of Ag. was working with this group but needed technical expertise in the form of educational outreach, which is why Makouti and the FTF volunteers had recently started working with them. This group began producing rabbits in Sept. of 2011. During that afternoon we visited approximately 28 rabbit farms with rabbit populations varying from two to eighteen.

Robert checks on a "kid" in Sibert
Fifth Day: Our fist seminar was held during a return visit to Siebert, and we had a good attendance; almost everyone from the farms we had previously visited was in attendance. As agreed the night before, Anderson and I took the animal welfare/husbandry approach, and the information was well received. There was three hours of dynamic interaction with: a Power Point Presentation, questions, discussion, suggestions, and lots of laughter. I am always excited to see the enthusiasm of the Haitian people, and they always amaze me with their outpourings of verbal appreciation, they are a very eloquent people. About 30 people from the community attended this seminar; Marc ONel was there as well to represent the Haiti Dept. of Agriculture. 

Sixth Day: The most impressive aspect of today’s event was the Assistant Director for Animal Production from the Haiti Department of Agriculture sat in on the entire program. At the end of the seminar he requested a copy of the Extension Publication UNP-0126 Small-Scale Commercial Rabbit Production I was displaying and a copy of my Power Point presentation; by the end of the day he had both. Attendance for today was about 26. 

Based on what I have observed in the past few days I say this: ... The partnership of Haiti’s Department of Agriculture, Makouti Agro Enterprises, and Farmer to Farmer as a collaborative initiative can make this into an example of success for the Southern region of Haiti, and a model of collaboration throughout the country. ... I was really impressed with the initiative the Dept. has taken in helping this community, seeking the technical expertise of other appropriate parties, and the initial benefits form a cooperative, progressive attitude.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Day in the life of a Farmer to Farmer Volunteer: Nicaragua Solar Food Dryer Assignment

Youth at PIO XII helping to construct solar food dryer
Farmer to Farmer volunteer, Ralph Bucca,  recently returned from Nicaragua where he worked with four different horticultural host organizations which included Pio XII and El Portio. These local organizations have previously hosted other Farmer to Farmer volunteers that provided their technical assistance in the areas of organic food practices and pest management. Mr. Bucca's assignment used the healthy crops being produced to create low cost solar food dryers and workshops on food safety. The host organizations were enthusiastic about building the dryers and were quite anxious to use them. Following is an excerpt of Mr. Bucca's day to day accounts of his assigment in Nicaragua:

Sunday, January 22, 2012
Left DCA bound for Houston, 2pm on a drizzly day. Arrived in Managua at 9:30 PM. It’s good to be back in Central America on a warm January night.

Elisa and Taty helping with the solar food dryer construction
Monday, January 23, 2012
After a fine hotel breakfast, was picked up by Elisa, Partners of the Americas' field officer, and my driver and translator for the assignment. After the initial briefing and lunch at a Chinese restaurant we started shopping for the solar dryer parts. First went to the hardware stores and then lumber yards where we ordered the parts to be pre-cut to my instructions for three dryers, and to be picked up tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Spent most of the day hanging out at two lumber yards, overseeing the pieces being cut up to make 3 kits. Cutting the plywood pieces for the frame, the other cut were for all the rails and framing. I also had them bundle the pieces up into three kits; will make it easier at assembly time. Also bought the rest of the screening material should have enough parts now. Will be heading out tomorrow to Pio X11 to build the first one. We will also be accompanied by Taty a young UCA Nica graduate to be my interpreter. Went to a local Mexican restaurant for some fine pollo mole, using my best Spanglish. Just another rotten day in the tropics.
Working at PIO XII

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
A very full day. Went to an organic farm at PIO XII, 1.5 hrs.From Managua. Spent the whole day checking out their various crops they grow, and their pet iguana. We then began building most of the solar dryer, with the assistance of the farmers and Taty who I introduced to such tools as a hammer, saw and staple gun. She was an enthusiastic apprentice. We got about 2/3 done, but then it got too dark to work. Hit a local Nica rest stop on the way back for some traditional chow. It was a long but eventful day.

Posing with newly constructed solar oven
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Went back to farm at Pio X11, finished building dryer and taught food processing. They are trying different vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Friday, January 27, 2012
Long drive to Camoapa, feeling quite miserable, but the show must go on. Farm is at 900 meters, in the mountains. Got the usual walk about the farm, but feeling too sickly to enjoy it. Managed to build the dryer in 3.5 hours. Record time, with many student workers. Directed the process, while hacking and coughing. Got some chicken soup for lunch. We sat on the HI way for 2 long hours due to an unexplained accident. Finally got to Granada at 8pm. staying at Kekochi, a pleasant Inn. 

Local women asisting with the solar oven construction
Tuesday January 31
Surprisingly, Hotel Mercedes offered a decent breakfast, a cooked to order omelet. Left 8 AM and headed north in the mountains, sparcely populated, my kind of place. Booked a room in the Hotel Esquipulas, same name as the town. Picked up one of our hosts and then we headed deeper into the mountains and elevation. Climbing to the top of a ridge to our destination.

We were greeted by about 15 women and children, ready for action. After the customary farm inspection of various crops in small plots, we got started on solar food dryer #3. Many pitched in, including the grannies, who could swing a hammer with the best of them. Had just enough supplies to complete it. They had the trays ready with fruits and veggies to dry. Then rolled back down to town 5pm. I got a decent meal in the only known rest in town, and walked back to hotel, in between t-storms. Don’t expect electricity to last much longer, got flashlight nearby.
Women shown inserting food tray with vegetables and fruits

Wednesday Feb 1
Left at 8 AM to Visit Site #1, PIO XII to check on progress. The woman had dried, labeled and packaged all the items, quite impressive. Discussed winemaking and vinegar making then headed back to Managua. Will camp out back at Hotel Express.

Thursday Feb 2
Went to check out a newly built solar food dryer, in Fupade, about 1.5 hrs. away. Gave them advice on getting started and various items to be processed. They wanted me to return I told them, perhaps in the late fall. Went back to office to write the report and cover sheet. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

From Waste to Cooking Fuel and Composting

FTF Volunteer Grant Ligon, showing future placement of biodigester inlet pipe
Last month, North Carolina resident Grant Ligon got his first taste at being a Farmer to Farmer volunteer. He traveled to Guyana, South America, and carried out a successful assignment as a Biogas Specialist. Below are excerpts from his trip report and a few photos from his trip!

"Over the past several years Farmer to Farmer in Guyana has supported IPED, the Institute for Private Enterprise Development, in their Inter-American Development Bank-funded project centered on helping farmers install, operate and maintain plastic polyethylene biodigesters. These cylindrical units, which are typically around 25 feet long and five feet in diameter, create an anaerobic environment were methanogenic bacteria ferment cow or pig waste, producing methane gas to be used for cooking as well as humus that can be used for vermiculture and composting."
Discussing function of biodigester at St. Stanislaus College Training Farm

"The volunteer specialist was recruited to visit several of the digesters and offer recommendations for improving the structural integrity of the damaged or in-disuse digesters, the dung-based slurry feeding practice, and gas production and storage techniques. Five under- or non-performing plastic units and two unfinished concrete digesters were visited and assessed, and a workshop for the digester owners and other interested parties was hosted at the St. Stanislaus farm." [Several technical recommendations for improvement to these digesters were provided.]

"The trip proved to be a great professional experience, especially when it came to interacting with farmers and livestock raisers and observing how a program like FTF works together with IPED . . . I learned a great deal about how creative they are in addressing various practical concerns . . . I also began to appreciate how often programs with specific roles (like FTF with its advisory focus and IPED with its installation and direct consulting mandate) work together ..."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Getting Beekeeping off the Ground in Senegal

McGahan and April Muniz of the Peace Corps suit up
with Senegalese beekeepers.
Jerry McGahan, a retired beekeeper from Arlee, Montana, recently traveled to Senegal on a Farmer to Farmer volunteer assignment. He worked with Boubacar Cisse’s union of beekeepers and Peace Corps volunteers to help get beekeeping off the ground, part of the national program to improve food security in Senegal. Cisse’s union set a goal of training 1,000 beekeepers across the country but has only succeeded in training 100 to date. Peace Corps volunteers are part of this training program because they will be serving as a support group to make sure that training is translating into hands-on work. They discussed the possibility of establishing local beekeeper organizations and a wax press for constructing frames.

McGahan had the opportunity to visit nurseries throughout the country. In many cases he saw the most primitive forms of beekeeping and honey gathering, which can be efficient yet cannot be turned into larger scale operations. Elsewhere, he saw more established nurseries with wood ware hives and impressive extraction materials. McGahan advised nurseries on the difference between concrete and wood hives, emphasizing that although concrete hives are less expensive, wood hives enable maximum production and efficiency. He demonstrated how to preserve the comb when harvesting honey, stack hives into large colonies, select and develop desirable traits in bees for better yields, fight pests and intruders, and prevent honey from becoming watery.
McGahan teaches girls about beekeeping and works with
them to build bee sculptures.

McGahan also spent time working in a classroom setting where he taught a class of 19 children the relationship between the bee and the flower as well as how beekeepers work with bees. The following day he worked with a group of 10 girls to construct honey bee sculptures. Finally, McGahan visited with community leaders in a village that has expressed interest in starting a village-owned-and-managed beeyard. The tree nursery managed by the village was an ideal site for a beeyard, as it fences out people and is fairly secluded. Over a 3-day period, McGahan and the community leaders solidified the Peace Corps volunteers’ role in the beekeeper training program, and Peace Corps volunteers were trained on how bee colonies operate, what beekeepers do to manage bees and produce honey, and how to avoid common pitfalls.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Farmer to Farmer at EcoFarm!

FTF Deputy Director Meghan Olivier at the conference booth.
Farmer to Farmer staff and volunteers recently joined 1,400 attendees for four days of farm visits, networking, discovering the newest ecological agricultural developments and techniques, and much more. The EcoFarm Conference meets every year in California to create, maintain, and promote healthy, safe, and just food farming systems.

There were 60 workshops and sessions covering all aspects of ecological farming and food. Several workshops were given by past Farmer to Farmer volunteers, including "Hippity Hop to the Wabbit Workshop" with Mark Pasternak (FTF Haiti volunteer) and "The Magic of Organic Integrated Pest Management" by Martin Guerena (FTF Jamaica volunteer). Other past volunteers present had traveled with Partners' Farmer to Farmer Program to Guatemala and Nicaragua as well. It was a great opportunity to share information about the Farmer to Farmer Program with new, potential volunteers while catching up with past volunteer specialists.

To find out more about the EcoFarm Conference, visit their website:

Friday, February 3, 2012

FTF Volunteer & Chef Supports Tourism Cluster in Dominican Republic

Hands on Activity wth Culinary Students
Farmer to Farmer volunteer, Chef Voltaire Moise recently completed his assignment in the Dominican Republic.  During part of his time, Mr. Moise worked in the Jarabacoa area with the Jarabacoa tourism cluster, the culinary students from the Technical School in the area and the Jarabacoa Environmental and Natural Resource school. 

Mr. Moise' technical assistance focused on culinary techniques using local fruits, vegetables and plants that will help improve the local tourism industry.

In addition to working with culinary students in Jarabacoa, Mr. Moise also worked with other groups of students and community members in the nearby areas.  Mr. Moise has extensive culinary experience and has worked for many years in the Hawaiian tourism industry. Farmer to Farmer in the Dominican Republic works with tree crops, specifically avocados; through this assignment we hope to support and improve the ways to use these and other products in the local tourism industry.

Working with community members