Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Green" Architect Designs Environmentally-Friendly Headquarters in Tuquerres, Colombia

Aaron (middle) with Pedro Nel and Aida Delgado
On April 19th, Aaron Chevalley of Mountain View, Arkansas, concluded a month-long volunteer assignment with the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Nariño (CORPONARIÑO) in southwestern Colombia. CORPONARIÑO is the top environmental authority in the department of Nariño, charged with administrating the environment and renewable natural resources as well as pursuing sustainable development. Aaron, a LEED-certified architectural designer and independent design consultant, responded to a request from CORPONARIÑO to develop architectural plans for a “green”, environmentally-friendly structure to serve as its new sub-regional headquarters in Túquerres, one hour south of the city of Pasto.

A wood-burning kiln used to harden bricks
From March 22nd to April 19th, Aaron carried out several key tasks with input from CORPONARIÑO and assistance from a local architect. He first conducted a survey of popular construction methods and identified major environmental concerns associated with brick-making, the primary construction material in Túquerres. Among the environmental concerns identified were soil erosion, depletion of farmland, deforestation and local air pollution.

After doing a bit of research on locally-available resources, Aaron proposed three building alternatives that call for natural, renewable materials and which could potentially reduce the negative impacts of brick-making: compressed earth blocks; straw & bamboo modular panels; and earthbags. Using all three proposed alternatives, Aaron designed an architectural plan for the headquarters which includes on-site water reclamation and filtration, natural lighting, and several insulation techniques. Based on the plans, the area surrounding the structure will be used to showcase the variety of plant species native to the area to encourage the public to conserve their environment.

Bamboo structure detail
In addition, Aaron gave a presentation of alternative building methods to a homeowners group in Túquerres, encouraging them to use earthbag construction for their retaining wall system.

Looking ahead, CORPONARIÑO plans to acquire the tools necessary to build prototypes of each proposed construction alternative and begin the testing phase.

Friday, May 25, 2012

FTF Volunteer Applies Learning at Home in Wisconsin

The Farmer to Farmer Program is often viewed as a transfer of technology and information from North to South, but one volunteer's story exemplifies the often-overlooked flow of information and innovation from South to North. Cheryl Diermyer, a digital storyteller trainer and Senior Learning Technology Consultant from Wisconsin, has volunteered with Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer Program once in Nicaragua and twice in Guyana, helping to create agricultural training and promotional videos. She has incorporated what she has learned back home in Wisconsin, both in her personal and professional life.

While capturing stories from stakeholders in the Nicaraguan Dairy Industry, Cheryl noticed a unique storytelling structure typical in Nicaragua and she coined the "Robleto narrative structure," based on the story of how Dr. Robert Robleto was a farmer who became a doctor. The structure is described on the University of Wisconsin website and is now used at a teaching tool. View the video linked on this blog, and find out more here!

Chery and her son construct their shadehouse, 2011
Cheryl has also adapted agricultural practices she learned in Guyana at her home in Madison, WI. Having created three videos which highlight recommended practices and success stories related to hydroponic vegetable production in Guyana (two can be viewed here; the third soon to be posted on the blog), Cheryl and her son constructed their own hydroponic, or "soil-less" garden, suited to conditions in Madison. She and a friend have planted two types of peppers, two types of basil, carrots and radishes, with tomatoes in a bucket in the backyard.

Cheryl writes, "While I was spreading the substrate in the garden bed I thought of Dr. Waldren's [FTF Guyana shadehouse producer] 87 year old father. I remembered, when I was photographing him, the joy I saw on his face from being in the shadehouse. I now have felt that same joy. Being my first garden, I also feel anxious anticipation to see the plants grow. I ask myself, will I really get carrots from such a small seed? I can't wait to reap and share the food with my son when he returns to visit this July! I also thought of Mr. Valentine [FTF Guyana shadehouse producer] while I was planting. I don't think I will ever have a garden as big as his, but if I am successful this year, I may purchase a small irrigation system similar to what he has."

"I've had a wonderful time connecting with these memories while planting my first garden. Please know that my work in Guyana with the Farmer-to-Farmer program continues to strengthen my foundation and shape who I am." Thank you, Cheryl, for sharing your story with us!

We would love to hear from other volunteers about the ways that you've brought information and practices back home after your trips. Please share your stories with us as comments or via email!
Completed shadehouse (2012) in Madison shows transfer of ideas from Guyana to Wisconsin, US

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security

On Friday, May 18th, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington, DC. Farmer to Farmer Program Director Peggy Carlson had the opportunity to attend and hear speakers and panels that included everyone from an African farmer to President Barack Obama. Although the conference was primarily focused on Africa, agriculture development and food security world-wide were on the agenda. President Obama stressed his commitment to fighting hunger by investing in economic growth and agriculture. He was optimistic that progress could be made:

 "We can unleash the change that reduces hunger and malnutrition. We can spark the kind of economic growth that lifts people and nations out of poverty. This is the new commitment that we’re making. And I pledge to you today that this will remain a priority as long as I am United States President."

Panel topics included: Healthy Agriculture-improving nutrition works for economies and communities; Farm Futures-increasing trade to drive economic growth; and Agricultural Innovation-Getting to scale. Presidents and Prime Ministers from various countries spoke, as well as corporate representatives and other stakeholders. One of the speakers who garnered the most attention was, of course, Bono. Representing his organization, ONE, Bono covered a variety of topics, ranging from global agriculture to foreign aid to transparency in the mining industry. He issued a call to action, urging everyone to work together to help lift 50 million people out of poverty. 

It is encouraging to see that world leaders and key stakeholders are keeping agricultural development and food security in the spotlight. To read more about the Symposium, see speaker bios, and watch video of some of the sessions, you can visit the website.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Georgia Couple Volunteers with FTF Nicaragua

Dr. Jacobsen with Producer at Finca Santa Teresa in Leon
Dr. Karen Jacobsen, a dairy cattle veterinarian/nutritionist and former University of Georgia professor volunteered with the Farmer to Farmer program in Nicargua this past March. Since 1987 her primary focus has been nutrition and her recent Farmer to Farmer assignment focused on dairy cattle nutrition and diet formulation. This was her 7th Farmer to Farmer assignment, previously she has volunteered in Georgia, Malawi and Egypt. This was the first time that her husband, Dr. Michael Mispagel volunteered with Farmer to Farmer. He is an entomologist who worked with the National Agrarian University's (UNA) department of Plant and Forest Protection and department of waste management.
Dr. Jacobsen with Producer Alberto Ordoñez near Rivas
During Dr. Karen Jacobsen's assignment she visited one dairy farm near Camoapa in the Central Highland region, one near Rivas and 3 near Leon. She also participated in the 7th National Dairy Forum in Camoapa (VII Foro Lechero Nacional) in addition to presenting to 11 dairy technicians from EmprenDes/ Venture Dairy in Leon and meeting with animal science and veterinary students at the Universidad Nacional Agraria.  She felt that putting her on the program of these dairy and cattlemen meetings will surely have a great multiplier effect.

As part of trainings Dr. Jacobsen focused on how to measure the dry matter of the feeds on the farms.  None of the farms she visited had a method of calculating the dry feed and this is important because only 20-40% is dry matter the rest is water. If this is not taken into account in the total mixed ration feeding system, feeding inaccuracies can result in decreased milk yields and/or cow health problems such as ruminal acidosis. In addition to dry matter intake, Dr. Jacobsen focused her attention on mineral supplements. She noted that the minerals cost up twice as much as in the United States and noted that as an area for improvement.
Dr. Mispagel with staff at UNA's museum of entomology
Dr. Michael Mispagel spent a week at the UNA primarily in the department of Plant and Forest Protection. His second week was spent accompanying his wife Dr. Jacobsen on visits to dairy farms looking at pest management issues. While at the UNA, he worked with university counterparts at the school's entomological museum that started in 1980 and where approximately 5000 coleoptera specimens have been cataloged of a total of over 15,000 specimens. The museum is used to teach students about agricultural pests and for general teaching in entomology.

Dr. Mispagel with UNA students
During his time at the university Dr. Mispagel recommended that they start a small separate collection of crop-related adult and immature pests to be used in the crop entomology class. This could be used as demonstration material for this class to assist in pest identification. In addition to pest species, beneficial insects including parasitoids should be part of this collection of crop-associated insects.  Dr. Mispagel  presented a seminar to approximately 30 students entitled "Effects of Global Warming on Agriculture".

Monday, May 14, 2012

First Trip to Guyana Proves Successful for North Carolina Beekeeping Couple

Ellis and Linda Hardison of Robbins, North Carolina, joined the Partners’ Farmer to Farmer volunteer network this past January when they spent two weeks in Guyana on a beekeeping assignment. The Hardisons’ trip was just the second beekeeping assignment carried out as part of the Farmer to Farmer Guyana Program. The couple set out to provide training and education both to practicing beekeepers looking to improve the quality of their bees and honey, as well as to locals interested in learning about the basics and benefits of beekeeping.
Ellis and Linda Hardison pose with Guyana beekeepers
Ellis and Linda identified three major accomplishments achieved during their visit. The first was providing instruction on effective ways to develop good, productive queens. They presented both the no-graft and Nicot system (grafting) of raising queens and discussed the pros and cons of queen regeneration, the most popular method among the training participants. The second included visits to six beeyards. During these visits, the Hardisons discussed beeyard location, hive maintenance, using the proper amount of foundation and how to secure wax stores of collected swarms into frames, among other topics. The third major accomplishment was a two-day beginner beekeeping workshop conducted with the Silver Sands Producers & Development Association, composed mostly of novice beekeepers and individuals looking to learn more about bees. Reflecting on his visits with local beekeepers, Ellis explained,
Ellis leads a demonstration at a local beeyard.
“The beekeepers that I met were the same as beekeepers I had met all over the world – very friendly, congenial and willing to participate. This made my wife and I feel very welcome. Everyone was very willing to participate in the programs that we presented. I found that we had very loyal participation in the programs.”
Additional trip highlights included meeting the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, and appearing on a live television broadcast of “Guyana Today”, the most popular morning TV show in Guyana reaching 50,000 viewers regularly. After appearing on the morning show, Ellis recalls being recognized as “the beekeepers!” at the local supermarket.

Linda also had very positive things to say about her experience in Guyana. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to visit a country about which I knew so little but have grown to love so much…I’m planning a little corner of my garden where I’ll grow things that remind me of Guyana. Then I can look at it and recall such good memories.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Potato Production in Nicaragua

Farmer to Farmer volunteers Dennis Bula and Brian Bowen from Wisconsin recently traveled to Nicaragua to provide specific technical advice to potato producers and local advisors. Bula is a career farmer growing seed potatoes in Northern Wisconsin. Bowen is employed by the University of Wisconsin research system, emphasizing plant breeding and commercial variety development.   Together, they made a great team that combined research and applied production. While Bowen has managed potatoes in a research environment for 25 years, Bula's presence was particularly powerful as a grower.

The technical assistance had been requested by stakeholders in the local potato industry to address two major topics: 1) seed potato management and 2) an insect-disease complex, which in the Latin American world has taken on several names: papa manchada (stained potato) or papa rayada (striped potato) or most commonly used, Paratrioza. In North America this complex is called Zebra Chip. Training focused on potato seed production, potato storage, fertilizer inputs, and of course potato disease.

To read more about the work Bula and Bowen did in Nicaragua, visit the website of the Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners of the Americas chapter to download their full trip report:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Jamaican Farmers See Great Potential in Shiitake Mushroom Production

Yerba Buena Farmer Owner, Agape Adams, inoculates
one of the selected logs with shiitake mushroom spawn.
From March 10th-24th, 2012, Nicholas Laskovski from Dana Forest Farm in Waitsfield, Vermont, shared his skill in shiitake mushroom production with local farmers at Yerba Buena Farm in Robins Bay, St. Mary, Jamaica. Over the course of his 2-week assignment, Mr. Laskovski helped identify locally-abundant tree species that fit the rough criteria for growing shiitake mushrooms, cut 100 logs from these trees, and led two hands-on trainings for interested farmers. The trainings covered topics including the life cycle of mushrooms and the needs at each stage, what makes a good tree selection, and inoculation. 

By the end of the assignment, Mr. Laskovski and training participants inoculated 100 logs with shiitake mushroom spawn.

Yerba Buena Farm Owner, Agape Adams, explained why mushroom growing has grabbed the attention of local Jamaican farmers:

Nick Laskovski works with local youth to prepare logs
for inoculation.
“Shiitake and oyster mushrooms are imported and sold locally, mostly to businesses catering to tourists. These mushrooms, however, can easily be grown outdoors on logs. Jamaican farmers in the Robins Bay area have much of their land in mature fruit trees, which are only productive during their season. By adding mushroom growing to their farms’ activities, these farmers make the space under their fruit trees useful. Too shady for vegetables or bananas, this space is perfect for inoculated mushroom logs.

When people clean out their land, they are left with logs that are too small for board, and most often, are burned as firewood or left to rot. This size log, around 4 inches in diameter, is the perfect size for growing mushrooms.

Because the market is already there, the price for mushrooms is high, the logs needed are in abundant supply, the tools are not complicated or terribly expensive, and the skill is easy enough to learn, farmers are attracted to mushroom growing.”

Yerba Buena Farm Owner, Kwao Adams, with 1 of 100
logs used in the assignment.
Over the course of the following months, the training participants will document changes in the inoculated logs to identify which tree species are best for growing mushrooms. Once the logs are fruiting (6-12 months after inoculation), Yerba Buena Farm plans to host additional workshops to allow participants to taste the mushrooms and discuss pricing and marketing strategies. Ultimately, these farmers hope to form a cooperative of mushroom producers to compete with imported products.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Horticulture in Haiti: 5 Years Later

Tom Syverud and Terrill Christensen recently returned to Haiti for the first time in over four years, having first traveled to the country as Farmer to Farmer horticulture volunteers in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Upon returning to the same project in January and February 2012, both commented upon the tangible improvements in farming systems which they observed, as well as the growth and expansion of Makouti Agro Enterprise.

Tom Syverud, 2008, discussing with producers in Terrier Rouge
With a snapshot from years past in their minds, these volunteers help point out changes which often happen gradually over the years as agricultural seasons change, capacity is built, knowledge is shared, and positive results encourage others to adopt better practices.

Terrill traveled as a seedling management specialist, and Tom a small-scale organic horticulture specialist. Below are photos and comments from the volunteers' trip reports which demonstrate the improvements Haiti's farmers have made through the Partners' Farmer to Farmer Program.

Comparing his recent trip to his April 2007 trip, Terrill writes: "Makouti [in 2007] was an association of approximately 140 small growers and bee keepers that was working together as an organization to improve and reclaim the ability of Haiti farmers to provide food from Haiti’s own soils and habitat. . . . In summary,  the nursery plants had a terrible problem with blights and what appeared to be disease and viruses. The concern was transplanting infected and weak plants into fields that were unfertilized and unprotected from diseases and pests only guaranteed poor production and yields. Fertilizers and chemicals were both either not available and or very expensive. There was no composting happening or cultural practices such as rotation of crops incorporated into the program. Weed control was not consistent or effective. In other areas such as bee keeping there was great concern as the bee population was decreasing and honey production was poor at best."
Before: Diseased seedlings from Terrill's 2007 trip
After: Healthy seedlings, from Terrill's 2012 Trip

"Today, it is worth noting that Makouti is now numbered over 700 small farmers. They are currently selling and producing honey at a profit. The farms I visited this time has wonderful, healthy tomato, okra, egg plant, chili peppers, beans, corn and many vegetables. In field observations, the weed control appeared to be reasonable and consistent with growers in other countries. They have a wonderful composting program incorporating rabbit droppings together with other composting materials that they not only use in their nurseries but in field production also. From where they were five years ago to today, is like day and night difference and should be noted and commended."

Tom writes: "It has been four years since I have been in Haiti. The farms I visited [in 2012] had large fields that were planted and looked good. The farmers were knowledgeable and confident in their decision making. That said, they appreciated any information they could receive and they enjoyed having someone visit their fields. They asked good questions, particularly in the workshops. I appreciated as well the information I received from them."

"I found that small-scale agricultural production was improved in size and quality. There still exist a number of production issues common to all producers and some smaller issues for individual producers. I was impressed by the producers at each site I visited. I was impressed by their level of understanding of certain production practices and their experience in problem identification."