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.