Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Photos Detail Volunteer's Activities

Long-time rabbit producer, proud to receive new training and cages
Toward the end of his visit to Haiti, Alabama volunteer Robert Spencer sent more photos for the blog. The photos tell the story of his activities in the field. In addition, he also visited the Deli Market and Mega Market - supermarket chains in Port-au-Prince - together with Ministry of Agriculture and Makouti representatives to discuss the opportunity of supplying quality meat to these stores.

Finally, the team conducted trainings at the Ministry's rabbitry for the newly-created Western Producers' Rabbit Network on topics such as nutrient and health value of rabbit meat, its culinary appeal and various recipes, and best management practices for commercial meat processing. The network was represented by producers from 7 locations.

Trainee's view of Robert's lesson in food safety in meat processing

Anderson Pierre instructs on nest boxes, used to house young
Trained producers received a cage unit.
Food safety and processing group poses with final product ready to market
Producers affirm that they have learned new skills and will use them to improve their incomes

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Volunteer Evaluator Calls Dominican Greenhouse Project a Success

As farmers and development practitioners well know, changes in weather, price fluctuations, and pests can combine to make the realities of agricultural projects different from what was originally envisioned. Therefore, Farmer to Farmer has recognized the importance of conducting thorough and impartial evaluations of its projects to ensure that they deliver what was promised. To better understand the outcomes of their activities, la Associacion para el Desarollo de San Jose de Ocoa (ADESJO) and Farmer to Farmer Dominican Republic requested a volunteer to evaluate a greenhouse project in the province of San Jose de Ocoa. Cesar Asuaje of the University of Florida traveled to the Dominican Republic in May 2012 to conduct this evaluation.

Asuaje interviews a Greenhouse Association member
ADESJO introduced the greenhouse project to San Jose de Ocoa by building two demonstration greenhouses in 2002. Currently, there are 38 greenhouses in the area operated by 17 women’s associations. The rationale for the project design was that women could supplement the income earned on small family plots farmed by the men in the household.

Professor Asuaje’s evaluation determined that “in general, the greenhouse project is providing an additional income to all groups identified in the survey study”.  Perhaps even more importantly, the project has built capacity in the community both financially and in terms of knowledge and leadership. For example, 89% of the farmers surveyed for the evaluation were able to answer all questions about greenhouse management correctly and 93% responded that their leadership skills had significantly improved.

Interviewing a Farmer

A second but equally important reason for conducting evaluations is to gain insights into how a project can be improved. Based on his survey, Professor Asuaje was able to provide several recommendations, particularly regarding how the project could be more effective in reaching the poorest farmers.  For mountainous communities with very little land, greenhouses hold a lot of promise for increasing income without stressing limited natural resources.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Volunteer Update from Haiti

Volunteer Robert Spencer is in Haiti again, continuing his dedicated support to Makouti Agro Enterprise in helping to improve the meat processing and quality practices in Haiti. He writes of his experience over the past week:

The team inserts feather plucking fingers.
I have been volunteering my services in Haiti since 2006. I really do enjoy my time spent here, each visit is unique, and this time offered something totally different. During this visit to Cap Haitien I worked with Makouti Agro Enterprise on a project that supports opportunities for women in agriculture; more specifically, women raising chickens for meat production. 

The concept, how it works, and successes are explained. Makouti identifies willing participants and provide them with the appropriate training. For a one time nominal fee Makouti agrees to provide participants with a portable poultry housing unit, necessary feed and equipment, and twenty baby chicks. When the birds reach an ideal marketing weight the participants are allowed to sell as many birds as they choose and keep what they want, but must reimburse Makouti a nominal percentage based on the potential market value of the entire flock. In exchange Makouti provides them with another twenty chicks and continues as long as everyone is satisfied. This tends to repeat on a six week cycle and provides a very lucrative income for the female farmers. It has been so successful that some of the women have been able to diversify into other agriculture endeavors. 
A typical chicken project beginner kit

Prior to this visit, Benito [FTF-Haiti Coordinator] expressed the need to develop a prototype electric motor driven chicken plucker. I agreed to bring a manual and 150 rubber defeather fingers, with hopes we could find the remaining required materials in Haiti; what a challenge that turned out to be. During four days of shopping we were able to acquire the following materials: lumber, plastic barrel, metal drum lid, hardware, and one pulley. In between shopping sprees we were able to complete the following three phases: build the wooden frame work, cut the barrel and install the rubber fingers, and insert the fingers in the rotating, metal defeather disc. While we were unable to acquire all the parts (electric motor, v-belt, and etc.) to complete the project, the team understands what is needed and how to complete the prototype; we basically ran out of time. 

Why such a project and so much effort? Benito explained how these women can sell these mature chickens for $5-$10 U.S. If they were to sell eight at $8 each that would be $64 of revenue generated every six weeks. May not seem like much, but in a country where the “suggested” minimum wage may be about $4-$6 per day, $64 makes for a nice supplemental income and the birds offer a meal or two for each participant’s family. Basically, it provides economic opportunities for women in a country where unemployment levels exceed forty percent. Given chicken is one of the most trusted and consumed forms of meat in Haiti, you begin to realize there is a substantial demand/opportunity. 

Phase 3 of construction completed
Why a chicken plucker? It facilitates volume and processing efficiencies. Based on some on-farm tests, using two people, about twenty-five chickens could be processed in eight hours, while a home-style chicken plucker can be expected to defeather two birds in less than a minute. Assuming enough female farmers in a rural community form a working cooperative, and on a regular schedule gather 100 birds for processing and retail, this would reduce processing times and generate about $800 to be divided among the group every six weeks! And, for a nominal fee they can offer their services to process other people’s birds. This model is expected to be implemented throughout various communities in Haiti, and to facilitate retail sales to nearby larger cities. 

The FTF Program would like to thank Robert and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for enabling these efforts through Farmer to Farmer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Through the Eyes of a Volunteer: First Time Traveler to Guyana

Guasto with teammate, Sid McGregor, visiting the
PWAPA plant.
Michelle Guasto traveled to Guyana on a video production team assignment in February 2012. She and teammate, Sid McGregor, filmed footage for a video demonstrating the requirements of a successful agro-processing plant. The video featured the Pomeroon Women's Agro-Processors Association (PWAPA), highlighting the women's success thus far as they move toward production for export as well as best practices in sanitation and food safety. The completed video will be shared with local fruit and vegetable processors for training and promotion purposes.

This was Guasto's first trip outside of the United States, with the exception of a 4-hour road trip to Vancouver, Canada.  Farmer to Farmer asked Michelle a series of questions regarding her experience as a first-time traveler. Below are her answers.

When you were first contacted about traveling to Guyana, what was your initial reaction? 

MG: My mind was rushing. I wondered, "Is this something I can do?".  As a freelancer, I didn't know if I could afford to take 2 weeks off of work; it had to be timed right. But I wanted to make it work and was really excited.  I did some research on the country before I gave an answer.

What were your expectations of Guyana prior to traveling?

MG: I didn't have a whole lot of expectations. I tried to keep an open mind, which ultimately helped me.  I didn't know what it was like to travel outside of the U.S. I knew it was a poor country, so I expected it to be lower-income and very different from the established neighborhoods that I'm used to in Denver. I also expected it to be hot and humid. As far as the people, I had no idea what to expect.

What was your first impression when you arrived in the capital city of Georgetown?

MG: I wasn't expecting to be on an airplane that let me off on the tarmac. The airport was different, there was no AC, only fans. It hit me, "Ok, I'm not in the US anymore"- a "Wizard of Oz"-type moment. We landed at night, so it was dark outside of the airport- I couldn't see the city at all.

What was your most memorable experience while in-country?

MG: What I really enjoyed / remember well is driving aroung the city....Just driving around and looking at everything. It was all so different from what I am used to. I took it all in.  Taking a speed boat to cross the Essiquibo River was also quite an experience.  I was a little nervous because we had all of our equipment, but it turned out to be fun.

Tell us about a funny experience you had while on trip?

MG: Every morning at 6 AM, they'd start blasting Hindu prayer music at our hotel; it was so ridiculous. For an hour, the walls would shake and things would fall off of shelves. It's funny now, but it took a while to get used to. They wake up much earlier than I do!

Please tell us one way in which this experience impacted you personally or professionally?

MG: It widened my eyes on what else is out there. It's a totally different culture. It showed me what other people are like.

Please give us 3 words you would use to describe Guyana to people who have never been?

MG: 1. Kind 2. Hustle-and-bustle / fast-paced atmosphere 3. Party-goers

What advice would you give to the future first time Farmer to Farmer travelers?

MG: Keep an open mind; they are so, so kind. If you embrace their culture you'll fit right in.  At first I felt uncomfortable because I am Caucasian and stood out. But after a few days, I stopped drawing attention to myself and just went about doing what I needed to do. Secondly, learn about the culture.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Volunteer Kelly Young Returns to the "Land of Lakes and Volcanoes"

Kelly Young of the University of Arizona, who traveled to Nicaragua for her first Partners FTF assignment in June 2011, returned to the "Land of Lakes & Volcanoes" last month to carry out a second volunteer trip. This recent trip focused on food security, food safety and nutrition near the capital city of Managua and the municipalities of Sebaco and Camoapa.

Middle school students prepare a raised seed bed using a
car tire.
Growing vegetables in backyard and school gardens are key ways to improve food security, improve nutrition and cut food costs. Over the course of her 2-week visit, Kelly provided hands-on gardening training to more than 180 youth and adults to equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills to achieve these three major benefits. Trainings focused on soil preparation, composting, planting techniques, crop maps, irrigation, integrated pest management, and seed-saving.

Vegetable growers display their certificates following a
day-long training program.
Kelly worked with four main hosts during her visit: Hogar Luceros del Amanacer, a youth development center in Camoapa; Casa de la Mujer, which provides various trainings for women in Camoapa including gardening, sewing, baking, self-esteem; a group of producers in Sebaco supported by Catholic Relief Services; and Fabretto (http://www.fabretto.org), an NGO in Managua that works with schools to improve food security among their students.  Fabretto selected three of its schools for gardening training - Wisconsin and Acahualinca middle schools and the SAT vocational high school -  and hopes that these students will share their new knowledge with their families and replicate the school gardens in their own backyards.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What Volunteers Are Saying about Farmer to Farmer

One goal of the Farmer to Farmer Program is to expose Americans to the people and farming systems of developing countries. Below are some quotes from volunteers, as they share personal reflections on Partners'  Farmer to Farmer  Program and the difference it has made in their lives.
Girls perform traditional Nicaraguan dance for FTF volunteer
“Well, last full day here in Guyana and I've got to say it's been an amazing trip and the Farmer to Farmer program appears to really be making a difference here in Georgetown and the surrounding areas. In fact, speaking with people from the American and Canadian embassies, it appears to be one program that really stands out as being affective and 'well worth the time and effort of the US Government.'” 

- Derek C., Environmental Services Analyst with the City of Sioux City, FTF-Guyana volunteer (Crop Nursery Management)

"I thank the Farmer to Farmer Program for connecting me with the people of Nicaragua. The exchange of knowledge, the work we did together, the information they shared about the land, the produce/food, and the culture was amazing. I learned more about Nicaragua, the people and the land, in two weeks than what I have learned through books and TV educational programming over the years. Working, teaching and learning together is always a more fulfilling and productive experience!

...As a result of the trip to Nicaragua and the nutritional and food safety needs I observed while working at different communities, I decided to create a recipe book for these communities that will also include some food safety tips. The book will consist of recipes that will include the produce they are growing in their gardens and the produce available in Nicaraguan grocery stores and markets. It will focus on the implementation of fruits and vegetables on their daily diet."
- Batya S., Extension Nutrition Educator, FTF-Nicaragua volunteer (School and Community Gardening)
Volunteers work together with local Technicians

"Working directly with producers was a valuable experience and much was learned while making site visits. However, some of the most effective use of our time was spent with regional Technicians. These individuals have a unique perspective on common problem areas and, working together, we developed several different strategies and suggestions to address key issues. Our efforts were greatly multiplied by interacting with the Technicians and we would encourage greater interaction where possible.

...Throughout our travels in the DR we were touched by the kindness and appreciation expressed by the individuals we worked with. These individuals were anxious to learn and open to new ideas, techniques and technologies. Although it is difficult [for us] to determine if we made a difference in their lives, it is quite certain they made a difference in ours."

-  Don W. and Sharon D.; Professor and Extension Specialist, and Past Senior Research Associate (nursery crop); FTF-Dominican Republic volunteers

FTF Volunteer strategizes with Haitian community leader
"My time in Guyana was a life changing experience. I am in love with the food, the people and the wildlife. I hope that one day I can share it with my family... [F]or me this trip was a lot of things, not only business and growth but also for me it was like a final exam... for hydroponic farming and I aced it."
- Michael D., Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran, Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) Program Graduate, FTF-Guyana volunteer (Hydroponics Shadehouse Production)

"I sure hope Congress and USAID renews the Farmer to Farmer program in their budget. The dedicated folks working in the program with the NGO's have had a huge impact on farmers around the world and have improved their livelihoods immensely. Also, it has really opened the eyes of farmers and ranchers like myself, and I have always learned something from the assignments that helps me understand the world and agriculture better. After the elections, I hope to get in to talk with our congressional delegation or staff in NM to ask for their support for the future of the program."
- Scott S., Rancher and  FTF-Haiti volunteer (Micro-enterprise business planning)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Peace Corps Connect 2012 Conference- Minneapolis, MN

Partners of the America's table at the Expo Hall
The National Peace Corps Association held its first national conference in Minneapolis, MN, June 29- July 1st.  More than 200 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) from across the country attended.  On Friday, June 29th the National Peace Corps Association President, Kevin F.F. Quigley (RPCV, Thailand) welcomed all attendees during the opening ceremony luncheon.  Mr. Stacy Rhodes, Peace Corps Chief of Staff shared updates on ongoing efforts to improve volunteer trainings while also supporting the highest number of current volunteers in the field. Bruce McNamer (RPCV, Colombia) was the keynote speaker at the welcoming luncheon. Mr. McNamer is the President and CEO of TechnoServe, a non-profit economic development organization that helps entrepreneurial men and women in the developing world to build businesses that provide jobs, income and economic opportunity.

Also in attendance was Florence Reed, Founder and President of Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) and this year's recipient of the Sargent Shriver Distinguished Humanitarian Award.  Ms. Reed (RPCV, Panama) led the session on agriculture in which she described the five phase approach of SHI and it's goal of working on the agricultural, ecological and economic problems of Central America through its innovative, hands-on and long term model.  In her acceptance speech, she credited her Peace Corps service to have been pivotal in leading her to create SHI. Recently SHI has been working with Peace Corps in Panama to provide current Peace Corps Volunteers with in-country technical training. Partners of the America's Farmer to Farmer program has worked with SHI in Honduras on forest conservation, watershed management, and alternative farming methods.  We hope to continue to work with SHI and their projects in rural farming communities in other Central America countries like Belize, Nicaragua and Panama.

Partners of the Americas and the Farmer to Farmer program is in constant connection to the Peace Corps as many volunteers are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Additionally our Farmer to Farmer team Program Director, Peggy Carlson and Program Officer, Marcela Trask both served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Costa Rica. The President and CEO of Partners of the Americas, Steve Vetter is also an RPCV having served in Colombia 1967-1969.   We hope to stay connected with the RPCV community through event such as this.  The Partners of the America's Farmer to Farmer program can help RPCVs stay involved in international development and fulfill the three goals of Peace Corps; helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and also helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Top-Bar Beekeeping 101: Sustainable Beekeeping in St. Mary, Jamaica

Example of a top-bar hive.
Today marks the beginning of Tom Hebert's month-long volunteer assignment in St. Mary, Jamaica, a parish located in the northeast section of the country. Mr. Hebert, Owner and Manager of his own beekeeping enterprise in Intibuc√°, Honduras and Moderator for a top-bar hive forum on Beesource.com., will be providing instruction to both novice and more experienced beekeepers on the ins and outs of top-bar beekeeping.

Why top-bar?
Mr. Hebert's host and Yerba Buena Farm Owner, Agape Adams, explains the difficulty of obtaining foundation for traditional Langstroth hives in Jamaica.

"In America, any beekeeper can purchase as many sheets of foundation as they need to increase the number of hives they have in their apiary. In Jamaica, it is not so easy. In order to get foundation, beekeepers must bring in wax to exchange for an equal weight of foundation. In order to grow, farmers raid wild hives and use the wax they remove to exchange for extra foundation. It’s not an easy or sustainable situation."

Tom Hebert and his homemade smoker.
Top-bar hive construction removes the need for foundation, as frames are not used. As Agape explained, there are just the top bars of frames from which the bees build their own comb or, at most, just a small waxed guide as a starting point for the bees in the center of the bar.

Through Mr. Hebert's trainings, Agape, her husband Kwao, and other interested local beekeepers hope to learn a more natural, affordable method of beekeeping. In addition to lower material costs, they look forward to not having to raid wild hives for wax to exchange for foundation. As expressed by Agape, "the list of advantages is long".

To prepare for Mr. Hebert's arrival, his hosts have set up 8, hand-made trap hives using wood from their bamboo trees and purchased a Langstroth hive for demonstrations on converting Langstroth hives to top-bar. Mr. Hebert plans on leading two workshops each weekend - one for novices and one for advanced beekeepers. He hopes to also bring in Field Officers from the Apiculture Unit as well as members of the All-Island Bee Farmer’s Association for these trainings. Workshop topics include: bee development and bee biology; colony organization; best places to locate hives; what hives need; hive construction; swarm removal; apiary management; integrated pest management; and harvesting. For those not completely ready to transition to top-bar hives, he'll provide instruction on simplified Langstroth management and transferring comb from top-bar to frame hives.

Mr. Hebert will use his time during the week to make sample gloves and veils, produce a sample foundation mold and other visuals for his training on equipment construction, and pay visits to individual apiaries for 1-on-1 consultations.