Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Holidays from the Farmer-to-Farmer team!

Happy Holidays! During this season, we would like to take a moment to thank all of the dedicated volunteers, field staff, program collaborators, host organizations, funders and other supporters who have made our Farmer-to-Farmer Program a success.

Thank you and best wishes for 2014!

Monday, December 16, 2013

WANTED: Volunteers!

Partners’ 2013-2018 Farmer-to-Farmer Program is looking for enthusiastic volunteers to provide hands-on
training in various topics to individual farmers, farmer associations, agricultural cooperatives, education institutions and others in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti and the Dominican Republic! We are currently recruiting individuals with significant experience in the following areas to travel to these countries for 2 to 3 weeks, with all assignment-related expenses paid for by the Program:

• Sustainable Production Methods for Vegetables & Tree Fruits
• Livestock Health & Nutrition (Cattle, Goats)
• Carbon-Neutral Production
• Beef Processing
• Cheese Processing
• Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certification
• Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Certification
• Post-Harvest Handling
• Product Development & Diversification
• Packaging & Labeling
• Marketing & Market Analysis
• Traceability
• Fair Trade
• Business Planning & Management
• Organizational Development
• Natural Resource Management
• Climate Change Mitigation

Spanish or French language skills are a plus, but not required. If you are interested in volunteering with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program, please send your résumé/CV to Christine McCurdy or Andi Thomas along with a brief note about your availability and language skills (if applicable).

Thank you in advance for your interest, and we look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A New Take on Holiday Fashion!

Farmer-to-Farmer does its part to improve production and promote vegetable consumption around the hemisphere. Here in the states, Partners volunteers are also helping the cause. Long-time Partners Chapter member Theresa Lou Bowick, from the Rochester, New York - Antigua Partners, combines her love of vegetables and fashion to have a little fun.

In April 2003, Theresa Bowick first traveled to Antigua with Partners as part of a steel drum cultural exchange program. A skilled nurse, she quickly realized the need to develop and take part in health care programs on the island. Over the next few years she spearheaded projects in the areas of cancer treatment and services for people with different abilities. She also became involved with “Aim for Abilities”, a project designed to enhance the lives of individuals living with different abilities. In 2008, Theresa was awarded an honor by the President of the United States for her service during National Volunteer Week. Of this experience, Theresa commented that “the President reminded us that you gain by giving and volunteering can transform souls, both of those who give and those they help. Over the years I have gained wisdom, knowledge and understanding through volunteering.”

Recently, she has been promoting healthy eating and she has turned some heads in her collard greens dress. Collard greens are nutritious and can be prepared in ways that are low-fat and delicious. The dress was a way to get people talking and it has worked. She also wrote about her weight-loss journey in her book "Collard Green Curves."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Look Back: Haiti Horticulture

Farmers bringing their products to market
Farmer-to-Farmer’s horticulture projects in Haiti have sought to improve production yields and profitability for small- and medium-scale fruit and vegetable producers. Improved production has been achieved through fundamental activities like conservation, fertility, and pest management. Building on these accomplishments, farmers have then been able improve post-harvest handling, processing, packaging and labeling, and market linkages. Some challenges still remain, including transportation, but farmers are seeing impacts from the technical assistance they received.

From 2008 to 2013, 29 horticulture volunteers engaged in assignments ranging from permaculture training and seedling management to pest control and small-scale organic farming. The program has seen some excellent results. For example, the formation of the Lory Producers Association, located in the small farming community of Lory in northern Haiti, was a result of F2F and Makouti staff’s efforts in the area. From its beginnings in 2011 with 10 members, it has since grown to 50 members.

Budding gardener with her plant
The Lory Producers Association received a number of volunteers. One of these was Master Gardener Tom Syverud from Wisconsin who worked with farmers on organic production and the development of seedling nurseries. Other volunteers provided training in a wide array of topics related to fruit and vegetable production. Training focused on ways to make community agriculture economically sustainable, including exploring micro-enterprise opportunities. The group also benefited from some donations – both cash and in-kind – from US individuals or groups that helped provide seeds and tools. The Lory Producers Association has adopted many volunteer recommendations and is seeing results. From 2011 to 2013, annual gross sales increased to $31,734, which is a significant increase for a group this size. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Composting to Benefit Farmers and the Environment in Guyana

Compost – decomposed organic material that is recycled as a soil supplement or fertilizer – is increasingly used in organic gardening and agriculture because of its economic and environmental benefits. Compost is created by combining organic wastes such as food scraps, yard trimmings and manure in proper ratios into piles or vessels and adding additional “ingredients” to facilitate the breakdown of the mixture. By manipulating the pile to produce high temperatures, pathogens and weed seeds are destroyed, and the mixture stabilizes to form mature compost; at this point, it can be added to soil to boost nutrient content and fuel plant growth. The benefits of creating compost, or “composting”, include: low cost; improves moisture and nutrient content of soil, promoting increased crop yield; replaces chemical fertilizers; diverts household/industrial wastes from the garbage can and, eventually, landfills.

In Guyana,South America, individual vegetable producers, farms, agricultural organizations, and universities recognize the benefits of composting and have collaborated with F2F to increase their knowledge of how it works, how to improve existing systems, or how to get started. In March 2013, F2F volunteer Rhonda Sherman of North Carolina traveled to Guyana to provide instruction to farmers, students and staff at the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA), and the public on composting and vermicomposting – using worms to turn organic wastes into compost. Ms. Sherman, Extension Specialist in Solid Waste Management at North Carolina State University, sought to enable participants to better manage existing composting systems or begin backyard systems of their own. Over 100 individuals attended Ms. Sherman’s training sessions, which were broadly advertised by local media houses.

Three workshops on mid-scale composting and vermicomposting were held for farmers and staff at St. Stanislaus College Farm (SSCF) in Georgetown and for staff and students at GSA. Topics included: compost mixing and pile formation; curing, storage and handling; and recovering un-composted material from finished compost.

Ms. Sherman also evaluated existing composting and vermicomposting operations at St. Stanislaus College
Farm (SSCF) in Georgetown, GSA, and the National Agriculture
Research and Extension Institute (NAREI). Another 2 sessions were held for the general public on the benefits of composting, how it works, and basic steps to begin. Following Ms. Sherman’s departure, F2F Field Officers led an additional training session due to continued requests.

SSCF, GSA, and individual producers have begun to implement several of Ms. Sherman’s recommendations regarding compost pile composition, size, placement, temperature, and mixing frequency. She was featured in multiple local newspapers – Stabroek News, Guyana Chronicle, Guyana Times – to help spread information about composting and related topics. In addition, Ms. Sherman continues to receive emails from individuals who want to compost at their homes and entrepreneurs who want to establish municipal composting sites to process organic residuals from markets and yard waste.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Happy World Food Day!

In Latin America and the Caribbean, although the average standard of living has increased in recent decades, income inequality remains widespread. Impoverished people, particularly in rural areas, still face many barriers to achieving food security, which is defined as having access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Food insecurity is particularly a concern for low-income countries where Partners works, such as Haiti and Nicaragua, which are ranked as the poorest and second poorest, respectively, in the Western Hemisphere.

In Nicaragua, many families subsist on just a few dollars a day and consume disproportionate amounts of corn, beans, and rice, rather than fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods. Seeds are unaffordable or inaccessible due to transportation barriers and adequate knowledge, funds, and resources for seasonal fruit and vegetable preservation are limited. Many rural and food insecure families do not own canning or drying equipment, and without electricity in some homes, freezing or refrigerating surplus food is not an option. Unsafe drinking water also poses a food safety risk, particularly for babies and young children with developing immune systems.

In Haiti, poor households continue to suffer from significant nutrition insecurity. Vulnerable households don’t just lack access to a diverse range of nutritious foods; family members are also missing vital knowledge about appropriate health and nutrition behaviors and how to apply them. Some of these behaviors include best practices for infant and young child feeding, maternal nutrition, prevention of diseases like diarrheal disease, malaria, and parasitic infections, and proper hygiene and sanitation. In Haiti, community structures that support optimal maternal and child health and nutrition practices are limited in their capacity, and rural poor communities remain generally underserved by the formal public health system. All of these factors result in a high prevalence of undernutrition among women and infants. 

Through trainings and technical assistance, Partners Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program and Haiti Nutrition Security Program (NSP) are playing a significant role in tackling some of these issues. In Nicaragua, F2F volunteers have held workshops on vegetable gardening, nutrition, and how to incorporate new foods into one’s diet in a way that’s appealing to children and hesitant adults. Families also learned about food dehydration and blanching techniques using a wood stove oven, which is commonly found in Nicaraguan kitchens.

 In Haiti, the newly launched Nutrition Security Program hinges on a holistic community health, nutrition and livelihoods approach. Activities include training healthcare workers and community members to improve their knowledge and behavior surrounding health and nutrition. Other activities will promote income generation and food security through seed banks, nurseries, and animal husbandry, particularly among women. By partnering with local Haitian counterparts, the NSP will ensure that its activities and strategies meet the specific needs of malnourished populations, since each region of the country is culturally and economically distinct. 

Increasing education and awareness about food systems in impoverished communities is an important step towards addressing nutritional deficiencies, promoting better health, generating family income, and developing local economies. World Food Day is a perfect opportunity to bring these issues to light and demonstrate the impactful work that Partners has accomplished. Although many challenges still remain, through volunteer visits, technical assistance and training, Partners' Agriculture and Food Security programs are making a long-term impact on the people they serve.

To find out more about World Food Day, please visit

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Got Milk? Nicaragua’s Dairy Producers show Substantial Improvements as a Result of F2F Program

As the current Farmer to Farmer (F2F) program cycle comes to a close, F2F staff are taking a look back at the impacts volunteer visits have had on agriculture and food security in Latin America and the Caribbean over the past five years.  In Nicaragua, volunteer expertise has been concentrated in dairy and horticulture – two agricultural industries that make up a large portion of the country’s economy.  Two farmers from the dairy-producing region of Camoapa, Boaco who have worked with several F2F volunteers over the course of the program and, as a result, have shown impressive improvements in production and nutrition on their farms are Josefa Miranda and Edmundo Robleto.

Josefa Miranda is a female dairy farmer who has been working with F2F since January of 2010.  Two of her main objectives when beginning her collaboration with F2F were to improve fodder used as livestock feed and increase milk production on her farm.  Several F2F volunteers worked one-on-one with Josefa and her son over the course of nearly four years, providing technical assistance to improve livestock practices such as rotational grazing, decreasing pasture size, providing mineral supplements, and keeping a registry of farm activities.  She also learned how to test for mastitis – a bacterial condition that causes inflammation of the udder and lowers milk quality – which has allowed her to identify sick cows and treat them accordingly.  Josefa now produces greater quantities of more nutritious fodder and has a healthier, more productive herd.
Dairy Producer Josefa Miranda and family members
Dr. Edmundo Robleto, Camoapa’s newly-elected mayor, has also been working with F2F for almost four years.  His goals when starting the program were to improve livestock nutrition, genetics, and milk production.  With volunteer help, Dr. Robleto has introduced new species of fodder on his farm and is better able to store it, providing more nutritious food year-round for pregnant and milk-producing cows.  He also crossed a new bovine race with his herd to improve genetics that affect production levels and the animal’s adaptability to varying climatic conditions.  Dr. Robleto's main objectives while working with the program have been met, and with his newfound status as mayor, he can now more easily disseminate this knowledge to other producers in the community, producing a domino effect of improved dairy production for the region at-large.

Dr. Edmundo Robleto and his wife

Friday, October 4, 2013

F2F Focus on “Tecnicos” in the Dominican Republic Key to Improvements in Farm & Greenhouse Management

Claire (far right) with F2F field officer Mabel Barinas and producers
Producers affiliated with the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in the Dominican Republic (DR) have shown impressive improvements in the past five years, according to a recent trip report by Claire Clugston, an experienced development practitioner in the DR.  Claire has been affiliated with the F2F program for over a year, initially as a graduate intern in the Washington, D.C. office and later as a volunteer with the University of Wisconsin helping with monitoring and evaluation efforts in the DR – the same country where she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) for three and a half years.  Because of Claire’s Spanish language skills and familiarity with development work in the DR, she was able to get a true grasp on how F2F’s approach there has contributed towards sustainable agricultural development.
During Claire’s volunteer visit this past August, she made several important observations regarding the positive impact F2F has had in the country.  As a PCV, she understands the difficulties of doing sustainable development work in a place where project beneficiaries have become accustomed to receiving handouts rather than long-term investments in technical training and capacity building.  With F2F, however, Claire was impressed by the program’s focus on training agricultural extension workers (known as “tecnicos”) and institutions so that they, in turn, are able to disseminate new information to hundreds of farmers in neighboring communities. 
Claire (center left) with women's group in San Jose de Ocoa

Through data collection and analysis of recommendations adopted by host organizations, Claire noticed the vast improvements producers made in farm and greenhouse management as a result of the technical assistance they received from host organizations.  Among those improvements was the widespread adoption of integrated pest management – a pest control strategy that has improved production using fewer pesticides and has allowed farmers to increase their incomes and decrease environmental harm.  “A small but well-run establishment”, Claire noted, “will be more profitable than a large but badly managed farm… Knowledge, rather than technology or size, is what is most important for producer success.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Small Business Development: Haiti

Jim Crandall training new entrepreneurs.
Small business development is a multi-dimensional and fluid process. In Haiti, programs like F2F and Makouti Agro-Enterprise support farmers in establishing a production system – an essential component to starting a business. By providing person-to-person, hands-on training, F2F and Makouti contribute to increasing producers’ chances of success.

In addition to a healthy, efficient production system, a business needs a business plan to guide decisions about facilities, production, and marketing, with an eye towards profitability and long-term sustainability. This past June, F2F volunteer Jim Crandall applied his experience in cooperative business development to assist producer networks in Haiti. His focus was on enabling producers to make business decisions based on the network as a whole, not just on individuals.

Jim spent his first week in the Port-au-Prince area working specifically with two rabbit producer associations. He led sessions with the leadership committees of each association, and together they edited and refined cash flow spreadsheets and developed proposed budgets for their networks. This process allowed the committees to better prepare for expenses including maintenance of the processing facility, payment of quality assurance inspectors, or farmer education.

Jim also coached committee members on how to raise start-up funds to get their associations underway and how to attract more members to their associations. Associations can benefit farmers by grouping products from several farms for joint marketing. This larger quantity, enhanced by consistent quality, allows farmers to access markets they might otherwise be unable to access as individuals. Another component of associations is member education, which enhances the work of individual members and in turn improves product quality.

Steering committee for the Sibert Rabbit Marketing
Associations and cooperatives are generally funded by the producers, themselves. In the case of the Port-au-Prince producers, farmers have a limited ability to invest cash funds in starting a collective or association. Jim devised several creative ideas for producers to pay membership dues. One possibility is for producers to “invest” a small number of animals in the new cooperative. The harvested animals would then be sold and the proceeds poured into the association. In the start-up stage, this approach could contribute to initial processing and marketing expenses. Once the association has been established, new producers could then join with a similar “investment.”

Jim reflected that “The business development process is a long process. It builds upon itself, and is truly never completed. A business plan is always being revised and updated to reflect new conditions and information. It is a living breathing document that includes a written plan as a “roadmap” and a financial plan for resource acquisition and expenditure.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

F2F Teams up with Colombia's SENA to Boost Fruit Industry in Department of Huila

F2F volunteer Dr. Robert
Paull of the University of
Hawaii at Manoa
Huila, 1 of Colombia’s 32 departments, is recognized nationally for its tropical fruit industry. Located in the country’s southwest region, Huila boasts 25 tropical fruit species spanning 10,699 hectares (26,438 acres), and is Colombia’s number 1 producer of passion fruit and pineapple. That said, Huila’s fruit industry is currently performing below the national average, considered to be the result of a lack of direct assistance and improved technologies at the producer level.

To address this issue, Colombia’s National Learning Service (SENA) has linked up with Farmer to Farmer to facilitate collaboration among U.S. tropical fruit specialist, Dr. Robert Paull, SENA instructors, and Huila’s fruit producers. Dr. Paull, Chairman of the Department of Tropical Plant & Soil Science at the
 University of Hawaii at Manoa, has been in Huila since September 8th to learn about tropical fruit production in the region and to provide field and classroom training on three specific topics: handling fruit properly post-harvest to prevent physical damage; determining proper fruit maturity levels; and preventing damage to products during transport. A majority of the training has focused on the communities of Campoalegre, Pitalito and Neiva, three major producer areas within the department.

For more information about Dr. Paull’s activities, check out this article published in Huila's local newspaper, La Nacion.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Colombia’s Amazon World Ecological Park: Marketing Aromatic Teas One Year After F2F Volunteer Visit

In November of last year, Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer Matthias Resien had taken a trip to Leticia, Colombia to provide training to staff at the Amazon World Ecological Park regarding dehydration techniques for making teas, packaging them, and developing marketing strategies. The park, which opened in 2011 and is known for its sustainable use of biodiversity, has many different species of aromatic plants that have large potential in the tea market, particularly for tourists visiting the park. Matthias’s visit was essential in getting the business started by helping to build a drying structure at the park and showing how to blend different herbs for aromatic teas that will be sold.

Today, almost one year later, park staff are now selling tea to visitors and are in the process of expanding their market even more. They continue to make improvements to the drying house to adapt to local environmental conditions and create a stronger structure. In the future, they are looking into designing coloring books for children with pictures of plants found in the park that are important to the culture and development of the Amazon. These ideas and recommendations were spearheaded by Matthias’s visit, and will help improve the sustainability of the park so visitors can continue to enjoy it and protect the Amazon’s biodiversity for years to come.

The herb drying facility at the Amazon World Ecological Park before improvements were made
The facility after renovations

Friday, September 6, 2013

F2F Small Animal Volunteer Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak Makes 15th Visit to Haiti

Rabbits are a good source of nutrition and income for
smallholder Haitian farmers
Long-time Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Volunteer Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak recently returned from her fifteenth trip to Haiti in seven years. As a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from California, Myriam has had a unique volunteer experience in that she’s been able to follow the progression of the rabbit industry in Haiti, with rabbit meat becoming increasingly accepted on a larger scale as a viable source of nutrition and income for smallholder farmers. When Myriam first started volunteering with F2F in Haiti in 2006, there were fewer than 100 rabbit producers in the country, and only one of them was also eating the rabbits she raised. Today, with the help of F2F and Makouti Agro-Enterprise, this number has grown to over 1,000 producers with almost all raising rabbits for both personal consumption and sale.

Boiling and mixing cassava to include in rabbit feed blocks
Myriam’s most recent visit to Haiti was spent in-part monitoring the development of nutritional feed blocks for rabbits. All commercial rabbit feed in Haiti is currently produced from imported ingredients, which is not only costly for smallholder producers but also makes the availability of feed subject to fluctuations in international markets. Through the creation of recent training programs, rabbit producers are learning how to make and preserve their own nutritional feed blocks so they can have a more affordable and readily accessible food source for their animals. Myriam’s expertise was useful in developing the feed blocks and ensuring their proper storage.

Rabbit feed blocks produced locally with Myriam's help
Myriam was also overseeing the construction of a new meat processing plant outside of Port-au-Prince to ensure that proper food safety and sanitation measures are being followed. A local association will use the facility to process and distribute rabbits sourced from producers in the surrounding region. The association’s goal is that the plant will not only be a successful business, but will also serve as a model for safe food handling practices in the country.

Myriam found that although there are still many challenges in making Haitian rabbit production a sustainable business, new developments like the nutritional feed blocks and meat processing plant will help support smallholder producers and the local economy. In her trip reflection, Myriam wrote, “Farming will never be easy, but…rather than creating dependency and spending money on imported food…, it does feed people, provide them with incomes, and keep the economy alive by moving money around…Haiti.”

Myriam with two new rabbit producers

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Professor of Forestry, Charles Ruffner, Promotes Agroforestry in the Dominican Republic

Farmer to Farmer volunteer Charles Ruffner with
Dominican producers
Last month, the community of El Cercado, San Juan in the Dominican Republic received a visit from Charles Ruffner, a Forestry Professor at Southern Illinois University. During his visit, Charles worked with the San Pedro and Pablo Federation, a nongovernmental organization of 21 farmer associations and 600 subsistence farm families that helps producers implement agroforestry practices on their farms. Agroforestry is a farming technique that involves planting fruit, nut, and woody trees on the farm with a variety of crops. Charles’s role during his week-long visit was to help farmers map and plan these planting schemes so they could not only lessen the environmental impacts of their farming practices but also improve their incomes. 

Smoke in the mountains - a result of slash-and-burn
agricultural techniques

Agroforestry is being promoted as a farmer-friendly way to reduce the negative impacts of swidden, or slash-and-burn, agriculture. Swidden agriculture is a common growing method in the Dominican Republic, where forests are cleared to expand areas for crop production. In a country with such mountainous terrain, this practice has had harsh environmental effects, including soil erosion and poor water quality, which ultimately leads to decreased agricultural productivity and lost income. However, when trees are planted throughout the farm and are providing a secondary income to producers, farmers are less likely to use slash-and-burn techniques, as fire damages the trees.
Charles and a counterpart presenting on soil conservation

Through a combination of site visits, farmer interviews, and workshops, Charles was able to reach many farmers within the San Pedro and Pablo Federation network. He helped plant avocado and other fruit trees, and assisted with land terracing for erosion control. He also led workshops about soil conservation and fire prevention techniques. Though his visit was brief, the San Pedro and Pablo Federation is now better equipped to successfully promote agroforestry in the region, ultimately improving the health, nutrition, and economic wellbeing of the farmers involved and conserving precious soil and water resources for future generations to come.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Survey of Jamaican Beekeepers Reveals Significant Improvement in Beekeeping Knowledge and Capacity

Tom Hebert, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, beekeeper and English teacher who resides in Intibucá, Honduras, spent the month of July working with beekeeping associations in 6 of Jamaica’s 14 parishes. This was Tom’s second visit to Jamaica – following his first Farmer to Farmer (F2F) assignment in July 2012 – and the 8th F2F assignment focused on low-cost, sustainable beekeeping in Jamaica in the last year.

Tom’s 11 hands-on training sessions focused on building top-bar hives, hive management, and making home-made pollen traps and foundation molds – skills identified by the associations as areas where they needed to increase their capacity. Of the 72 recorded participants, 66.6% had attended a previous F2F beekeeping training, and just over 25% were present at Tom’s first session in 2012.

Two summer interns at Yerba Buena Farm in St. Mary parrish accompanied Tom to his trainings and conducted a survey of the 72 participants to gain a better understanding of why they were interested in beekeeping, the current state of their individual beekeeping practices, and the impact of F2F volunteer assistance over the past year. The following graphs illustrate the results of the survey, which revealed that a majority of participants are interested in beekeeping as a primary or supplementary income source, and, through attending F2F trainings, participants have significantly increased their beekeeping knowledge and capacity.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Aquaculture Training at the University of Guyana Seeks to Breed a New Pool of Fishfarming Specialists

Pond-side discussion of duckweed-based feeds at the
Trafalgar Union Fish Farm 
Former Associate Professor of Aquaculture at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, Dr. Peter Perschbacher, traveled to Guyana from May 30th - June 18th in response to a request for training by the University of Guyana - Turkeyen Department of Agriculture & Forestry. The University of Guyana - Turkeyen Campus, located in the capital city of Georgetown, asked Dr. Perschbacher to provide training in sustainable aquaculture to students and faculty, as well as interested farmers, government extension workers and entrepreneurs. The goal: to prepare a pool of aquaculture technicians and researchers, as well as to prepare a lecturer to succeed an outgoing aquaculture professor.

The highly prized and priced hassar food fish 
Dr. Perschbacher's nearly 3-week visit included a 2-day session attended by 33 participants, a 5-day session attended by 10 participants, and 4 days of field trips to existing and planned fish farms and government aquaculture stations. Trainings addressed topics such as pond contruction, fish nutrition, pathology and treatment, fish yield, and effects of fish farming on the environment, among others, and included hands-on field exercises related to cost of feeds and production budgets, calculating protein balancing for feed formulations, and determining disease treatment rates in fishfarming ponds.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"We can make a difference in small ways and at a very human level. Caring does matter."

Amelia Canilho and Jean Tice recently returned from a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Nicaragua. Both Canilho and Tice are educators and residents of Wisconsin. The team complemented each others skills in teaching and assisting over 100 Nicaraguan youth and adults with tips on home gardening, square foot gardening, family nutrition, food preservation, new food product development, and value-added processing and marketing. They worked with five community learning centers near the cities of Managua and Rivas, and also attended portions of the EXPICA Agriculture Expo and the National Cattleman's Congress.
Discussing a healthy snack program at local elementary school
At each learning center the team got a tour of the farms and facilities. They then conducted a general needs assessment through a short questionnaire and discussion with leaders of the center and active members. Together with the groups they developed activities for the following day that addressed the center's needs and goals to improve their community's nutrition and horticulture knowledge.

Facilitating discussion on group square-foot gardening activities
An example of their experience was Cedro Galan, a small community on the outskirts of Managua, the learning center provides sewing classes and has a library. The members had small and "wild" gardens, the group mentioned on their questionnaires that they were interested in creating garden plots for personal consumption and retail as well as receiving information on nutrition and the incorporation of more vegetables in their daily diet. Group activities included a training and hands-on activities in square foot gardening techniques, composting, and a cooking demonstration. Recipes, along with new ideas on what to plant and eat, were discussed over a healthy lunch.

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers, Amelia Canilho and Jean Tice
As the volunteers reflect on their assignments they shared the following thoughts on their experience: "As first-time volunteers we were both overwhelmed by the problems we encountered and amazed by the resilience and creative spirit of the people we met. The women and youth we met taught us the value of a word well-placed, a dream well-tended and an idea worth supporting. The indomitable spirit of leaders like Chepita, Janina, Dr. Ronalds and D. Evaristo give us hope for the future of Nicaragua...
Whilst reviewing the comments of our new friends in Nicaragua we are heartened to think that we can make a difference in small ways and at a very human level. Caring does matter"

Friday, August 2, 2013

First F2F Beginner Beekeeping Class in Haiti

Sean (center) with family of new beekeeper (left)
For two weeks in July, Washington DC resident and beekeeper Sean McKenzie volunteered in Haiti to put on the first ever Beginner Beekeeping Class conducted by the Farmer to Farmer Program. This course has been a long time in the making, satisfying the demand to bring new beekeepers - especially more women and youth - into the trade. With this training, those who formerly did not have access to this type of training received the information needed to embark on a new environmentally-friendly economic activity, and help revitalize the beekeeping industry in Haiti.

Sean McKenzie is a beekeeper, queen breeder, entrepreneur, and beekeeping course instructor at the University of the District of Columbia. Below are photos sent from our field staff:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Farmer-to-Farmer Interviews

While they were visiting Washington, DC recently, several Farmer-to-Farmer Field Staff members and one of our volunteers were interviewed about their involvement in the program. Click on the video below to find out more!

Friday, July 19, 2013

In Their Own Words....

The Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program is not just about improving economic growth and agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean - it is about connecting people and organizations to make a difference. As one producer in Guyana put it - "You have to meet with people if you want to change the world.” Hearing about F2F directly from field staff, volunteers, local partners, and hosts can be powerful. Below are some quotes from interviews and focus groups in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guyana and Nicaragua.

Economic impact...

“Before [Makouti and F2F] started helping me, my level was very low. That is to say I couldn’t produce. I wasn’t making any money. Now, I am working for an organization that pays me [well], and I have a lot of bees now. I travel to the US because of my business in apiculture, my whole family gets job from that, I pay for schooling for kids, my everyday living is because of the grace of F2F and Makouti.“ -F2F Host, Haiti

“I'll tell you an example, with the first harvest of avocado, I remodeled my house. And so the benefits are visible and continue to be seen.”-F2F Host, Dominican Republic

“Before, we did not see the importance of being sanitary. Now we see that if you do it, it will increase the quality of milk and we will sell more. We’d still be receiving very low prices for our milk if it wasn’t for F2F.” –F2F Host, Nicaragua

“It has helped me send all my kids to school. I do a lot of activities with the money from the honey. I thought this could not help me take care of my family but now I am taking care of other families.”-F2F Host, Haiti

“The project opportunities are expanding.  As the program grows, and with market expansion continuing, the positive impact will be not only for growers, but for citizen health and economic benefits for the country.” -F2F Volunteer, Guyana

Gender roles...

“The men are in charge of taking decisions on what to do with money because they are making the money. In this case we are changing their minds because the women are making the money.”-F2F In-Country Staff, Nicaragua

“My perception and assumption is that the activity of asking poor women their opinion was very significant. It appears that was new to them, that their opinion had never really been asked as seriously in the context of that work.”-F2F Volunteer, Dominican Republic

Changing lives...

“F2F is very much a big part of who I am. The experiences over the years, all our travels, will live with me for a very long time”.-Former F2F Field Officer, Guyana

“I love the fact that I can get up in the morning and work and at the end of it you know why you’re working. At the end of it you sell and you have something growing for you. That is a motivating factor.”-F2F Host, Guyana

“[F2F] has helped me to develop more of a business way of doing things and more commitment in terms of having my own business.  I really love the idea of having my own business.  I am very satisfied with what I have reached so far.”-F2F Host, Guyana

“I can tell you that the Partners group in Nicaragua and those in Washington have been fabulous. I felt that my visits there were the most effective F2F trips .. I felt my time was utilized effectively.”-F2F Volunteer, Nicaragua

And so on...  Read more about F2F on this blog or visit

Monday, July 15, 2013

F2F Field Staff Travel to Washington, DC for Training

The 2013 Farmer-to-Farmer Field Staff Workshop was a wonderful way to reflect on the past 5 years of the program's success. From July 9-12 Farmer-to-Farmer headquarter staff Peggy Carlson, Meghan Olivier, Marcela Trask, and Christine McCurdy hosted field staff from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Guyana in Washington, D.C. The University of Wisconsin-Extension (UWEX) team joined the headquarters staff and field officers to provide much needed assistance with monitoring and evaluation. As this cycle of the program comes to a close, field staff will be busily working to collect final qualitative and quantitative data. Program Officer Christine McCurdy exclaimed, "I give a lot of credit to UWEX for helping all of us better understand what information we need to collect for our final report and how it can be collected effectively, appropriately, and efficiently."

Pictured: Field staff from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Guyana, as well as Washington, D.C. headquarter staff attending a breakfast held by Partners of the Americas for the 2013 Farmer to Farmer Field Staff Workshop.
During the Workshop each team gave a brief presentation about their country's success, presented plans for the final round of data collection, and reviewed the various impact indicators. After four days of hard work everyone enjoyed lunch at the Supreme Court cafeteria followed by a tour of the U.S. Capitol. That evening many of the field staff attended a DC United game before departing the next day for their respective countries. The Workshop gave Farmer-to-Farmer staff a chance to meditate on 5 years of hard work and dedication, to determine how to best demonstrate their success, and to celebrate the program's many accomplishments.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Personal Account by Compost Specialist Herbe Zapata

In 2011 Mr. Zapata earned his Veteran's Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) certification. Certified as an Agricultural Irrigation Specialist, he also has his Food Manager Handler’s license and is experienced in the areas of integrated pest management and small business administration. He has also earned certifications as a Master Gardner and Master Composter. F2F volunteer, Herbe Zapata shares with us a personal narrative of the first week of his June 2013 trip to Dominican Republic.

Herb Zapata leading a session with producers in El Cercado
I arrived in the Dominican Republic on June 15 and was driven out to El Cercado in San Juan de la Maguana. I went to La Hermita where I conducted a composting and vermiculture lesson and built a shadehouse. I also built a pen on the ground to keep the worms in with cow manure, explaining the importance of a three layer bin and how to keep areas separate on the second level with food and paper. Sunday I traveled to the villages Los Tablones de Batista and Derrumbadero, where I assessed the open field irrigation systems. One issue I encountered was a pig living on the the hill on top of the spring where the community gets its water for crops. I advised them that this was unsanitary because it leeches downstream through the soil. Hopefully they can address this problem with the owner and mediate the situation. Monday and Tuesday I visited the villages of Pinal Grande, Boca del Humo, and La Rancha, assisting horticulturalists with their greenhouses, shadehouses, and worm hoop houses. I was pleased to see that Pinal Grande had lots of worms in their manure pile, keeping them sufficiently moist, as previously advised. I was asked to do a symposium the next three days for farmers from all the nearby villages: Wednesday on compost and vermiculture; Thursday on integrated pest management; and Friday on organization financial structure. I worked with the community providing technical assistance, practical hands-on experience, and sharing my knowledge of how to sell directly to customers, through farmers' markets and CSAs.

I must say my experience has been warm and heartfelt. I’ll always think of the people in these remote villages and their need for a just and leveled system across the board. This bi-national island is like the rest of the world, they have borders by land or sea, and immigrants trying to cope with a global economy.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Spotlight on Small Business Training: Haiti

Producers ready for training
Bill Nichols, a Boston-based marketing strategy consultant traveled to Haiti as a Farmer to Farmer volunteer in March 2013. For two weeks he trained more than 40 Haitian farmers and producers in basic business topics focusing on marketing, sales, and negotiating skills.

After determining the business training needs of Makouti members, Bill was able to design and deliver tools and training, such as conducting customer needs assessments. He also drafted a business plan in conjunction with Makouti and three leading poultry producers.

Bill found the assignment "highly satisfying", explaining that "the Makouti team is strong and was very supportive of my work. [...] I was impressed at the loyalty Makouti members gave to the organization. Clearly they appreciate the development the organization has provided them."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Impactful and Impacted: California Livestock Veterinarian Gives and Gains During His Assignment in Guyana, South America

Dr. Scott Haskell, Director of the Veterinary Technology Program at Yuba College in Marysville, California, recently traveled to Guyana, South America, where he provided training in topics related to herd health management and biosecurity.  Dr. Haskell was tasked with leading continuing education sessions for members of the Guyana Veterinary Association (GVA), the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA), the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA), and the Public Health Section of the Ministry of Health, focusing on the following subjects, among others:

• Cattle and Ruminant Production & Clinical Examination
• Proper Use of Antibiotics in Veterinary Medicine
• Livestock Disease Control & Reporting
• Epidemiologic Surveillance and Disease Outbreak Investigation
• Global Climate Change & its Potential Impact on Disease Transmission
• Career & Training Opportunities Within the Veterinary Profession

Dr. Scott Haskell heads up Guyana's Berbice River
In addition to classroom-style trainings, Dr. Haskell's two-week stay in the "Land of Many Waters" included meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Guyana Veterinary Surveillance; Diagnostic Lab Annex and Sample Processing Center, and the United Nations Development Program, as well as field visits to four dairy, beef and small ruminant farms. Over the course of his visit, Dr. Haskell provided training to 92 individuals.

Though Dr. Haskell had a clear impact on the professionals with whom he met, he also left the country impacted himself. "I feel that I learned more from my hosts than they from me", he recalls. "Yes, I was able to evaluate the veterinary issues of Guyana, but more importantly the people touched my soul in ways that I can never repay."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Improving Horticulture Production and Marketing in Nicaragua

Farmer-to-Farmer recently sent two volunteers to work with horticulture project hosts in Nicaragua with the goal of improving the standard of living of vegetable producers. Historically, the production of vegetables is limited by low levels of agricultural technology, inadequate use of natural resources, low production value, and low budget in the production sector, as well as issues associated with agricultural methods and techniques, pest control, sickness, and poor post-management of crops. By helping producers make efficient use of the natural resources on their farms and providing specialized technical assistance, Farmer-to-Farmer aims to ensure food security and protect the health of producers and their families.

For two weeks in May, professor of community development Arlen Albrecht worked with producers, offering assistance in the areas of organic vegetable production, disease and insect control, square foot gardens, drip irrigation, jet stove making, and water harvesting/gravity fed drip irrigation systems. Working alongside him as a first-time volunteer, rural development outreach specialist Erin Peot provided assistance in the areas of business and marketing, local sales opportunities, and helping producers explore low cost value-added concepts.

Erin experienced first hand the challenges that come with the work Arlen has been doing since he took his first volunteer trip with Farmer-to-Farmer to Nicaragua in 1999. In the Buenos Aires/Villa del Carmen area residents were experiencing a drought. Many local water wells were dry, leaving the Mayra Mendoza community unable to maintain their kitchen gardens. Arlen responded by helping install a gravity fed drip irrigation system that saved both gas and river water. With more than a decade of volunteer experience in the region, Arlen explained, "I feel that although change is happening very slowly, the plight of the rural poor in Nicaragua is improving, and that F2F volunteers are contributing to that along with the hosts."

It was in Tecuantepe that Arlen and Erin visited "the most significant garden project witnessed to date". They were impressed, noting examples of various growing methods. Arlen provided instruction on tomato plant care and crop rotation, while Erin taught producers direct marketing concepts and helped them create a mixed-produce box to be marketed to university professors, students, and current clientele. "I had a wonderful experience in Nicaragua because of the Partners’ staff and the workshop participants," Erin told Farmer-to-Farmer.