Thursday, March 28, 2013

Aspiring Mushroom Producers See the Fruits of Their Labor!

Nick and Agape bagging innoculated sawdust.
Agape and Kwao Adams of Yerba Buena Farm in St. Mary, Jamaica, have successfully grown their first mushrooms! Since December 2011, when Agape first requested a visit from a Mushroom Specialist, the Adams have been interested in producing mushrooms as they are one of the only crops that can thrive in the shade of mature fruit trees. Agape reports that most of the land in their area is dominated by fruit orchards; this is great when the trees are in season, however, during the off-season the land is unproductive.

In March 2012, the Adams received their first visit from Mushroom Specialist Nick Laskovski of Waitsfield, Vermont. Together, they inoculated various log species with shiitake and oyster mushroom spawn. Unfortunately, the dry season began shortly after Nick’s visit, and the Adams weren’t able to supply the spawn with the amount of water they required. Pests devoured the spawn before the spawn could colonize the logs.

Nick returned to Yerba Buena Farm in December 2012, this time during the rainy season. Not only did the weather provide the moisture that the spawn needed, but Nick and the Adams experimented with a new inoculation method; rather than inserting the spawn directly into logs, they inoculated sawdust in plastic bags – a more controlled environment shielded from pests.
Agape showing off her mushrooms!
Last month, Agape reported, “We ate our first mushrooms! The bag method is a success for oyster mushrooms. We are in communication with Nick and he's helping us figure out how best to fruit them. We are really happy and hopeful about growing mushrooms!”

Eventually, the Adams hope to see local mushroom producers competing with foreign exporters to supply shiitake and oyster mushrooms to Jamaica’s resorts and hotels.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chicken Farmer from Vacaville, CA Shares Experience with Haitian Counterparts

First chicken farm visited upon Alexis' arrival in Haiti
A month ago yesterday Alexis Malick-Koefoed, a chicken farmer from California (Soul Food Farm), found herself on her way to Haiti to conduct her first Farmer to Farmer assignment. A fellow rancher and repeat Farmer to Farmer volunteer had directed her to the Program. She gathered all the information she could and headed to Haiti to see what she would find, and how she would be able to help the farmers improve their odds of success.

Her scope of work included assessing the chicken industry, especially analyzing options and nutrition content of chicken feed and working with women farmers to improve their enterprises. With the assistance of Farmer to Farmer and local technicians, the women are trying to increase their understanding of chicken production as a micro-enterprise, which is new to many of them and holds the potential for them to improve their livelihoods.

Students stayed for hours and asked many questions
The first week Alexis visited several farms together with Farmer to Farmer staff. She then wrote a 13 page report of basic chicken care and management which was translated into Creole, and taught a five- hour class to 40 University students about poultry care. At the end of her trip, she spent several hours reviewing notes, photos, and recommendations with staff.

Program staff commented on how Alexis, as a chicken farmer herself, could quickly grasp the realities of her Haitian counterparts. She could infer based on several behavioral observations and other factors that the chickens were largely under-fed, and this coupled with other environmental stresses were lowering the animals' productive potential. Since chicken feed is by far the largest expense and often difficult to access in Haiti, this finding is understandable.

Among Alexis' many practical recommendations are lower-cost herbal remedies (oregano) to improve animal health and other recommendations to reduce animal stress which could be implemented immediately, like ways to improve hygiene by reducing ammonia, and reducing heat stress. As a follow-on to the project, she and F2F field staff plan to have locally-available feed analyzed in a US lab for nutritional content.

It can be difficult to get chicks - these just arrived from the Dominican Republic

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Volunteers recommend efficient beekeeping techniques to Trafalgar Union co-op, Aliki Amerindian Village and Mainstay Village in Guyana

Farmer to Farmer's volunteers Amy Weeks and James (Jim) H. Kelly Jr. have recently provided technical assistance to beekeepers in Guyana. The volunteers worked closely with beekeepers from the Trafalgar Union women's co-op, the Aliki Amerindian Village and the Mainstay Village giving these small entrepreneurs guidance on hive management, beekeeping equipment and queen rearing, from January 21st to February 04th of this year.

The volunteers expressed that, at the time of the visit, women beekeepers in the Trafalgar Union cooperative were successfully selling their honey produce to Kingdom Apiaries. Nonetheless, the volunteers observed that the co-op technique for extracting honey was uneconomical as beekeepers were cutting out the honey comb and crushing it to harvest the honey, meaning that bees have to completely rebuild the comb to store more honey. Fortunately, following the recommendation from our volunteers and with the help of our Farmer to Farmer office in Guyana, the cooperative has recently acquired a centrifugal extractor, which should expedite the honey extraction process and double the output, while preserving the honeycomb frames. Therefore, the Trafalgar Union’s women beekeepers have quickly adapted this recommendation and are already benefitting from this decision!

Moreover, other equipment issues were also addressed by our volunteers during the visit to this co-op, which will surely have a significant impact on the cooperative’s beekeeping success. For instance, they recommended using full sheets of wax foundation for frame assembling to prevent bees to connect comb between frames, as this could be destructive to the comb when the frames are removed for inspection.

At the Aliki Amerindian Village, Amy and Jim instructed children of different ages about honeybees and safety, how to split a hive correctly to grow the number of hives and the use of hive stands with ant oil traps for ant control. They also suggested training more women on beekeeping to avoid losing the beekeeping knowledge usually hold by men, who many times have to go off the village to look for work.

Finally, the volunteers helped beekeepers at Mainstay village to assemble 20 frames with foundation, and also taught them how to use a honey extractor which was unused. Amy and Jim expressed that the aptitude of the community leader was excellent for beekeeping success and that they expect that Mainstay beekeepers will respond to the challenges presented with a little more of beekeeping training in the future. Thus, hopefully they will get more training volunteers from Farmer to Famer in the short run to accompany this process!

Jim and Amy in the Mangrove Forest Apiary with the Trafalgar/ Union Women’s co-op. 

Two women from the Trafalgar Group feeding sugar water to their bees. This is a necessary practice during the wet season to keep the bees from absconding.

Amy instructing some of the women in the Trafalgar group on how to assemble wax foundation into wooden frames. 

Jim and Amy with the Trafalgar Union Group.

Jim instructing a nephew and sons of some of the women from the Trafalgar group on how to make their own beehive boxes, bottom boards, and tops.

Jim giving a talk on honeybees to the children of Aliki Amerindian Village.

One of the younger boys from Aliki Amerindian Village trying on some bee protective gear.

One of the younger girls from Aliki village.  They were all very proud to be hanging around the visiting beekeepers.

Woman from Mainstay Amerindian Village putting wax foundation into wooden frames for the first time.

Jim and Amy in a question and answer session with Joel and other members of the Mainstay Amerindian Village. 

Jim and some of the men from Mainstay Amerindian village putting wax foundation in frames. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Farmer to Farmer Tribute to International Women's Day

Greenhouse vegetable producer, El Cercado, Dominican Republic (photo credit Britt Basel)
Today, March 8, is International Women's Day! In honor of all the female volunteers and farmers with whom we work  across Latin America and the Caribbean Region, below are some photos of the talented women who collaborate with Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer Program as well as some interesting statistics.
According to the FAO, women make up more than 40 percent of agricultural labor in developing countries, and in some countries, they are as much 80 percent of the agricultural work force. However, women farmers’ yields are roughly 20-30 percent less than male farmers. If gender barriers were eliminated and women farmers were able to match the yields of male farmers, global malnourishment could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent. But improved conditions for women don’t only lead to higher yields – they benefit the wider community as well.
- from the Landscapes for People, Food, and Nature Blog (EcoAgriculture Partners together with Food Tank)

In Haiti, F2F Administrative Assistant Josemine (Jojo) Pierre (second from left) leads a training workshop for women on candle-making with pure beeswax. F2F assisted around 12,000 women from late 2008 through the end of 2012.
In Guyana, F2F Volunteer Elayna Yussen worked together with female cooperative members to improve recordkeeping and accounting systems. In addition to technical agricultural skills, F2F volunteers have also trained women in various countries on the topics of leadership, labeling and marketing, organizational development, and low-cost video production.
Greenhouse vegetable producer from the Dominican Republic shares experiences with Mimi Arnstein, organic vegetable producer from Vermont. In the Dominican Republic, Farmer to Farmer focuses on assisting women greenhouse producers to supplement family income in rural areas. (photo credit: Britt Basel)
In Nicaragua, F2F Flex Volunteer Judy Hoffman shares honey with her Nicaragua counterpart. Female beekeepers who volunteer through Farmer to Farmer set a positive example for women. Beekeeping, like many other areas of agricultural production, is traditionally a male-dominated area. Beekeeping is a great income-generating activity for women with many responsibilities in rural areas. Over 30% of Partners' 2008 - 2013 F2F Program volunteers are women.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Photos from the Field: Sweet Potato Production in the DR

Dr. Hammond (in the dark blue hat) inspects sweet potatoes in La Vega.

There are more than 5,000 small farmers that grow sweet potatoes in the Dominican Republic, largely in the area of San Juan. These producers have been negatively affected by the sweet potato weevil (cylas formicarius) known in the Dominican Republic as Piogan. Dr. Abner Hammond, a sweet potato specialist from Louisiana State University, traveled to the Dominican Republic in January and February 2013 to provide training to extensionists and farmers about the management and control of the sweet potato weevil. In addition to his teaching at Louisiana State, Dr. Hammond has also worked as an Extension Specialist in Sweet Potato IPM for 15 years and his recent research is concentrated on developing strategies to integrate new technology into insect pest management systems for sweet potato and sugar cane. Through Farmer to Farmer collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Junta Agroempresarial Dominicana (JAD), we hope to have an impact on sweet potato weevil control in the DR.