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 Intibuc√°, 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: