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.