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