Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Highlights of 2014

2014 has been a productive year for Partners' Agriculture and Food Security (AFS) Unit! Under the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program, 78 volunteers traveled to eight countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to work with close to 40 producer groups, NGOs, universities, and other hosts. They provided training in areas as diverse as business plan development, honey harvesting, animal nutrition, marketing of organic products, and much more, and directly assisted over 6,000 people. Partners' Haiti Nutrition Security Program, funded by USAID/Haiti as part of their Feed the Future Initiative, has recruited and is providing support to 1,548 Mother Leaders who have been organized into 144 Care Groups. Each Mother Leader is then responsible for leading local neighborhood women’s clubs, through which nutrition counseling and promotional support are provided to an additional 13,898 young pregnant and lactating mothers of children under the age of five. As a result, the project is now reaching over 15,446 neighborhood women households.

Below are some top stories and other highlights of 2014:

January
Partners has been supporting sustainable beekeeping in Jamaica since 2012, training local beekeepers in topics such as selective queen breeding, construction of top-bar hives, recordkeeping, and value-added products. Other activities have been constructing simple pollen traps, candle making, and building molds for making wax foundation. In this article, F2F volunteers Les Crowder and Laura Ferguson talk about their January trip to Jamaica and share their impressions of the beekeeping sector. You and also read more about Partners beekeeping work in Jamaica here.

February
Partners Haiti Nutrition Security Program is using the Care Group model to deliver trainings, provide services, and communicate good health and nutrition behavior messages. Mothers engage in conversations about attitudes, behaviors, and practices around health and nutrition. Some topics include which foods are safe to eat during pregnancy, portion sizes, and the need for family support for pregnant and lactating women. In this video, mothers sing about the main food groups and the importance of happiness and harmony in the household: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmdAFRFjVe0. Find out more at: www.haitinutrition.org.

March
Partners has been working with long-time volunteer Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak on assisting coffee producers in Haiti and she traveled in March to focus on marketing. Ms. Kaplan-Pasternak co-founded HaitiCoffee.com, which imports green coffee. What is most significant about Haiti Coffee is not only that is the result of cooperation between individuals and groups affiliated with Farmer-to-Farmer, but also that it is working to build a sustainable network to support viable, income-generating agricultural opportunities for Haitian farmers, and moving up the value chain to access a larger market. Buy some coffee today!

April
One of the highlights of F2F is often what volunteers are inspired to do after their assignment is completed. Ellen Lewis served as a volunteer in 2009, 2011, and 2013 and became interested in the role that gender plays in organizational development in Latin Americas. In March/April, she traveled to Nicaragua to conduct research on the role of women in the sustainability and impact of the F2F program and to train dairy cooperatives in organizational development. During her assignment, she introduced “feminist systems thinking” methodology and assisted cooperative members to identify methods to mitigate the barriers women face in gaining leadership roles. Ellen is now using this research to complete her PhD dissertation at Hull University in the UK.

May
In May, the USAID/Dominican Republic Mission officially approved Partners’ F2F strategy focused on protecting the Yaque del Norte watershed through effective soil, water, and natural resource management. The Yaque del Norte region is vital to the country’s production of bananas and other crops. However, unpredictable weather patterns and more frequent droughts, floods, and extreme weather have raised concern over the reduced quantity and quality of available water. Paul Wojtkowski was the first F2F volunteer to travel under this new strategy and he conducted workshops and presentations for 145 banana producers and strategic partners to increase their understanding of the factors that influence climate change, the impact climate change has on agriculture and forestry in the DR, and what farmers can do to best adapt to climate change at the farm, household, and community level.

June
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers make great F2F volunteers too, as we have learned over the years. So in June, Partners’ Senior Program Officer Courtney Dunham traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to promote Partners’ work in agriculture and food security at the 2014 Peace Corps Connect National Conference. Through outreach at conferences such as Peace Corps Connect, EcoFarm, and the World Food Prize, the F2F is able to recruit new volunteers and raise awareness of USAID international development efforts in the hemisphere.

July
Farmer-to-Farmer Supports the First Artificial Goat Insemination in Guatemala. In July, Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Bill Knox made history by visiting the western highlands of Guatemala to provide the first-ever training on artificial goat insemination. Bill trained almost 100 producers, technicians, and veterinary students in two methods for artificial goat insemination. Bill’s training will help improve goat production in the country, which will thereby help improve families’ nutrition and food security through greater access to goat milk.

August
Partners' AFS team created a new Twitter handle: @PartnersAgFood. Follow us to find out the latest news about our programs but also about top issues in agriculture, food security, nutrition, and climate change. You can also follow this blog (farmertofarmer.blogspot.com) and the Haiti Nutrition blog (haitinutrition.org) for news and information.

September
AFS held a session at the Partners 50th Anniversary Convention and also presented a timeline highlighting news articles, social media, publications, historical photos, and other information showcasing the long history of agriculture and food security programs. Since it was founded in 1964, Partners has increased agricultural production, improved post-harvest handling, developed new products, strengthened agribusiness and cooperatives, increased sales and income, protected natural resources, and improved food security. The Farmer-to-Farmer Program also won an award for integrating development & volunteerism, the first award of its kind given to a staff team!

October
F2F volunteer Katherine Wingert worked with the Nicaraguan Dairy Sector Chamber (CANISLAC) in planning a campaign to increase the consumption of dairy products. While Nicaragua produces more dairy than any other country in Central America, local dairy consumption levels are very low. The new campaign will focus on yogurt and milk consumption among adolescents and mothers of young children in Managua. During her assignment, Ms. Wingert assisted 435 people (58% women) and was also interviewed on Nicaragua television as part of their coverage of World Food Day. (video in Spanish)

November
Feed the Future, the US government's global hunger and food security initiative, highlighted some of their work around the world focused on young people and universities. One important story focused on Farmer-to-Farmer and among the volunteers featured was Partners' volunteer Maggie Morse. Ms. Morse traveled to Boyacá, Colombia, in part to to support a young entrepreneur program run by the Government of Colombia’s National Learning Service (SENA). Read more about how the US government is supporting the next generation of agricultural leaders.

December
Addressing Climate Change in Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer Program. As the Conference on Climate Change in Lima comes to an end, Secretary John Kerry urged the world to think about the economic impacts of climate change on agriculture. Partners Farmer-to-Farmer program is taking strides to take this to heart in the Dominican Republic.

The Agriculture and Food Security Team is looking forward to 2015 and what we can continue to accomplish throughout the hemisphere!


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays from the Agriculture and Food Security 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 the Partners of the Americas' Farmer-to-Farmer Program and the Haiti Nutrition Security Programs a success in 2014.

Thank you and best wishes for 2015!
 
- the Agriculture and Food Security Team

Monday, December 22, 2014

Partners' F2F Volunteer Supports Planning of a New Dairy Consumption Campaign in Nicaragua

Katherine Wingert, attending the 
cheese fair in Managua.
By Katherine Wingert

Rising rates of soda and junk food consumption are commonplace in developing countries, and Nicaragua is no exception. While Nicaragua produces more dairy than any other country in Central America, Nicaraguan dairy consumption levels are very low. Some estimates put soda consumption at five times that of milk! With obesity on the rise in Nicaragua, particularly in the capital city of Managua, there is an increasing need for interventions to change dietary habits before they become an overwhelming burden.

With this in mind, the Nicaraguan Dairy Sector Chamber (CANISLAC),  with the support of Farmer-to-Farmer, is working on a new yogurt and milk consumption campaign that is geared toward promoting consumption in adolescents and mothers of young children. Because of my background in public health and behavior change, I was invited to spend three weeks with CANISLAC in October to support them in planning the campaign. After meeting with CANISLAC and realizing that very little is known about how parents and adolescents in Managua make food and beverage choices, we decided to conduct interviews and focus groups with different segments of the target populations. Doing so would lead to a better understanding of  how mothers and adolescents make decisions, and what types of information or other changes might encourage them to make healthier choices, particularly when it comes to choosing milk over sugary beverages.

Katherine Wingert, facilitating a discussion among high school 
students on the factors that influence dairy consumption.
While we were only able to conduct a limited number of interviews and focus groups during my time in the country, it was clear when we presented our preliminary results to CANISLAC and local dairy industry partners that the information would be of great value for the upcoming campaign. We found, for example, that many parents and teenagers are aware of the health benefits offered by drinking milk. However, because milk is not available in schools they end up choosing other options. A surprising number of parents and adolescents we spoke to also mentioned difficulties with lactose intolerance, suggesting potential demand for lactose-free products. Concerns over the quality and standards of local dairy industries were also voiced by many, signaling an opportunity for increasing dairy consumption through quality standards and conveying this information to the public. Lastly, price was mentioned as the number one determinant of food and beverage choices for many lower- and middle-income households. To increase consumption, CANISLAC will therefore need to consider how they can broaden access to dairy products. Promoting a policy policy, such as subsidizing milk products and/or taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is one way to potentially shift the balance in favor of dairy and promote healthier eating habits.

While much remains to be done to make healthier foods and beverages the easy choice in Nicaragua, a thorough understanding of the problem is the best place to start, and the assistance of Farmer-to-Farmer is helping make that possible!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Holidays from the Guatemala Farmer-to-Farmer team!

Between July and December 2014, the Farmer-to-Farmer program in Guatemala had nine F2F volunteers build technical capacity in food safety, GAP certification, business and organizational development, artificial goat insemination, organic agricultural production, and many other topics. They look forward to what next year's volunteers will bring!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Improving Goat Husbandry Practices in Haiti

This blog post was written by Dan Krull who is currently in Haiti serving as an F2F volunteer in improved goat production. This is Mr. Krull's first F2F assignment.

A typical leash-pastured goat in a small village.
"Haiti is a diverse country with bright agricultural prospects. Many Haitians raise livestock, including goats [...] Goats are a vital source for protein, and as such, they fetch a good price at the market. They are also relatively hardy and can thrive in conditions that would be too stressful for other animals. You would think in the lush tropical landscape that is Haiti, the goats here would be fat and happy. On the contrary, many of them are thin and severely under conditioned. In addition, some are dying, quite suddenly, with little or no warning.

I recently traveled to Haiti to find out why and to implement practices designed to minimize the frequency at which it happens in the future. With the help of F2F Haiti Country Coordinator Benito Jasmin and Haitian organization Makouti Agro Enterprise, we set about visiting numerous communities and doing basic physicals on their goats. Though the health of the goats of each location varied, sometimes considerably, the most glaring clinical symptoms we kept finding were under-conditioning and anemia. 

The most likely cause of such severe anemia is internal parasites. Many goats were also exhibiting an unhealthy external parasite load as well. Of all the parasites that can infect the goat, Haemonchus contortus, or the barber pole worm is the most likely cause due to its propensity to cause severe anemia absent any other signs. For the inquisitively curious, this worm got its common name because its digestive tract spirals the length of its body. When the worm has ingested the blood of the animal in which it resides, its body resembles the spiral you would see on a barbershop pole. 
Dan demonstrating how to locate parasite eggs
under a microscope.
In addition to the anemia that was so prevalent in the goats examined, the hooves of many goats were in bad shape as well. I spent some time teaching why parasites cause anemia and how to look for it. I also demonstrated proper hoof trimming techniques.

Administering drugs to kill the parasites will certainly improve their herd’s immediate health, but this is only the first step in other changes that need to be made. With the immediate success from de-worming the goats, the farmers should be motivated to make changes in their overall management practices that are contributing to the parasite problems. Providing access to clean drinking water, maintaining clean shelters, and adding plants that have natural inhibit parasitic properties are three such actions that are being emphasized.

Change is often accomplished in incremental steps. With the help of the Farmer-to-Farmer program, the Haitian goat farmer will have a prosperous 2015."

Friday, December 12, 2014

Addressing Climate Change in Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer Program

  
Photo taken by F2F volunteer (Nov. 2014):
Fallen banana trees after a severe wind storm
As the Conference on Climate Change in Lima comes to an end, Secretary John Kerry urged the world to think about the economic impacts of climate change on agriculture. He reports that the changing climate will reduce the production capacity of crops such as rice, maize, or wheat by two percent each decade. (See remarks here). This means millions of farmers around the world may face greater threats of hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity. However, Kerry notes, “there is still time for us to come together as a global community . . . and every nation has a responsibility to do its part if we’re going to pass this test.


  
Photo taken by F2F volunteer (Nov. 2014): Flooding in Montecristi
Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer program is taking strides to take this to heart in the Dominican Republic. As a small island, the Dominican Republic is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. According to the Germanwatch 2014 Climate Risk Index, the Dominican Republic is the fourth most affected country in Latin America by weather events, as well as one of the top ten most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. The Dominican Republic is already experiencing the effects of sea level rise, warmer weather, and more frequent flooding. Another pressing concern is that climate change is negatively affecting the stability of the country’s water supply with disproportionate effects on vulnerable populations. The country’s vulnerability level will continue increasing as climate change brings more floods, extreme storms, landslides, and droughts, along with slower climate change effects such as a rise in sea level, and a reduction in water quality and quantity.

Photo taken by F2F volunteer (Nov. 2014): Flooding in Montecristi
The Farmer-to-Farmer program normally focuses on improving food security through value chains and agricultural processing, production, and marketing. In the Dominican Republic, Partners’ F2F program has adapted to local needs to focus on building the capacity of farmers in the Yaque del Norte region in areas such as water resource management, institutional capacity building, risk-reduction measures, and sustainable climate-smart agricultural technologies. Since May 2014, Partners has sent 20 F2F volunteers to the Dominican Republic who have provided training in areas such as wastewater management, soil and agroforestry conservation, disaster risk management, and environmental education curriculum development. Through F2F and in collaboration with in-country partners, Partners is helping to raise awareness on the impacts of climate change and to promote the incorporation of adaptation and mitigation strategies among farmers, associations, and the local community.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Alternative Chicken Feed Systems in Haiti

Worm box used to raise black soldier
fly larva and worms
Let’s say you wanted to help rural farmers improve their food security by raising chickens and producing eggs, but the high cost of chicken feed would create dependency on outside vendors and limits profits. What if you could reduce feed cost, improve the chickens’ diet, and support locally sustainable systems? Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, Patryk Battle, spent two weeks in Haiti in September to demonstrate how plant waste, grazing, raising black soldier fly larva, and vermiculture could do just this.

Patryk worked with Royal Palm, a local organization that has a pilot demonstration plot and egg production site in Haiti. Due to the high cost of chicken feed, Royal Palm has sought technical assistance in identifying alternative chicken feed systems. These alternative chicken feed systems could not only enable farmers to generate more income, but also provide an environmentally sustainable solution to reduce costs. In Haiti, some available sources of alternative chicken feed include the black soldier fly and vermiculture, as well as vegetative crop waste. 

During his assignment, Patryk evaluated these local resources and trained over 100 individuals through hands-on demonstrations on the production of soldier fly larva, worm composting, and compost tea. These methods have been incorporated into Royal Palm's demonstration farm and serve as a model  system that uses local materials to produce alternative chicken feed while also increasing soil fertility, reducing feeding costs, and improving bird health and egg quality. On this system, Patryk states, "The chicken feed, instead of being an end in itself, can form part of what will become a dynamic and productive farming system. . . This is the only real solution to sustainably producing chicken feed in Haiti."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Today is International Volunteer Day!

International Volunteer Day, started in 1985 by the United Nations, is an opportunity to celebrate all those who volunteer their time to make a difference in the world. Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer Program would like to thank all the excellent volunteers who have traveled to Latin America and the Caribbean to work with their counterparts to address agricultural and environmental issues. Changes and innovations have been made in a wide variety of technical areas, sales and income have increased, and natural resource management has improved. Giving your time has made a difference in the hemisphere! And we thank you.


If you are interested in volunteering with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program, you can see open assignments here: http://www.partners.net/partners/Volunteering.asp!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Enjoy a video from F2F volunteer Wayne Burleson's assignment

A big thank you to Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, Wayne Burleson, for putting together this video on his recent assignment to teach organic input production in Guatemala! Enjoy!      
    


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from Partners' F2F Team!

Thanksgiving is traditionally a day to give thanks for the yearly harvest. Because of the hard work and dedication of our Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers and in-country staff and partners, rural farmers throughout Latin America are thankful for being able to take strides towards a higher quality and more productive harvest.

The staff at Partners of the Americas would also like to extend its gratitude to its F2F volunteers, funders, and the Partners network for helping to change the lives of others. The Farmer-to-Farmer program is crucial for providing people-to-people exchanges and promoting sustainable economic growth and development. Whether our volunteers work with dairy farmers in Nicaragua, beekeepers in Haiti, mushroom exporters in Guatemala, or climate change NGOs in the DR, they all play a key role in helping us improve the lives and food security of others.


Partners' HQ Farmer-to-Farmer Team
From left, Courtney Dunham, Peggy Carlson (Director),
Adriana Robertson, and Andi Thomas

Friday, November 21, 2014

Farmer-to-Farmer Experts Help Support the Next Generation of Agricultural Leaders

Feed the Future, the US government's global hunger and food security initiative, recently highlighted some of their work around the world focused on young people and universities. Some of the stories featured include highlighting the work of a Cochran Fellow on improving dairy production in East Africa; promoting agribusiness opportunities for youth in Armenia; and sharing the work of Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia who are inspiring youth to think creatively about how to address environmental challenges.

One important story focused on the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. F2F leverages the expertise of volunteers from U.S. farms, land grant universities, cooperatives, private agribusiness firms and nonprofit farm organizations to respond to the local needs of host country farmers and organizations. The article - U.S. Farmers and Technical Experts Support the Next Generation of Agricultural Leaders - shared how part of this effort includes supporting youth and university students, building their capacity to advance agriculture and food security in their home countries.

Among the volunteers featured was Partners of the Americas' volunteer Maggie Morse. Ms. Morse traveled to Boyacá, Colombia, in part to to support a young entrepreneur program run by the Government of Colombia’s National Learning Service (SENA). The program partners with local universities to increase food security and mitigate migration from rural communities to urban centers working with small agricultural enterprises. Young entrepreneurs are matched with advisors who assist them in creating a business plan, implementing basic accounting and record-keeping, and developing other critical business skills. But advisors in the young entrepreneur program often lack technical knowledge to help improve the quantity and quality of agricultural production. That’s why Ms. Morse's expertise in value addition, improved nutrition, livestock management and agritourism were such an asset to the program.

You can read more about the assignment on the Feed the Future website and also elsewhere on the Partners F2F blog. If you would like to access the full Feed the Future newsletter, it can be found here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Building Tomorrow's Leaders in Climate Change

In the Dominican Republic, helping communities adapt to the effects of climate change also means building the capacity of the next generation of leaders to promote and implement initiatives to reduce risk. Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer program not only assists producers in the Yaque del Norte region, but also collaborates with local universities and environmental schools to achieve this goal. In October, F2F volunteer, Usha Palaniswamy, the current Associate Dean and a professor of math and science at Strayer Univesity in Florida, traveled to the DR to work with the Jarabacoa National School of the Environment and Natural Resources (Jarabacoa Environmental School). The objective of her assignment was to incorporate a greater focus on climate change into the current curricula, as well as introduce strategies for adaptation and mitigation.
Usha meets with school faculty to discuss
 incorporating climate change
into the current curriculum

The Jarabacoa Environmental School is located in the municipality of Jarabacoa and offers a 2-year associate degree that builds students’ technical skills and prepares them to obtain jobs in the government and other institutions. The school has on-site soil conservation and agroforestry projects, tree nurseries, and other plots where students gain hands-on technical skills. Approximately 50 students per year graduate. Students are also able to live on the campus in small 2-3 room dorms that have electricity and running water.

After receiving a tour of the campus and meeting with faculty to get a sense of their roles, current extracurricular activities, and course descriptions, Usha started her work on the curriculum. She began with developing a survey to assess the student level of knowledge on climate change and the extent to which they were environmentally friendly in their daily life practices. She then used this information to develop a 15-week module. Usha said, “These modules factor in major impacts of climate change in food and nutrition security and a wide range of key adaptation and mitigation strategies and practices that are closely related to the daily lives of students.” The modules include an introductory course on climate change as well as techniques to incorporate climate change components into other current courses and extracurricular activities. Usha presented the curriculum to the faculty, and it is set to be adopted in January 2015.
F2F volunteer, Usha Palaniswamy, at the Jarabacoa Environmental School

Usha also met with the school administration to discuss the challenges of engaging students on the topic of climate change. One challenge is that while student transcripts reflect the technical skills students gain from their extra-curricular activities, knowledge gained on climate change is not currently viewed as a technical skill. As a result of these observations, the Jarabacoa Environmental School, F2F field staff, and Partners of the Americas are discussing how to address these challenges with two environmental education specialists from Wisconsin. In February, these two specialists are scheduled to travel to the DR to build off of Usha's curriculum and potentially create a certification for students who complete the climate change module at the Jarabacoa Environmental School.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nicaragua's Beef Industry Seeks to Increase Competitiveness

F2F volunteer, Doussou Traore,  with a CONAGAN representative
Although Nicaragua has the greatest potential for livestock production in Latin America, the creation of value-added products is one of the lowest. This lack of added value reduces domestic and international competitiveness of the dairy and beef sector and limits the generation of employment and foreign currency. Furthermore, reduced incentives to implement sustainable, environmentally-conscious production methods have limited the ability of the livestock industry to penetrate more competitive niche markets with higher purchasing power. 

Traore meets with  CANICARNE and CONAGAN representatives
To support the Nicaraguan livestock industry in increasing their competitiveness and access to niche markets, Partners' F2F program is providing technical assistance to dairy and beef farmers in marketing and good agricultural practices. This month, F2F volunteer Ms. Doussou Traore traveled to Nicaragua to work with the Nicaraguan Chamber of Beef Industry Exports (CANICARNE) and the National Cattleman’s Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN) to conduct an assessment on the beef supply chain. 

Ms. Traore visits a slaughterhouse in Tipitapa
Her initial assessment included an analysis of the production, growth, feed, and slaughter of cattle.  She also analyzed and proposed incentives to improve the quality and competitiveness of beef production. Ultimately, a better understanding of the different actors and price incentives along the value chain will provide insight into the willingness and ability of the beef industry to increase their competitiveness (breeding, shorter cattle life cycle, and improved feeding practices); and thereby the per unit prices of beef.

Upon concluding her trip, Ms. Traore recommended that a cost production study be undertaken to inform the process of improving productivity and competitiveness. She described this is as being especially important for export markets, since they are the primary source of demand. Among other recommendations, Ms. Traore encouraged CANICARNE and CONAGAN to set up an inter-professional platform for all supply chain participants to promote transparency, concerted decision-making, and profit sharing within the industry.  

To follow up on these recommendations, marketing expert, Daniel Shaneyfelt, arrived to Nicaragua this week.  F2F looks forward to the continued growth and accomplishments of its hosts and to the contributions of volunteers like Ms. Traore!


Monday, November 10, 2014

Partners' F2F Team in Guatemala Attends the 6th National Convention on Organic Agriculture

Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) field staff in Guatemala held a booth at the 6th National Convention on Organic Agriculture on Monday, October 6. F2F volunteer, Wayne Burleson, also attended the Conference to lead train the trainer (TOT) workshops on using local inputs to produce organic fertilizer. Stay tuned for updates from his trip report and see minute 6:29 of the video below for an interview (in Spanish) with our Country Director, José Cano.

  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Call for Volunteers: Haiti

Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program is currently recruiting volunteers for several coffee-related assignments in Haiti. Please take a look at the list of volunteer opportunities below!

GPS & Mapping Specialist (November 2014 – February 2015: 2-3 weeks)
The volunteer will assist host organizations and farmers in surveying their coffee production areas and assign GPS coordinates to them. These coordinates will provide a means to assist producers in deciding where to plant new seedlings for maximum harvest. This information will also be used to help farmers separate higher altitude beans from lower altitude ones in order to increase their economic gain.

Coffee Soil Analyst (November 2014 – March 2015: 2 weeks)
The purpose of this assignment is 1) to help coffee cooperatives and farmers understand the relationships between soil and coffee quality, and the relationship between soil and the sustainability of coffee trees on the plantations and 2) to inform best practices of coffee production, working in partnership to evaluate current practices and suggest areas for improvement. The volunteer(s) will assist farmers in testing soil characteristics such as acidity, fertility, etc. and their implications for coffee quality. Volunteer(s) should have experience in soil research/management and knowledge of the relationship between soil characteristics and coffee production.

Coffee Harvesting Educator (November 2014 - March 2015: 2-3 weeks)

Benito Jasmin. F2F Haiti Coordinator, examining coffee seedlings
The volunteer(s) will work alongside an in-country team to train coffee producers on best harvesting processes and help them develop outreach/education tools to disseminate the information to other farmers throughout the country. The purpose of this assignment is to help farmers and local organizations understand why it is crucial to harvest coffee beans at a particular ripeness and how this is correlated to economic profit. This will also help coffee cooperatives in pricing the coffee they receive from producers and help producers improve harvesting practices.

Coffee Branding and Marketing Strategist (January – April 2015: 2-3 weeks)
The volunteer(s) will work with 2-3 coffee cooperatives to develop their strategic branding and marketing plans. The purpose of this assignment is to create new strategies to reach potential markets and buyers both within Haiti and also internationally. The volunteer should have experience in agribusiness development and/or strategic planning and will be expected to produce a draft of a formal branding and marketing plan with action steps and work plans for each cooperative before departing the country. 


In the other sectors, some upcoming assignments include small animal meat quality assurance, small animal marketing and training videos, queen bee rearing and performance, and hive product outreach and marketing.

Please contact Andi Thomas at athomas@partners.net for more information. As always, our in-country bilingual field staff coordinate logistics and F2F covers volunteer travel, housing, food, and other related costs. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Next Steps for Improved Forestry and Water Quality in the DR

The Dominican Republic has made significant progress in reversing the trend of slash and burn agriculture over the past 30 years. Numerous projects such as mini-greenhouse construction, mini-hydroelectric generator plants, and reforestation of previously farmed land on steep slopes are also allowing individuals and communities to improve their lives and health while reducing the impact on the environment. In the area of agroforestry, the Dominican Republic government is encouraging private landowners to reforest their land by ensuring that they will be able to harvest the trees at a later date. This has led to an increased amount of forested land in the country, and many of these plantations now have trees large enough for commercial harvest operations. However, as these plantations get older, the trees grow closer together and wood growth begins to slow. In order to maintain forest health, optimize growth, and increase carbon storage (to reduce greenhouse gases), trees with slower growth and poor form need to be harvested to allow the healthier, higher quality trees to grow faster and store more carbon.
Yaque del Norte watershed

In September 2014, Partners of the Americas sent three Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers - Glen Juergens, Dave Lombardo, and Bill Ryburn - to the Dominican Republic to assess the current agroforestry systems in the Rio Yaque del Norte watershed. The F2F volunteer team also worked with host organization, Plan Yaque, to develop plans for forest management and trained farmers in watershed protection and forest management.  They assisted 34 individuals during their 18-day assignment and made a variety of recommendations on:

  • Water quality monitoring
  • Land use planning
  • Pine silviculture and reforestation
  • Forest management/best management practices
  • Payment for environmental services
  • Sawmills and lumber harvesting

Below are excerpts from Dave, Glen, and Bill's trip reports that summarize observations, findings, and potential next steps for the Farmer-to-Farmer program: 

Water Quality Monitoring


Dave, Glen, Bill, and the F2F staff visit tree nursery
Plan Yaque has a very comprehensive water quality monitoring program. They presently are taking 11 different data measurements for water quality and quantity: pH, ammonia, nitrates/nitrogen, E-coli, temperature, electrical conductivity, dissolved oxygen in ml/L and %, turbidity, volume of water flow, depth of stream, and depth Secchi. Water monitoring is conducted twice a month at 46 permanent sampling points in different bodies of water within the Río del Yaque Norte watershed. In addition, there is a monitoring system developed to measure the amount of plastics put into the rivers. The next step is for Plan Yaque to develop target numbers and establish measured goals for the reduction of contaminants.

Land Use Planning


Due to climate change, it is anticipated that rainfall as well as droughts will be more intense and of longer duration, which will result in increased flooding of rivers. Therefore, the team strongly recommends that a long term management plan be in place before reforestation projects are implemented. The plans need to be comprehensive and should address erosion and sedimentation issues, water quality, timber production potential, agroforestry, pre- and post-harvest silviculture treatments, wildlife habitat improvement, and any other critical environmental concerns

Pine Silviculture and Reforestation


Dave, Glen, and Bill on the log haul tractor
There are three species of pine planted in the Dominican Republic. Plan Yaque, the National Environmental School in Jarabacoa, agricultural universities in Santiago, and other higher education institutions in the Río del Yaque Norte watershed should develop guidelines of what species to plant. If to be utilized for timber in rich soils at lower elevations (from 0 to 600 meters above sea level) they may want to utilize P. caribaea, but if for non-timber production, for soil protection in poorer soils, or at higher elevations, they may want to utilize P. occidentalis. The wood of P. occidentalis is considered to be of higher quality due to its slower growth. In addition, valuable hardwood species such as mahogany (Swietenia spp.), Spanish-cedar (Cedrela odorata), guama (Inga vera), etc. and fruit trees such as avocado (Persea americana) should be considered where appropriate, including using them as shade trees in coffee plantations.

Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program looks forward to following up on these findings and continuing to help host organizations protect the Yaque del Norte watershed!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Partners of the Americas' Agriculture and Food Security team wishes you all a Happy Halloween! We tied for third in the office costume competition. As much of our communication with our field staff involves Skype, we decided to be our favorite Skype emoticons! Enjoy the photos!


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nicaragua is Ready to Launch a National Dairy Campaign!

Traditionally, Partners of the Americas' Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in Nicaragua has provided technical assistance at lower levels of the value chain; primarily in inputs/supplies, on-farm production, and processing. However, F2F provides technical assistance along all parts of a value chain. This is clear in Katherine Wingert's assignment. This month, Ms. Wingert traveled to Nicaragua to work with the Nicaraguan Chamber of the Dairy Sector (CANISLAC), the Nicaraguan Chamber of Beef Industry Exports (CANICARNE), and the National Cattleman’s Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN) to develop a national nutrition education campaign to increase domestic dairy and meat consumption in the country. 

Making cheese in Nicaragua
Livestock production in Nicaragua represents the country’s most important economic activity, accounting for 10% of GDP and 27% of total exports. However, consumption of meat and dairy and knowledge of the nutritional value of these products in rural parts of the country, is generally low. In most schools in Nicaragua, there is little to no education related to basic nutrition and healthy eating. On the other hand, private companies that sell unhealthy foods and processed snacks have widespread reach with the advertising and marketing of their products, which has contributed to the unhealthy eating habits many Nicaraguans. 

In an effort to promote the nutritional benefits of dairy and beef products, CANISLAC created the Dairy Campaign Committee to design a national nutritional education strategy. Ms. Wingert assisted the Committee in developing an action plan for the roll-out of the campaign. She also assisted the Committee in designing tools to conduct focus groups and interviews for a study to better define target populations for the campaign and to identify and address the factors that encourage or inhibit dairy and meat consumption throughout the country. Together, Ms. Wingert, the Dairy Campaign Committee, and F2F hosts, CANISLAC, CARNICARNE, and CONAGAN, have taken the first steps towards the ultimate goal of changing people’s eating habits and increasing dairy consumption. Stay tuned for updates from Ms. Wingert's trip report!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bahamian-grown sauces, seasonings, jams and jelly… sounds delicious!

F2F volunteer, Donna Bromfield (in the pink shirt), visits the
Sukkot Farm in Exuma
An abundance of agricultural produce can be found in the Bahamas, the majority of which goes to waste, as imported products continue to dominate the supermarket shelves. Therefore, the Bahamas Agricultural & Industrial Corporation (BAIC) identifies food processing as an area for development and a key for producers to sell locally and export internationally. The Bahamas also receives over 1.5 million tourists annually, which provides an ideal market to sell bottles of local jams, jelly, or sauces from small processors. However, there is currently no formal local or export protocol for these goods.

Ms. Bromfield accompanies BAIC staff to visit the Garden
of Eden Farm
From June 15-28, 2014, food processing and food safety expert Donna Bromfield was the first Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer to travel to the Bahamas in 2014 on a flex assignment. During her assignment, Ms. Bromfield collaborated with BAIC to train 7 women in the preparation of mango products from local fruits. She also trained 17 men and women in good agricultural practices and raised local awareness on the benefits of gaining GAP certification. Ms. Bromfield also conducted four farm visits to identify gaps and barriers to implementing food safety systems in the communities and one site visit to a local food processor in order to assess the capacity of the processor to develop diversified fruit products.


Fresh limes on Clarke's Family Farm
The goal of BAIC is to further support “Bahamian grown foods” and empower Bahamians by providing technical assistance in food preservation, post-harvest techniques, and compliance to food standards/regulations. In turn, this can help facilitate the export of “Bahamian-made” agricultural food products that are safe, of high quality, and follow the model of “from the farm to the fork”. Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer program hopes to continue to support BAIC in their efforts to improve the food security of the islands. We can’t wait to taste the coco plum jam!







Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Farmer-to-Farmer Info-Graphic Highlights Program Impact


Partners Farmer-to-Farmer Program has been active since 1991 and we recently collected some of our impacts over the years into an info-graphic. Check out the image to see the broad reach of the program and read some of the stories on this blog to fill in the details of how F2F has made a difference throughout the hemisphere (and beyond).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Partners’ F2F Volunteer Ellen Lewis Pilots Long-Term Organizational Development Assistance and Feminist Systems Thinking in Nicaragua

I was fortunate to spend two extended periods of time (March–April 2014) and (May–June 2014) with F2F Nicaragua. During these visits I engaged in two roles. First, I piloted the role of a longer-term (instead of the normal two-week assignment) F2F volunteer Organizational Development (OD) Consultant. In this capacity, I provided OD support to the Nicaragua staff in the identification and orientation of new ‘hosts’ using two F2F assessment tools (the baseline from and the Organizational Development Index). My second role was as a joint F2F volunteer and doctoral student from the University of Hull, where I worked in partnership with the Universidad Nacional Agraria (UNA) to introduce and culturally adapt a systems thinking methodology that asked people to reflect on their micro and small businesses and identify areas of improvement based on their reflections. 
F2F Volunteer Ellen Lewis provides training on Feminist Systems Thinking.

Organizational Development

The relatively new discipline of OD sprouted in the 1940’s and draws from many fields of study, notably psychology, sociology, organizational behavior, anthropology, biology, and the systems sciences. OD (see Sonoma State University http://www.sonoma.edu/exed/orgdev/) has become the multi-discipline lens through which responses to increasingly complex organization and human systems are studied and understood, creating improvements that are sustainable.

With F2F as a backdrop, and systems thinking as a context, F2F staff and I conducted organizational needs assessments of new F2F hosts primarily in the dairy and livestock sector. By identifying strengths, weaknesses and the needed support, the F2F field staff in partnership with host organizations were able to identify and request the appropriate technical assistance needed to strengthen and increase production, marketing (local and national), animal husbandry practices and gender equitable participation. The Nicaragua staff, a group of hard-working individuals, were remarkable in their commitment to support their hosts which ultimately will facilitate increased access to domestic and international value-added beef and dairy markets. Furthermore, this outstanding group of people working with the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Program Evaluation team identified specific and measurable strategies to increase the participation, decision making, and leadership opportunities (access and abilities) of women in business matters of the cooperatives at the three organizational levels of the cooperative: board of directors, management, and staff and local activities provided to producers.
Local training participants learn how keep the boat afloat by working as a whole.

Feminist Systems Thinking

As in many countries, Nicaragua's rural women are largely charged with labor intensive household tasks along with the demands of any small business enterprise, primarily the making and selling of food products (sold on the street, on buses, to their neighbors). From my conversations with different women these activities are also barriers to their interest in taking more active leadership roles on boards, business projects or community efforts. 

In an effort to create awareness about how to mitigate some these barriers from the women and men’s perspectives, systems thinking concepts were introduced as tools with which to analyze their businesses and provide an atmosphere of problem solving and dialogue. Systems thinking is an expansive umbrella term providing many choices of theories and methodologies that can be used to frame our understanding of the world especially when issues are complex. Complex issues have longer-term implications, more people and interdependent components, high levels of uncertainty, or the presenting problem is not really as such the problem. Systems thinking, therefore, helps us to explore, better understand, and identify possible avenues for improvement through action.   

Working in partnership with F2F stakeholder groups (e.g., staff, volunteers, hosts and partners), Anne Stephens’ Feminist Systems Thinking (FST) principals and OD strategies were culturally-adapted and introduced to strengthen rural businesses. We held six participatory workshops with 73 participants over a three month period; in each, the participants adapted the methodology to ensure cultural practicality and relevance going forward, as they replicate the workshop. The five FST principles are:  adopt a gender sensitive approach; value voices from the margins; incorporate the environment; select appropriate methods; and undertake action that promotes desirable and sustainable social change.
Interactive activities or "dinámicas" add fun to the workshops.

Conclusion

As always, I am so grateful for the care and kindness that the F2F staff here (and in Washington) have so graciously given me in this endeavor, particularly since it was not a typical two week assignment. I felt equally supported in my role as a volunteer as I did in my research capacity. Everyone wanted me to succeed, and so I feel I have. I believe that the new country strategies that are being put into place will have a significant impact on the country’s effort to support people as the exit poverty in the most respectful and thoughtful manner. I look forward to visiting Nicaragua in a year to see how things have progressed if time and circumstances allow.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dr. Barakat Mahmoud (Food Safety Specialist) volunteers with Royal Produce Company in Guatemala

Dr. Barakat Mahmoud recently returned from completing a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Guatemala where he worked with Royal Produce Company, one of the largest vegetables exporters in the country. The purpose of his assignment was to develop and implement an effective food safety plan to ensure compliance with the regulations and/or requirements of the United States. Dr. Mahmoud conducted two workshops: a) Good Agricultural Practices & Good Handling Practices (GAPs & GHPs) workshop with 17 farmers, packers, and managers and b) FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) workshop with seven managers and F2F field staff.

Additionally, Dr. Mahmoud conducted an audit of a green bean packinghouse, including an assessment of their cafeteria, water storage tanks, restrooms, hand-washing stations, instruments cleaning areas, chemical storage facilities/rooms, worker personal hygiene practices, processing areas, packaging materials, and transportation tracks. He then visited four smallscale farms (20-40 acres) that produce snow peas, green beans, green peppers, and tomatoes to provide other recommendations and information on food defense, biosecurity, HACCP, and sanitation control procedures. Approximately 50 (42 females and 8 males) participants (farmers, packers, and managers) have received training and/or technical assistance during his visit. ​

Below are photos from his assignment:

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, Barakat Mahmoud,
with the F2F field staff


Dr. Mahmoud makes recommendations on monitoring chlorine
levels in sanitizer solutions for food safety


Checking traceability systems at the Royal Produce packinghouse



Dr. Mahmoud conducts a workshop on GAP and GHP
at Royal Produce training facility

Inspection of processing lines for green beans






















Personal Reflection: On his assignment, Dr. Mahmoud said:"As a food safety extension specialist, I always like to teach food safety to producers, especially to international producers. I was surprised how eager the participants were to learn about food safety, particularly FSMA, HACCP, GAPs, GHPs, food defense, sanitation control procedures, etc. The Farmer-to-Farmer program is an amazing program that gives opportunities to developing countries to improve the quality of their lives. I am really glad to be able to volunteer and donate my time to this great program. I am going to use my experience in Guatemala to educate my students, colleagues, fresh produce producers, and other interested stakeholders."