Friday, February 28, 2014

Happy Peace Corps Week! – Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Make Great F2F Volunteers Too

On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps. This year, from February 23 to March 1, 2014, the Peace Corps community celebrates the many ways that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) have made a difference both at home and abroad.

Claire Clugston in the Dominican Republic (RPCV DR '10-'12)

Many RPCVs also have served as Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers. The skills and experience RPCVs gain from their Peace Corps experience is invaluable to their work as F2F volunteers. Their ability to quickly adapt to their surroundings and understand and communicate across diverse cultures allows them to successfully collaborate with their country partners and implement successful and sustainable change. Here are some examples of RPCVs who also have served as F2F volunteers:

Claire Clugston: served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 2010 to 2012. During her service, she lived and worked in a farming community of 50 households and collaborated with local community members and organizations to plant 3,000 citrus trees. After seeing the value this project brought to her Peace Corps community, and because she loved the DR so much, she returned to the DR in August 2013 as an F2F volunteer to complete a 3-week F2F horticulture and tree crop project.

Alicia Macmanus in Haiti (RPCV Gambia '07-'09)
Alicia Macmanus: served as an agriculture and forestry Peace Corps Volunteer in the Gambia, West Africa from 2007 to 2009. During her service, she worked to improve the food security and income opportunities of her community through the production of rabbits, poultry, and sheep. In May 2013, she took these skills and experience to Haiti as an F2F volunteer, where she provided 12 trainings throughout the country on proper rabbit management and assisted rabbit producers to better understand the factors related to rabbit reproduction. 

Richard Meunier: served in the Peace Corps in Peru from 1968 to 1970. In March 2013, he returned to Latin America as an F2F volunteer to train local farmers on composting, irrigation methods, weed control, integrated pest management and seedling production in Nicaragua. Because of the extensive presence of Peace Corps Volunteers throughout Nicaragua, one of Richard’s recommendations was for local organizations to explore opportunities to partner with current Peace Corps volunteers who could provide follow-up technical support.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Backyard Gardens and Vegetable Production in Belize

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Dr. Paul McLeod of the University of Arkansas recently traveled to southern Belize to complete a Flex assignment focused on backyard vegetable production and improved insect management. This was a follow-up to previous assignments and he visited numerous communities and made recommendations for improved gardening practices.

Aside from rural communities and small commercial farmers, Dr. McLeod visited two technical high schools and the National 4-H Program. He taught seminars on the use of drip irrigation and the benefits of home gardens, highlighting that vegetables are an essential part of a healthy and nutritious diet and that they can also help with disease prevention. School gardens help reinforce awareness of healthy eating and provide additional fresh produce to students. These gardens are also excellent training grounds for students to learn about composting, soil preparation, transplanting seedlings, and controlling pests and disease. These skills can then potentially benefit students in their own home gardens or any future farming endeavors.
Working in a small garden

Dr. McLeod toured the schools’ gardens and observed good practices including weeding, plant spacing and fertilization. Some tomato plants were diseased so the volunteer recommended that when watering the plants, students avoid getting water on the foliage and reduce splashing the soil that contains the pathogen onto the plant. This is a helpful tip for any U.S. based home gardeners as well! Drip irrigation paired with mulch can also help reduce disease.

Dr. McLeod demonstrated the installation and use of drip irrigation at the high schools and also to several small farmers. This method delivers water directly to the root zone of the plant and water seeps slowly into the soil drip by drip. While drip irrigation requires some planning and initial investment in hoses and nozzles, it has long-term benefits. Less water is lost to runoff and evaporation or wasted on feeding weeds.

Dr. McLeod demonstrating drip irrigation

The staff members of the technical high schools and the 4-H Program are highly motivated in teaching young people and have great desire to see the students achieve. Working with [them] is highly rewarding.” – Paul McLeod

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Haiti Nutrition Security Program

While this blog is focused primarily on Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer Program, we sometimes cover related Partners’ programs as well as some broader agriculture and food security topics. One of these is Partners’ Haiti Nutrition Security Program (NSP). The NSP seeks to improve the nutritional status of pregnant and lactating women and young children in 3 geographic-focus corridors in Haiti. Launched in 2013, the NSP is funded by the USAID Feed the Future Initiative – a U.S. Government effort to combat global hunger and food insecurity.

The NSP strategy hinges on a holistic community health, nutrition, and livelihoods approach that works through local NGOs and integrates assistance activities within the existing government health and nutrition systems. Building on the existing tradition of Mother’s Clubs in Haiti, NSP is using the care group model to deliver trainings, provide services, and communicate good health and nutrition behavior messages. 
Care group members with some NSP staff and session presenters
During a recent care group session in Milot, mothers engaged in a conversation about attitudes, behaviors, and practices around health and nutrition. Some topics brought up by the women included which foods are safe to eat during pregnancy, portion sizes, and the need for family support for pregnant and lactating women.

In this video, some of the mothers sing about the main food groups and the importance of happiness and harmony in the household.

To find out more about the NSP program, visit the Partners website.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Introducing Milking Shorthorns to Nicaragua

The calf bred from the Milking Shorthorn genes
 donated by the U.S. Milking Shorthorn Association
In Nicaragua, Farmer to Farmer’s country strategy focuses on increasing the productivity and profitability of the dairy sub-sector. Some volunteers assist farmer associations in increasing overall milk production and milk quality. Others support the diversification of Nicaraguan dairy products in order to increase their sales at the local, national, and international level. Between July and August 2012, Jerry Nolte (an agricultural economist) and Tony Jilek (animal scientist) spent almost three weeks training farmers on forage management, feeding quality forages, and cattle breeding in four regions of Nicaragua. Breeding programs are particularly important in Nicaragua to ensure that the breed of cattle is suited to the region’s climate and compatible with the type and quality of feed available. Based on their experiences and observations in-country, Jerry and Tony proposed the introduction of the Milking Shorthorn cattle to Nicaraguan livestock. Milking Shorthorns are better grazers in hot weather and are also known for their versatility in a number of production environments. By breeding Milking Shorthorns with existing breeds in Nicaragua, farmers could potentially improve dairy quality and production.

After working with Dr. Edmundo Robleto, a medical doctor and local rancher in Comoapa, on rotational grazing, both Jerry and Tony found him to be an ideal candidate for introducing Milking Shorthorn genes to his livestock. Jerry and Tony helped Dr. Robleto get 200 straws of Milking Shorthorn semen from the U.S. Milking Shorthorn Association. Unfortunately, the arrival of the semen did not happen during the time of the assignment. In November 2012, however, the semen made it to Nicaragua and, last year, the breeding program’s first calf (pictured below) was born!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Farmer-to-Farmer Training in Morocco

Workshop attendees from all F2F implementing organizations
Last month, some of the Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer staff traveled to Marrakesh, Morocco for a F2F Implementers Workshop. The F2F Program is a worldwide program and USAID funds various non-profit organizations to implement it in different countries and regions. The goal of the workshop was for all the partners to share experiences relating to planning and implementing agricultural volunteer programs and to better understand USAID policies and practices relating to monitoring and evaluation, reporting, and program execution.

The Partners team spent a busy week learning about the history of Farmer-to-Farmer, participating in break-out sessions, brainstorming best practices for our country programs, and getting to know other program staff. We also found some time to sight-see around Marrakesh and even left the city to visit a women’s cooperative and a small family farm.

Some of the Partners' F2F Team
Family farm outside of Marrakesh

The workshop was a great experience but we were eager to get back to work and continue fielding volunteers!