Thursday, May 29, 2014

Global Food Security Conference Focuses on the Challenges of Climate Change

The Honorable Susan Rice, U.S. National Security Advisor, 
discusses Food Security Challenges for the 21st Century 
(Photo courtesy of The Chicago Council @ChicagoCouncil)
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently convened their annual Global Food Security Symposium and the 2014 topic was "Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of Weather Volatility and Climate Change," an extremely important issue facing all stakeholders in the agriculture sector. The symposium had a wide array of speakers from government, universities, non-profit organizations, corporations, and farmers. US government representatives included some key speakers like Secretary Tom Vilsack, US Department of Agriculture; Susan E. Rice, US National Security Advisor; and Administrator Rajiv Shah, US Agency for International Development, who discussed US policy as it relates to food security and climate change and also announcing a new USAID nutrition strategy and gave updates on the recent Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative, in which USDA is taking the lead.

Representatives from the foundation and non-profit world, including from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Earth Policy Institute, Food Tank, the World Wildlife Fund, and others, shared strategies and highlighted projects seeking to mitigate the impacts of climate change not just on food production but on all levels of the value chains and also discussed opportunities to enhance and preserve the natural resource base for adaptation and mitigation. Speakers from the private sector, such as Syngenta, Nestle, the Swiss Reinsurance Company, and Buffett Farms Nebraska LLC, shared their ideas about managing risk, water stresses, science and research investments, and new technologies that can help with climate-smart agriculture.

At the symposium, the Chicago Council released their new report that urges the US government to include climate change adaption and related issues in it's global food security strategy. The full report can be found here but it came up with four primary recommendations (below, as stated in the report):
  • Make global food security one of the highest priorities of US economic and foreign development policy
  • Bolster research on climate change impacts and solutions, increase funding for data collection, and partner widely
  • Include climate change adaptation in trade negotiations
  • Advance climate change adaptation and mitigation through partnerships
Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program has been working in several areas to help farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change. Partners’ expertise in key areas of project sustainability in light of climate change variability have been an essential first step. Technical assistance in integrated pest management, water use and conservation, forest management, crop diversification, and biofuels, to name a few, help provide solutions to changing climatic conditions that impact agriculture. And this work continues in the current F2F Program. If you have skills related to these or other topics linked to climate change adaption, check out what volunteer opportunities are available in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Organic Agriculture in Jamaica

Farmer-to-Farmer recently sent volunteer Tony Kleese to work on an organic farm production and budgeting assignment in St. Thomas, Jamaica. This project was completed in collaboration with our partner FAVACA. Below are excerpts from Tony's trip report: 

“Historically, St. Thomas is a farming parish, and the people still rely on small cash crops and tree crop production for their livelihood. While the demand for organic crops has expanded rapidly over the past 20 years in developed nations, Jamaica is just beginning to see significant on-island demand. The Source Farm Foundation (SFF) has been working for the past two years to provide training in permaculture, organic farming, crop budgeting, and markets, with the intention of launching a fair and transparent marketing and distribution system for moving organic produce into local markets that are seeking it.

The purpose of this assignment was to train the producers in innovative design and production strategies that will provide solid yields and improve the soil biology and biodiversity of the land they farm. Working with farmers and extensionists in St Thomas, I was able to develop an excel spreadsheet for an organic demonstration plot that included:
  • Ten year cash flow budget
  • Crop plan for nine crops
  • Three year crop rotation
  • Enterprise plans for nine crops
  • Equipment and irrigation planning tools
  • Overhead budget
  • Yield and spacing chart

Breaking ground on the new organic demonstration site
Farm leaders were trained in its use and the demonstration plot was prepared for planting. There is also enough seed available to plant this crop plan. The changes that I anticipate that they will experience are:
  • A better understanding of organic production practices including crop rotation and soil building through cover crops
  • Increased income from the sale of organic crops and a better understanding of the strong market potential
  • Improvement in farm management and profitability through the use of crop planning and budgeting tools

Demand for local and organic produce continues to grow. Evidence of this is the strong response to the new Ujima farmers market in Kingston and numerous references in the media. Farmers and extensionists have been trained and organic certification is understood although not readily accessible. The main issues to be addressed are production coordination, organic certification, and distribution. In the case of some farmers, the lack of clarity about their land leases creates a landscape of uncertainty for all parties."

Meeting with growers participating in organic production project
Some of Tony’s recommendations for the future of this project include: an analysis of the local and organic market, organizational and capacity-building trainings for the grower groups, alternative financial resources such as debt relief or restructuring to challenge farmers to invest in new ventures, and organic soil and pest management plans.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

From Coffee to Citrus: Citrculture in Colombia

Vista of coffee growing in the mountains of Colombia
Colombia has traditionally been known for its production and export of high-quality coffee. Because coffee is grown at higher altitudes (roughly 1,400 meters above sea level), this leaves large parts of the country at lower altitudes available for alternative crops. Many of these areas have optimum soil conditions and climates for crops like citrus fruit. In Colombia, almost 45,000 hectares of citrus fruits, mainly oranges, tangerines and lemons, have been planted throughout these lower altitude regions. The citrus sector faces some significant growth challenges though. There are very few nurseries cultivating citrus plants and no regulations to monitor the health of the propagation materials used in citrus plantations. Technological deficits in crop management, irrigation control, pruning, fertilizing, and harvesting are also hampering increased citrus production. Combined, these problems contribute to low and unpredictable yields.

Ben Faber during a 2009 F2F assignment in avocado
production in the DR
In response to these difficulties, Colombia’s National Apprenticeship Service (SENA) reached out to Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer program to request the assistance of a U.S. citrus expert. SENA is a national organization that provides comprehensive vocational and technical training to Colombians in order to increase national productivity and promote the economic and social development of the country. 

In September 2014, citrus expert Ben Faber will be traveling as a Flex F2F volunteer to Colombia to train SENA technicians on proper management (i.e., irrigation, fertilization, integrated pest management and harvesting) of citrus nurseries and orchards in order to increase their productivity and global competitiveness. He will also work with Colombian experts to identify and implement best practices for the proper development of nursery plants suitable for planting across the country.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Call for Volunteers: Dominican Republic

Unripe bananas in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is one of the only countries in the Caribbean where bananas continue to be a major export. Banana production is of particular importance in Yaque del Norte, an area vital in the country's food production. However, unpredictable weather patterns such as more frequent droughts, floods, and extreme weather have caused concern over the reduced quantity of available water. Poor agricultural practices including land-clearing, over-fertilization, and poor waste management also threaten the quality of water in the Yaque del Norte watershed, which is also the main source of potable water for several communities.

Yaque del Norte river in northwest Dominican Republic
Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer program in the DR seeks to protect the Yaque del Norte watershed through effective soil, water, and natural resource management. F2F volunteers will also work with farmers to introduce risk-reducing measures to mitigate their vulnerability to the impacts of global climate change. Within the banana sector, F2F has identified three banana associations (Banamiel, Banelino, and the Association of Small Producers in Santa Cruz) interested in improving their wastewater treatment, irrigation technology, and water use efficiency. Together, these three associations represent more than 700 small and medium-sized banana producers in the Yaque del Norte region.

Partners is currently recruiting volunteers to fill the following assignments in the DR:
  1. Climate change expert: **Spanish proficiency required.** To conduct workshops with all F2F host organizations about climate change adaption on the farm, household, and community levels. Presentations will cover questions like: 1) What is climate change, what factors influence climate change, and what is its impact on agriculture and forestry in the DR? 2) What are the impacts of climate change on water availability? 3) What can farmers do to best adapt to climate change on their farm and at the household and community level? 4) What are the current climate change trends in the DR and how can farmers, businesses, and families better prepare for extreme weather?
  2. Wastewater management specialist: To train banana farmers and agribusinesses on how to measure the quality of water (i.e., BOD, COD, E. coli testing, etc.) and assess the effect their packaging practices have on water sources in the region.
  3. Banana industry strategic planning expert: To conduct a value chain analysis and needs assessment of the banana industry. This will inform the development of strategic business plans and technical assistance needs that future F2F volunteers can fulfill over the next five years.

Partners will also be looking for volunteers with experience in increasing institutional capacity to adapt to the effects of GCC, and expertise in sustainable and climate-smart agricultural technologies to help local farmers improve agricultural productivity and resilience to climate change. So, send your resume to Courtney Dunham at!