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 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 "dinĂ¡micas" add fun to the workshops.


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."