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!