Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Highlights from 2015!

2015 has been a productive year for Partners' Agriculture and Food Security (AFS) Unit! Under the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program, 119 volunteers traveled to nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to work with close to 114 producer groups, NGOs, universities, and other hosts. Skilled professionals volunteered for a combined total of 1,905 days and directly assisted over 8,500 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 Mother Leaders who have been organized into 188 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 additional pregnant and lactating mothers of children under the age of five. As a result, the project is now reaching over 20,297 neighborhood women households.

Top words from our 2015 blog posts:




Below are some top stories and other 2015 highlights:

JANUARY Femke Oldham and Matt Frieberg returned to the archipelago of Columbia islands to work the Raizal, the native island community on Isla Providencia. They completed rainwater harvesting analyses in order to advise residents about ways to reduce their use of unreliable and expensive surface water and instead harvest rainwater—a relatively free, high quality, and abundant source of water on the island. The long-term goal was to be more self-sufficient and resilient to the impacts of climate change.

FEBRUARY - In February, Partners celebrated the International Year of the Soils by highlighting Jeff Knowles' travel to the Dominican Republic to evaluate the extent of land degradation and soil erosion within priority watersheds. Retired after 30 years working with USDA’s Soil Conservation Service/Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mr. Knowles assessed the soil and environmental management of hillside farms in the Jarabacoa region and identified appropriate, economically feasible, and environmentally friendly methods and technologies for improved soil protection in the upper watershed.

MARCH - In Central Guatemala, members of Asociación Visión Maya have been successfully producing oyster mushrooms for ten years, but asked F2F to help them develop their skills and create recommendations for better practices. Volunteers Dr. Khalid Hameed and Dr. Henry Van Cotter began a series of training sessions designed to increase the productivity of Maya Vision’s farmers. Their recommendations transferred valuable technical knowledge that helped the Maya Vision Association to become independent.

One of Maya Vision oyster farmers

APRIL - Partnering with EducaFuturo, Partners' anti-child labor program, F2F had two volunteers visit Panama to assist a women's group in producing and marketing their cocoa products. Read about Rebecca Roebber and Arcelia Gallardo's trip to find out more.

MAY Dan Krull went on his second trip to Haiti with F2F to improve goat husbandry practices on the island. This time, Dan focused his efforts on teaching and establishing sound goat nutrition programs for the farmers that Partners of the Americas and Makouti Agro Enterprise have partnered with. Medicines for common goat maladies are typically very expensive, so Krull introduced the farmers to natural alternatives.

JUNE - Nicaraguan farmers have had problems with their herds related to decreased nutrition, poor reproductive management, and heat stress. Nicaragua has one of the highest potentials for livestock production in Latin America but one of the lowest numbers of actual production. June was a good month for Nicaragua's cattle industry. Three volunteers were featured on the blog for their work in Nicaragua's cattle and dairy farms - Ashley Conway through cattle nutrition, and Katie Pfieffer and Heather Schlesser with providing training on cattle reproduction.

JULY - The DR has recently been infested by Mediterranean fruit flies — a ravenous pest that has destroyed billions of dollars in agricultural products around the world. The impact on the DR's agriculture has been devastating and immediate. F2F volunteer Brian Upchurch, a private farm owner from North Carolina with expertise in greenhouse management, traveled to assess and evaluate current greenhouse operations and practices of vegetable farmers in the DR, paying special attention to the bugs that have been so destructive on the country’s agriculture industry.



Greenhouse in the DR
AUGUST Katie Plaia and Jennifer Rangel, graduate students at Florida State University, came to F2F in a creative way. When their marketing professor was approached for an assignment, she instead turned the opportunity into a contest for her students. As the winners, Katie and Jennifer developed an integrated marketing plan for Grupo Union Esperanza, an organization of women in Guatemala who endeavor to improve their economic situation by developing a business together. Read about their efforts here
Haiti's IWCA Executive Board

SEPTEMBER- In an effort to help build a more gender-inclusive value chain in Haiti’s coffee sector, Christa Michaud traveled to the country as a F2F volunteer to assist in the development of a local chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA). Through leadership and strategic workshops, she taught basic concepts essential to managing an organization. Through IWCA, female coffee farmers will have access to training and other capacity building opportunities that will empower them to improve their income and more fully contribute to rebuilding Haiti’s ailing coffee sector.

OCTOBER - In October, veteran volunteer Rip Winkel was asked to Nueva Guinea, Nicaragua, to assess the viability for cash crop production in four different farming communities. Using soil samples taken in each of the locations, Rip presented his findings to the farmers, discussing which crops might be better for each type of soil. At the end of his two week trip, he set up test plots as a continuing source of education for the farmers to try new approaches and ideas.

NOVEMBER - Throughout the month of November, F2F implementers shared their knowledge and experience providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. The first four weeks featured stories in technology transfercapacity developmentnatural resource management, and citizen diplomacy, culminating in the F2F 30th Anniversary Learning Event, which recognized the USAID-funded program’s past accomplishments and highlighted lessons learned over its lifespan. 



Marie Guerline Ostine
DECEMBER 2015 was a busy and productive year for the Haiti Nutrition Security Program.  On March 8th, 460 Mother leaders, including Magalie Hubbert, were featured in honor of International Women’s Day.  Those Mother Leaders graduated from their 15-month long training program at the end of April, where they were honored for their commitment and achievements. The training program covered the importance of a balanced diet, breastfeeding best practices, and various livelihood activities.  Mothers aren’t the only ones involved in the program though. Father’s Day in June gave us a chance to appreciate the more than 1,200 men participating in NSP’s Father Groups and the 500 male adolescents in the youth hroups. Youth engagement is at the heart of the strategy of Partners’ Nutrition Security Program (NSP) for the promotion of good nutrition practices for sustainable change. As a result, young leaders become aware of their role and prepare to become tomorrow's active citizens.  Over the summer, NSP wanted to show how being part of the program really influenced a pparticipant’s life. They spent a week in the life of Marie Guerline Ostine, a Mother Leader with three young children, noting her involvement with her family, church, and community. At this year’s annual American Public Health Association (APHA) Conference in November in Chicago, Illinois, NSP’s Senior Technical Advisor, Dr. Altrena Mukuria, presented research about the role that Care Groups play in exposing Haitians to nutrition and healthcare information.

It was a great year for NSP and F2F and Partners is looking forward to what 2016 will bring!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays from Partners!

The Agriculture and Food Security Team at Partners of the Americas would like to wish you happy holidays! The field offices in Guatemala, the DR, Nicaragua and Haiti also would like to say thank you to our volunteers for all their hard work this year- this program depends on them!

Guatemala
Haiti
DR
Nicaragua

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dairy and Discovery in Nicaragua

INDE workshop group in Managua 
Written by F2F Volunteer Michael Lofstrom

This assignment was carried out over a two week period in Nicaragua essentially to assist five Nicaraguan entrepreneurs, small businesses and small agricultural entities develop business plans for the production and marketing of cheese, yogurt and other dairy products sold locally.  My business plan scope of work was part of a team approach that paired me with Mike Doherty, an agricultural economist with the Illinois Farm Bureau and who has many years of experience in developing marketing plans for agricultural cooperatives and farmers in general.  Mike and I participated jointly in all of the interviews with the entrepreneurs and enterprises, and we both helped design and carry out on behalf of INDE three, half-day workshops for small entrepreneurs in the cities of Managua, Chinandega and Masaya.  During the course of our work there was a certain amount of overlap and collaboration between the business and marketing plans, with strategies and recommendations for adding product value, improving net incomes, and in some cases new employment opportunities for the small farmer populations in our designated areas.

Lofstrom with cheesemaker Milton
Gonazalez and F2F field staff Moises Guillen
At one of our interviews with entrepreneurs from the dairy sector, one older gentleman asked me if I had been to Nicaragua before.   When I said yes, but 20 years ago, he immediately replied “it’s a completely different country now” (“es un pais completamente diferente, ahora es otro pais”). That was my distinct impression as well.  A new generation of Nicaraguans are now adults, and since Nicas tend to marry and have children early, a significant percentage of the population is under 25 and has no direct connection with the war years of the 80s and political struggles in the 90s.  There appeared to be a strong preference, especially with younger people, for entrepreneurial investments in areas of economic advantage to Nicaragua as a whole – cattle and beef production and exports; dairy products including cheeses and yogurts; environmentally protected areas with tourism development; and shoe and leather goods manufacturing among many other potentially strong economic sectors.  Although yearly inflation based on planned devaluations of the Córdoba tends to offset annual GDP growth of 5%, there is a sense that Nicaragua will continue to progress in both economic and social arenas and provide for a stable private sector for future growth and development. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cash Crop Possibilities in Nicaragua

Nicaragua's hilly farmlands
By Volunteer Rip Winkel

In October of 2015, I was privileged to have traveled to Nicaragua in Central America to work on a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development through the organization Partners of the Americas. The assignment was to assess the viability for small-scale cash crop production in four farming communities in the municipality of Nueva Guinea.  My principle responsibilities were to meet with representatives from each community, extract one or more soil samples from each, and analyze each sample for pH, and N, P, K availability. After the analyses was completed, I was to recommend avenues that could be taken to amend the soil as well as possible crops that would perform well in the given soil/climatic conditions.

The day after arriving in Managua, I was met by Moises Guillén, the F2F field officer that assisted me for the duration of my stay. Moises was the best of gentlemen; extremely helpful in transporting me around the country side, stepping in when my Spanish failed, and holding me to the two week schedule. The trip to the town of Nueva Guinea was approx. 280 km southeast of Managua in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, and took about 4 hours. The two lane road was sinuous almost the entire way, but in good condition with many incredibly beautiful vistas over-looking the Nicaraguan countryside.

Testing soil samples 
We arrived in Nueva Guinea around noon, and of course, it was raining. Moises and I checked-in to the hotel and ate a quick lunch as we had a meeting with Jamileth Méndez, the president of UNAG (Unión Nacional de Agrícola y Ganadería) that afternoon. For the most part, the next two weeks were spent in that region, where Moises, Ms. Méndez and I worked on two main objectives of the assignment. The first was to review current cultivars being grown, discuss crop pests/diseases, soil issues with the farmers, and extract soil samples representative of each community.

The second objective was to conduct an informative presentation to each of the communities with applicable recommendations. When the results of the pH, N, P, and K (and soil texture analysis of each) were completed, presentations were given to each community and to a group at the UNAG office. The presentations discussed various topics such as soil origin/ composition (general and specific), soil maintenance, importance of organic material in soil, facts on crop production (with fact-sheet handouts). The presentations also reviewed the results from the each community’s soil samples. Recommendations were then discussed over the mitigation of soil acidity, soil erosion prevention, increasing micro biotic activity via organic material, and crop options that would be best suited to the existing soil conditions, etc.  
Winkel gives recommendations to potential farmers

The last part of this objective was to initiate some test-plots, where treatments were applied to four quadrants of soil. Commonly planted crops were planted in the treatments. There were three of these test-plots in total, located in areas with easy access, and open for all four of the communities. The intent for initiating these experimental plots were to be a source of information/education for the farmers; to test new cultivars, to try various soil amendments, resolve disease problems, etc. in a hands-on

Over all, the two week trip went very fast...too fast. I wish I could have stayed there quite a bit longer for the amount of work that could be done. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Notes from the Field- Emily Oakley and Mike Appel in Guatemala

By Emily Oakley and Mike Appel

In the beginning of October, we traveled to Guatemala as volunteers with Partners of the America’s Farmer to Farmer Program.  This is our third volunteer assignment with program.  Previous assignments have been in Domincan Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua.  It has been four years since we have been on an assignment and our first since having a daughter.  Fortunately, our daughter, Lisette was able to travel with us on this trip and “helped” out on our farm visits and presentations.

We are full-time organic vegetable farmers from Oklahoma.  We love sharing our experiences utilizing organic growing methods with other farmers and gardeners around the world.  During our two weeks in Guatemala we were hosted by two different organizations: Semillas Para El Futuro and INCAP (Institute for Nutrition for Central America and Panama).  During both assignments we discussed soil health, composting, growing green manures (cover crops), organic fertilizer and pesticide recipes, and other organic growing techniques with extensionists and farmers. 

It was a privilege to meet the amazing individuals and organizations that are working to improve their homes, farms, and communities.  The conditions in Guatemala are challenging due to climate change, steep terrain, and lack of resources, but the people we met were innovative, strong, and determined to overcome their challenges.  They are an inspiration.  We look forward to seeing how some of the organic practices discussed are being adapted to the farmers’ local conditions at some point in the near future.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Partners of the Americas Celebrates Farmer-to-Farmer’s Legacy

This article is a contribution to a four-week blog series celebrating 30 years of USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.

On Thursday, December 3rd, friends of Farmer-to-Farmer gathered for a Farmer-to-Farmer Learning Event, which recognized accomplishments of volunteers and staff over the 30 years of the program and highlighted lessons learned. Participants heard from the Honorable Douglas Bereuter, former Member of Congress, who was responsible for starting the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program. In his words: "remarkable things have been accomplished!" and "F2F puts a face on US foreign assistance." A panel of F2F volunteers shared their experiences working in the key areas of technology transfer, natural resource management, citizen diplomacy, and organizational capacity. Attendees also had to the chance to hear from key players in agriculture and rural development and to connect with colleagues and old and new friends. 

As we look to the future of F2F, we also pause to celebrate the accomplishments of the program! Below is a snapshot of the F2F work of Partners of the Americas. 








From November 16-December 11, F2F program partners are sharing their knowledge and experience providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity, and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food. This blog series aims to capture and share this program experience.

Read more articles celebrating 30 years of F2F on Agrilinks.




Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Guatemala, Goats, and Genetic Improvements: A Volunteer's Story

This article is a contribution to a four-week blog series celebrating 30 years of USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.

Artificial insemination means all
the offspring will have superior genetics.
In late October 2015, F2F volunteer Bill Knox made his second visit to CEPROCAL, a large, established dairy goat project in Nebaj, Guatemala to increase the capacity for genetic improvement of goats in the western highlands and throughout the country. Mr Knox is recently retired from North Carolina State University, where he worked for 20 years managing research, livestock, and students. Knox also has many years of experience with artificial insemination in a production agriculture setting in the United States.  

Bill checks on the first usable
post-freeze sample. 
In July 2014, Bill Knox made history by visiting the western highlands of Guatemala to provide the first-ever training on artificial goat insemination. He trained management and staff in artificial insemination and parasite control over a two-week visit. This knowledge was applied at CEPROCAL with very positive results. In October 2015, the training focus was the capacity to collect and preserve semen from bucks, goat males housed at CEPROCAL. This will allow these superior males to serve female goats all over the country of Guatemala.

The University of San Carlos in Guatemala granted the Botón De Oro award to Bill Knox for his contributions to the caprinocultor (goat industry) sector in Guatemala. The award is given to professionals and academics for sharing their knowledge and contributing to the development of Guatemala in various sectors, such as agriculture. 


Bill took a moment to answer some questions about his F2F assignments in Guatemala. 

What first interested you in participating in F2F? What have your volunteer experiences meant to you? 

Checking on the herd. 
"Both trips to Guatemala have been very rewarding to me both personally and professionally. My connection with CEPROCAL and Save the Children Guatemala has been a perfect match with my lifelong interest in assisted reproduction technology, and CEPROCAL's need to improve caprine genetics. I have been quite impressed with both the scale and continued support provided for the dairy goat programs in the highlands [...]. The development of a culture of goat rearing, production and use of dairy products, and development of markets in 8-10 years is a feat that shows extraordinary commitment. I was so pleased to find on my return trip that every recommendation made in the summer of 2014 was acted upon to good effect. This type of follow through makes the time and effort required for each assignment worthwhile."

Tell us about the people-to-people component of your work. Have you shared in the US about your work with F2F? 

Dr. Fredy Gonzalez after 
collection at USAC
"I was pleased to have contact with veterinary and animal science students on both assignments to Guatemala. A big part of my career at NC State University was mentoring students, and exposure to USAC students was a natural extension of that part of my work. When returning to the university, I've had many opportunities to share my experiences as a F2F volunteer. This has been a benefit to NC State students envisioning how the science they study and the technology developed can be implemented where they are, or abroad in the developing world."

What type of response did you receive during your F2F trainings? 

"Guatemalan students, faculty, farmers, and the public at large greatly appreciate all ideas delivered  by F2F volunteers. Small changes in management, or high tech innovation are valuable additions that contribute to the well being of people where volunteers are sent. In just two visits I have witnessed a beneficial change.'




From November 16-December 11, F2F program partners are sharing their knowledge and experience providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity, and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food. This blog series aims to capture and share this program experience.

Read more articles celebrating 30 years of F2F on Agrilinks.



Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Addressing the Agricultural Impact of Climate Change: Partners' Work in the Dominican Republic

This article is a contribution to a four-week blog series celebrating 30 years of USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.


Yaque del Norte watershed 
The Dominican Republic (DR) 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. Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in the DR is working to protect the Yaque del Norte watershed through climate-smart agricultural technologies. It is targeting the areas of soil nutrient management, crop production disease management, soil conservation, water conservation, agroforestry, and solid waste management.

Within the banana sector, F2F is working with three banana associations (Grupo Banamiel, Banelino, and the Association of Small Producers in Santa Cruz) invested 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. F2F volunteers have worked with banana producers to improve their water use efficiency and assist them in adopting climate-smart agricultural practices that allow them to conserve soil and water.
Ilan Bar trains farmers in 
how to use soil and water test kits
Plant pathologist and agronomist Ilan Bar traveled to the DR to train producers on flood and mini-sprinkler irrigation management. Mr. Bar led trainings on collecting water and soil samples to address technical issues related to soil –such as rising pH levels and loss of organic matter - and its correlation with decreased production. The following week, Dr. Kyung Yoo, a professor of biosystems engineering at Auburn University, also traveled to the DR to work with banana producers specifically interested in adopting mini-sprinkler systems, an appropriate and practical method that has the potential to increase water use efficiency by 90 percent.

Unripe bananas in the Dominican Republic
Many smallholder banana producers, however, do not have the resources to purchase mini-sprinkler systems and the majority of producers currently use flood irrigation to irrigate their crops. This led F2F to send Dr. Terry Podmore, a professor emeritus at Colorado State University, to conduct an assessment of flood irrigation systems in banana production areas. Dr. Podmore provided recommendations on ways to improve flood irrigation techniques. As a result of these assignments, banana association members of Banelino, one of the F2F host organizations, are now interested in developing a demonstration farm for improved irrigation practices.

Vetiver, a perennial grass that may be used
to prevent erosion during flooding
Climate change and disaster risk management specialists have also worked with banana producers and banana associations to develop mitigation strategies to natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods on their banana plantations and at the household level. One possible mitigation strategy is to plant vetiver for erosion control. Vetiver is a very deep rooted plant considered to be symbiotic with bananas. This suggests that vetiver could anchor the crop during periods of flooding. There might also be additional benefits, as vetiver could offer better year-round soil-moisture management and could help control nematodes, which farmers have stated are a constant problem. 

As the banana associations and producers adopt climate-smart agricultural technologies, they increase their resilience to the impacts of global climate change in the Yaque del Norte watershed. 


From November 16-December 11, F2F program partners are sharing their knowledge and experience providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity, and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food. This blog series aims to capture and share this program experience.

Read more articles celebrating 30 years of F2F on Agrilinks.




Thursday, November 19, 2015

Partners Strengthens Coffee Cooperatives in Haiti

This article is a contribution to a four-week blog series celebrating 30 years of USAID's John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.

Coffee growing in the shade
Between plant disease, pests, and changing weather, farmers face more than enough challenges related to growing, harvesting and producing their crops. Once the crop has been collected, there is another set of problems for farmers to address in order for them to sell their goods-ones that require a whole host of management skills that many small farmers lack.

Cooperatives allow farmers to work together, share tips and strategies, and organize policies for the whole sector. By pooling their resources, smallholder coffee farmers are better able to access financing, obtain technical assistance on improved farming practices, and sell their product at higher prices.  In addition to in-the-field experience and training, Farmer-to-Farmer also finds volunteers who are able to build the organizational capacity of these small organizations to strengthen their abilities. Capacity is about growth: growth of the individual in knowledge, skills and experience, so that they are capable of setting, strengthening, and maintaining their own development goals.

Lohof meeting with cooperative members
Partners' F2F volunteers have worked with Makouti Agro Enterprises, a diversified agriculture business and marketing cooperative owned and operated in Haiti and several coffee cooperatives in order to bolster Haiti's once vibrant coffee community. In the late 1700's Haiti produced half of the world's coffee. In 1949, it was the third largest coffee exporter. However, in 2012, Haiti was not even among the top 35 coffee producers as tracked by the International Coffee Organization. For several decades, coffee production in Haiti has been in steady and rapid decline as a result of issues such as deforestation, outdated farming techniques, and limited access to credit and export markets. Recent issues threaten to further weaken the coffee sector, and reduce the earnings of Haiti's estimated 200,000 coffee farmers. Haiti has the lowest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere. If the country could regain even a small portion of its former position in the world coffee market, it could significantly improve living standards.

Farmers are experimenting with different
varieties of coffee beans that are more durable
F2F volunteer Andy Lohof traveled down to tour and train some of Haiti's major coffee cooperatives in December 2014.  He found that while the original assignment was intended to strengthen Haitian coffee cooperatives' branding and marketing abilities and practices, the cooperatives' main obstacles were not lack of customer demand but rather management skills, working capital, and low coffee yields and production.  Through exercises, questions, and discussions, the participants learned simple techniques for improving communication and organization in their cooperatives, marketing themselves to potential customers, keeping basic financial records, and setting priorities.

Cooperatives with weaker structures and untrained management are often limited in their ability to overcome other obstacles. For example, investors and donors are often unwilling to provide loans or grants to cooperatives that have no accounting records. A lack of working capital dramatically limits the amount of coffee the cooperatives are able to buy from its members and the sell to consumers. Farmer-to-Farmer and Makouti have linked the coffee cooperatives with Haiti Coffee, a California-based buyer which seeks to import as much 50,000 pounds of coffee per year. However, the cooperatives have a combined total of only 6,000 pounds of coffee to sell.

IWCA- Haiti representatives
Lohof designed a training workshop to find solutions to these needs at the Makouti headquarters in Cap-Haitien. To facilitate exchanges and discussions among different cooperatives, they addressed the following topics: organization and communication, entrepreneurship, marketing/sales, accounting, and planning/priorities. The teaching methodology was very participatory: limited lectures and numerous questions, discussions, and exercises.  At the end of the workshop, they announced the creation of a management committee composed of members of different cooperatives. The goal of this committee would be to facilitate exchange of ideas and collaboration among the cooperatives and Makouti in the coming months.

IWCA-Haiti Executive Committee
This effort continues to grow and become accessible to more farmers. Since 2014, efforts have been underway to form a Haiti chapter of the International Women's Coffee Alliance (IWCA). Women in Haiti still face economic and social inequalities that prevent them from reaching their full potential. This is especially true in Haiti's coffee sector where limited access to land, credit, training and leadership positions make it difficult for women to generate a sufficient income and escape poverty. Founded in 2003, IWCA is a non-profit that advocates for women in coffee, and provides a critical forum for them to build and foster relationships, gain essential leadership and technical skills, and access markets. In summer 2015, F2F volunteer Christa Michaud designed and led meetings and workshops for representatives from five different coffee growing regions to develop the organizational structure and governing documents for IWCA-Haiti.

Forming an IWCA chapter in Haiti will empower and encourage women, providing them with the confidence, skills and organizational structure to develop policies and programs that reflect their needs and interests. The chapter will also seeks to have a positive, long-term impact on rebuilding Haiti's coffee sector, as ensuring a fair, gender-inclusive value chain will help improve quality and production, attract international buyers, and ultimately, increase farmer incomes.  Women will be able to control and secure resources for themselves, while continuing to share information and collaborate with other organizations working towards the same goal of improving coffee production in Haiti.

Significant progress was made in improving organizational capacity in Haiti, primarily due to the hard work and commitment from the farmers in the cooperatives and IWCA- Haiti.   With continued support from Farmer-to-Farmer, these individuals can develop into strong leaders driving positive change in their lives, families and coffee-growing communities across Haiti.



From November 16-December 11, F2F program partners are sharing their knowledge and experience providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food. This blog series aims to capture and share this program experience.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chocolate, Mushrooms, and Cheese: 3 Stories of Technology Transfer in the Americas

This article is a contribution to a four-week blog series celebrating 30 years of USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.

Transferring skills, knowledge, and technology is the heart of the F2F program. US volunteers focus on practical interventions that improve farm and agribusiness operations or production, assist with marketing and market linkages, protect and conserve natural resources, and strengthen organizations. Below are three stories that showcase the difference volunteer interventions and impact of transferring knowledge and technology.

Panama Chocolate

Although Panama does not produce a lot of cacao compared with the rest of the world, the cacao of Changuinola has a lot of potential. F2F has been working with women who are participants in Partners of the Americas' EducaFuturo program which focuses on reducing child labor in the region. In a joint effort to improve the livelihoods of families and reduce child labor, EducaFuturo and F2F are working together to build the local capacity of community members.

The first F2F volunteer was Rebecca Roebber, who traveled to Panama to provide training to a group of indigenous Ngäbe women in marketing and the production of cocoa by-products. Rebecca helped them create added value and finished chocolate products as an additional way of generating income to support their families. She shares: “After learning the basic steps for making chocolate, the women worked together as inventors to create unique recipes. Their chocolate included ingredients like salt, cinnamon, fried plantain, vanilla and coconut. They designed a label with a cacao tree with their story and ingredients on the back. They also decided to organize themselves into a group. The women were skeptical of working with one another at first but ended up finding a real sense of community over the course of the training. That was the most empowering part of the project. Not only are they united and proud of the products they produced, but they are also carrying on the traditional practice of making chocolate.”

F2F volunteer Arcelia Gallardo traveled a few months later to help the women create more products and improve their branding and marketing. She helped them make their products more appealing to buyers, have maximum profit margins, and look professional. She also helped them calculate recipe costs and understand the process of selecting new recipes. Arcelia and the group accomplished a lot during the assignment. They located a store targeted to tourist and it has a “local chocolate” section that will buy their chocolates. Even though it is an hour away, the group will receive the best price from anywhere else in the Bocas region. They remade logo, improved their packaging, and created labels and brochures. They came up with new recipes and new products, including chocolate caramel and caramel popcorn with nibs. And they started a facebook page for Noba Balen (www.facebook.com/NobaBalenChocolatesPanama) so now the entire world will have access to finding them and their products.

Guatemala Mushrooms

In Central Guatemala, Asociación Visión Maya - an association of almost 200 producers, over half of whom are women - has been successfully producing oyster mushrooms for ten years, but asked F2F to help improve their practices. Without the proper supplies, Guatemala’s mushroom farmers have been industrious and inventive in their efforts. However, their production has been hindered by the lack of technical skills and knowledge necessary to maintain appropriate growing conditions, as well as the undependable availability of high-quality mushroom spawn.

F2F volunteers Dr. Khalid Hameed, Professor of Plant Pathology at Duke University and Dr. Henry Van Cotter, a visiting professor in the Mycology Lab at Duke, traveled to provide training to increase the productivity of Maya Vision’s farmers. They trained producers on how to inoculate oyster mushroom mycelium on different substrates in order to improve both production quantity and quality. Drs. Cotter and Hameed also taught methods to evaluate the quality of the substrate used in the production process to ensure optimal nutritional quality of the mushrooms. The training was adapted to the local context and the F2F volunteers tried to strike a balance between optimism and realism in setting up a spawn production facility in the resource-poor setting. After the two weeks of training, the participants successfully prepared and inoculated spawn, prepared sterile fungal growth media, and isolated multiple oyster mushroom strains.

Trainees also learned what methods and facilities are necessary to produce spawn. While these initial trainings took place in the living room of one of the members, F2F arranged a visit to the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) where participants observed and practiced with key equipment necessary for a spawn production facility. After this visit, Visión Maya realized they needed their own laboratory. With the support of a small loan, Visión Maya members built a mycelium lab in their headquarters, modeled off of the design of the lab they visited at UVG. On their first attempt at making mycelium in their new lab, Visión Maya members only produced two successful petri dishes out of twenty; but on their second try, they made nine out of twenty. Visión Maya still has a long journey ahead but this was a critical first step in their efforts to sustainably produce their own seed supply and grow enough high-quality mushrooms to reach local and national markets. Read more about their work...

Nicaragua Cheese

Partners’ F2F Program in Nicaragua has been working in the dairy value chain for many years, including helping small and medium-scale farmers and processors improve their cheese production. One of these farmers is Leonardo Castro, who sells Gouda and other products through his enterprise Queso San Ramon. F2F has been working with Leonardo on improving his family-owned dairy farm’s practices, production, and cheese quality. His goals include diversifying his cheese products, improving cheese quality, and increasing production, sales, and access to niche markets.

F2F technical specialist Daniel Hewitt, who has extensive experience in artisanal cheese production, HACCP, dairy products marketing, and related topics, traveled to Nicaragua multiple times to work with Leonardo on a variety of topics, including diversify and adding a cheddar-style cheese. Through hands-on activities and cheese-making workshops at the Queso San Ramon facility, Daniel was able to teach new practices of artisanal cheese-making. Activities included tweaking and experimenting with different starter culture and salt amounts, milk heating schedules, and pressing weights. Throughout these interactive trainings, Daniel facilitated discussions with Leonardo and his team about how these changes could impact the final cheese product. The group also learned how to use new cheese-making equipment.


Thanks to the technical assistance, Leonardo and his team started producing trials of cheddar-style cheese. Daniel followed-up a number of months after the trials and worked with Leonardo on continuing to refine the cheddar style cheeses and were able to use the observations from the initial trials to address challenges. Additional cheese making workshops were held at Quesos San Ramon to continue working on the practices of ‘European-­‐style’ cheese-­‐making, as well as the standards of sanitation and milk quality that are pre-requisites to quality cheese. Click to learn more about how this assignment got started and some of the initial work!


From November 16-December 11, F2F program partners are sharing their knowledge and experience providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food. This blog series aims to capture and share this program experience.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Botón De Oro awarded to F2F volunteer in Guatemala

This past week, the University of San Carlos in Guatemala granted the Botón De Oro award to Mr. William "Bill" Knox and Mr. Rodrigo Arias for their contributions to the caprinocultor (goat industry) sector in Guatemala.
"I was humbled and deeply honored to be given the Grado de Botón De Oro for contributions to agricultural technology and best practices." - Bill Knox
The award is given to professionals and academics for sharing their knowledge and contributing to the development of Guatemala in various sectors, such as agriculture.

The secretary general of the USAC, Doctor Carlos Enrique Carney, made a speech regarding the excellent work that the Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Guatemala has been making towards the development of the agricultural sector through technical assistance.

The University of San Carlos is committed to training professionals of high academic standards so that they can replicate their knowledge with the underprivileged of the country. The commitment is given under the slogan "Go and teach all". The Farmer to Farmer program partners with Save the Children and the University of San Carlos to form human capital at a professional level. This creates experts who are available to replicate their knowledge and techniques in rural areas to reduce chronic and acute malnutrition in food insecure families.

Goats housed at CEPROCAL
In late October, Bill Knox, a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, made his second visit to CEPROCAL, a large, established dairy goat project in Nebaj, Guatemala to increase the capacity for genetic improvement of goat in the western highlands and throughout the country. Mr Knox is recently retired from North Carolina State University, where he worked for 20 years managing research, livestock, and students. Knox also has many years of experience with artificial insemination in a production agriculture setting in the United States.  In  2014 he trained management and staff in artificial insemination and parasite control over a two week visit. This knowledge was applied at CEPROCAL with very positive results. In October 2015, the training focus was the capacity to collect and preserve semen from bucks, goat males housed at CEPROCAL. This will allow these superior males to serve female goats all over the country of Guatemala.

Knox says he feels privileged to transfer technology in artificial insemination in goats and "goat project is the most successful in the world" given the commitment and execution by the members of the technical and professional staff in Guatemala.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mother Leaders Bring Nutrition and Healthcare to Haiti

This story was featured on the Partners blog, found here.

Partners’ Haiti Nutrition Security Program (Haiti NSP) began educating women and families about healthcare in some of the most poverty-stricken areas in Haiti in 2013. Haiti NSP’s Senior Technical Advisor, Dr. Altrena Mukuria, presented her findings for the role Care Groups play in exposing Haitians to nutrition and healthcare information at this year’s annual American Public Health Association (APHA) Conference on November 3, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The conference brought together more than 12,000 public health professionals and research experts.
Nearly one in every three Haitians does not have enough to eat, and women and children are especially vulnerable to the impacts of malnutrition. Dr. Mukuria’s presentation focused on the ways social capital can be used to decrease the levels of malnutrition in a community. Social capital is, “the network of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling the society to function effectively.” In other words, people in a community build relationships, and those relationships create economic growth and a stable society with free-flowing ideas and knowledge.

There are three levels of social capital- bonding, bridging, and linking. Bonding capital, often the strongest form of social capital, are the relationships a person has with friends and family. Bridging capital is the relationship between friends of friends, neighbors, and others that are just outside of the bonding relationships. Linking capital is the relationship between a person and a government official or political groups, community leaders, and others with resources.
Haiti NSP implements all three levels of social capital in the communities where it works. Bonding relationships traditionally reinforce social norms, which are often passed down through generations or shared among closely knit communities. This can have both positive and negative consequences. Knowledge is shared, but if the knowledge is not accurate, poor nutritional or social behavior can be reinforced and normalized, making it hard to counter-act. Information or behavior from outside sources often has trouble permeating those relationships.

Communities are typically untrusting of outside programs teaching new information. Haiti NSP overcomes this by having each community select its “Mother Leaders,” who have the responsibility to be educated by Haiti NSP volunteers about healthcare and nutrition. The Mother Leaders then share what she has learned with her own bonding relationships, such as close friends and families. Each Mother Leader also shares her knowledge with 10-12 other women, through monthly house visits. This activates bridging relationships. Since the Mother Leaders are already trusted and respected in their communities, they are able to create effective change.

To date, 162 care groups comprised of over 2,000 community-appointed Mother Leaders have provided trainings to over 20,980 neighboring women on breastfeeding, food choices and diet diversity, maternal and child health, small-scale gardening, cooking, and healthcare. As a result, exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of an infant’s life has risen from 46 to 85 percent; pregnancy deliveries with a trained health professional have risen from 53 to 88 percent, and mothers are learning how to grow their own fruits and vegetables to improve the food security of their households.
Mother Leaders are already expanding their roles and thinking up with new ways to teach their neighbors. Two women i decided it would be better to teach their neighbors about proper nutrition by actually showing rather than telling. These two women created a community nursery out of their vegetable gardens so the women under their care would come, see how to incorporate healthy foods into their families’ diets, and then be able to grow some for themselves.

Haiti NSP is also enforcing linking relationships in rural communities. Health centers are available, and they require that mothers come in for medical check-ups and to disperse nutritional resources. However, the centers frequently don’t have the supplies they need, so mothers stop coming. Haiti NSP has built up a reputation and a presence in the areas they work, so when Mother Leaders visit the centers, they ensure that the needed supplies are there and the women get the care that they need. This gives credibility to the Mother Leader program, reinforces the authority of the Mother Leaders among their community, and requires the health communities to be accountable for their responsibilities.

Haiti NSP also runs grandmother, father, and youth groups, educating and engaging the entire family. Grandmothers are particularly important because they are seen as holding the knowledge for tradition and cultural practices. If someone is resistant against the lessons a Mother Leader is teaching, she can ask a grandmother to come talk to the person. More than half of Haitian women have their first child before the age of 21, making it important to focus education and behavior change not only pregnant and lactating women, but also on youth and adolescents between 15 to 20 years of age, in order to have an impact on the next generation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Importance of Making Chocolate, Part Two


Arcelia Gallardo is a F2F volunteer currently working in Panama with chocolate makers. To read Part One, click here.

I am leaving Panama very hopeful for the future of cacao and the Ngabe women group, Noba Balen. We were able to create some amazing, delicious, simple products using normal everyday ingredients. When people think about creating food and desserts with cacao, they can’t help but think of chocolate, but using the cacao nibs themselves or transforming existing popular recipes is also a great way to make sweets.

Two of the new recipes we made- Caramelo&Cacao and Popcorn&Nibs, were a way to take basic sweet recipes and convert them into a mature and sophisticated snack. Brittle is a common dessert both in Europe and the USA but it’s usually made with nuts; here we choose to use nibs. Caramelized popcorn is also a basic snack; corn, sugar, butter … and by adding cacao nibs we make it a bit more interesting.

We made the most popular chocolate of Brazil, brigadeiro, and the most famous sweet of all Latin America, rice pudding, or arroz con leche, but with added chocolate. The women had all made rice pudding before but they had never considered adding cacao to it.

Drinking hot chocolate is becoming increasingly popular, especially if it is natural and high in cocoa content. This is a product they should continue to have- I did very little to the recipe, but did change the look by having them use molds and different packaging. When you are standing anywhere in Panama you always see nature; I wanted to make sure this gift was translated in their packaging- we spent an entire day learning how to make flowers with palm leaves.

Having great products without any advertising is difficult; I created a Facebook for their group, https://www.facebook.com/NobaBalenChocolatesPanama, and uploaded their products and profile information. Now the entire world will have access to finding them and their products.

Graduation day came too soon for both the women and myself. There were many other things I wanted to show them and they wanted to continue learning. It was a great honor to have been able to work with the Ngabe women and learn about their culture. I look forward to seeing their progress, and maybe one day see their products at the International Chocolate Salons around the world.

The new look of Noba Balen is thanks is part to Dandelion Chocolate (www.DandelionChocolate.com), Neo Cocoa (www.neococoa.com), and Kika’s Treats (www.Kikastreats.com), who donated molds and boxes for this project.