Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bibliotecas y Bananos

By F2F Volunteer Felice Maciejewski

The last few days at Banelino were spent reviewing the existing material in the library and weeding material that did not meet the collection development criteria that I had developed. Once I was done with reviewing the material,  I created several sections including: Reference, agricultural science, fair-trade and organic, Dominicano, and student/education. Because Banelino disseminates many public-service type handouts to the Banelino community I also created a handouts section.  On Friday, I will be reviewing all of my recommendations to get the library up and running, with the Banelino staff. This is an exciting project that will have a wonderful impact on the Banelino community.

The Banelino Library "stacks"

On Thursday we drove to the Banelino headquarters in Montecristi. Banana producers and workers, Banelino staff, and family members were invited to a training session that I had prepared on finding the right and reliable information on the internet.  I showed them sources about banana production, statistics, maps and other pertinent information from the FAO, USDA, UN, and other international organizations' websites. In addition, I covered topics such as climate change, water management, fair-trade and organic certification websites. I demonstrated how to create a Banelino community page in Facebook  and also how to tweet on Twitter.  The following day I gave a similar training session at the Banelino headquarters in Mao.

I will miss working with my colleagues at Banelino. They made me feel welcome, listened to my suggestions, and were a joy to work with. I look forward to seeing the progress they will make on the library. ¡Hasta pronto!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reviving Haiti's Formerly Vibrant Coffee Sector

by F2F Volunteer Andy Lohof
According to the World Bank, per capita income in Haiti is only $810, the lowest in the Americas. In the late 1700s, Haiti produced half of the world’s coffee. In 1949, Haiti was the third largest coffee exporter. But as shown in the graph, exports have declined significantly. In 2012, Haiti was not even among the top 35 coffee producers as tracked by the International Coffee Organization.

In December 2014, I traveled to Northern Haiti in collaboration with Partners of the Americas and Makouti to strengthen coffee cooperatives. Having worked with cooperatives in other countries, I have seen the positive impact they can have on smallholder farmers. By pooling their resources and organizing cooperatives, smallholder coffee farmers are better able to access financing, obtain technical assistance on improved farming practices, and sell their product at higher prices.

In field visits to 7 Haitian cooperatives, Makouti coffee specialist Jean Jacques (Jacquelin) Lucas and I found lack of working capital to purchase coffee from members, low coffee yields and production levels, and lack of management skills to be the main obstacles to increasing cooperative coffee sales. In addition, a few cooperatives had difficulties finding reliable customers for their coffee. 
Meeting over coffee and bananas with COEB cooperative, 
whose coffee sales have been limited by parasites,
lack of customers, lack of management skills,
shortage of working capital, and lack of a depulper. 

Following the visits, we designed a training workshop to address the needs identified in the field. To facilitate exchanges and discussions, we invited cooperative leaders to Makouti headquarters in Cap-Haitien for a 1 ½-day workshop on 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. The presentation slides were in French, but the most important points were also translated into Haitian Creole.
Cooperative leaders learning the importance
of collaboration in a workshop game.
Part of the appeal of training cooperatives is that simple concepts of communication, organization, marketing, recordkeeping, and planning can be easily applied to improve the cooperatives and their farmers’ lives. By the end of the workshop, cooperative leaders were able to define and delegate responsibilities, circulate information among members, maintain financial records, locate and market to potential customers, and set investment priorities. 

The most valuable resources of a cooperative or country are human. Haitian coffee will not rebound overnight from its severe decline, but hard work and prudent management can gradually revive the formerly vibrant sector, improving livelihoods for Haitian smallholder farmers.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Update from the Field: Water Security and Ecotourism on Old Providence Island, Colombia

F2F volunteers Femke Oldham & Matt Freiberg are currently in Colombia on a flex assignment. Here they share some of their experiences so far from their trip:

We are stationed in the archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Islands in the western Caribbean. These islands are Colombian territory; however, they represent a melting pot of Latin American and Caribbean cultures. We are working with the native island community, called the Raizal, who are descendants of African slaves brought over by European settlers about 200 years ago. The primary language of the Raizal is a type of creole, and most people also speak Spanish and Standard English.

F2F volunteers, Femke Oldham and Matt Freiberg on
the "Peak"
We completed a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in 2013 on San Andres Island, where we worked with an association of posadas nativas (native-run inns) to improve food and water security through rainwater harvesting system expansion and organic farming workshops. This year, we are stationed on Isla Providencia, known by the natives as Old Providence Island, the more remote and much less developed sister to San Andres. We are completing rainwater harvesting audits and analyses similar to those we conducted on San Andres in order to advise the owners of the small posadas nativas about ways to reduce their use of unreliable and expensive surface water and instead harvest more rain—a relatively free, high quality, and abundant source of water on the island. The long-term goal is for these posadas nativas to be more self-sufficient and resilient to the impacts of climate change.

To date, we have completed the first four of our assessments, which include measuring the available catchment areas (rooftops) and taking stock of existing gutters, downspouts, and storage tanks, which range from 50-gallon barrels to 25,000-gallon cement cisterns built underground below the posadas (imagine a flooded basement). So far, our common recommendations are for posada owners to install additional storage tanks, gutters to transfer rainwater to their existing cisterns, or to plumb their existing cisterns to feed their showers and toilets. We are also making more simple recommendations such as installing screens over open water sources to prevent mosquitoes and stronger gutter-downspout connections. We are working on individualized reports for each posada to help the owners incorporate these enhancements and design a system that will meet their specific needs.

Femke speaks with a posada owner during a rainwater
Additionally, we are assisting our host organization, the Providence Foundation, with the design and initial implementation of a management plan for The Peak Natural Regional Park (known more simply as “Peak”). Peak rises 360 meters above sea level and is the tallest point on Old Providence Island. This stunning landscape represents a dry forest ecosystem and is the source of the majority of the island’s groundwater. It has been the centerpiece of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve since 2001. Yesterday, we hiked to the top of Peak with the help of Karen Livingston, a native island ecotourism guide, to identify potential opportunities for maintaining and expanding the trail system and interactive elements along the way.

We found an abandoned vivero (plant nursery) and learned that it had been actively managed by local Raizal farmers to restore and maintain forested areas along the Peak trails until funding from the local environmental protection agency dried up. We will likely incorporate a plan to revive this nursery into our strategic planning document. More specifically, we are looking into the potential for volunteer maintenance of the nursery or linking with the local secondary school.

From left to right: Matt Freiberg, Octavio Mow from the
Providence Foundation, local guide Karen Livingston, and
Femke Oldham
The aim would be to have tourists who hike in the regional park have the opportunity to visit the nursery, learn about the native plants, and install a plant along the trail as they ascend the Peak. We will know more about the viability of this initiative once we receive the results of a stakeholder survey we helped design that is currently being administered by Raizal ecotourism guides who specialize in community relations.

Library Resources for Banana Producers in the Dominican Republic

One of Banelino's goals is to have a working library for the use of the Banelino staff, banana producers, laborers, and family members. I have been taking an inventory of material in the library and have weeded a substantial amount of material that is not appropriate to the mission of this library.

Last Friday was payday for the producers and laborers. Banelino's offices were busy with processing the payments to the producers. I took the opportunity to visit with some of the producers and laborers who were waiting their turn to pick up their checks. Many were women producers, some came with their children, and others were Haitian laborers. Talking with them, I learned what their idea was of a library. (Keep in mind, three times last week I passed by the National Library branch in Mao (at different times) and each time it was closed, no signs posted on when it would be open. It is fair to say that there is no public library available to the residents in Mao region.) Most of the Banelino members I spoke to said they would love to see a library that would be open to their children so they would a have a place to do their homework.  Others would like to learn more about technology. Others thought it would be great for their children to have a place to go on the weekend to learn and read. Most of the producers suggested information on increasing their banana production.

This week I visited several grade schools near the producers' fincas and found that the schools do not have a library for the the whole school, but rather, each classroom has a small collection of textbooks and a few storybooks for the children.

Anima, Mao region, all of the students are Haitian immigrants

Several things I will need to keep in mind while preparing my recommendations for Banelino are: library hours that will work with the producers' and laborers' hours, material in Kreyol as most of the laborers and their families are Haitian immigrants, material for the beginning reader appropriate for new adult readers, phone apps as most people have cell phones, and basic computer classes for those who do not own computers.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Haiti: 5 Years After the Earthquake

This week, Partners of the Americas joins people around the world in remembering the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12th, 2010. Our goal is to commemorate the event and give our readers some insight into the situation in Haiti. Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer Program was very active in Haiti in 2010 and we had a number of volunteers in-country during the tragedy. Thankfully, our volunteers and staff were safe and although Partners is not a relief organization, we did what we could to help - sending trauma counselors, using donations to help supply medicines, mobilizing farmers to provide food for the needy, arranging housing for people near hospitals, and more. Today, 5 years later, there is cause to be hopeful but we also want to recognize that Haiti is still facing many challenges.We asked Yves-Laurent Regis, the Deputy Director of our Haiti Nutrition Security Program, to share some observations about the state of Haiti and positive changes he has seen in the years since the earthquake. He shares his thoughts below: 

"Many brilliant and talented Haitians have fled the country since January 2010 and the number is increasing. The global response to the disaster on January 12th has provided support in key sectors like food security, water, sanitation and hygiene, health, shelter, education and protection. Additional efforts were deployed to respond to the cholera outbreak in October 2010 and hurricane Tomas in November 2010. International Medical Corps and others are responding to the needs in the Health and WASH sectors.

Ongoing programs in Haiti redirected their planning to focus on the most vulnerable people and their developing demands as indicated by continuous needs assessments. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) put pressure on their families living in the rural areas. As emerging opportunities like cash-for-work and massive distributions continued in Port-au-Prince, IDPs returned with other family members affected by the earthquake and created new settlements, particularly in the Northern portion of the city. Other existing slums received more IDPs and new migrants following the demobilization of several tent cities near the national palace and the main army plaza (Champs de Mars).

There have been positive changes in a number of sectors, including:


  • Increased opportunities to study in new and nontraditional areas (related to structural engineering, environmental protection, climate change, psychology and prosthetics)
  • Increased knowledge about and respect of people with disabilities
  • Increased awareness of the particular needs of people with disabilities triggering more visibility, resources and responsibility / capacity for the Secretariat of State for the Integration of People with Disabilities
  • Better knowledge of teachers and more frequent dialogue around hazards and SIMEX (simulation exercises) in selected schools
Resources / Economy
  • Major corporations, the State and average citizens have showed they learned many key lessons from the 2010 earthquake by considering appropriate measures to mitigate the negative impact of future catastrophes (relocation of assets to safer places, digitization of sensitive data, use of lighter materials for construction and roofing in particular, and public signs indicating evacuation routes ahead of any tsunami in the second largest city located near the North Atlantic fault lines)
  • Increased availability of fresh fruit, vegetables and their derivatives in the capital city (supermarket, street vendors, public markets and restaurants) as a new economic activity
  • Increased public awareness of environmental protection actions: recycling of plastic and a ban on importing, manufacturing and marketing plastic and foam containers as of October 1st 2012 by the Haiti Council of Ministers
Infrastructure / Services
  • Secondary roads have been built and/or paved both in the capital city and elsewhere
  • Selected public and private services have improved dramatically [ex: international airport, health institutions(emergency hospitals by Doctors without Borders), hotel rooms, and beach resorts]
Social Capital
  • The movement of people outside of their devastated residential sites has prompted quick and fragile networks in the new settlements
  • People recognize that they have been blessed for having survived the 2010 earthquake, they create spaces for community healing and they make a commitment to improve their future.
Participation / Resilience
  • The 2010 earthquake has shown the potential of Haitians in and out of the country to implement collective actions in order to achieve social justice and sustainable development

Looking Towards the Future...

Additional actions need to be done in the following sectors:

  • education formal and non formal, targeting out of school youth
  • governance in key sectors (citizen participation and advocacy for sound public policies)
  • accountability to beneficiaries
  • water, sanitation and hygiene
  • protection: preparedness and planning, social protection, employment; and rights particularly of child and adolescent girls
  • shelter: spatial planning, improved neighborhoods, safe and affordable homes
  • health, food security and nutrition: responding to the needs of under two years old, and maternal health
  • community organization and networks: valuing local resources and building capacity"

Friday, January 9, 2015

Banelino: Fair Trade and Organic

My F2F colleague, Maulio Soto and I, arrived in Mao, Valverde on Tuesday evening. The drive from Santo Domingo to Mao is a long one, but the views are beautiful. Early Wednesday morning we arrived at the Banelino headquarters in Mao. I spent the morning visiting the headquarters and learning about the Banelino operations. A non-profit cooperative, founded in the mid-90's by several small banana producers from the Mao and Montecristi banana producing regions, Banelino is now a cooperative of over 400 members. About 25% of the members are women and a large percentage of members are small producers working on about 4.5 hectares-size farms. Banelino's members' banana farms are fair trade and organic.

On Wednesday afternoon, I visited two banana farms that were in the process of packing the bananas. Banelino producers take pride in the quality of their bananas and their buyers have very high standards as well. The selection process of the banana sent abroad is intense. The large bunch comes across on the cable system and smaller "hands" (what we would typically call a bunch in the US) are cut and placed in tanks of treated water. From there, workers select the most perfect of the bananas for exportation. Those bananas then are placed in yet other tanks and selected a second time. Finally they are weighed, labeled, boxed and placed on the dock for pick up. A technician from Banelino is always on site to verify that the bananas are organic. Despite the fact that this is done outside, in the middle of the banana farm, the cleanliness and hygiene guidelines are strictly followed. The banana producers work side-by-side with the workers. As we were leaving, the refrigerated semis were waiting to pick up the bananas and take them to the port for shipment to Europe.

My take away from this visit is that the banana production is time-sensitive. fair trade and organic-certification requires great care during the production, harvesting, and shipping of the fruit. Banelino producers and workers take great pride in their organization, their livelihood, and the fair trade, organic bananas. 

Banelino administrative offices

Banana bunches on the cables prior to selection and packaging
One of the Banelino member producers with his bananas in the selection tanks
Banelino quality control at packaging point
Ready for the refrigeration semi to transport
No eating signage in Spanish and Haitian Criolle/Kryol
Ready for next harvest

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Photos from the Field

Partners Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteers have been out working all over Latin America and the Caribbean, helping to improve agricultural production, processing, marketing, and environmental management. Below are some photos from the field...

In Guatemala, F2F volunteer Ralph Bucca worked on building solar dryers for mushrooms and other crops. He also provided training in handling, packaging, and marketing. The solar dryers varied in size - small ones for home or small business production and larger ones for mid-size groups.

F2F volunteers Allen Mensick and Randy Shumaker worked with goat producers in Haiti on developing innovative ways to improve and expand production and increases access to markets. Their last day in Haiti was spent with agronomy students and farmers in the classroom with a training that included sharing a Rotary International video made for dairy goat production.

In the Dominican Republic, F2F volunteer Dave Lombardo was part of a team who traveled to work with local NGO Plan Yaque in designing an improved agroforestry system that can be used both to help protect the environment and also could be used for business purposes (i.e., the use of cash crops in the system). They aimed to increase awareness on the importance of agroforestry systems in environmental conservation and of potential economically feasible and environmentally friendly systems that are applicable to the area.

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. Here, volunteer Megan Mahoney demonstrates how to inspect top-bar hives to a group of young Jamaican beekeepers.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Quick Note from an F2F Volunteer in the DR

I am so happy to be back in the Dominican Republic to start a new F2F assignment.  This time unfortunately,  I will be on my own, as my colleague Valerie is unable to make it. My assignment is to help the banana producers of the cooperative Banelino, located in Mao, Valverde, find appropriate information to better inform themselves on climate change, banana and rice cultivation, and water management. I will also spend time in the Banelino library working on better organization and access for the library material. It is my understanding that we will also explore ways of integrating information on multi-generational levels. Tomorrow, I will meet with the F2F staff and the REDDOM group to set our agenda for Banelino.

¡Hasta la proxima!
Felice Maciejewski, University Librarian, Dominican University