Thursday, May 28, 2015

Goat Nutrition for Disease Prevention and Optimal Health in Haiti

This post was written by F2F volunteer Dan Krull after returning from the field in Haiti.

I have returned to Haiti to continue to work with improving goat husbandry practices on the island. This was my second trip to Haiti with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program to work with improving goat husbandry practices on the island. Whereas my first trip to Haiti in December 2014 was more focused on the immediate crises of rampant internal parasitism, this trip revolved around teaching and establishing sound goat nutrition programs for the farmers that Partners of the Americas and Makouti Agro Enterprise have partnered with.

There are two types of plants that I focused on either introducing to the region or augmenting in goat pastures: plants that have natural antihelmintic (anti-parasitic) properties, and those that are high in protein and other essential nutrients.

The anthelmintic property of plants is most often due to the tannin contained in the plants. This substance, which is the same substance that is contained in grapes and wine, inhibits the multiplication of parasites. With more and more parasites becoming resistant to laboratory developed drugs, alternatives to these options is becoming an increasing priority.

Of course, developing countries also face an additional challenge of lack of money to buy these often expensive medications. Thus, finding alternatives that are more accessible to these populations would be attractive. Because natural plants, and their accompanying bioactive substances, can’t be patented and owned, there is little incentive to research them. However, certain plants have been studied in controlled settings and have proven to reduce parasite loads in goats.

One such plant is Lespedeeza cuneata. It is a plant that was originally cultivated in the United States for erosion control and soil improvement because it is fast growing and fixes atmospheric nitrogen. Though there are several different varieties (sub species) of Lespedeeza available, the genus generally is effective in significantly reducing parasite loads in goats (ATTRA, 2007). Other plants found in Haiti that are high in tannins include: Spondias mombin, cassava leaves, Guinea grass, Haematoxylon campechianum, and Pithecellobium dulce.

In addition to medicinal plants, I also stressed the importance of adequate nutrition, because goats that are not meeting their daily energy needs will have difficulty growing, as well as fighting off disease causing agents. Although grass can be plentiful in Haiti, it is not the best option because it can harbor parasites spread by fecal material. (I make an exception with Guinea grass, because it has natural parasite-inhibiting tannins and grows tall enough not to be contaminated with fecal matter.) A much better option is tree leaves. Trees that I recommended to focus on planting included: Gliricidia sepium, Moringa oleifera, Samanea samanea, and Haitian spinach. Spinach is of particular importance as it contains high levels of iron, an essential building block for new red blood cells. Since many of the goats remain moderately anemic, adding a source of iron to their diet will greatly improve their vigor.

When introducing goats to new plants, there is often an adjustment period because goats may be hesitant to eat new plants. Thus, I stressed the need for patience in allowing the goats to adapt to a new diet. Likewise, the farmers that Partners and Makouti have partnered with will need time to establish these plants and trees in their fields. These trees must be protected when they are young because allowing goats to graze new plants too soon risks killing them. Combined with the regular deworming now undertaken on the participating goat farms, I expect that 2015 will be a turning point in the productivity of these farms.

Dan Krull
May 2015

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Updates from DC: "Women and Girls: Engines of Development"

Last week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted Melinda Gates to speak as part of their Smart Women, Smart Power series. The title of her discussion was "Women and Girls: Engines for Development". Our intern, Rebecca Lamb, was able to attend this event. Please see her reflections on the event below:

As part of CSIS’s Smart Women, Smart Power series, I attended a talk called, “Women and Girls: Engines of Development,” featuring Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. When talking about the work of the Gates Foundation, Mrs. Gates talked about the necessary partnership between scientific innovations and progress in solving problems in the developing world, such as the need for research for vaccine development, and the potential of GMO crops to address global hunger. 
Melinda Gates, interviewed by Nina Easton
Mrs. Gates was also asked about the Foundation’s current focus of putting women and girls front and center when talking about development. She stated, "We’re just beginning this work- it’s not that we haven’t focused in our individual strategies some on women and girls, but we haven’t put them front and center.  How would you knit our strategies together, and we sometimes we make false assumptions about our strategies if you don’t put what is called a gender lens on it.”  She gave an example from one of the ongoing projects.  “We have these new seeds that are coming out, that are drought resistance and give more yield. We know half the farmers are women, but if we just assume that they are going to get the seed, that’s a false assumption, because the agro dealers in Africa only deal with the men, the seeds don’t reach the women.  So you have to program specifically to reach the women. Women will tell you when there is a health shock in the household, it is the woman’s finances that pay for that- they negotiate with their husband once a year about how much money is going into the household and then they manage it.  Even if we try to put a new crop in a woman’s hands, she’ll tell you ‘if my husband is the one that takes it to market, and he gets the cash, I have to renegotiate for it.’  The research has shown us, for every marginal dollar a women gets, she’s 90% more likely to plow it back into her family’s hands then her husband is.  When a woman gets a little bit of cash in their hands, the power dynamic in the household changes, and they invest in the health and education of their kids. When you talk to people about their lives and what they dream about, almost to the 100% level the answer I get is ’educating my kids, because if I can educate my kids, they can get out of the situation, they can move to the urban areas and have a better life than I did’.”

Ms. Gates attributes a large number of success stories for women’s empowerment to the widespread use of women’s self-help groups.  They start at the beginning putting in pieces of education about health or agriculture, and then eventually start to empower themselves and start to work on the issues that are really important to them and their communities.  Partner’s Haiti Nutrition Security Program works in a similar way, giving women leaders the health information that they need in a safe and secure fashion so that they can spread that information through their neighbors and friends. 
In addition, Ms. Gates also spoke briefly on her views of GMO’s on global food security, specifically about the protests against the science.  “GMOs are an important piece for feeding people.  If you have a new seed variety that gets more yield, or a new rice seed- the farmers near the equator will tell you the rains are coming at different times and coming in torrential rainstorms- they get can a rice crop that is drought and flood resistance and then they can feed their family.”  With climate change affecting weather patterns all over the world, farmers will have to rely on more technology to maintain the yields they need to feed their family and cover other living expenses.  “One thing we’re working on is increasing the number of academics in agronomy in Africa, so they can decide for themselves about creating a regulatory committee and deciding what is best for themselves- it makes no sense for us to go to the grocery store and buy GMO food and yet say to them that we won’t give them the seed and the ability to decide for themselves.”

The overall message that Mrs. Gates effectively portrayed through her research and stories of personal experiences was that it makes sense, economically and socially, to invest in women and girls. The innovations that cutting edge scientists are making can have a drastic and positive effect on the lives and livelihoods of almost 50% of women around the world. Mrs. Gates said she considered three questions when doing this work. First, are they and their children healthy?  Second, do they have the ability to make decisions in their own home?  Third, do they have economic opportunity? “If you can help women in all three of those areas, then you have an empowered woman.”

Volunteers with Partners have seen the truth of this through their own work with Farmer-to-Farmer. Rebecca Roebber, who was featured on this blog (see blog entry here), spent time in Panama teaching women to make and sell chocolate. She wrote, “It was amazing to see each of them contribute and take responsibility; from now on the women will assemble and conduct the meeting like they would any other meeting. Everyone was participating, speaking and contributing such a huge accomplishment from the first few days, where they hardly knew each other’s names. Their enthusiasm, appreciation and effort that they showed in the last couple days of the course were the biggest success of the project.”  Partners AFS will continue to empower women to be agents of change, for themselves and their communities. 

You can listen or watch the whole conversation here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

From The Schoolyard to the Riverfront: Watershed Education in the DR

Dominican students at a nearby school participated
in some of the environmental education activities
In February 2015, F2F volunteers Maria Moreno and Rick Hall traveled to Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic to work with the Escuela Nacional del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de Jarabacoa, which trains students in environmental management, forestry, park management, eco-tourism and other related fields. Moreno and Hall went to help the school enhance students' knowledge and practice of environmental education and community outreach. Faculty and staff were involved in a week-long planning process for the development of a demonstration rain garden at the Environmental School, and participated in watershed exploration along the Jimenoa River.
F2F volunteers, Rick Hall and Maria Moreno,
lead hands-on learning at the Jarabacoa School

Because environmental education is important for all age groups, the Colaboración Ambiental partnership was created between the Environmental School and the local schools in Jarabacoa. Moreno and Hall, along with students from the Environmental School, conducted a parallel activity at a local elementary school to plan schoolyard habitat projects and a rain garden. Seeing the positive impact and "aha!" moments that the kids experienced moved the goal from simply imparting a curriculum to cultivating an interest in sustainability and its impact on every day life to the general public. The School District Superintendent committed to planning for the inclusion of five additional schools in the project, with the ultimate aim of district wide implementation.

Hall and Moreno found that one of the biggest obstacles for continuing environmental education at the elementary school level was the lack of children’s nature books and supplies that are centered on DR specific flora and fauna. "There is a tendency to look north for models and solutions, before looking locally and regionally in the Caribbean," Moreno wrote. "F2F and Colaboracion Ambiental could help make these connections and teach this basic tenant of community organizing and education; relationship is the basic dynamic of natural and human ecologies." They also recommended incorporating a greater focus on climate change awareness, readiness, and resilience from "mountains to sea" in their watershed education. 

F2F Country Director, Rafael Ledesma, at the Jarabacoa School
In their trip notes, Hall said, "In general, we found people in the Dominican Republic to be open, enthusiastic learners, eager to learn new things that would assist an increased level of knowledge, respect, and care for the natural world, among students, faculty, and the general public, and some extraordinarily positive resources that can be employed to enhance efforts in natural resource protection, enhancement, and use for environmental education."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mama Knows Best: Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Here at Partners of the Americas Agriculture and Food Security Team, we treasure mothers. There have been numerous articles about the positive effects of empowering and educating women, especially mothers, in developing nations (click the links to read more).

Everyone knows how powerful mothers can be, and the mothers that work with the AFS Team are no exception. Back in March, we posted this blog entry for International Women’s Day about the Mother Leaders in the Haiti Nutrition Security Program, highlighting the inspiring work that Magalie Hubbert is doing in her community. To honor World Health Day, we shared the story of Simone Fertile’s efforts educating about child nutrition, and then we celebrated the graduation of a Mother Leader class at the end of April. But that’s not all- recently Justin Hackworth (@justinhackworth on twitter) traveled down to observe and photograph some of the Mother Leader’s in action, working in their communities to educate other mothers and families on mother and child nutrition. 

Of course, Haiti isn’t the only place with amazing mothers, though there are plenty. Volunteers with the Farmer-to-Farmer program have also been working with mothers in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. In 2013 we gave our own tribute to F2F participants for International Women’s Day, telling just a few of the many stories that encourage and inspire all of us on a daily basis.

So as you’re thanking your own mothers or the special women in your life, take a moment to remember all the mothers out there that are working to make a better world for their children and their communities, and celebrate them!

“Yo pa ka achte moso manman nan mache.” - One can’t buy a piece of mother in the market (Mothers are irreplaceable). Haitian Proverb

Friday, May 8, 2015

Working With Rabbit Producers in Guatemala

This post was written by F2F Volunteer Robert Spencer from the field in Guatemala.
I have volunteered internationally since 2006, worked in Haiti, El Salvador, Myanmar, and now Guatemala.  April 26, 2015 began my first visit to this beautiful country work with advancing quality of meat rabbit production to improve nutrition in Guatemala.  Partners of the Americas (a USAID program generously funded by the American people) was my sponsor, and Institution of Nutrition for Central America and Panama (INCAP) and Seeds for the Future (SftF) were my gracious in-country hosts. It appears the staff of INCAP and Seeds for the Future have done an outstanding job of educating and motivating participating farmers to do the best possible with available resources, while tracking qualitative data that is already providing impressive reporting. 
I flew into Guatemala City on Sunday, had an introductory meeting with INCAP the next day, and then was whisked off to Chocola’ to work with farmers for five days of and my primary reason for being here and a little bit of fun and food.  Chocola’ is about three hours northwest of Guatemala City, a relaxing rural area that faces many economic challenges including limited revenue generating opportunities for women and their families. 

During the time spent in Chocola’ and surrounding areas I was part of 7 workshops, 3 meetings, 3 interactive sessions, and 17 local farm tours. The objective of this assignment is to strengthen the capacities of technical field staff and participating families in the SAN project, by addressing practical strategies for production, and consumption of rabbit meat.  At the same time participants received education on nutritional and culinary aspects of rabbit meat.  The majority of farms were observed to be conducting quality meat rabbit production; the more novice producers had varying degrees of opportunity for improvement. Based upon verbal interaction the benefit for those who have been raising rabbits for more than six months was great satisfaction and increased nutrition.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Coffee: from Mexico to Vanuatu to Haiti

by F2F volunteer Arthur Bassett

Working with coffee has taken me to visit and learn about cultures throughout the world. Recently with Partners of the Americas Farmer-to-Farmer program, I went to learn about coffee in northern Haiti and the experiences of the coffee farmers there. For the last 10 years I have been working with Café Justo, a cooperative based in Mexico that sells its coffee in the United States. Using my knowledge about Mexican coffees, I was selected to serve in Peace Corps Vanuatu in their coffee development program. My life is a journey to learn about coffee farming.

Haiti coffee has been grown for many years but due to political crisis and other factors the production has been declining. In 2013-14 the production was 10,000 bags, Mexico and Central America offer 1/5 of world production at 1.1 million bags (USDA, Coffee World Markets and Trade, 2014).
Gonzalez, A. (2015, March 25). Seattle Times.
Retrieved from

So how can the coffee production be increased? Well if only things were so simple… Working extensively in Central America and Mexico, many farmers are currently concerned about “roya” or “coffee rust.” Surprisingly this epidemic has not reached Haiti in these proportions. Rust is evident in Haiti especially in areas where the trees are unhealthy due to too much shade and lack of pruning or too many limbs. In Haiti the coffee struggle comes from lack of resources and support. Throughout Haiti there is no running or plumbed water and so many people spend a lot of time carrying water on their heads from the ground pumps in villages. What are the farmers saying? Women working with coffee say that the credit that they need to run a coffee farm is not enough to actually be effective for their business. Farmers were in need of improved infrastructure and supplies like depulpers and drying areas. Farmers there also talked about a dark time when coffee trees were used to make charcoal. This has changed and now there are nurseries run by the coops and the government to boost coffee production once again but scars on the hillsides still remain as a reminder that deforestation is not too far away. 

This trip reminded me of my Peace Corps experience in Vanuatu, a group of islands in the South Pacific. In Vanuatu, people depended on local agriculture for food and income. Inspecting a farm you would find that the coffee is put in areas where it there is space but not necessarily straight rows of plants perfectly spaced out. Haiti was similar. Not every coffee farm is the same. Some farmers plant subsistence crops like fruit and timber in addition to coffee, while coffee plantations focus purely on coffee production. During our stay in Haiti, a category 5 Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu and now that country is struggling to rebuild its coffee production.

Hope is in the air in Haiti. The graph above shows a slight rise in production in the past few years. Companies like Haiti Coffee and Singing Rooster have been recruiting customers and providing Haitian coffee farmers with direct feedback. This year the government held the first cooperative coffee competition with cuppings and awards going to the best quality cupper and coffee from Haiti. Colombia has come to the aid of Haiti and provided some of its Arabica varieties (Tabi and Castillo) that should be resistant to pests and disease. Our host for this trip, Makouti, provided excellent staff to teach our group as well as local Haitians about Haiti coffee. Makouti had the community connections to help our Farmer-to-Farmer team meet with farmers to discuss issues like cupping, business development, gender issues, plantation techniques and post-harvest storage methods as well. Makouti will be carrying these ideas out to the villages and I was glad to have this opportunity to come and volunteer with Makouti and Farmer-to-Farmer.