Friday, July 31, 2015

Mushrooms are Making a Difference in Guatemala

Oyster mushrooms and other specialty mushrooms are a growing business in Guatemala and elsewhere. Farmer-to-Farmer has been assisting Asociación Visión Maya in improving production practices and addressing other issues in the mushroom value chain. Partners' Vice President for Development Programs Peggy Carlson (far right) recently visited Visión Maya and got to see the operation first-hand and talk to some of the women about the impact of the program.

The women worked with two F2F volunteers - Dr. Khalid Hameed and Dr. Henry Van Cotter from Duke University) - earlier this year who made some recommendations about modifying production systems. Action items for the various cooperative members including making changes to improve environmental conditions, developing better monitoring systems, and even smaller items, such as clearer labeling of the production bags with dates and strains. The producers have already been making changes and seeing results. One woman moved her whole production unit from her patio to a room attached to the 2nd floor of her house so that she could raise the bags above floor level, surround the production unit with plastic to better maintain temperature and humidity control, and more closely monitor the mushrooms. Other producers have made changes as well (to read more about these volunteer's assignment - check out this story).

"For me, the best part of the visit was listening to the women talk about the impact that being part of Visión Maya has had on their lives. One woman said that when her child was sick, she paid for the hospital bills with her mushroom money. Another shared how she feels empowered by being able to contribute to her household resources. A third said that joining the group gave her a chance to be a part of a social group and interact with other women in her community. These stories show how F2F and mushrooms are making a difference in Guatemala." - Peggy Carlson

Stay tuned to our blog to find out more about mushrooms and other great F2F projects in the region!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Biochar and "Green Charcoal" Gaining Momentum in LAC

Green charcoal created by CRI and Makouti
The U.N. has designated 2015 as the Year of Soil, and over the 24 years that Partners has been running the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, our volunteers have often worked with farmers throughout the tropics on these critical topics: soil conservation and fertility management. Soil conservation and fertility management are important everywhere, but they are absolutely critical in tropical countries with heavily weathered soils like Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. While a number of recommended best management practices (reduced tillage, mulching, etc.) have proven to be effective in many situations, one seemingly ancient but relevant practice is beginning to gain momentum in the sustainable agriculture arena: biochar.

 A terra preta do indio site in the  Brazilian Amazon

Biochar – biomass that has been charred in a low oxygen environment for agricultural use – was first “discovered” by scientists that were investigating unusually fertile plots of soil in the Brazilian Amazon, called terra preta do indio. The fertile soil, which was carbon-dated between 450 BCE and 600 CE, is rich in charcoal and is thought to have been created by indigenous groups inhabiting the region.

Although it remains a mystery exactly how to recreate terra preta do indio, it is clear that charcoal is a key ingredient. Research indicates that biochar has a number of benefits such as increasing soil nutrient holding capacity, water holding capacity, and ability to buffer pH. Furthermore, as charcoal is resistant to decomposition, making biochar is considered a carbon negative process and farmers can reap the agricultural benefits of one biochar application for hundreds, or even thousands of years.

Partners has been working with charcoal initiatives in Haiti since 2012. For Haiti, green charcoal production means not only reduced deforestation by creating charcoal for cooking, but also improved soils and greater plant yields with the biochar byproduct.  Carbon Roots International (CRI) is championing this technology in Haiti. CRI encourages and enables the adoption of sustainable charcoal technologies in Haiti and the broader developing world.

CRI assists farmers to produce biochar from agricultural waste, such as sugarcane bagasse, bean stalks, or corn stover by converting it through the process of pyrolysis, or heating organic biomass in an oxygen-starved environment. With little oxygen, the waste can’t burn; instead, it chars. This enables biochar production at locations where biomass is otherwise burned in a heap or left to decompose. With the help of Makouti Agro Enterprise, CRI  has refined the process and introduced the technology to an ever-increasing number of communities in Makouti's and Farmer-to-Farmer's network. 

For more information on biochar, please visit: or

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Building up the Bees in Haiti

This post contains excerpts and photos from Dr. Michael Bauer's trip report about his recent F2F assignment in Haiti. 

"The bee industry in Haiti is still in its infancy. Despite deforestation and parasitic damage from diseases like the wax moth and varroa mites there is still great growth potential. There continues to be a high level of interest in beekeeping and a strong desire to become a beekeeper.  This assignment was intended to educate both potential beekeepers as well as to expand the knowledge base of current beekeepers. Return visits to sites where I had been on previous assignments was a strong desire of mine to see the impact of those sessions and to see what knowledge and skills were implemented in the group and individual bee colonies."

May 30, 2015: At one training at a Gonaive cooperative, "many of the attendees were students from a local agriculture college. They had had a brief introduction to beekeeping from their institution. This session included basic beekeeping, bee biology, bee life cycle, beekeeping equipment and its uses."

"There is a robust system of beekeeper associations in Haiti.  This provides a forum for transfer of information and beekeeping techniques as well as recruitment of new people, both men and women, into beekeeping." 

May 27, 2015: "Working with CODCOA cooperative members at an apiary [...] We placed a high degree of importance on trying to alleviate fear and helping participants develop comfort with colony manipulation. For some attendees, this was their first look inside a bee colony."

May 29, 2015: "Field day in ARAM apiary.  This was intended for experienced beekeepers and was a return visit for me to this apiary.  I was encouraged to see there had been substantial improvement in colony health and strength since my last visit.  Educational topics included colony management, disease detection, prevention, and treatment.  The majority of time was spent on identification of hygienic queen behavior and queen rearing techniques." 

"As on prior visits it is noted there is significant variability in the level of expertise of current beekeepers.  A good deal of transferred knowledge is based on tradition and handed down experience, not necessarily best practices.  Attendees were eager for education and anxious to become beekeepers themselves with the best preparation they could get."

"It was again my absolute joy to be a Farmer-to-Farmer beekeeping volunteer to Haiti. While beekeeping is not my primary profession it is certainly my passion.  It is my hope to spread that passion to those that will sit and listen to me chat endlessly about beekeeping. One thing I learned on this trip was after 6 hours of “bee chat” in the heat of the day others might not be quite as passionate as I am to continue to talk about bees!  Just saying. I would certainly hope to return to Haiti in the future."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Increasing Availability of Protein-Rich Vegetables Through Kitchen Gardens

The Nutrition Security Program (NSP) and Universite Laval (AKOSAA - Enhancing and Building Capacity for Increased Food Security in Haiti) teams in Saint-Marc, Artibonite, organized a community health and agriculture fair on May 1st 2015 to promote health and nutrition among adolescents, women, children, and men. The activity received tremendous support and response from the general population, local community-based organizations, and government entities as well as school-age children.

Discussion among Mother Leaders
Both programs are collaborating at different levels with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture. Their main efforts are oriented toward building capacity at the community level. Families in targeted communities of Artibonite are in great need of nutritious food they can get only from a diversified diet. NSP is using the cascade approach to train women in the communities on Infant and Young Children Feeding and Nutrition. Women are organized on the model of care groups: one mother leader facilitates twice a month a lesson on important nutrition topics for a group of neighbor women who are pregnant, lactating, or have children under the age of five. AKOSAA is promoting improved varieties and fortified crops through a series of extension techniques including adaptation trials and demonstration plots with local organizations.
Exhibit by Mother Leaders from the Bocozelle commune
in Saint-Marc, Artibonite

NSP and AKOSAA invited the Mother Leaders, men, and adolescent youth from the communities to present their products and talents during the fair. Messages on the benefits of breastfeeding, the three main food groups and diet diversity, hygiene and Oral Rehydration Salts, were broadcasted all day while fresh and healthy products were displayed under a series of tents installed on the grounds of a public school. The director of the secondary school mobilized the students to participate in the health fair, particularly in the lectures and group discussions on nutrition and agriculture. A variety of exhibits were present; The Artibonite Valley Development Organization (ODVA) displayed cereal mills, improved seeds, and other equipment used to plow the soil of rice farms. Mother Leaders and neighbors presented specialties and nutritious foods available in their region. AKOSAA prepared different recipes with local and improved products grown in Artibonite. Participants also appreciated the variety of products available on the tables or in the large woven baskets accompanying the displays. The visitors were happy and curious to discover new tastes when lunch was served. The positive and encouraging feedback showed NSP and AKOSAA staff that the health fair and similar activities could be a powerful tool for behavior change and increased health communication within the community.

Lima beans

At the end of the day, ODVA director agronomist Franco granted NSP 2 kilograms of lima bean seeds. NSP planted the lima beans in the nurseries established in Artibonite in order to disseminate the plants and reach more households. Other individuals in the targeted communities also received a handful of lima bean seeds to plant in their kitchen gardens. The lima bean crop grows very well and soon more families will be able to grow, harvest, and diversify their diet with fresh beans. Lima beans are larger than pigeon peas and have a flat kidney-shape. Most people enjoy their rich buttery texture and sweet flavor particularly when paired with rice and Haitian mushrooms (Djondjon). Lima beans are also important sources of plant proteins and contain a substantial amount of fiber. The variety donated by ODVA is the small lima bean which is a bush type and is developed 65-80 days after seeding. This donation will allow Mother Leaders to increase their production of lima beans in kitchen gardens. The availability of lima beans in the communities represents a significant offer of vegetable-rich protein to increase the opportunities for diet diversity and improve nutritional status. While the vine type of lima beans exists in some parts of Artibonite, it takes little longer to mature - 80-90 days. The short cycle small lima bean represents an important option for families with limited access to water because this type of bean can be harvested earlier.

Lima bean plants in Artibonite

When the next health fair is organized in Artibonite or elsewhere in Haiti, lima beans can be positioned as a good option for protein-rich plant food and can be promoted as a fresh or cooked vegetable. More recipes will be adapted to include this ingredient because it can deliver enough protein for the whole family, particularly to pregnant and lactating women and children under five.

Moving forward, NSP, with partners like AKOSAA, can work to identify new and improved food options in Artibonite and adapt them to the techniques of intensive cultivation in small areas. Plant foods that are highly nutritious, drought- and disease-resistant, and also have short crop-cycles, present a viable and affordable option for low-income, vulnerable families and communities.

Interested in making Djondjon? Try this recipe for Black Mushroom Rice with Shrimp

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beating Back the Bugs: Greenhouse Management in the DR

Those who enjoy authentic Indian food might have recently noticed a lack of spice in some of their favorite dishes. A staple of Indian cuisine, Capsicum annuum, more commonly known as the green chili pepper, has all but disappeared from U.S. supermarkets following a March ban on produce imports from the Dominican Republic.  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. Local markets are now flooded with product, and prices have crashed well below profitable levels.

Enter Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Brian Upchurch, a private farm owner from North Carolina with expertise in greenhouse management.  At the end of May, Mr. Upchurch traveled to assess and evaluate current greenhouse operations and practices of the Jarabacoa Cluster of vegetable farmers in Jarabacoa, La Vega, in the DR. After completing farm inspections and making recommendations, he gave presentations to farmers and agricultural technicians on an additional pest, the thrip insect, which was also encountered during every farm visit.  He covered the basics of the thrip life cycle, damage to vegetable crops, and methods of control with emphasis on cost, effectiveness, worker safety, and environmental concerns. Mr. Upchurch also introduced the 4 different methods of plant propagation, and gave a more detailed presentation of ‘rooting plant cuttings’ as the primary method for commercial nurseries’ propagation in the United States and Europe.

In addition, it was important that Mr. Upchurch paid particular attention to the conservation of natural resources, including soil and water management, and the sustainability of these resources. Like all farmers around the world, those in the Dominican Republic face uncertainty in the future. Changing climate, financial challenges, and political and social issues have affected and will continue to affect resources and markets available to these farmers. The usual high demand for green peppers and tomatoes led to poor crop rotation because there was no demand for alternate crops.  This contributes to disease and insect pressure.

While there are real and significant challenges facing the Jarabacoa Cluster, there are also opportunities. Mr. Upchurch recommended that more pressure be applied to the USDA and the DR equivalent to eradicate the pest issues while they are in early stages.  While curry lovers may miss their spices, the Dominican farmers are missing their export market even more.  There are a few solutions being considered- one includes CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) type programs in urban areas. Farms could offer weekly deliveries to restaurants and retail consumers. Partnering with other producers such as fruit, flower, beef, pork, or chicken producers would provide more variety and options. This concept has become very successful in the United States, even in smaller towns and surrounding communities. 

Mr. Upchurch described the Jarabacoa Cluster as “a core group of growers that understand the needs, strengths, and challenges of the Cluster. They also seem willing to provide time and effort into growing the organization.”  While they work to adapt to their present problems, Famer-to-Farmer volunteers like Brian Upchurch will continue to assist their counterparts to come up with solutions together.

Friday, July 10, 2015

F2F Volunteer Mathias Medina Visits Partners Headquarters!

F2F Volunteer Mathias Medina visits Partners HQ
Today, F2F volunteer Mathias Medina visited Partners of the Americas headquarters in Washington D.C. to share some of his accomplishments and experiences during his recent F2F field assignments in Haiti and Nicaragua. Medina, a Chilean-French agricultural economist, has worked on development projects with NGOs in an array of communities across the globe, from Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Chile to as far away as Yemen.

The objective of Medina's first F2F assignment was to assess Haitian coffee producer cooperatives' competitiveness and train them in key agribusiness practices including strategic and financial planning. He primarily conducted the assignment with F2F host Makouti, an organization boasting more than 1,000 farmers that produce a wide range of agricultural products.

Medina's second F2F assignment took place in Nicaragua, where he conducted a study on national dairy and meat consumption per capita. Toward the end of his two week assignment, Medina delivered presentations on his findings and recommendations to the Nicaraguan Chamber of Beef Industry Exports (CANICARNE), the Nicaraguan Dairy Chamber (CANISLAC), and the National Cattle Rancher's Association (CONAGAN).

Medina facilitating an agribusiness workshop with Haitian coffee producers in May 2015.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Partners Congratulates Sir Fazle Hasan Abed on Receiving the 2015 World Food Prize

Partners of the Americas Agriculture and Food Security Team congratulates Sir Fazle Hasan Abed on receiving the 2015 World Food Prize. Sir Fazle is from Bangladesh and if the founder of BRAC, the largest non-governmental development organization in the world, which has helped raise at least 150 million people out of poverty.

According to the World Food Prize announcement, Sir Fazle will be honored as the 2015 World Food Prize Laureate for his unparalleled achievement in building a unique, integrated development organization that many have hailed as the most effective anti-poverty organization in the world.

The World Food Prize is a prestigious international award recognizing the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. To find out more about how Partners of the Americas addresses food security issues, click on the "food security" label to the right for a selection of articles and program highlights.