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.