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.

1 comment:

  1. Very Nice article.
    Love to read your blogs.
    Thanks for sharing these articles.

    ReplyDelete