Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Highlights from 2015!

2015 has been a productive year for Partners' Agriculture and Food Security (AFS) Unit! Under the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program, 119 volunteers traveled to nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to work with close to 114 producer groups, NGOs, universities, and other hosts. Skilled professionals volunteered for a combined total of 1,905 days and directly assisted over 8,500 people. Partners' Haiti Nutrition Security Program, funded by USAID/Haiti as part of their Feed the Future Initiative, has recruited and is providing support to Mother Leaders who have been organized into 188 Care Groups. Each Mother Leader is then responsible for leading local neighborhood women’s clubs, through which nutrition counseling and promotional support are provided to additional pregnant and lactating mothers of children under the age of five. As a result, the project is now reaching over 20,297 neighborhood women households.

Top words from our 2015 blog posts:

Below are some top stories and other 2015 highlights:

JANUARY Femke Oldham and Matt Frieberg returned to the archipelago of Columbia islands to work the Raizal, the native island community on Isla Providencia. They completed rainwater harvesting analyses in order to advise residents about ways to reduce their use of unreliable and expensive surface water and instead harvest rainwater—a relatively free, high quality, and abundant source of water on the island. The long-term goal was to be more self-sufficient and resilient to the impacts of climate change.

FEBRUARY - In February, Partners celebrated the International Year of the Soils by highlighting Jeff Knowles' travel to the Dominican Republic to evaluate the extent of land degradation and soil erosion within priority watersheds. Retired after 30 years working with USDA’s Soil Conservation Service/Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mr. Knowles assessed the soil and environmental management of hillside farms in the Jarabacoa region and identified appropriate, economically feasible, and environmentally friendly methods and technologies for improved soil protection in the upper watershed.

MARCH - In Central Guatemala, members of Asociación Visión Maya have been successfully producing oyster mushrooms for ten years, but asked F2F to help them develop their skills and create recommendations for better practices. Volunteers Dr. Khalid Hameed and Dr. Henry Van Cotter began a series of training sessions designed to increase the productivity of Maya Vision’s farmers. Their recommendations transferred valuable technical knowledge that helped the Maya Vision Association to become independent.

One of Maya Vision oyster farmers

APRIL - Partnering with EducaFuturo, Partners' anti-child labor program, F2F had two volunteers visit Panama to assist a women's group in producing and marketing their cocoa products. Read about Rebecca Roebber and Arcelia Gallardo's trip to find out more.

MAY Dan Krull went on his second trip to Haiti with F2F to improve goat husbandry practices on the island. This time, Dan focused his efforts on teaching and establishing sound goat nutrition programs for the farmers that Partners of the Americas and Makouti Agro Enterprise have partnered with. Medicines for common goat maladies are typically very expensive, so Krull introduced the farmers to natural alternatives.

JUNE - Nicaraguan farmers have had problems with their herds related to decreased nutrition, poor reproductive management, and heat stress. Nicaragua has one of the highest potentials for livestock production in Latin America but one of the lowest numbers of actual production. June was a good month for Nicaragua's cattle industry. Three volunteers were featured on the blog for their work in Nicaragua's cattle and dairy farms - Ashley Conway through cattle nutrition, and Katie Pfieffer and Heather Schlesser with providing training on cattle reproduction.

JULY - 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. F2F volunteer Brian Upchurch, a private farm owner from North Carolina with expertise in greenhouse management, traveled to assess and evaluate current greenhouse operations and practices of vegetable farmers in the DR, paying special attention to the bugs that have been so destructive on the country’s agriculture industry.

Greenhouse in the DR
AUGUST Katie Plaia and Jennifer Rangel, graduate students at Florida State University, came to F2F in a creative way. When their marketing professor was approached for an assignment, she instead turned the opportunity into a contest for her students. As the winners, Katie and Jennifer developed an integrated marketing plan for Grupo Union Esperanza, an organization of women in Guatemala who endeavor to improve their economic situation by developing a business together. Read about their efforts here
Haiti's IWCA Executive Board

SEPTEMBER- In an effort to help build a more gender-inclusive value chain in Haiti’s coffee sector, Christa Michaud traveled to the country as a F2F volunteer to assist in the development of a local chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA). Through leadership and strategic workshops, she taught basic concepts essential to managing an organization. Through IWCA, female coffee farmers will have access to training and other capacity building opportunities that will empower them to improve their income and more fully contribute to rebuilding Haiti’s ailing coffee sector.

OCTOBER - In October, veteran volunteer Rip Winkel was asked to Nueva Guinea, Nicaragua, to assess the viability for cash crop production in four different farming communities. Using soil samples taken in each of the locations, Rip presented his findings to the farmers, discussing which crops might be better for each type of soil. At the end of his two week trip, he set up test plots as a continuing source of education for the farmers to try new approaches and ideas.

NOVEMBER - Throughout the month of November, F2F implementers shared their knowledge and experience providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. The first four weeks featured stories in technology transfercapacity developmentnatural resource management, and citizen diplomacy, culminating in the F2F 30th Anniversary Learning Event, which recognized the USAID-funded program’s past accomplishments and highlighted lessons learned over its lifespan. 

Marie Guerline Ostine
DECEMBER 2015 was a busy and productive year for the Haiti Nutrition Security Program.  On March 8th, 460 Mother leaders, including Magalie Hubbert, were featured in honor of International Women’s Day.  Those Mother Leaders graduated from their 15-month long training program at the end of April, where they were honored for their commitment and achievements. The training program covered the importance of a balanced diet, breastfeeding best practices, and various livelihood activities.  Mothers aren’t the only ones involved in the program though. Father’s Day in June gave us a chance to appreciate the more than 1,200 men participating in NSP’s Father Groups and the 500 male adolescents in the youth hroups. Youth engagement is at the heart of the strategy of Partners’ Nutrition Security Program (NSP) for the promotion of good nutrition practices for sustainable change. As a result, young leaders become aware of their role and prepare to become tomorrow's active citizens.  Over the summer, NSP wanted to show how being part of the program really influenced a pparticipant’s life. They spent a week in the life of Marie Guerline Ostine, a Mother Leader with three young children, noting her involvement with her family, church, and community. At this year’s annual American Public Health Association (APHA) Conference in November in Chicago, Illinois, NSP’s Senior Technical Advisor, Dr. Altrena Mukuria, presented research about the role that Care Groups play in exposing Haitians to nutrition and healthcare information.

It was a great year for NSP and F2F and Partners is looking forward to what 2016 will bring!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays from Partners!

The Agriculture and Food Security Team at Partners of the Americas would like to wish you happy holidays! The field offices in Guatemala, the DR, Nicaragua and Haiti also would like to say thank you to our volunteers for all their hard work this year- this program depends on them!


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dairy and Discovery in Nicaragua

INDE workshop group in Managua 
Written by F2F Volunteer Michael Lofstrom

This assignment was carried out over a two week period in Nicaragua essentially to assist five Nicaraguan entrepreneurs, small businesses and small agricultural entities develop business plans for the production and marketing of cheese, yogurt and other dairy products sold locally.  My business plan scope of work was part of a team approach that paired me with Mike Doherty, an agricultural economist with the Illinois Farm Bureau and who has many years of experience in developing marketing plans for agricultural cooperatives and farmers in general.  Mike and I participated jointly in all of the interviews with the entrepreneurs and enterprises, and we both helped design and carry out on behalf of INDE three, half-day workshops for small entrepreneurs in the cities of Managua, Chinandega and Masaya.  During the course of our work there was a certain amount of overlap and collaboration between the business and marketing plans, with strategies and recommendations for adding product value, improving net incomes, and in some cases new employment opportunities for the small farmer populations in our designated areas.

Lofstrom with cheesemaker Milton
Gonazalez and F2F field staff Moises Guillen
At one of our interviews with entrepreneurs from the dairy sector, one older gentleman asked me if I had been to Nicaragua before.   When I said yes, but 20 years ago, he immediately replied “it’s a completely different country now” (“es un pais completamente diferente, ahora es otro pais”). That was my distinct impression as well.  A new generation of Nicaraguans are now adults, and since Nicas tend to marry and have children early, a significant percentage of the population is under 25 and has no direct connection with the war years of the 80s and political struggles in the 90s.  There appeared to be a strong preference, especially with younger people, for entrepreneurial investments in areas of economic advantage to Nicaragua as a whole – cattle and beef production and exports; dairy products including cheeses and yogurts; environmentally protected areas with tourism development; and shoe and leather goods manufacturing among many other potentially strong economic sectors.  Although yearly inflation based on planned devaluations of the Córdoba tends to offset annual GDP growth of 5%, there is a sense that Nicaragua will continue to progress in both economic and social arenas and provide for a stable private sector for future growth and development. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cash Crop Possibilities in Nicaragua

Nicaragua's hilly farmlands
By Volunteer Rip Winkel

In October of 2015, I was privileged to have traveled to Nicaragua in Central America to work on a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development through the organization Partners of the Americas. The assignment was to assess the viability for small-scale cash crop production in four farming communities in the municipality of Nueva Guinea.  My principle responsibilities were to meet with representatives from each community, extract one or more soil samples from each, and analyze each sample for pH, and N, P, K availability. After the analyses was completed, I was to recommend avenues that could be taken to amend the soil as well as possible crops that would perform well in the given soil/climatic conditions.

The day after arriving in Managua, I was met by Moises Guillén, the F2F field officer that assisted me for the duration of my stay. Moises was the best of gentlemen; extremely helpful in transporting me around the country side, stepping in when my Spanish failed, and holding me to the two week schedule. The trip to the town of Nueva Guinea was approx. 280 km southeast of Managua in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, and took about 4 hours. The two lane road was sinuous almost the entire way, but in good condition with many incredibly beautiful vistas over-looking the Nicaraguan countryside.

Testing soil samples 
We arrived in Nueva Guinea around noon, and of course, it was raining. Moises and I checked-in to the hotel and ate a quick lunch as we had a meeting with Jamileth Méndez, the president of UNAG (Unión Nacional de Agrícola y Ganadería) that afternoon. For the most part, the next two weeks were spent in that region, where Moises, Ms. Méndez and I worked on two main objectives of the assignment. The first was to review current cultivars being grown, discuss crop pests/diseases, soil issues with the farmers, and extract soil samples representative of each community.

The second objective was to conduct an informative presentation to each of the communities with applicable recommendations. When the results of the pH, N, P, and K (and soil texture analysis of each) were completed, presentations were given to each community and to a group at the UNAG office. The presentations discussed various topics such as soil origin/ composition (general and specific), soil maintenance, importance of organic material in soil, facts on crop production (with fact-sheet handouts). The presentations also reviewed the results from the each community’s soil samples. Recommendations were then discussed over the mitigation of soil acidity, soil erosion prevention, increasing micro biotic activity via organic material, and crop options that would be best suited to the existing soil conditions, etc.  
Winkel gives recommendations to potential farmers

The last part of this objective was to initiate some test-plots, where treatments were applied to four quadrants of soil. Commonly planted crops were planted in the treatments. There were three of these test-plots in total, located in areas with easy access, and open for all four of the communities. The intent for initiating these experimental plots were to be a source of information/education for the farmers; to test new cultivars, to try various soil amendments, resolve disease problems, etc. in a hands-on

Over all, the two week trip went very fast...too fast. I wish I could have stayed there quite a bit longer for the amount of work that could be done. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Notes from the Field- Emily Oakley and Mike Appel in Guatemala

By Emily Oakley and Mike Appel

In the beginning of October, we traveled to Guatemala as volunteers with Partners of the America’s Farmer to Farmer Program.  This is our third volunteer assignment with program.  Previous assignments have been in Domincan Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua.  It has been four years since we have been on an assignment and our first since having a daughter.  Fortunately, our daughter, Lisette was able to travel with us on this trip and “helped” out on our farm visits and presentations.

We are full-time organic vegetable farmers from Oklahoma.  We love sharing our experiences utilizing organic growing methods with other farmers and gardeners around the world.  During our two weeks in Guatemala we were hosted by two different organizations: Semillas Para El Futuro and INCAP (Institute for Nutrition for Central America and Panama).  During both assignments we discussed soil health, composting, growing green manures (cover crops), organic fertilizer and pesticide recipes, and other organic growing techniques with extensionists and farmers. 

It was a privilege to meet the amazing individuals and organizations that are working to improve their homes, farms, and communities.  The conditions in Guatemala are challenging due to climate change, steep terrain, and lack of resources, but the people we met were innovative, strong, and determined to overcome their challenges.  They are an inspiration.  We look forward to seeing how some of the organic practices discussed are being adapted to the farmers’ local conditions at some point in the near future.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Partners of the Americas Celebrates Farmer-to-Farmer’s Legacy

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.

On Thursday, December 3rd, friends of Farmer-to-Farmer gathered for a Farmer-to-Farmer Learning Event, which recognized accomplishments of volunteers and staff over the 30 years of the program and highlighted lessons learned. Participants heard from the Honorable Douglas Bereuter, former Member of Congress, who was responsible for starting the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program. In his words: "remarkable things have been accomplished!" and "F2F puts a face on US foreign assistance." A panel of F2F volunteers shared their experiences working in the key areas of technology transfer, natural resource management, citizen diplomacy, and organizational capacity. Attendees also had to the chance to hear from key players in agriculture and rural development and to connect with colleagues and old and new friends. 

As we look to the future of F2F, we also pause to celebrate the accomplishments of the program! Below is a snapshot of the F2F work of Partners of the Americas. 

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.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Guatemala, Goats, and Genetic Improvements: A Volunteer's Story

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.

Artificial insemination means all
the offspring will have superior genetics.
In late October 2015, F2F volunteer Bill Knox made his second visit to CEPROCAL, a large, established dairy goat project in Nebaj, Guatemala to increase the capacity for genetic improvement of goats 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.  

Bill checks on the first usable
post-freeze sample. 
In July 2014, Bill Knox made history by visiting the western highlands of Guatemala to provide the first-ever training on artificial goat insemination. 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.

The University of San Carlos in Guatemala granted the Botón De Oro award to Bill Knox for his contributions to the caprinocultor (goat industry) sector in Guatemala. 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. 

Bill took a moment to answer some questions about his F2F assignments in Guatemala. 

What first interested you in participating in F2F? What have your volunteer experiences meant to you? 

Checking on the herd. 
"Both trips to Guatemala have been very rewarding to me both personally and professionally. My connection with CEPROCAL and Save the Children Guatemala has been a perfect match with my lifelong interest in assisted reproduction technology, and CEPROCAL's need to improve caprine genetics. I have been quite impressed with both the scale and continued support provided for the dairy goat programs in the highlands [...]. The development of a culture of goat rearing, production and use of dairy products, and development of markets in 8-10 years is a feat that shows extraordinary commitment. I was so pleased to find on my return trip that every recommendation made in the summer of 2014 was acted upon to good effect. This type of follow through makes the time and effort required for each assignment worthwhile."

Tell us about the people-to-people component of your work. Have you shared in the US about your work with F2F? 

Dr. Fredy Gonzalez after 
collection at USAC
"I was pleased to have contact with veterinary and animal science students on both assignments to Guatemala. A big part of my career at NC State University was mentoring students, and exposure to USAC students was a natural extension of that part of my work. When returning to the university, I've had many opportunities to share my experiences as a F2F volunteer. This has been a benefit to NC State students envisioning how the science they study and the technology developed can be implemented where they are, or abroad in the developing world."

What type of response did you receive during your F2F trainings? 

"Guatemalan students, faculty, farmers, and the public at large greatly appreciate all ideas delivered  by F2F volunteers. Small changes in management, or high tech innovation are valuable additions that contribute to the well being of people where volunteers are sent. In just two visits I have witnessed a beneficial change.'

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.