Thursday, October 29, 2015

Posts from the Field: Dean Wheeler, Colombia

Written by F2F volunteer Dean Wheeler
My assignment was to collect relevant information on coffee and cacao diversification products, and to present this information in sessions organized by SENA. All activities in-country were organized by SENA, the National Learning Service, of Colombia. Everyone in SENA was extremely helpful, and made my stay very enjoyable.

During the two weeks of this assignment, I presented information on present and future products which can be made from coffee and or cacao. There were four presentations to students, administrators, agronomists, and agroindustrial personnel. The number and type of questions asked indicated that the level of interest in this subject was high.
As I have considerable experience in pineapple production, I was also asked to visit two pineapple plantings, and offered advice and information on this subject.

 In Colombia, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts an increase in demand in food production, calling farmers to be more competitive in production processes. Every day, producers encounter the need to include new technology, diversify their products, and strengthen innovation of value-added products. The department of Huila is the largest producer of coffee, tilapia, and fruits (such as passionfruit, blackberry, tamarillo, etc.) and the third largest producer of fine cocoa. The National Learning Service (SENA) is interested in technical assistance to train and empower their producers and entrepreneurs to improve production and distribution of value-added products in order to meet increasing demands.

My assignment was to collect relevant information on coffee and cacao diversification products, and to present this information in sessions organized by SENA. The assignment purpose was to strengthen the agrifood sector in the Department of Huila through a process of knowledge and technology transfer on the development of new value-added products that increase the diversity and innovation of agribusiness products in the region.

SENA has a very important agricultural and agribusiness center located at Campoalegre, in the Department of Huila. This center has approximately 400 students in attendance at any one time. This is an excellent opportunity for these students, the majority being less than twenty years of age. I spent most of my time at this station, and at coffee, cacao and pineapple farms in nearby areas. SENA has 116 such centers throughout Colombia, and many such centers are devoted to disciplines other than agriculture.Colombian coffee enjoys a very positive international reputation for high-quality coffee. It is easy to see why this reputation has been achieved. The growers with whom I have worked are very conscious of growing and processing coffee to a very high standard. Cacao is much the same in terms of quality. Growing, harvesting, fermenting and drying are very well known processes in Colombia. This product is well positioned in national and international markets. The pineapple being grown is generally of high quality. The quantity being grown can be increased on individual farms by using irrigation and by making some changes in agricultural practices. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Milking the Benefits of Nicaragua's Dairy Production

Adapted from Annette Jackson

One of Farmer-to-Farmer's major goals in Nicaragua is increasing the intake of dairy products among the rural populations.  Nicaragua is the largest producer of dairy in Central America but consumption is very low compared to other Central American countries. Increased milk consumption can combat problems with childhood malnutrition, as well as bolster the domestic sales of the local dairy industry. F2F volunteers have worked to surmount numerous challenges that are impeding increased consumption, such as affordability, availability, and personal preferences.  Large export profits keep domestic prices high, making it difficult for schools to stock milk instead of the cheaper and more popular soda options.  Educational and promotional campaigns have mainly focused on nutritional benefits of dairy consumption.  While dairy consumption has increased since 2012, it has still remained relatively low considering the levels of domestic production, consumption in other Central American countries, and population figures.

The current study initiated by Annette Jackson in early October came on the heels of a previous study which indicated that further qualitative and qualitative analysis should be completed regarding factors affecting dairy consumption. In behavioral and cultural change literature, meaningful change generally starts with the younger generation. Further, young children respond more positively to persuasive attempts and have a higher lifetime customer value.  Additionally, the drinking of soda in school has become a catalyst for the nation’s adults not to drink milk at all. Getting adults to drink milk who did not drink milk as children is an insurmountable obstacle. Even when the adults have children and give their children milk, some adults indicate they can’t develop taste for it. Therefore, due to the high percentage of Nicaraguans who live in the urban center, qualitative and quantitative data in the form of focus groups and surveys was collected at three urban combined primary-secondary schools in the city of Managua, Nicaragua.

Analysis of collected data indicated several themes: First, sufficient education regarding the benefits of milk consumption has been successful. Second, milk is consumed at home because is it not available at schools. Third, parents would buy more milk if price levels were lower, but fourth, children express a strong preference for carbonated beverages. Coke has a pervasive presence in the schools including promotional signs and coolers. Dairy manufacturers are missing out on a huge market. Children bring enough money to school to purchase milk products, but they aren’t available on location. Children self-report that they would prefer flavored milk to some other beverage choices currently available at school. Of course, they would also like more cheese choices and ice cream. Teachers prefer that children drink milk as opposed to coffee and sodas because milk has less sugar than soda and has no caffeine, which make the children more active. Teachers stated they would encourage children toward milk choices as opposed to carbonated beverages. Jackson suggested a few low cost examples for encouraging milk consuption, including field trips to dairy farms and manufacturing plants. Milk organizations and firms could also implement promotional contests, and events geared toward elementary children at very little cost. 

Cause related marketing (e.g. children’s health and welfare organizations), and partnering with those organizations for public relations events and lobbying would also be a useful tool for targeting younger children and their parents.  With the amount of data already available through the hard work of previous F2F volunteers and hosts, Jackson was confident that her recommendations could be enacted by future volunteers.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Importance of Making Chocolate, Part One

Arcelia Gallardo is a F2F volunteer currently working in Panama with chocolate makers affiliated with Partners of the Americas' EducaFuturo Program. Here is Arcelia's account of the the first few days on assignment!

Cacao can grow from southern Mexico to Bolivia; Panamas humid, wet, tropical climate offers great conditions for growing the fruit. But in the world of chocolate and cocoa, Panama is a country that is rarely talked about, though its neighbors like Costa Rica and Venezuela receive a lot of attention. Prized cacao comes from Peru, Belize and Ecuador. Brazil has cities the size of small countries dedicated to growing cacao and Paris holds the largest chocolate show in the world, and the Swiss consume the most chocolate per person on the globe. 

So where does that leave Panama? I am not sure. I hope that after my adventure with the women of Changuinola in the north of Panama, I will be able to better understand what role they want to hold in the global chain of chocolate.

Upon arriving to Panama City my first mission was to find chocolate. I wanted to understand what Panamanians considered to be chocolate. I was not surprised to find the big names like Snickers and M&M’s, but I was more surprised that I didn’t find a local brand. It would be the equivalent to finding bananas grown in Africa or other countries, sold here in Panama … even though a large number are grown in Panama. That’s bananas!!

Now that I have seen and tasted the cacao and learned a bit more (Panama is 31st on the list of cocoa growers in terms of global volume), I am able to say that Panama has some great quality cacao but there are small quantities. In the eyes of a smart chocolate maker, this is GOLD. As a chocolate maker in the USA or Europe it is incredibly difficult to be the only one with a certain origin. Yes, there is always the first person to discover it but then everyone else will catch on in a few years. I can see Panama being an origin of cacao that is very high quality and exclusive.

I explain this to the Ngabe women as they sit in front of me and they seem confused. What I see in my head might be a little different than what they can imagine. I pause for a second and open my laptop. I search three chocolate companies, Hasslacher’s (England), ChocoVivo (USA), and Mutari (USA). “Drinking chocolate is becoming very popular and people see it as a very natural, healthy, delicious drink.” I show them the products these companies offer and they all comment, some in Spanish, some in Ngabe, about the packaging; they are fascinated by the packaging and the fact that gringos would be interested in consuming something they see as a normal every day thing.

I point out origins to them, “This is from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador … but do you see anything here from Panama?” They all agree they do not. “This means you have something very special here.”

We begin our first day of roasting and they are doing a great job; t
hey are constantly stirring, touching the beans, making sure the fire doesn’t get too hot or low, they take a bean out and taste to see if it’s ready. We collectively decide when it’s ready and we remove the cacao from the fire. We wait for it to cool then put it in the molino to break the beans. Once we have a small batch cracked, one woman goes outside to window … she uses the wind to remove the husk from the nib. This process is very delicate; no one is able to do this without many years of practice. All industrial chocolate makers have machines for this. 

Since we are making small batch and artisanal chocolate, this process takes us most of the day and we decide to leave the chocolate making for tomorrow!

Stay tuned to read the rest of Arcelia's volunteer trip to Panama!
Interested in more chocolate? Check out Rebecca Roebber's post here

Friday, October 16, 2015

Happy World Food Day!

On October 16, people around the world come together to declare their commitment to eradicate hunger, fighting for the basic human right to food. While the world produces enough food to feed every person on the planet, one in nine people live with chronic hunger.

Ending hunger is not just a moral imperative, but also a good investment for society. The cost to the global economy because of malnutrition is the equivalent of $3.5 trillion a year. Hunger leads to increased levels of global insecurity and environmental degradation.

Fifteen years ago, the UN developed eight Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Since then, 40 countries have been able to halve the proportion of people suffering from hunger.

The Agriculture and Food Security Team at Partners of the Americas has been working on the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program for the last 24 years to decrease hunger and malnutrition in the Caribbean and Latin America. To celebrate World Food Day, take a look at these examples from the past year of F2F volunteers helping communities to eradicate food insecurity.

Artisan Cheese in Nicaragua

Since 2012, the Nicaragua F2F program has been working with Leonardo Castro on improving his family-owned dairy farm’s practices, production, and cheese quality. His goals for the upcoming years include diversifying his cheese products, improving cheese quality, and increasing production, sales, and access to niche markets. About a year ago, shortly after receiving technical assistance from F2F volunteer Daniel Hewitt, Leonardo began producing and selling raw-milk Gouda through his start-up enterprise, Queso San Ramon.

Through hands-on activities and a five-day cheese-making workshop at the Queso San Ramon facility, Daniel was able to teach the principles and practices of artisanal cheese-making. Throughout these interactive trainings, Daniel facilitated discussions with Leonardo and his team about how these changes could impact the final cheese product.

Thanks to Daniel’s trainings, Leonardo and his team are now well on their way to producing a cheddar-style cheese and there are also plans to increase Queso San Ramon’s production to twice a week. As Queso San Ramon continues to grow, Leonardo hopes to eventually expand and include two dairy neighbors.

Jams and Jellies in the Bahamas

An abundance of agricultural produce can be found in the Bahamas, the majority of which goes to waste as imported products continue to dominate the supermarket shelves. Therefore, the Bahamas Agricultural & Industrial Corporation (BAIC) identifies food processing as an area for development, and a key for producers to both sell locally and export internationally. The Bahamas also receives over 1.5 million tourists annually, which provides an ideal market to sell bottles of local jams, jelly, or sauces from small processors. However, there is currently no formal local or export protocol for these goods.

From June 15-28, 2014, food processing and food safety expert Donna Bromfield was the first Partners of the Americas Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer to travel to the Bahamas in 2014 on a flex assignment. During her assignment, Ms. Bromfield collaborated with BAIC to train seven women in the preparation of mango products from local fruits.

The goal of BAIC is to further support “Bahamian grown foods” and empower Bahamians by providing technical assistance in food preservation, post-harvest techniques, and compliance to food standards/regulations. In turn, this can help facilitate the export of “Bahamian-made” agricultural food products that are safe, of high quality, and follow the model of “from the farm to the fork”. Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer program hopes to continue to support BAIC in their efforts to improve the food security of the islands.

Guatemala Gardens

On March 22nd, Steve Oberle and Arlen Albrecht, traveled to Guatemala to volunteer their time and expertise through Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program. Read below an excerpt from their experience.

“The urban setting of Guatemala City can be overwhelming when trying to grow organic fruits and vegetables in a sustainable fashion. During our work here, we helped them discover unique ways to grow fruits and vegetables in small areas, on walls, and on their roofs or patios. There is even great potential to grow these small garden systems year round.

They can supplement their diets and improve their self-esteem and self-worth through the mediums of composting and gardening.

If these initial efforts are successful and expanded upon, they could go a long way toward improving the self-sufficiency, food security, public health/safety, and environmental perspective/quality of the Guatemalan people.

I am always humbled and impressed with dedication of leaders in small communities. In the communities of Guatemala this is no different. Local leaders care for their neighbors and friends. They go the extra mile to help them when possible, they give from the heart. To grow at least some of your own healthy food is a hand up, not a hand out.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

National Dessert Day!

Food sanitation demonstration
Dianne Twete traveled to Huehuetengo, Santa Ana Guatemala on September 13 through September 25, 2015 to work with a group of women and provide them with the basics of Good Manufacturing Practices. 

After a demonstration by the women on how they processed and packaged their peanuts, a number of recommendations were made to improve their levels of sanitation and hygiene to prevent food borne illness to the consumer. Three new recipes where introduced and demonstrations were made, with the help of the women, for the purpose of providing a new product line, using their peanuts and peanut butter. These women were gracious and eager to learn and receive this new information.

In honor of National Dessert Day, here's the recipe for peanut butter cookies that Ms. Twete used in Guatemala!

Dianne Twete and the bakers
Peanut Butter Cookies

Servings 24-36 Units US
1⁄2 cup butter
1⁄2 cup peanut butter
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1⁄4 cups sifted flour
3⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375ยบ.
2. Mix first six ingredients.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients.
4. Mix well.
5. Roll into balls and press down with a fork dipped in sugar or flour.
6. Bake for 10-12 minutes on ungreased cookie sheet. Ovens vary so your baking time may be less. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bad Weather Affects More Than Just Pumpkins

The beginning of October signals the start of autumn in the United States- temperatures drop, days get shorter, and pumpkin flavored treats come out in abundance. However, according to crop experts, the expected amount of canned pumpkin could be off by as much as a third this year. Illinois grows about 90 percent of American pumpkins, but in June record rainfall washed away much of the crop.  Farmers predict that should be plenty of whole pumpkins through Halloween, but pumpkin pie lovers shouldn't wait until late November to stock up on the canned goods. 

Unexpected weather anomalies can result in much more dire consequences than a lack of holiday pie.  Bad conditions disrupt crop yields every season, particularly in developing countries where farmers lack the technology to prepare or predict for unusual weather.  In March and April, 70 percent of the wheat, mustard and potato crop in India was lost to strong winds and rainfall during the harvest time. Such heavy losses can ruin farmer's livelihoods, especially in places where the government is unable to cope with the financial burden. Haiti, one of the AFS core countries for the Farmer-to-Farmer program, has a very low level of public and private investment in agricultural infrastructure.  This makes it close to impossible to enact strategies that would help to minimize the risks or consequences of a natural disaster. 

F2F sends experts in climate change, drought management and irrigation every year to help instill infrastructure among communities that can be most affected  by the changing weather.  For more information on volunteers experiences working with local hosts, check out more stories on this blog.  For a list of open opportunities, follow this link.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Quality Checks in Haiti's Meat Industry

This blog post was written by F2F volunteer Robert Spencer.

The purpose of my assignment was to address meat quality assurance for small animal production. My strategy for doing the best possible job was to initially learn as much as possible about the current food industry situation in Haiti, identify opportunities for improvement, conduct relevant training, and then implement a quality training programs for as many parties along the food chain from farm to fork. My focus was on food security, food safety (including relevant HACCP practices), and economic development. Upon assessing the current situation for the food industry in Haiti I found there had been minimal advancements since my last visit three plus years ago. Good news is lots of opportunities for improvement.

With proper implementation of best management practices, increased production, compliance with food safety practices from farm to fork, and support from relevant organizations, businesses, and agencies, economic enhancement should follow. If I were to give a title to this particular assignment it would be “Walking Along the Path to Economic Development through Food Security and Safety”. Through the support of Farmer-to-Farmer Program and Makouti I was able to provide presentations that addressed HACCP, food safety and health along the food chain (farms, transportation, processing, transportation, markets, and restaurants), meat quality assurance from farm to fork, biological and zoonotic issues, contamination issues (biologi
cal, physical, and chemical), and benefits of food safety practices to the retail industry and consumer. 

While site visits to farms, abattoirs, markets, and restaurants provided substantial insight I wanted to take this a step further. (1) Identify farm and restaurant criteria for food safety and develop an evaluation instrument that would assess each site. (2) Develop and conduct a meat quality survey that would obtain value and concerns from restaurant owners and managers. (3) Work with potential inspectors to cross train them on aspects of inspecting farms, butcher shops, and restaurants; while teaching them about public relations and promotional endeavors. Such an approach put us in a better situation to identify needs, opportunities, and future endeavors.

For our outreach initiatives we had four days of training, including rabbit dissection and visit to abattoir; visited and surveyed ten restaurants; and had lots of fun sharing knowledge.  Always learning, fun, and good food when in Haiti.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Waste Not Want Not: Post-Harvest Loss

Earlier this week, Peggy Carlson, Partners’ Vice President of Development Programs and Senior Director for Agriculture and Food Security, participated on a webcast panel to discuss improving agriculture and increasing access to nutrition in the developing world. Ms. Carlson and the other panel members touched on a number of topics including food waste and loss.

The World Bank estimates that between 1/4 and 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted (Figure 1). While the majority of food lost in developed countries is primarily due to consumer waste, food loss in developing countries – including our F2F core countries Haiti, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua – occurs during production, storage, and transport. Many of you know about F2F’s work over the past 24 years to reduce production-related losses (pests, diseases, etc.), but F2F also focuses on post-harvest handling, processing, and storing as well. For instance, in the last few years, F2F has worked with peanut farmers in Haiti and vegetable farmers in the Dominican Republic to improve storage and handling practices, thereby improving the quality and quantity of products that smallholder farmers can later sell.

F2F actually has a few upcoming volunteer opportunities to train Guatemala’s National Association of Deciduous Fruit Producers in post-harvest fruit physiology, handling, and storage! You can check the opportunities out at