Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action

This article is a contribution to a blog series on how Partners Agriculture and Food Security programs contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This week’s blog highlights what Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers have been doing to achieve SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

The Dominican Republic currently has one of the highest amounts of available fresh water in Latin America, but global climate change has led to more frequent and severe droughts, floods and storms on the island. These non-typical climatic events have reduced both the quality and quantity of the country’s supply of fresh water for human consumption and agriculture.

By adapting agricultural practices to global climate change, Partners aims to create sustainable economic development that benefits producers and consumers as they become more resilient to a changing environment. As we approach the halfway point in our 2013-2018 F2F cycle, volunteers have already made huge progress in achieving SDG 13 in the DR, and we’re working on making it even bigger in the years to come. Check out how our volunteer assignments and hosts line up with some of the Goal 13 targets:

1. Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.

For banana producers in the DR’s Yaque del Norte watershed, unpredictable weather patterns have become a significant challenge to maintaining production levels. Through coordination with local non-governmental organization Plan Yaque, F2F volunteers have assisted in training farmers and other key stakeholders on the use of climate-smart agricultural technologies, including mini-sprinkler irrigation systems, flood irrigation, soil sampling, and filler crops for erosion control. This helps protect crops in the event of drought or flood by managing water efficiently. To learn in detail about climate adaptation strategies in the Yaque del Norte watershed, read our feature on banana producers in the DR.

2. Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.

One of the most useful tools for our F2F volunteers working in the field is capacity building through workshops. Rather than training one smallholder farmer at a time, workshops are able to reach a large audience in a short amount of time.  By first raising awareness among experts in the field, climate change education has a spreading effect as managers transfer knowledge to their workers, who transfer knowledge to their families, who can seek out resources for climate adaptation. Find out how F2F volunteer Gary Linn trained 456 participants in his climate change workshops last year in the DR.

3. Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized communities.

Students at Jarabacoa Environmental School
work in the greenhouse.
At the Jarabacoa National School of the Environmental and Natural Resources, student curriculum is designed around raising awareness of environmental issues and promoting conservation and sustainability. By assisting in curriculum development that inclues hands-on projects like planning a schoolyard habitat and rain garden, F2F volunteers transfer knowledge that will increase public interest in the environment. For volunteers Maria Moreno and Rick Hall, it only makes sense to educate the youngest generation on the impacts of climate change that will be most evident over the course of their lives.

Keep an eye out over the coming weeks for more features on how Partners Agriculture and Food Security team is working to reach SDG targets in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Haiti Nutrition Security Program: By the Numbers

As Partners of the Americas' Haiti Nutrition Security Program enters its final closeout phase, we're gathering important statistics on the impact of NSP's care groups model. The program used a family-centered approach that increased local capacity in nutrition to influence behavior change. In doing so, Partners aimed to build social capital while preventing malnutrition, promoting best hygiene practices, and supporting malnourished children throughout Haitian communities. To read more about NSP and the structure of the care groups model, see our previous program features.

Friday, June 17, 2016

F2F Country Highlight: Nicaragua

Since 2014, Partners of the Americas has facilitated 52 Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer trips to Nicaragua. F2F field staff, local hosts, and volunteers have worked hard to create collaborative solutions to complex community problems. Check out the incredible F2F partnerships we’ve formed in the past few months!

Cattle and Dairy

F2F volunteer Daniel Shaneyfelt give a lecture on
improved cattle ranching techniques.
Over the past 3 years, Partners has been working diligently with the Nicaraguan government, the National Cattleman’s Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN), the Nicaragua Chamber of Beef Industry Exports (CANICARNE), and the Nicaraguan Chamber of the Dairy Sector (CANISLAC) to strengthen the domestic cattle and dairy industries from all ends of the value chain. F2F assignments have ranged from advising smallholder farmers on hygienic milking practices to establishing a national beef grading and certifications system for the country. Farmers have reported an extreme uptick in interest and investment in the cattle and beef industry in Nicaragua, providing new economic opportunity for young entrepreneurs. Livestock production (meat and dairy) in Nicaragua represents the country’s most important economic activity, accounting for 10% of GDP and 27% of total exports.

Not only is this good news for Nicaraguan farmers, but it has created a unique space for the transformation of Nicaraguan dietary habits. With little nutrition education in schools an all-around low dairy consumption rates, CANISLAC sought the help of F2F to create of a national nutrition education campaign to increase domestic dairy and meat consumption in the country. Several F2F volunteers have contributed to this campaign through running focus-groups, appearing on national television, and conducting behavior-change studies to encourage milk consumption over other sugary beverages.  

Women and Youth

Community-building activities brainstormed by youth during
a 4-H workshop led by F2F volunteer Dustin Homan.
Engaging women and youth has been a top priority for F2F Nicaragua. Through assisting women-led farming cooperatives in Nueva Guinea and teaching youth valuable life skills, this strategy focuses on strengthening the ability of vulnerable groups to create sustainable livelihoods and invest in their communities. F2F volunteers recently led a 4-H leadership workshop with Nicaraguan Youth where they set goals for their community, including building sports facilities, hosting cultural events, and bringing electric lights to their school. To read more about our work with Nicaraguan youth, find out what bananas and beef jerky have in common for students at Fabretto Foundation. 

Soil Conservation

Have you ever thought about the health of the soil that grows your food? F2F trainings on soil conservation in Nicaragua convey valuable technical knowledge to smallholder farmers. In 2015, volunteer Rip Winkel observed extremely low levels of soil fertility and acidity during his F2F assignment in Nueva Guinea, Nicaragua. As a result, soil conservation outreach and education were recommended in this region. By holding in-field workshops using simple indicators of soil erosion and fertility, Rip began the incremental process of technology transfer. In May of this year, Rip’s recommendations were further carried out by volunteer Andrew Margenot, who followed up through additional farm visits, lecture-discussions, and demonstrations. This type of volunteer collaboration is a key way F2F field staff work to ensure F2F solutions are properly understood, being applied, and successfully replicated.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Aloe Vera Farmers Collaborate to Reduce Waste

In addition to Southeast Asia, Aloe Vera
production is exclusive to Central America
and the Southwestern U.S.
Did you know there are more than 40 ways aloe vera plants can improve your health? Not only is aloe an incredible agent for soothing summer sunburns, but it can also act as a superfood for those brave enough to consume it. These benefits make growing aloe vera an extremely profitable livelihood for farmers that choose to pursue it Central America.

Despite the unique economic value of aloe vera plants, smallholder farmers in Guatemala still face a major barrier to profitability. At La Floresta Aloe Farm in the Western Highlands of the country, the resources required to cultivate a crop of plantlets for export are often double what they should be. More than 50% of plants they grow are rejected due to mechanical damage during harvest, stunted growth, and improper herbicide spraying techniques. Poor plant nutrition has also resulted in extremely low growth rates. During 2014, there were only about eight plantlets per exportable aloe Vera plant, far below the expected 35 plantlets (that's 77% underproduction!) To address this issue, Farmer-to-Farmer connected La Floresta with integrated pest management and plant nutrition specialists Dan Culbert and Shawn Steed. Both volunteers brought prior experience working with aloe vera, as well as improving management practices for other crops and ornamental plants.

During the two week assignment Jorge Dieguez 
accompanied and explained all the nutritional and 
pest problems that La Floresta was dealing with. 
The team took time to meet with the host organization and F2F field staff via Skype prior to their departure for Guatemala. After outlining a game plan, they wasted no time getting down to business when they arrived on site. By improving plant nutrition and harvesting techniques, farmers aimed to reduce plant rejection rates to no more than 5% and salvage an additional 45% of their crop. Dan and Shawn drew on their wealth of combined experience to recommend fertilizer rotations, specialized selection of mother plants, and improved integrated pest management (IPM) practices.* Between analyzing compost for composition of nutrients and experimenting with vinegar as an herbicide, farmers at La Floresta were left with a comprehensive toolkit of ways to improve production and export more plantlets.

Highly specialized projects like this one help us work towards Farmer-to-Farmer’s goal of improving livelihoods and promoting sustainable development throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Because of Dan and Shawn’s assistance, smallholder farmers will increase their incomes, waste fewer agricultural resources, and sooth more sunburns using aloe vera grown in Guatemala!

Volunteers Dan Culbert (left) and Shawn Steed (center)
assisting a local ornamental producer in Cobán Alta Verapaz.
Dan and Shawn were also extremely excited about the opportunity to transfer their technical knowledge and make connections with agriculturalists in Central America. Browse our blog to find out more about how we recruit technical volunteers and how their passion propels them to create lasting change in the communities they serve. 

*Integrated pest management is a broad-based approach that integrates practices for economic control of pests. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Photos from the Field

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers have been busy this year in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Haiti! Check out what they've been doing lately to improve agricultural practices and strengthen youth networks in F2F host countries.

In Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, a recent rise in non-typical climatic events has made it difficult for farmers to predict when and how long their trees will bloom. In February, F2F volunteer Gavin Vanderpool toured 34 orchards before making recommendations on combating the damaging effects of frost and shifting temperatures.
In May, F2F Volunteer Dustin Homan took his passion for 4-H to Nicaragua to work with youth at Fabretto Foundation on their community goals. One of the biggest challenges? Explaining in Spanish that your two favorite "football" teams play different sports!
Howard Fenton is currently serving as a F2F volunteer in Haiti with Makouti Agro Enterprise to help coffee producers, cooperatives, and networks with their record keeping strategies. This will assist them in building capacity to analyze data to make better business decisions!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Grupo de Mujeres Unión Esperanza: Una Historia de Éxito

El municipio de Santa Ana Huista, Huehuetenango se queda a unos 320km de la ciudad de Guatemala y está dividido en cabecera municipal y 13 aldeas, uno de esas aldeas es Buenos Aires. La aldea Buenos Aires, es el hogar de un grupo de mujeres que se llama Unión Esperanza. Desde hace más de 10 años, mujeres de Unión Esperanza han manufacturado productos a base de maní, incluyendo maní salado, tostado, horneado, picante, garapiñado y crema de maní.

Grupo de Mujeres, Unión Esperanza
Farmer to Farmer (F2F) Guatemala conoció la historia detrás del grupo de mujeres Unión Esperanza a través de la Agencia de Servicios y Desarrollo Económico y Social de Huehuetenango -ASDECOHUE-  la cual es una entidad civil de segundo grado sin fines de lucro integrada por cooperativas, asociaciones, comités de desarrollo y grupos de mujeres, entre ellos Unión Esperanza. ASDECOHUE está dedicada a brindar asistencia técnica  para poder lograr un desarrollo rural empresarial. Sin embargo, ASDECOHUE  no cuenta con recursos suficientes para dar atención a capacitaciones en administración empresarial, ni de transferencia de tecnología para mejorar los procesos productivos y de manufactura, dos temas de alta necesidad e importancia a Unión Esperanza. Fue aquí, en donde F2F Guatemala entró al juego.

En mayo 2015, F2F logró contactar a La Dra. Sindy Chapa, quien obtuvo su PhD. en Mercadeo y Negocios Internacional y tiene experiencia en estrategias publicitarias dirigidas a las comunidades latinas en los EE.UU. Durante más de dos meses La Dra. Chapa se mantuvo comunicación directa con el grupo de mujeres, analizando las fortalezas y debilidades del grupo. Desafortunadamente, La Dra. Sindy Chapa no estaba dispuesta para viajar a Guatemala para trabajar directamente con el grupo de mujeres. Pero, ella enseñaba una clase de maestría en administración de negocios y elaboró una competición en su clase para desarrollar el mejor plan de negocios, estrategia de mercadeo y venta y logo para Unión Esperanza. Cada equipo de dos estudiantes desarrollaron un logo para los productos a base de maní. Se llevaron a cabo grupos focales, tanto en Guatemala como en los Estados Unidos y se compartió la experiencia a través de video conferencias. 

Nueva presentación de logotipo, Santa Ana Huista
Finalmente, los equipos de estudiantes presentaron sus productos finales, y el Unión Esperanza escogió el diseño ganador. El equipo de estudiantes que ganó la competición tuvo la oportunidad de viajar a Guatemala como voluntarios de F2F para aplicar en campo el plan de negocios. Los ganadores fueron las estudiantes, Katie Plaia y Jennifer Rangel.

Jennifer y Katie viajaron a Guatemala en julio 2015 y fortalecieron las capacidades de las mujeres en los temas de mercadeo, comercialización, rediseño del logotipo, estrategias de venta, mejoramiento de imagen, importancia de la tabla nutricional en los productos alimenticios y análisis de costos de producción. Como resultado de las capacitaciones impartidas se observó mejor aceptación de los productos en el mercado, aumento en las ventas, nuevos enlaces comerciales y fue una gran fuente de motivación para el grupo de mujeres quienes comprendieron la importancia de sentirse empoderadas por sus propios méritos, tener su propia micro empresa con un producto valioso.

Voluntaria de F2F Dianne Tweete 
capacitando al grupo en la 
elaboración de mantequilla de
El siguiente paso fue capacitar a las mujeres y a los productores de manía en temas de Buenas Prácticas de Manufactura- BPM- y Buenas Prácticas Agrícolas- BPA- . En septiembre 2015,  la voluntaria de F2F Dianne Tweete aceptó el reto de cumplir con esta asignación. Dentro de los temas de capacitación que se llevaron a cabo están: requisitos para manipular alimentos, manipulación de manía en la cadena de alimentos, requisitos de infraestructura y programa de somatización y formulación de nuevos productos a base de manía. Gracias al trabajo de Dianne, se logró el diagnóstico de manufactura y control de calidad de los productos.

Además, se generó interés de otras organizaciones de ASDECOHUE en mejorar el cumplimento de las BPM. En diciembre 2015, Unión Esperanza se invitó a representantes de otros grupos afiliados a ASDECOHUE y repitieron las capacitaciones sobre lo que habían aprendido. Esa capacitación aumentaba el autoestima de las mujeres y generaba un mayor impacto para la región. 

Iveth Tomás, la coordinadora del Centro de Servicios Empresariales de las Mujeres de ASDECOHUE, dijo, “He podido observar y ser partícipe del entusiasmo que muestran las integrantes del  grupo de mujeres Unión Esperanza, desde que han recibido voluntarias de F2F. Es bonito ver el antes y después de la intervención de F2F. Los productos son otros, el módulo de producción ha mejorado y esto hace que las mujeres vendan más y así obtienen ingresos, lo cual les ayuda a comer mejor, llevar a sus hijos al doctor y que los niños sigan estudiando mientras las mamás trabajan en el procesamiento de maní.” – Iveth Tomás