Friday, September 23, 2016

Coffee and Climate Change

A report recently released by the Climate Institute – "A Brewing Storm: The climate change risks to coffee" – uses existing data and compiles information from a variety of studies to indicate that climate change will have a strong effect on the global coffee supply. Rising temperatures threaten farmland, reducing the land area suitable for coffee farming. Extreme weather like worsening drought and heavier downpours also impact yields. Climate changes are intensifying the prevalence of diseases and pests like coffee rust and coffee berry borer, which contribute to millions of dollars in lost coffee beans every year. Additionally, farmers and laborers exposed to rising temperatures experience heat related illnesses that affected their long-term well-being, as well as their productivity. Complicating matters is the fact that the coffee market is currently saturated and producers are subject to price volatility. Because the majority of the world’s 25 million coffee producers are smallholder farmers, they often don’t have the capacity to modify their practices in response to climate change.

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. Partners’ F2F program works with coffee farmers throughout the Caribbean region on issues from plant disease to harvesting all the way to marketing and cooperative management. The climate change risks to coffee are vast and complex but working directly with smallholder coffee farmers and cooperatives is one small way to effect change.

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. For coffee cooperatives in Haiti’s northern regions surrounding Cap-Haitien, recordkeeping is an invaluable asset for monitoring and controlling day-to-day business costs. F2F volunteer and accountant Howard Fenton took on this challenge as he traveled to Haiti in June to conduct site visits and led several trainings with the coffee cooperatives. As a result of his work, producers will be able to recognize best business practices and opportunities to capitalize on them. Specific items like developing a business plan, setting goals and planning the steps to achieve those goals, and self-evaluation are essential to a successful farm operation.

In the Dominican Republic, where our F2F Country Strategy is focused on Climate Change Adaptation in the Yaque del Norte Watershed, volunteer Judson Reid recommended diversification into fruit and vegetable crops as an alternative for coffee growers who currently face unprecedented pressure from coffee rust. Crop diversification is more easily said than done but it is one widely accepted practice to deal with a host of agricultural issues. Another crop adaptation strategy, according to the Climate Institute Report is shifting coffee plantations upslope. The research recognizes that farmers are resilient, resourceful, and creative but faced with a possible increase in temperature of 2 degrees Celsius in the next half-century, the global agricultural system needs to brace itself for big changes.

Read the full A Brewing Storm report here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Improved Branding Helps Producers in Nicaragua

López (top left) giving the Benchmark email marketing
seminar to CONAGAN and CANICARNE participants.
About a year after his first visit to Nicaragua, Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Volunteer Eddy López returned in July 2016 to update and reinvigorate the branding and promotional efforts he previously developed with several beef and dairy organizations and small-scale producers. Over the course of his three week assignment, López reconnected with three national organizations, the National Livestock Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN), the Nicaraguan Chamber of Dairy (CANISLAC) and the Nicaraguan Chamber of the Industry for Beef (CANICARNE).

With CONAGAN, López created new promotional materials to increase the organization’s visual presence and garner attention for their upcoming VII National Livestock Congress. He also developed branding proposals for their new national training center and for their regional congresses. Reuniting with CANISLAC allowed López to redesign their logo and strengthen their brand identity. Building on the capacity of his past assignment, López also led a seminar for CONAGAN and CANICARNE on a free email marketing platform called Benchmark to promote sustainable and proper email marketing practices, such as running maintenance on email lists, designing email layouts, and measuring the efficacy of each email campaign. In addition, López met with three small-scale dairy producers, to address their branding needs, such as logo design, label placements on their products and design concepts for future marketing campaigns.

López’s design samples for Tias Especiales’s
Yogurt con Amor brand.
During his trip, López was able to learn, collaborate and meet the specific needs of the organizations and producers he worked with, using the resources available. While noting small marketing and promotion budgets as a limitation, he utilized his expertise to offer more feasible yet effective recommendations. For instance, Lopez worked with host Tias Especiales during his assignment. He worked with two of his design students from Bucknell University - Ellen O’Donnell and Lena Miskulin - and together they redesigned Tias Especiales’s Yogurt con Amor labels for their individual flavors. The team recognized color printing was not a sustainable option and instead recommended black and white printing on different colored paper, which would not increase the cost of printing and producing the labels. In the long run, it was also recommended that they group purchase a black & white laser printer to allow internal production of labels and save even more on printing costs. Another example is that he recommended the Benchmark software mentioned above, which is a free marketing tool that the organizations can use over time.

After branding recommendations and specific proposals are approved and finalized, these organizations and producers will be able to raise their brand visibility to greater heights. However, it’s important to note that marketing and branding isn’t a one-time job, it requires continuous improvements over time. López hopes future F2F volunteers will be able to travel to Nicaragua to help these organizations and producers continue to review their branding and marketing, and to set up individual brand identity guides for greater professional implementation of their respective brands.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Greenhouse Vegetable Production in the Dominican Republic

When you think of the Dominican Republic (DR), you probably imagine endless fields of bananas and rice. However, there is another agricultural sector booming in the northwest region of this Caribbean nation: greenhouse vegetable production. By 2014, the DR exported more than US$111.6 million of greenhouse vegetables, making it one of the most dynamic sectors in the agricultural industry of the country. Currently, there over 930 million square meters of greenhouses throughout the DR.
Dr. Liburd (far right) meeting with researchers
from the agricultural research center

One of the key organizations in the greenhouse sector is the Cluster de Invernaderos de Jarabacoa, or the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster. The Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster was established in 2002 and is comprised of over 100 member farmers in the Jarabacoa region who produce vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant for local consumption and for export. The Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster offers technical assistance to its members on topics such as credit management, best management practices, business management, etc. They also help members identify and access new market opportunities. 

Recently, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service detected the presence of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Ceratitis capitata), or medfly for short, in the eastern part of the country. The medfly is capable of causing extensive damage to a wide range of fruit, flower, and vegetable crops. In 2015, the DR lost an estimated US$50 million in vegetable production due to the presence of the medfly. As a result, the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster requested the assistance of a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer to train technicians and farmers on how to identify the medfly, take precautions to prevent the medfly from entering greenhouses, and treat greenhouses that may already be infected.

Dr. Liburd visiting a tomato production facility
in the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster
In June 2016, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Dr. Oscar Liburd, an Associate Professor from the Department of Entomology and Nematology at University of Florida, arrived to the DR. Dr. Liburd trained 105 (85 men and 20 women) technicians, farmers, and university students specializing in crop protection in strategies to mitigate and intercept medflies from entering greenhouses. His trainings also focused on managing medflies in the Dominican Republic, the biology and ecology of the medfly, monitoring devices and the use of attractants to manage medfly populations, and the implementation of reduced-risk pesticides.

Dr. Liburd also provided recommendations on how to establish a surveillance and quarantine program to impede the entrance of the medfly into greenhouses. As a result of his assignment, the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster staff and members now have a greater understanding of methods to prevent and control the medfly in horticultural and agronomic crops, as well as a greater understanding of reduced-risk pesticides for medfly management. By providing producers with information on methods to identify the medfly and monitoring and management techniques to control populations, growers can hope for increased sales and exports in the upcoming growing season.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

'Big Ag' in Nicaragua: A Volunteer's Perspective

Mike Doherty serves as Illinois Farm Bureau senior economist and policy analyst. He spent two weeks as a F2F volunteer in Nicaragua with Partners of the Americas. Below are his reflections: 

Mike Doherty in the field
Nearly all the growth in demand for Illinois’ agricultural production is in developing countries, also known as “emerging markets.” As the U.S. Grains Council has noted, the cattle-producing areas of southern Mexico and Central America represent a significant potential market for distiller’s dried grains from Illinois ethanol plants as well as other feed grain products. Most of this new demand will be from households that are generating income sufficient to afford daily meat consumption for the first time.

I had an opportunity to learn something about that process of rural income generation, and hopefully help accelerate it, via a Farmer to Farmer (F2F) volunteer assignment in Nicaragua last year. Although I felt well prepared and supported (thanks to the Partners of the Americas (POA) specialists I had met in the capital city of Managua and via reports from their Washington, D.C. office), I was excited to be exploring the real backcountry with another F2F volunteer from Illinois and a local POA-contracted guide.

Touring dairy plant - far left, F2F volunteer Michael Lofstrom,
center, GRINSA's agricultural engineers,
far right, F2F volunteer Mike Doherty
Tucked away in the upland farm town of Jinotega, our first project involved a dairy plant and its well-motivated sales and production staff, and managers. Standing proudly before their line of cheeses and yogurts, they gave us a tour of their operation. Later that week, after meeting a second time with the office managers, followed by a Skype call with the owners of the plant, they were open to our recommendations on strategic planning and marketing. They recognized they were facing a fast-changing value chain in an increasingly global world. I was glad to have had the opportunity to apply 30 years of agribusiness experience in creating a list of recommendations for them to implement, so that they might absorb and respond to the rapid changes they were facing in a competitive marketplace.

A second F2F Nicaragua project awaited me in the town of Chichigalpa, located at the foot of the dramatic San Cristobal Volcano. Famous for its Flor de Cana rum factory, this bustling farm town is centered in a broad valley, backed by the smoldering summit of the volcano. I gave a presentation on strategic planning to a group from the Chichigalpa chapter of Nicaragua’s national business development association, called INDE. We had a robust question and answer session that morning, which revolved around agricultural development. On the way out of town, I noted a few tractor dealerships along the main road and a few tractors being driven out to the fields. It reminded me of a vibrant and diversified farm economy in the U.S. rather than a post-revolutionary Central American socialist country!

Cacao drying 
Nicaragua offered a lot in terms of agricultural diversity: an impressive array of high-value industries that process specialty crops like cacao, coffee, sugar cane, and products from beef and dairy cattle, all of which are rapidly evolving. Nicaragua is known as tourist friendly, but it’s also the “Big Ag” breadbasket for the entire region of Central America.

Nicaragua’s retail is also developing quickly, and not just in the form of new, gleaming, modern supermarkets and shopping malls in Managua, but also in the form of intermediate-sized “country” grocery stores in the smaller towns and cities. In all of these stores, one sees an increasing presence of “made in Nicaragua” agricultural products such as roasted coffee, chocolate bars, rum, flavored yogurts, various cheeses and more.

Assuming their country’s development stays on track, Nicaragua can be safely added to the list of up-and-coming emerging markets. I promised myself I would be return someday, not only to see that progress for myself, but perhaps to build even stronger relationships.

This article was previously published under the title "Nicaragua: 'Big Ag' in Central America" on the Illinois Farm Bureau's FarmWeekNow blog and in FarmWeek's hardcopy edition.