Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Host Profile: Banelino in the Dominican Republic

F2F volunteer, Erin Menzies, with Gustavo Gandini,
Technical Director of Banelino
Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program has been supporting Banelino (Asociación de Bananos Ecológicos de la Línea Noroeste or the Association of Organic Bananas of the Northwest Line) since 2014. Banelino is a banana association comprised of over 300 small producers, the majority of which produce organic bananas. Their bananas are sold across Europe. In addition to supporting small producers in the Yaque del Norte region, Banelino offers a wide array of services for their producers and families. For example, Banelino has a small health center at their headquarters that provides healthcare and health education for members. They also have a small library open for use by producers interested in learning how to become organic or for organic producers interested in learning how to improve their current practices or production. Banelino is dedicated to the economic and social development of the community. In an effort to support local education, Banelino uses some of its proceeds to financially support nearby schools. Several years ago, they even built a school for children with special needs, the first of its kind in the region.

In the last two years, 20 volunteer assignments have been filled for Banelino in a variety of different areas of need. Below are some highlights of the work we have done with Banelino and the results we are starting to see:

Irrigation Efficiency and Technology

One of the main challenges banana producers face in the northwest region of the country is drought and water shortage. This problem is compounded by the fact that many producers use flood irrigation to irrigate their banana fields. In November 2015, F2F volunteer Ilan Bar arrived to the DR to train Banelino producers in techniques to improve the efficiency of their flood irrigation systems. Mr. Bar holds a Master of Science in Agronomy and works as a consultant with expertise in irrigation, agronomy, and water and soil analyses. Mr. Bar also assisted Banelino in identifying other more efficient irrigation technologies that may be feasible for the area.

Dr. Kyung Yoo assessing water resources at Banelino
In follow-up to the work of Mr. Bar, several other irrigation technology experts have traveled through F2F to assist producers in identifying appropriate and practical methods to improve their water use efficiency. Dr. Kyung Yoo, a professor of biosystems engineering from Auburn University has traveled three times to the DR to train farmers on a variety of topics related to water management for irrigation in banana production. He has provided training on mini-sprinkler systems which, if properly designed, installed, and maintained, could improve irrigation water use efficiency by 60-80% compared to that of flood irrigation. Dr. Yoo also trained producers on how to conduct soil salinity tests and introduced the possibility of furrow irrigation for newly established banana fields. Since 2014, several producers have adopted more efficient irrigation systems for their banana fields. Banelino is currently working with these select producers to develop demonstration farms so other producers can learn about these irrigation systems. Producers are also now measuring water application rate and keeping records of each irrigation to avoid over-irrigating their bananas.

Pest and Disease Management
Dr. Cynthia Ocamb inspecting a banana tree of black sigatoka

Several F2F volunteers have trained Banelino staff and member producers in pest and disease management. One of the most devastating diseases to bananas in the DR is black sigatoka. Black sigatoka causes banana trees to lose their leaves, leading to over-mature fruit that cannot be sold in overseas markets. Climate change has contributed to an increase in the presence of black sigatoka in the country. In the summer of 2016, two F2F volunteers traveled to the DR to train Banelino producers and technicians on methods to prevent and control black sigatoka. 

Dr. Jose Verle Rodrigues, a professor of Crops and Agroenvironmental Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, traveled to the DR in June and assisted producers in developing integrated pest management workplans to manage black sigatoka within the guidelines and requirements of organic production. A couple of weeks later, Dr. Cynthia Ocamb, an Associate Professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University, followed up to Dr. Rodrigues' work and led trainings on further strategies and methods to control and monitor the disease.

Thanks to the work of these F2F volunteers, Banelino producers are now practicing consistent and proper techniques to manage pests and disease, such as removing banana leaves with black sigatoka on a weekly basis. Banelino also has held “field days” on banana farms with good integrated pest and disease management in an effort to raise awareness on the benefits of more intensive disease management among producers with less stringent disease control. Banelino also plans on replicating the Dr. Rodrigues' and Dr. Ocamb's trainings for other technicians and producers in the area.

Access to Information on Climate-Smart Agriculture

Felice Maciejewski examines banana processing
One of the key objectives of our F2F program in the DR is to increase knowledge and awareness of the potential effects of climate change on farms, households, and communities. However, much of the information found in-country on climate change, or steps producers can take to increase their resiliency to climate change, is out of date. Banelino's small library serves as an excellent resource to increase access to information on climate change and climate-smart agriculture. In January 2015, Felice Maciejewski, a bilingual librarian with a Masters of Library and Information Science, traveled to the DR and trained Banelino staff on methods to find current information on climate change using different online portals. She also trained Banelino staff in proper handling library resources and creating a resource inventory. One year later, Ms. Maciejewski returned with Valerie Malzacher, a library science professional from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. During this visit, Ms. Maciejewski conducted a survey of banana producers on the types of resources or materials they would find useful in the library. Ms. Malzacher helped create a library manual to standardize operations and a draft strategic plan for the further development of the library. She also trained Banelino's staff in developing a collection policy to define the types of relevant materials the library would accept or pursue related to climate change, climate-smart agriculture, and banana production.

Banelino members and their families now have access to a variety of resources on banana production, climate change, and other agricultural topics. Banelino also recently hired a librarian to help manage and maintain the library, as well as assist members in using the library. They are also exploring the possibility of initiating some library programs for members and their families such as: training programs for finding appropriate information on the internet, story hour for children, study hall and homework assistance for students, etc.

Partners of the Americas continues to be impressed with Banelino's thirst for knowledge and enthusiasm to participate in the F2F program. Over these past two years, we have seen many results and positive change both in the organizational development of Banelino as well as the climate-smart practices of its member producers. It is an honor for our F2F program to support Banelino as they continue to support small banana producers in the DR.

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