Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Raising Awareness about Nutrition: Dairy and Beef in Nicaragua

Ms. Uribe being interviewed on Nicaraguan television
Alexandra MacMillan Uribe, a Nutrition PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin, traveled to Nicaragua in February 2016 to promote the nutritional value of Nicaraguan beef and milk in the context of a healthy diet to increase awareness and stimulate demand for these products. This was accomplished through several television, radio, and newspaper interviews throughout Nicaragua. Ms. Uribe also trained senior marketing and branding officials at the Nicaraguan Institute for Development (INDE), the Nicaraguan Chamber of the Meat Industry (CANICARNE) and the National Cattleman’s Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN) about the nutritional value and potential health benefits of pasture-raised beef and milk.

Reflecting on her media appearances, Ms. Uribe shared: “I was asked many questions about beef and some about milk. I had explained that milk was important because it is a rich source of calcium and most national dietary recommendations, which Nicaragua does not have, recommend between 2 and 3 servings per day.”

“Clear-cut recommendations for beef, however, were much trickier. Beef is an excellent source of iron and a nutrient-rich food but it’s high content of saturated fat, which links high consumption to heart disease, limits the recommendation to a maximum of 2 to 3 90-gram portions per week. The emerging research on the healthy fats found in grass-fed beef complicates matters as the saturated fat in this type of beef may not be linked to heart disease.”

“I was told that Nicaraguan beef was from pasture-raised cattle and, therefore, could contain these nutritional benefits over corn-fed cattle. I was encouraged to talk about these findings for my interviews. However, as I spent more time in the country and talked to more individuals about ranching techniques, the answer became hazier.” Because of certain traditional Nicaraguan practices as well as the composition of local tropical grasses, Ms. Uribe noted that Nicaraguan beef may have a different nutrient profile. In her interviews, she was open and honest about current scientific research and reflects, “I felt invigorated and excited to talk about what I knew."

At the end of the assignment, Ms. Uribe recommended that the hosts obtain an analysis of the fatty acid composition of Nicaraguan pasture-raised beef and milk, ultimately allowing them to candidly market their products’ potential health benefits beyond protein and calcium.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cooking Demonstrations in Haiti: A Recipe for Joumounad

Cooking demonstrations are an important component of the Haiti Nutrition Security Program. According to evidence from parents participating in the program, the opportunity to contribute and participate actively in the preparation of nutrient-dense meals increases their capacity to more effectively combat malnutrition at home. Below is a recipe used in NSP cooking demonstrations in Haiti. Pumpkins are rich in Vitamin A, a nutrient vital for growth and development. 

Joumounad - Pumpkin-Rice Pot

Preparing for cooking demonstration 

200g rice
400g/14oz pumpkin, cubed (after peeling and removing the seeds)
3-4 carrots, diced
Leafy greens
4-5 potatoes, diced
Handful of c
abbage, roughly chopped 
12 oz crab meat
1 lemon
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large onion, chopped


1. Boil pumpkin and potatoes until tender; drain and set aside water.
2. Puree a portion of the cooked pumpkin and potatoes and set aside.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil to a pot; drop in the cooked pumpkin and potatoes, the crab meat and squeeze lemon through a sieve over the crab. Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. Add the crushed garlic, the onion and iodized salt to taste. Add the potatoes and the cabbage. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
4. Pour in the water previously set aside, add the pumpkin and potato puree and bring to a boil.
5. Add the rice.
6. Let simmer and add the chopped leafy greens toward the end. Stir everything.
7. Cover and simmer on low heat before serving hot.

Parents feeding their children while learning 
diet diversity best practices with 
locally-available food

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Improving Water Quality and Water Management in the Dominican Republic

In recognition of World Water Day, we are highlighting a recent F2F assignment focused on water quality and water management in the Dominican Republic. Every year on this day, the UN World Water Development Report is launched and starts conversations about how best to manage our world’s most abundant natural resource, especially for those members of the global population who suffer the most from water scarcity and related issues. 

Collecting water samples
Erin Menzies recently completed her first F2F volunteer assignment in the Dominican Republic. Her work was focused on developing methodologies and procedures to measure the physical, biological, and chemical parameters of water quality at banana packing houses and training banana producers at small packing houses on improved practices and methods to maintain and/or improve water quality. Ms. Menzies has extensive experience working in sustainable international agriculture. She holds a degree in environmental engineering, and she is a candidate at Cornell University for a PhD in Water Resources Engineering.

While in country, Ms. Menzies took samples of water being discharged into the environment at packing facilities and analyzed them for acidity, electrical conductivity, and salinity. These can indicate the level of contamination in an agricultural setting. Ms. Menzies found that there were no serious concerns for severe contamination but noted that locations where there is mild contamination could be improved by adding a gravel and activated carbon filter to the system to filter the water before it is discharged into agricultural canals. 

Ms. Menzies provided recommendations about farm operations and management strategies that can reduce watershed scale nutrient pollution. She also recommended that producers not apply fertilizer or other agricultural products to low lying areas or commonly saturated soils, and that they not apply fertilizer less than 3 days before a rain event or spray irrigation is scheduled. 

She noted that a pressing cause for concern at the banana packing facilities was the quantity of water
Analyzing water samples
being used. Producers pump groundwater into processing tanks all day to maintain a constant flow to keep the bananas moving through the facility. The tanks are filled in the morning and drained in the evening. She proposed that one tank's worth of water should be cycled through the system throughout the whole day. This would reduce the amount of water being pumped out of the ground. Ms. Menzies recommended that "If the water cannot be recycled through the system it should not be discharged to open agricultural ditches where it is lost to the atmosphere or carried out to sea by the river, it should be injected back into the ground through the use of a well or a leach field. Both of these options, recycling the water through the tanks and reinjecting the water would require the use of an activated carbon and gravel filter to ensure that any contaminants in the water are removed before discharging it into natural waters."

Ms. Menzies reflected that "This trip reminded me why I chose this field from the beginning. I love doing this kind of hands on work, talking about water, interacting with people, and thinking critically about how we use our water and how we can use it better." 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Host Profile: Federación Comercializadora de Café Especial de Guatemala (FECCEG)

Kishé products
Since 2014, Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer program has collaborated with the Federación Comercializadora de Café Especial de Guatemala (FECCEG). FECCEG was founded in 2006 and was originally comprised of eight cooperatives and associations of small producers interested in consolidating their coffee production and independently processing their coffee for niche specialty markets.

To date, Partners of the Americas has sent three F2F volunteers to work with FECCEG. In January 2015, Michael Drankwalter was the first. During his assignment, Mr. Drankwalter traveled to eight different communities in Guatemala where FECCEG was working to conduct trainings on proper beekeeping and honey production. As FECCEG’s coffee is produced organically, many producers have turned to apiculture and honey production to manage pests on the farm and diversify income sources.

F2F volunteer Willis Brown participating in a coffee cupping demonstration
In March 2015, Willis Brown, served as an F2F volunteer for FECCEG and trained beneficiaries on marketing strategies to drive sales of their coffee brand, Kishé, in the United States. Most notably, Mr. Brown's work inspired the logo found on FECCEG's coffee. After a careful assessment of FECCEG's products and the local community where the coffee is grown, Mr. Brown recommended the use of the image of a volcano to represent the Guatemalan coffee of Kishé. 

Finally, in November 2015, Thessalonika Benny assisted FECCEG in developing a business plan and sales strategy to market and sell their products in the U.S. Additionally, prior to her assignment, Ms. Benny hosted FECCEG representatives in Seattle to introduce them to potential buyers.

Since 2014, FECCEG's income from coffee sales has increased from $2.6 million to almost $3.2 million, making a significant difference in the lives of its 1,630 producer members and their families. Future F2F assignments will focus on assisting FECCEG with their U.S. marketing campaign and promoting their brand among U.S. consumers.

In February 2016, Nidia Gomez and others from FECCEG stopped by our office to do a coffee tasting demonstration of their products and to give us an update of the impact of their work. Below is a photo of their time in the office!
Partners of the Americas with FECCEG staff!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tomato Processing and Canning in Panama

F2F volunteer Carmen Pacheco-Borden with
one of her training groups
Carmen Pacheco-Borden recently traveled to Panama on a F2F assignment in Tomato Processing and Canning with Partners of the Americas. F2F has been working with participants in Partners' EducaFuturo program which focuses on reducing child labor in the region. In a joint effort to improve the livelihoods of families and reduce child labor, EducaFuturo and F2F are working together to build the local capacity of community members. Ms. Pacheco-Borden shares about her experiences below:

"This project provided me with the opportunity to work with native Ngabe-Bugle women in two rural villages, where the potential to help and make a difference was huge. I was able to conduct hands-on training to process tomatoes in my native language. Because my family immigrated to the United States when I was twelve, improving and maintaining my Spanish has been a life-long goal. [...] In 2013, I felt my roots pulling me back and I decided to start a small Salsa and Moles farmers’ market business. Following my passion for Mexican food and reconnecting to my roots has brought many unexpected opportunities like working as a volunteer in Panama with the Ngabe-Bugle women.

We conducted four tomato-processing workshops in each community successfully. We formally trained a total of 53 individuals, including 41 females and 12 males in both communities. We learned the main steps in processing and canning: removing jars from simmering water, adding an acidifying agent, filling jars with product, measuring head space for accuracy, removing trapped air bubbles, wiping jar rims, adjusting top until fingertip-tight, placing filled jars onto a canner rack, bringing the water to a rolling boil, keeping the jars in for the entire processing period, letting jars cool for 12 hours, and finally testing the jars for a vacuum seal. Figures 1-7 show some of the key activities from the workshops.

One activity that stayed with me was teaching how to make salsa. Training to make the roasted tomato salsa to the Ngabe-Bugle community stands out in my mind; it was the look on their faces when we roasted tomatoes and peppers. What I found very interesting was that the concept of roasting tomatoes and peppers was new to them. Mexicans have been roasting tomatoes and peppers for ages. I was thrilled to see that they really liked the smoky flavor of the roasted tomato salsa. This simple yet delicious salsa is what made me start my business in the first place, and why the recruiter of the Partners of the Americas found me."
Figure 1: Making tomato sauce using a food mill
Figure 2: Acidifying tomato products and measuring headspace
Figure 3: Blanching tomatoes for making
peeled whole tomatoes
Figure 4: Adjusting band until fingertip tight during
whole tomato processing
Figure 5: Testing jars for a vacuum seal, before dating and labeling
Figure 6: Roasting tomatoes and peppers
Figure 7: Peeling roasted peppers and tomatoes
Figure 8: Finished product - Roasted Tomato Salsa!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Celebrating our Women Who Make a Difference: Elisa Estrada Guido, F2F Field Officer in Nicaragua

F2F field officer, Elisa Estrada
Elisa Estrada has worked for Partners of the Americas for over eight years. In Nicaragua, she plays a large role in ensuring that our USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program is operating efficiently and with high quality. Last week, we interviewed her to get her thoughts on what it is like working for the Farmer-to-Farmer program, as well as being a woman in Nicaragua

What about the Farmer-to-Farmer program has inspired you to work for so long?

En Nicaragua para mí ser Oficial de Campo ha sido una gran oportunidad de cumplir mi sueño de hacer trabajo comunitario, de compartir conocimiento. Siempre he creído en la gente y en la oportunidad que necesitan las personas para fortalecer sus capacidades y mejorar su calidad de vida. Este no es un trabajo tradicional con horario convencional.

To be a field officer in Nicaragua has been a great opportunity to fulfill my dream to do community work, to share knowledge. I have always believed in people and the the opportunity that people need in order to strengthen their capacity to improve their quality of their life.  This is not a traditional job with conventional hours.

What does being a part of the Farmer-to-Farmer program mean to you?

Elisa (with F2F Nicaragua Country Director) meeting with cooperative
member in Guatemala
Con el programa F2F,  llevamos conocimiento y compartimos experiencias… Me ha permitido conocer mi propio país y viajar al extranjero. Yo no soy la misma persona de antes; ahora estoy más capacitada, más madura profesionalmente, y soy una persona que disfruta mucho su trabajo. [También,] soy madre y mis hijos están orgullosos del trabajo que hago y del cambio que nuestra vida ha tenido.

With the F2F program, we offer knowledge and share experiences… The program has allowed me to better understand my own country and travel abroad. I am not the same person I was before; now I am knowledgeable, more professionally mature, and I am a person who enjoys their work. [Also,] I am a mother and my kids are proud of the work I have done and the change it has had on our lives.  

Elisa presenting at the F2F Regional Meeting in Guatemala
In your country, what are the typical roles and responsibilities of women? Especially in agriculture?

En Nicaragua, el rol típico de la mujer era ser ama de casa, quedarse en el hogar, la crianza de los hijos y el cuido de la familia. En la agricultura,  actualmente está teniendo un rol más activo, debido a políticas públicas, estrategias de gobiernos, y programas sociales particulares que le están dando a la mujer un mayor protagonismos. [Mujeres ahora] tienen mayor protección y atención institucional en cuanto al tema de violencia intrafamiliar, planificación familiar, y educación. Esto no quiere decir que aún no tenemos mucho que trabajar… pero hemos mejorado poco a poco.  La Mujer hoy en día es más jefa de hogar, es profesional,  es proveedora del hogar, es agricultora, es la dueña de la tierra y de la casa, es la tomadora de decisiones, trabajadora, es emprendedora!   

In Nicaragua, the typical role of a woman was a housewife, to stay in the home, raise children, and take care of the family. In agriculture, women are having a more active role, due to public policies, the strategy of the government, and social programs that are giving women a larger role. Women now have greater protection and institutional care related to domestic violence, family planning, and education. This does not mean that we still do not have a lot of work... but we have improved little by little. A woman today is the head of the house, she is a professional, a provider, a farmer, an owner of land and a home, a decision-maker, worker, and entrepreneur.

Elisa at the head of a training session at the National Union of Farmers and Cattle
Ranchers (UNAG) in Nueva Guinea, Nicaragua
What is your top lesson that you have learned from working for Farmer-to-Farmer?

La principal lección es: Pequeños cambios pueden hacer una gran diferencia en la vida de las personas y Farmer-to-Farmer es un programa que impacta vidas!! 

The principle lesson is: Small changes can make a great difference in the life of people and F2F is a program that impacts lives!! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Como Ser Mujer: Una Nota de Andrea Fión Góngora, Oficial del Campo de Farmer-to-Farmer

¡Se  puede trabajar con manicura!
¡Feliz Día Internacional de la Mujer! Para celebrar este importante día, Andrea Fión Góngora, nuestra Oficial del Campo, nos comparte sus pensamientos sobre como es ser mujer trabajando para el programa de Farmer-to-Farmer en Guatemala.

Me llamo Andrea, soy oficial de campo para el programa F2F en Guatemala. En unos pocos meses más cumpliré mi segundo año trabajando para Partners dentro del programa. El tiempo se ha pasado rápidamente y en el proceso he aprendido muchas cosas nuevas, cada tema es diferente para cada asignación y cada asignación es una nueva oportunidad de crecimiento personal e intelectual. 

Ser mujer en Guatemala dentro del campo de agricultura no es del todo fácil, como en cualquier carrera profesional en un país en vías de desarrollo, ser mujer es en realidad un reto. Desafortunadamente Guatemala es un país histórico y culturalmente con tendencias machistas, las desigualdades van desde salarios más bajos para mujeres sin justificación razonable, hasta un trato indiferente para las mujeres. La agricultura es la actividad primaria del país, en las zonas rurales la agricultura de subsistencia es la más común y por lo general el trabajo de campo es “el trabajo de los hombres” y quedarse en casa es la tarea de las mujeres. Trabajar en el programa me ha dado las oportunidades de conocer las distintas realidades de mi país, he tenido el gusto de compartir y platicar con las personas de las comunidades de cara a cara y ver con mis propios ojos la realidad a la que se enfrentan cada día. Pero esto no siempre es fácil, llegar a una comunidad en donde los hombres tienen el liderazgo puede complicarse un poco. Para algunos de los hombres lo que diga una mujer tiene menos validez, fácilmente pierden la atención si quien les da una capacitación es de género femenino.
Enseñar a niños siempre es una alegría. En el
caserío "Los Chilitos" en Cuilapa, Santa Rosa
Esto claro propone un reto, pero sin duda se convierte también en una oportunidad, una oportunidad de iniciar el cambio en esa mentalidad que hasta ahora tenemos, al demostrar que las habilidades de una mujer son iguales o incluso a veces mejores en ciertas áreas que las de los hombres, el cambio empieza a cultivarse. Al inicio siempre es difícil pero sin excepción al final de las dos o tres semanas que dura una asignación, el respeto como mujer y como profesional se establece. 

Santa María Cauque, Sacatepéquez
Es increíble el sentimiento de llegar a una comunidad de escuchar a los niños corriendo por las calles “ya vino la Seño, ya vino la Seño” y al encontrarse con los y las productoras, ver en sus rostros una mirada genuina de alegría y agradecimiento, que al darles capacitaciones y talleres, quienes al principio fueron escépticos, ahora prestan toda su atención. Ser mujer dentro de un programa enfocado en agricultura como lo es F2F, es una oportunidad de crecimiento enorme, el aprendizaje no termina al llegar los días de descanso; los retos siempre se hacen presentes, pero es también parte del arte de ser mujer convertir esos retos en oportunidades y esas oportunidades en historias de éxito.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Report from the Field: F2F Volunteer Ryan Kesler at Jarabacoa Environmental School in the Dominican Republic - Part I

It has been just over three weeks since I arrived in the Dominican Republic working for Farmer-to-Farmer and the National School of Environment and Natural Resources in Jarabacoa and it feels like I’ve been busy every moment. But, before I get into my experiences, I should probably tell you all just who I am. My name is Ryan Kesler and I am an undergrad student studying Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW). It is my final semester at UW and I am fortunate enough to spend it here in the DR. Here I get to practice not only my Spanish skills, but also my teaching skills as I am helping the Environmental School with their English classes. Thus far it has been an excellent experience and I would like to share some of my experiences with you all.

For the first two weeks, I worked with Rick Hall and Maria Moreno, two additional Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers based out of the UW-Arboretum called Earth Partnership. Earth Partnership works with communities both in Wisconsin and Latin America (through a project called Colaboración Ambiental) to teach educators in methods of integrating a more environmentally conscious curriculum into their schools. They have developed an entire course guide of activities for educators to use to help students learn through observing nature and constructing conservation projects such as rain gardens. The first week here, we had a meeting at the National Botanical Gardens in Santo Domingo to present the Earth Partnership curriculum to the director. Earth Partnership is currently only working with the Environmental School but is looking to expand to other local schools around Jarabacoa. During this first week we also had meetings with three local schools to put the Earth Partnership curriculum into action.

F2F volunteer, Rick Hall, leading a course with Jarabacoa students
During the second week, we coordinated times to do a few activities from the Earth Partnership course guide with the students of the environmental school. One of the activities we did is called “Noting Notable Features”. In this activity, the students went out onto the school campus and took observations from everything from soil type, to the slope of the landscape to the diversity the fauna and flora in the area. It was a hot day but the students seemed to really enjoy the activity.

After two weeks, Rick and Maria left and I have been on my own (however I use the phrase “on my own” loosely). I have since moved into one of the houses on the school grounds where I will be until the end of the semester. Teaching English has proved to be challenging but rewarding as all the students are on very different levels of English comprehension. In the class itself, the students are working on projects around the school yard and preparing presentations for the end of the semester. I am helping the current English professor with working with the various groups. He has appreciated my help as there are 38 students and he can’t get around to working with every group every day. In addition to the normal English classes, I have been holding group discussions in English every week as a way to gain extra practice. The students seem to be really enjoying it but I’d be lying if I said I’m not enjoying it more! I am really looking forward to seeing their progress throughout the semester.

I want to thank you all for reading the first of 3 blog posts that I will be making during my time here. See you next time!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

From Peace Corps to Farmer-to-Farmer: F2F Volunteer Uses Skills Learned in Peace Corps with a Women's Group in the Amazon

Alex Matthews served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru from 2009-2011. In December 2015, he left for Ecuador to complete a vegetable production assignment for the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program in the Amazon Basin. The following is an excerpt from Alex's field journal during his F2F assignment.

A cacao and banana farm located near Puyo
"Plants want to grow. That is a simple piece of wisdom that I learned my first summer working on a vegetable farm years ago. The proof of that statement is everywhere, from the small weed growing in a crack in the pavement, to the dense, lush growth of the rainforest surrounding Puyo, where I have been living for the last two months, volunteering with Partners of the Americas' USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program. What I have learned in the last ten years, however, is that while plants may want to grow, crops don’t want to grow well or productively without some helping hands.

Nowhere have I found this to be more evident than in Esfuerzo, a small community I have been working with about an hour outside of Puyo. There is a very dedicated group of women in Esfuerzo who run a large scale compost project funded by the municipality, and they want to work on collectively growing vegetables as well. These women come from farming families--cattle, dairy and sugarcane are the financial backbone of the community--but vegetable production is little practiced, and with good reason. The rainforest, while incredibly ecologically diverse, is not a good place to grow vegetables. The pounding rain washes away topsoil and nutrients and acidifies the soil, and the high humidity makes it incredibly difficult to manage disease and fungus in the crops.  

Luckily, difficult is a long way from impossible, and this group of women certainly is up to the challenge. They are dedicated to their work and the group they have formed. They meet twice a week to accept hundreds of pounds of organic waste delivered from the Puyo fruit and vegetable market and turn it into compost. The process requires a lot of hard work that is both physically demanding and sometimes pretty gross (finding bags of rotting meat mixed in with the vegetable scraps is a common occurrence). In addition to the compost project, they have also spearheaded a community wide reforestation project with the help of a Peace Corps volunteer.  

Alex works with community members to prepare a bed
And thankfully, over the past two months, they have been open to learning a lot about good vegetable (and pineapple) production practices. We have covered a lot of ground in our weekly sessions, including the basics of soil health, good fertilization practices and the proper way to sow seeds for healthy and strong seedlings to transplant. Many of these lessons have been basic, such as adding lime to the soil to counter acidification, or how much space to leave between tomato plants to increase vigor and reduce disease, but the process needed to start somewhere and hopefully both the garden crops and their base of knowledge will grow steadily.

The work day I enjoyed most was two weeks ago when we started seeds for transplants. I have always loved working with seeds. The different shapes, sizes and even smells of the seeds are fascinating, and these little pellets hold a lot of promise for the coming season and all the delicious vegetables to come. If you ever get the chance to smell a handful of carrot seed or immerse your hand in a bag of broccoli seed, maybe you will know what I am talking about. Here around Puyo, unfortunately, seeds are few and far between. The ag supply stores around here are focused on animal and limited cash crop production. Whereas in the states I can choose from dozens of varieties of tomatoes to plant, when I went to the biggest ag supply store in town, they had several packets of seeds simply labeled tomato, without providing the name of the variety. Most of the available seeds are years old and packaged in clear packets, unprotected from air, moisture or light.

Sowing seeds with the women's group in Esfuerzo
So the lesson on sowing seeds differed a bit from the basics you might learn on a vegetable farm in New England. I emphasized looking for the seeds with the freshest dates on the label and favoring thicker, sealed plastic seed packets over clear plastic bags. We made our own “potting mix” using compost, sand and lime and discussed the advantages in fertility and drainage that will  lead to strong healthy seedlings for the garden. Lastly, we seeded five tray cells with a variety of vegetables, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, onions...and all at a slightly higher rate than normal, to compensate for the old and probably less viable seed available to us. The women enjoyed the process and laughed with each other as we informally competed to see who could drop the correct number of seeds in each cell, or who could do so fastest. The competition grew fiercest, and the most hilarious, when we tried to seed celery, with seeds smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. While I will likely witness the germination of these efforts, unfortunately I will not be here to see the literal fruit of this labor. I am confident that the women of Esfuerzo will work hard to help these crops grow, improving their families' health and the health of their land."