Wednesday, August 24, 2016

An Interesting Source for Organic Fertilizer

Over the years, a number of our F2F volunteers have worked in the area of soil fertility. As synthetic agro-inputs can be pricey, oftentimes our volunteers teach hosts about organic soil fertility management practices such as the use of green manures, compost, companion crops, crop rotations, and animal manure. One common and inexpensive source of macronutrients, however, frequently gets overlooked: urine.

Stored goat urine at CEPROCAL
In March 2016, F2F volunteer Rob Crook traveled to Guatemala for a two week assignment to train extension agents with the Center for Goat Production in the Altiplano of Guatemala (CEPROCAL) on how to make liquid fertilizer and compost using goat urine. CEPROCAL currently captures and stores the urine produced by stabled goats at their production center. While CEPROCAL technicians have speculated that the urine is an excellent source of nutrients for fertilizing home gardens and pastures, they did not know how to best utilize it and in what quantity. After working with CEPROCAL technicians over the assignment, Crook recommended that CEPROCAL takes fresh and stored goat urine samples to analyze the difference in nitrogen content (due to volatilization). Additionally, he recommended that they conduct several independent variable experiments with goat urine on pasture and row crops to better understand the effect that the urine has when applied directly as opposed to using in compost. After conducting the experiments and analyzing the samples, CEPROCAL extension agents will in turn teach rural families and beneficiaries of the program how to use the organic fertilizers for improved pasture and vegetable production to supplement and diversify the family diet.

It is important to note, however, that all urine - including human urine - contains valuable macronutrients and micronutrients that can be used for crop production, especially a simple home garden. While using human urine may be viewed as an unpleasant concept at first glance, the potential benefits are undeniable. The primary macronutrient found in urine is nitrogen. Additionally, that urine contains anywhere between 2.5 and 3.5 grams of potassium and 0.5 to 1 gram of phosphorus in plant soluble form. Worried about urine acidifying your soil? Fresh urine typically has a pH that hovers around 6, while stored urine often becomes moderately alkaline.

Stabled goats at CEPROCAL
Ok, so it has macronutrients and won't substantially mess with the soil's pH, but is it safe to use? Actually, yes. Human urine - except in very rare circumstances - is sterile when it leaves the body. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the few pathogens that may be transmitted through urine are not considered a major health risk, especially in temperate regions.

Right, right, so it's safe to use, but what about the smell? That strong smell is due in large part to the volatizing nitrogen in the urine as it comes in contact with oxygen. In other words, storing the urine in a hermetically sealed non-corrosive container will greatly limit the odor. Additional steps taken during the application (described below) will further reduce any foul odor.

How much should be applied and what is the best method of applying it? As the quantity of nitrogen in urine varies (as do plant nitrogen requirements), using trial and error with dilution rates and frequency of application is critical. It should be noted, however, that studies conducted by ECHO with corn, okra, and pak choi, indicate that the plants that received a 9:1 water to urine application rate once a week performed the best. Preferably shortly before rainfall, the diluted urine should be poured into 1 to 2 inch furrows and covered with soil shortly thereafter.

For more information about sustainable and sanitary human waste technologies, please visit

For more information about other F2F volunteer assignments, please visit:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Controlling Black Sigatoka in the Dominican Republic

F2F Volunteer Cynthia Ocamb recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to complete an integrated pest management assignment focused specifically on Black Sigatoka. The DR is one of the biggest producers of bananas in the Caribbean and one of the most devastating diseases affecting crops is a leaf spot disease called Black Sigatoka, or black leaf streak. This disease causes significant reductions in leaf area, yield losses of 50% or more, and premature ripening, a serious defect in exported fruit. 

Dr. Ocamb examining leaves for disease
In meetings and field visits with producers and technicians, Dr. Ocamb explained why infected leaves should be removed regularly: “to reduce the leaf area with active infections and suppress subsequent spore production” and showed each producer what the early stages of Black Sigatoka look like and how the spores travel via water from infected leaves to uninfected ones. She also noted that leaf tips (rather than the entire leaf) can be removed if less than 50% of the leaf area is affected by the disease. 

In addition to field visits, Dr. Ocamb also conducted several trainings on recognizing disease symptoms and understanding management strategies for controlling Black Sigatoka – including cultural practices to reduce Black Sigatoka and fungicide applications for Black Sigatoka. Dr. Ocamb suggested that producers carry out weekly monitoring at geo-climatologically different areas in order to accurately time and monitor fungicide treatments and assess sanitary conditions. Regular monitoring and current information are key to stopping the progression of the disease.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Organic Certification from Hawaii to Guatemala

Rincon Grande Farming Operation
F2F volunteer Colehour Bondera recently traveled from his home in Hawaii where he owns and operates a certified organic vegetable farm to complete an assignment in the Central Highlands of Guatemala. Mr. Bondera worked with agribusinesses to clarify the path to organic certification for mixed vegetable and fruit production operations near Antigua and Guatemala City.

In addition to field visits and intensive discussions with host leaders, Mr. Bondera led several interactive workshops covering topics related to organic certification, discussions of the differences between “the ideal and the actual” organic plan, distinctions between production and processing, how to change an existing system, and effective planning.

His recommendations included increasing the use of worm composting for soil and nutrient enrichment; incorporating trees and/or perennials for crop diversification, shade, nutrient access and/or border protection for overall organic system health; and incorporating diversity into the planning and strategizing of organic systems planning. Mr. Bondera also noted that the development of marketing strategies will be key for producers to access international markets – it is currently not economically viable to seek organic certifications solely for local markets. Additionally, Mr. Bondera suggested that producers from Guatemala should visit USDA-certified organic production and processing facilities in Hawaii because producers could learn from their shared experiences. Although this suggestion does not fall under the scope of the Farmer-to-Farmer program, perhaps there will be a future opportunities for that type of exchange!
Group working together during one of the workshops

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Innovation-Decision Process in Action

Whether it’s facilitating capacity building workshops on agricultural production, processing, marketing, or another theme, a large part of the F2F program, in a sense, is about the diffusion of innovations. For this discussion, innovation is defined as an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other entity. Often times when a F2F volunteer gives a recommendation to a F2F host, the volunteer is encouraging the adoption of a particular innovation. While the process may seem fairly straight forward – volunteer gives a recommendation and the host implements it – the actual adoption of that recommendation is a multistage progression often referred to as the Innovation-Decision Process (a model developed by rural sociology professor Dr. Everertt Rogers). 
Rogers' Innovation-Decision Process Model
So how does this process look applied? Let’s take a look at how the Innovation-Decision Process progressed as a result of Bill Knox’s F2F assignment with the Center for Goat Production in the Altiplano of Guatemala (CEPROCAL).

Stage 1: KnowledgeWhen the individual is made aware of the innovation and has a basic understanding of how it works. 

Improved goats bred at CEPROCAL
Leaders and extension agents at CEPROCAL heard about the potential benefits of improving goat breeds in Guatemala using artificial insemination. F2F Guatemala field officers worked with CEPROCAL to develop a scope of work to bring down a goat artificial insemination expert and learn more about the process and benefits.

 Stage 2: PersuasionWhen the individual forms a favorable (or unfavorable) attitude toward the innovation.

In July 2014, Bill Knox traveled with Partners’ F2F Guatemala program to conduct hands-on artificial insemination – he used the goat semen of improved breeds that was shipped down from the United States – workshops with technicians at CEPROCAL. CEPROCAL staff was delighted with Bill’s work over the two weeks and excited about the potential benefits of artificial insemination and improved goat breeds.

Bill Knox examines samples in October 2015
 Stage 3: Decision – When the individual decides to adopt or reject the innovation.

Five months later the improved breeds were born. Upon maturity, those goats began producing 3 liters of milk/day compared to the 0.5 liters of milk/day of traditional goats. Seeing the actual benefits of artificial insemination and the use of improved goat breeds, CEPROCAL staff decided to adopt the innovation. F2F Guatemala field officers worked with CEPROCAL to develop a scope of work to bring Bill back to Guatemala in October 2015 to reinforce the artificial insemination practices that he taught and teach them how to collect and store goat semen for future breeding programs.

Stage 4: Implementation – When the individual actually puts the innovation into practice

CEPROCAL field agents continue to use artificial insemination to develop Guatemalan goats with superior genetics. As the original semen samples are used up, CEPROCAL field agents are collecting and storing semen from the improved breeds for future artificial insemination.

Stage 5: Confirmation – When the individual seeks reaffirmation about the decision that has been made and either continues with or reverses the decision.

As new improved goats are born and begin producing milk, confirmation of the decision will occur. CEPROCAL will either continue or halt the breeding program.

Stay tuned to hear about CEPROCAL's innovation-decision and the impact it has on their center and rural families throughout the region!