Friday, October 28, 2016

Country Program Highlight: Guatemala Farmer-to-Farmer Program

By: José Cano, Guatemala Farmer-to-Farmer Country Coordinator

As Partners reaches the halfway point of its 2013-2018 Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, our staff are reviewing and analyzing program data and reflecting on the program so far. Below, José Cano, the Country Coordinator for the Guatemala F2F program, shares highlights and information on what the program has been able to accomplish so far in Guatemala.

F2F Country Coordinator, José Cano, presenting the
F2F program to a women's group
To keep advancing Guatemala´s development we have to answer three basic questions: 1) What do we have? 2) What do we want? and 3) How do we accomplish the results we want to see? The Farmer-to-Farmer program is playing an important role in strengthening rural development in Guatemala by upgrading capacity building, supporting rural value chains with high potential for impact, focusing on gender, and facilitating strategic alliances with public, academic, private, and international cooperation.

F2F volunteer, Beth Sastre Flores, meeting with apple producers during her
Since the beginning of F2F in Guatemala back in May 2014, we have focused on training farmers, women, and youth of a variety of different organizations, such as rural producer associations, small farmers groups, small and medium sized enterprises, cooperatives, and universities. The technical assistance provided by volunteers in Guatemala F2F is based in two main areas: Value-Added Horticulture and Rural Enterprise Development.  

Our Value-added Horticulture Strategy provides producers with knowledge, skills, and appropriate technologies to produce a variety of horticultural crops to sell in local, regional, or international markets or for household consumption. Adding value to horticultural products offers great opportunities for Guatemalan producers, so F2F assists producers and processors in meeting quality and sanitation standards to obtain domestic and international certification. Rural enterprises in Guatemala - from individual households to medium or large operations - are engaged in producing and distributing goods and services. They also play a vital role in poverty reduction and economic development but need improved access to local, urban and regional markets. Therefore, F2F works to promote the products of rural enterprises, identify potential micro-enterprise opportunities, and build capacity in key skills such as business development, market orientation, and leadership. 

F2F volunteer, Wayne Burleson, poses for a photo after his organic compost
In these two and a half years working in Guatemala we have completed over 71 volunteer assignments with 10 partners and 37 host organizations. Through these assignments, we have assisted almost 6,000 beneficiaries. To manage the high demand for volunteer assignments, we work with our hosts and partners to develop Operational Plans. These Operational Plans help us identify each organization's specific needs for technical assistance. Writing a good Operational Plan is crucial for making better assignments and ensuring that each assignment contributes to a greater impact. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation before, during, and after each assignment is also important for our program so we can provide adequate follow-up to the recommendations volunteers make to hosts. 

We have several success stories that show the impact F2F is having in Guatemala´s rural areas and on local associations, cooperatives, small farmers groups, and the other organizations with which we work. To learn more about the impact of the F2F Guatemala program, please see our Success Stories page found on the Partners' website here. You can also visit the Guatemala F2F Facebook page here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Digital Marketing in Colombia

Digital Marketing is one way that entrepreneurs and producers across the globe can reach new markets and increase sales. But what is digital marketing and how can a small Colombian business use it to maximize the number of people who come across its brand? These are the questions that Zen Naturals was asking itself.

Zen Naturals is a natural cosmetic manufacturing company based in Cali, Colombia. Zen Naturals develops natural cosmetics made from exotic ingredients from Colombia’s outstanding biodiversity. Through ethical manufacturing and fair trade practices, they are also taking a leadership role in re-investing in the communities that grow the ingredients used in their products. Currently, Zen Naturals supports more than 95 Colombian quinoa farming communities through Fair-Trade Practices and technical assistance on their production.

Zen Naturals is preparing to launch their quinoa facial care products in Whole Foods Markets in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. in 2017. As U.S. retail business is unexplored territory for the company, they reached out to Partners of the Americas' Farmer-to-Farmer program to request a digital marketing specialist to assist them in properly promoting and positioning their brand for the U.S. market.

In July 2016, F2F volunteer Nicole Opie, who has over 20 years of experience working in marketing, traveled to Cali, Colombia to work with Zen Naturals on their digital marketing strategies. “In just over two weeks,” Ms. Opie shared, “we were able to cover digital marketing in general and in great detail. We successfully completed tutorials for all of the major social media channels which had to also be translated into Spanish in real time. . . We also had classes and practiced continuity marketing: content marketing that actually leverages audience interaction in one channel to generate content for other channels.”

Zen Naturals website home page

Zen Naturals's new Facebook page
Some key tools for digital marketing are website, social media, and email outreach. So, Ms. Opie also helped Zen Naturals develop and refine their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google My Business and Bing for Business pages. She trained the Zen Naturals staff on how to ensure that the image shared on digital marketing matches Zue's business model, goals and resources. Ms. Opie said, “This was all facilitated by the fact that [Zen Naturals] is an avid user of social media, and they had done their homework. They were well aware of the terminology, the acronyms, the differences and the likenesses of the channels. They were always prepared with questions and eager to ask for examples. All in all, they were great students.”

As a result of Ms. Opie's work, Zen Naturals now has a new and improved website as well as several new social media accounts. Zen Naturals continues to work on optimizing the navigation, font sizes, email capture, and social plugins of their different social media accounts. They also have started to discuss how often they should post and what type of content they will share to interact with their audiences. Ms. Opie discussed content management with the team at Zen Naturals at length and the importance of monitoring and analyzing what is published. Through their new digital market strategies, Zen Naturals hopes to be able to start building a relationship with its clients and further telling the world about the amazing products they are creating and the wonderful work they are doing to support Colombian communities.

Visit Zen Naturals' website here:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Leading High-Quality Calves to Markets

As Partners reaches the halfway point of its 2013-2018 Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, our staff are reviewing and analyzing program data and reflecting on the program so far. Below, we take a closer look at the Calf Quality Improvement Program, a partnership between F2F Nicaragua, CONAGAN, and CANICARNE. 

The European and US markets are interested in importing high-quality beef from Nicaragua. In order for Nicaragua livestock industries to take advantage of these opportunities, they need to ensure that best agricultural practices are in place throughout the livestock value chain. Partners of the Americas’ F2F program is ideally situated to play a leading role in these efforts given the long history of collaborating with partners across the livestock value chain by facilitating the transfer of technical assistance that contributes to the adoption of good agricultural practices. The Livestock and Dairy project strategy aims to build the capacity of Nicaragua’s livestock producers, processors, and marketers in the area of agro-enterprise development in order to improve their competitiveness in the domestic and international dairy and beef markets.

Two of the key partners in this strategy are the Nicaraguan Chamber of Beef Exporting
Plants (CANICARNE), a non-profit association composed of four slaughterhouses exporting beef products, and the National Livestock Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN), a non-profit organization supporting livestock producers. Together, F2F and these national cattle organizations have created the Calf Quality Improvement Program to help develop and promote a brand that guarantees good agricultural practices of grass-fed beef and dairy farms, which enables producers to sell their raw materials with added value to the industry. By providing training and helping producers to obtain certifications, F2F links producers and their value-added products to international markets.

For years, F2F has been a leader in providing technical assistance to small and medium-sized grass-fed beef and dairy farms in Nicaragua. In the past, F2F facilitated expert volunteer assignments to assist with the production side of the livestock industry. During the current 2013-2018 program, F2F is building off of the success of the production volunteer assignments by taking an integrated, systematic approach that brought together various actors across the livestock value chain to address the key factors to achieving best practices grass-fed beef and dairy farms. In the words of Nicaragua F2F field officer Elisa Estrada, “If we want quality meat, then we need heathy calves. If we want healthy calves, then we need good livestock practices. If we want good livestock practices then we need technical assistance and incentives.”

Doussou Traore, a volunteer who visited Nicaragua in October of 2014, recommended that CANICARNE organize and hold an inter-professional consultation/meeting to address finance and required inputs constraints (e.g. better breeds, feeding formula, cost comparisons, cost of production analysis). All main stakeholders should be involved in these meetings (e.g. direct market participants, service, policy makers). With the support of several other F2F volunteers, CANICARNE implemented this recommendation and created a commission to explore creating a brand for the Nicaraguan beef in order to access to niche markets and better opportunities for the cattlemen. F2F helped organize this commission and after a year of meeting, they decided to launch a “Calf Quality” Pilot Program. Many of the practices that this pilot program is based on come from F2F volunteer recommendations. For example, Ashley Conway visited Nicaragua in April 2015 and recommended that farmers increase their feeding adjustment period from 3 days to a minimum of 5 days, with first diet step-up being 30-40% of final ration. After another 5 days, she recommended they increase to 75%, and another 5 days before moving to 100% of final ration. This specific recommendation has been adopted by CANICARNE and is now used as the good feeding practice for the Calf Quality pilot program.

The main objective of the Calf Quality Pilot Program is for a calf to gain 220 kilos in the first year. In order to achieve these weight gains, producers sign a contract with a slaughterhouse that stipulates a number of best practices including: 1) giving the calf milk the first month as opposed to selling that milk, 2) castrating the calf, and 3) after milking for a month, giving the calf a concentrate. If the calf reaches 220 kilos, at the feedlot they are expected to reach 400 kilos after 120 days (which is faster than other methods). When the producer sells the calf at 200-220 kilos, they receive the market price of the calf plus an additional 8% as an incentive. The program also offers an advance of 3,000 cordobas or about $100 US dollars without interest or any kind of guarantee. In Nicaragua, there are no banks or creditors that would offer a similar advance.

As of late July of 2016, the Calf Quality Pilot Program had enrolled 30 producers with a total of 40 calves. All of these producers have signed a contract with the slaughterhouses and some have already delivered their first calves at the target weight of 220 kilos. In addition to the market price they receive from the slaughterhouse, those producers have also received, on average, $15,600 cordobas or about $540 US dollars in incentives. The pilot program is still in its infancy, but early results are promising. One of the most tangible outcomes is the economic incentive that the producers are receiving. There is now a premium paid for quality meat that did not exist before. The premium is small at the moment but plans are under way for it to increase as the program expands. The formalization of production system through the contract indicates that the producers are adopting best practices and the potential exists to transfer those practices to other producers. Another emerging outcome of the pilot program is the positive relationship between producers and the slaughterhouses, which has not always existed. Finally, the pilot program has led to the creation of a new fertility service program in CONAGAN.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Host Profile: the ATD Coffee Cooperative in Haiti

Haiti is re-emerging on the international coffee scene and is being led by some innovative and forward-thinking coffee producers. These producers are not just growing and selling great coffee, but they are reforesting the country and developing rural enterprise as they go.

Political instability and failed development efforts are part of the story of Haiti’s decline on the international coffee market. But that did not stop Makouti Agro Enterprise from working as a backbone organization to fill the gaps and reboot the coffee industry. Makouti, a local Haitian-led host organization and partner organization of the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, has been working with producers in northern Haiti and one of their coffee field technicians was Jean Jacques (Jacquelin) Lucas. Jacquelin, who has over fifteen years of experience as an expert producer, along with Benito Jasmin, Makouti founder and F2F country coordinator, had the vision to create a coffee cooperative that would leverage the strengths of many smaller producers toward a fully-functioning rural enterprise. Jacquelin believes: “Each producer has his own strengths…. it might be high elevation coffee, or a lower-humid place for drying… together we can take care of all our needs.”

Out of this vision grew the Association des Travailleurs de Dondon (ATD), a thriving, young, coffee cooperative that is leading the charge in this region’s resurgence. As they head into their third harvest season, founding director Jacquelin Lucas takes time to reflect on where they’ve been and where they are going:

“It first starts with Myriam [Kaplan-Pasternak], a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, who helped us see that it was not a waste of time to focus on increasing the value of Haitian coffee. She’s been involved with many aspects of our business, from seedling production to processing to cupping. There are not enough words to describe Myriam’s influence on our effort and success.”

Myriam, who owns and operates Haiti Coffee Inc. (a US-based export/import company), has been a key influence in the launch and ongoing development of ATD. Myriam had been working with Jacquelin in his role as a field technician for Makouti and supported him in the creation of the cooperative. In the beginning, Jacquelin needed to educate the producers on quality standards for the international market. Thanks to F2F and volunteers like Myriam, he was able to teach other producers how to assess and meet quality standards at every step of the process. In addition to providing training and technical assistance, Myriam, through her role with Haiti Coffee, invested financially and emotionally in the success of the effort.

Today ATD is successfully competing in the international market. They have a contract with Haiti Coffee for the US market and are in negotiations with Vasco International, a Chinese company and potential buyer. Part of what has led to ATD’s rapid success has been the way they do business. They are singularly focused on quality and quality improvement as a core operating value. They apply a ‘quality lens’ at each point on the value chain and provide services to help their producers. For example, when producers bring their cherries (green beans) to sell, ATD does an initial sort on quality. They have visual tools to help educate producers about standards. They’ll pay 40-50% upfront to help bridge costs, and have other services such as de-pulping, drying and marketing, in addition to this credit function. Within the past two years, ATD has gone from 80,160 Haitian Gourdes ($1,781) in gross sales to 850,000 Haitian Gourdes ($13,077), and their coffee, is now consistently ranked 82 on the international ranking system. Dramatic improvements in quality bode well for the future. On the gender and environmental fronts, of its 200 members, 80 are women, and in 2015 their nursery had 14,000 seedlings of coffee and 5,000 seedlings of cacao.

When asked what has contributed to ATD’s success, Jacquelin said it works like a family; everyone works together. To be a member of ATD, there are rules that producers must agree to: they must agree to be trained by the cooperative, and must live in the community. Other values are reflected in their vision which focus on well-being of community, environment and of course superior quality coffee. Since inception, ATD has been supported by seven F2F volunteers, each building on the work of the previous volunteers.

When talking about the future, Jacquelin’s focus on quality shines through:

“There are several areas we need to improve on but the ultimate goal is getting to “gold”… the d’Oro status of a 90 score or higher on the international market. But even if we arrive there, we can still improve.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How Coffee Farmers Are Being Left Out of the 'Local' Coffee Movement Around the World

By Rebecca Roebber, Marketing Director at indi chocolate and F2F volunteer

Kishé coffee has some of the best coffee in the world, grown at high altitude in rich volcanic soil by a majority of women farmers. They go above and beyond to meet international consumer demand by paying for their coffee to be certified Fair-Trade, Organic and Kosher. (Yes, these are expenses that farmers pay to third party entities.) They roast their beans in Xela, Guatemala and sell green beans internationally. They also sub contract work to a roaster in LA who fulfills any roasted coffee orders within the United States.  The goal is to eventually sell the majority of their coffee as roasted coffee beans in the United States, however, competing with the ‘local’ coffee movement has proven to be a challenge.

Why does a cooperative of farmers, with some of the highest quality coffee beans in the world have trouble selling their roasted coffee beans?

I live in Seattle, home of Starbucks and a coffee roaster on every block. The coffee culture and competition is fierce and having a local presence is crucial. Coffee does not grow in Seattle or within any part of the continental United States, however the term ‘local coffee’ is used everywhere. Even if the coffee is locally roasted it is not like a tomato or an apple that can be locally grown.

The challenge becomes; how can a cooperative based in Guatemala, where coffee  grows, compete with coffee companies that roast locally in the United States? I had the opportunity to work with Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer Program - a USAID-funded program - and the Kishé team for two weeks developing a marketing plan.  We evaluated marketing techniques and analyzed strategies that competitors are using to be able to compete on a global level. What I realized is that there are hardly any other cooperative owned coffee companies out there, which means educating the consumer about what Farmer-Owned Coffee is becomes a priority.

I believe that educating the consumer in any industry is fundamental to creating momentum and loyalty behind any brand.

I work full time as the Marketing Director at indi chocolate, located in Pike Place Market. We make bean-to-bar chocolate. Everyday people from all over the world come into the store and have never even thought about where chocolate comes from, how it is grown, or the process of how cacao is made into chocolate, but everyone is curious.  When they learn that we work directly with farmers, that we are using high quality cacao beans, and we are doing it all in small batches, they understand the value of the chocolate we are making.

Kishé has the disadvantage of not having a permanent location, but with tools like the internet we as consumers can become more informed and keep in touch with Kishé through their website and other social media platforms. In fact, it is very important to Kishé coffee to be transparent in their practices so that even if the consumer cannot come to their coffee shop or to one of their coffee farms they know that the Kishé practices are the best for farmers, for the environment and for the people drinking their coffee.

I’ve visited coffee farms and met coffee farmers before throughout South and Central America and although they grew some of the best coffee in the world we would sit around drinking Nescafé, because they couldn’t afford to drink their own coffee. At the Kishé cooperative there was a tradition of starting the day out with a French press full of freshly roasted and ground coffee, occasionally we would stop what we were doing and everyone would participate in a coffee cupping. They are passionate about growing and roasting the best tasting coffee. They encourage one another and anyone else who comes to visit to be educated about the whole process.

Kishé coffee is community in a cup!