Tuesday, November 29, 2016

This #GivingTuesday, Make a Donation that Counts!

Dear F2F volunteers, blog readers, and friends:

This Giving Tuesday, make a donation to support a unique opportunity for our Guatemala Farmer-to-Farmer field officer, Andrea Fión!

Many of you have come to know Andrea Fión, one of our outstanding field officers for Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in Guatemala. Andrea has been a field officer for F2F for 2 ½ years. In February 2016, Andrea accompanied two F2F volunteers as they completed their assignment to train aloe vera producers in integrated pest management and production. They were so inspired by her intellect, motivation, and hard work that upon returning to the US, they kept in touch and sent her information on presentation opportunities at various conferences throughout the US. 

With the help of several former F2F volunteers to Guatemala and one F2F volunteer to Ghana, we were able to submit an abstract to present on “University Extension educators responding to international emerging issues” at the Joint Council of Extension Professionals (JCEP) Leadership Conference in Orlando in February 2017. Andrea was specifically asked to present on the benefits of international engagement on addressing issues of global concern and to share her experience on the changes she has seen in her community as she works with extension agents through the F2F program.

Partners supports the professional development of our field staff and we are excited to help support Andrea's fundraising efforts - click here to donate100% of the proceeds will go towards covering the costs for Andrea and one representative from Partners of the Americas to attend the conference. 

Thank you for your support!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving from Partners of the Americas' Ag and Food Security Team!

Dear blog readers, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers, and friends:

On behalf of Partners of the Americas' Agriculture and Food Security Team and our field staff throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, we would like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for continuing to read our blog, staying up to date on our work, and volunteering with our program. Our Farmer-to-Farmer program would not be a success without you! 

Here are some special notes of thanks from around the world:

F2F field staff say thank you in different Mayan dialects
"Thank you for your support" from banana producers in the Dominican Republic

"Greetings from Nicaragua! Thank you for your support" - a postcard created
by the F2F Nicaragua field staff

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Seasonal Guide for Beekpeeing on Banana Plantations of Hispaniola

Through the Farmer-to-Farmer program, Partners of the Americas has supported beekeepers and honey producers in several countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In October 2016, F2F volunteer Mark Moore traveled to the northwest region of the Dominican Republic to provide hands-on training to banana producers on the development and implementation of apiculture projects for honey production. During the process, he developed a guide to help beekeepers address the specific challenges of keeping bees year-round. Here are some highlights from his guide:

December - February

During the winter months, Mr. Moore suggests the trick is to keep bees in a state of production so they are ready to make honey as early as possible. He also said to build entrance reducers to not only help keep the hive warm, but to prevent neighboring bees from robbing the hive. Mr. Moore ecxplains that as colonies get weak in the winter, stronger neighbors sometimes take advantage of other hives. Mr. Moore also said 2-3 weak colonies can be united or joined to make one strong colony. Finally, Mr. Moore suggests to keep a seasonal calendar to track when honey flow occurs as it may vary from year to year.

March - July

In March - July, there is a lot of nectar and pollen available and peak honey flow should happend during this time period. This makes it possible to split one stronger hive into two in order to increase the number of colonies. In order to do so, Mr. Moore recommends taking the new hive at least 3-4 km away from the original hive to prevent the bees from returning to their original hive. March through July is also a good time for queen production. Important traits of a good queen include: 1) being a good layer, 2) temperament, and 3) low inclination to swarm. Mr. Moore explains that about 2/3 of bees are lost when they swarm. Therefore, in order to prevent swarms, producers should make sure the brood chamber is not over-crowded and check on colonies at least once a week.

August - November

During this time period, Mr. Moore emphasizes the importance of treating hives for Varroa mites and other pests. He suggests that autumn is the best time to treat hives. He also suggests examining hives on a weekly basis to check for pollen supply, bee population, and condition of the queen and brood. A method to inspect the hive is detailed in the below photo:

For more information on our work in apiculture, please see our other blog posts on beekeeping here: http://farmertofarmer.blogspot.com/search/label/beekeeping

Friday, November 18, 2016

Field Officer Highlight: Abraham Jarquin

Every now and then, we like to feature members of our team from around the world on our blog. Below is a short interview with Abraham Jarquin, one of our outstanding field officers in Guatemala, who talks about the role of being a field officer for the Farmer-to-Farmer program.

How long have you been working for the Farmer-to-Farmer program?

Inicie a trabajar con Farmer-to-Farmer, el 1ro de junio del 2014, a la fecha tengo casi 3 años trabajando. 

I started to work with Farmer-to-Farmer on June 1, 2014. Today, I have almost three years of working for the program. 

Abraham with field officer, Andrea, at a goat center in Nebaj

What is your background and what drew you to work for the Farmer-to-Farmer program?

Soy ingeniero agronomo, cuento con 2 maestrias; maestria en estadistica avanzada y maestria en manejo de empresas agricolas. Inicie a trabajar en este program por que me parecio una buena oportunidad para poder aprender y desarrollar nuevas tecnicas.

I'm an agricultural engineer with two Master's Degrees: a Master's in Advanced Statistics and a Master's in Agro-Enterprise Management. I started to work for this program because it seemed like a good opportunity to be able to learn and develop new skills.

What do you enjoy most about working for the Farmer-to-Farmer program?

Sin duda lo que mas disfruto de trabajar en este programa, es la oportunidad de poder conocer gente de distintos estados, con diferentes formas de pensar y ademas con diferentes experiencias. Aprendes mucho de cada uno de ellos.

Without a doubt what I enjoy the most about working for this program is the opportunity to be able to get to know people from different parts of the world, with different ways of thinking and different experiences. You learn a lot from every single one of them [F2F volunteers].

Abraham helping translate for F2F volunteer, Wayne Burleson (right)

How do you envision your country developing/changing over the years and what role do you want to play in that change?

Nuestro pais posee muchos problemas (salud, economia, narcotrafico, violencia entre otras), con el pasar de los años algunas de estas situaciones han ido mejorando y otras han ido empeorando. Con programas como Farmer-to-Farmer, estamos dando la oportunidad a los agricultores, pequeñas y medianas empresas de poder adquirir nuevo conocimiento y de esta manera poder avanzar y crecer. Todo esto contribuira en la generacion de mas empleo y mayores ganancias. 

Our country has many problems (health, the economy, drug trafficking, violence, and others). As years have passed, some of these situations have been improving and others have been getting worse. With programs like Farmer-to-Farmer, we are giving opportunities to farmers and small and medium businesses to be able to gain new knowledge in order to advance and grow. This all contributes to the generation of more employment and better gains.

What changes have you seen among the host organizations you work with due to the Farmer-to-Farmer program?

A lo largo de estos casi 3 años, hemos podido observar como algunas organizaciones han logrado crecer como empresa, adquiriendo nuevos conocimientos, generando empleo, adquiriendo mejores resultados de rendimiento y de ganancia economica. 

During these last three years, we have been able to see how some organizations have been able to grow as a company, gaining new knowledge, generating employment, and showing improved performance results and economic gains.

José Cano the F2F Country Coordinator (middle) with field
officers, Andrea Fión (left) and Abraham Jarquin (right)

Why are field officers important to the success of the Farmer-to-Farmer program?

La importancia de los oficiales de campo en el programa se puede resumir de la siguiente manera:

El oficial de campo es el intermediario entre las organizaciones y los voluntarios. Siempre estamos en constante comunicacion con ambas partes, apoyando en el sitio de trabajo, traduciendo documentos para que las organizaciones puedan entender en su idioma nativo, y apoyando en la logistica de cada asignacion. 

The importance of field officers in the program can be summarized in the following manner:

The field officer is the intermediary between the organizations and the volunteers. We are always in constant communication with both parties, providing support at the work site, translating documents so the organizations can understand them in their native language, and supporting the logistics of each assignment.

Abraham trying some rabbit meat after an F2F volunteer completed
her nutrition and cooking workshop

How has the Farmer-to-Farmer program fulfilled your personal or professional goals?

Ha sido una experiencia fantastica, poder conocer y trabajar junto a personas altamente capacitadas y profesionales, en el que dia a dia uno aprende nuevas herramientas y conocimientos.

It has been a fantastic experience to be able to get to know and work with people with so much knowledge and professionalism. You learn new tools and knowledge every day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

F2F Volunteer, Bryce Malsbary, Helps Haitian Coffee Cooperatives Create Business Plan and Strategic Goals

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers aren’t always farmers or agricultural specialists. Often, some of the host organizations we work with ask for specialists in areas such as business development or marketing. This is the case of Bryce Malsbary’s most recent assignment to Haiti. In October 2016, Mr. Malsbary traveled to Haiti to assist ATD and CACEMUD, two coffee cooperatives, to develop a business plan and identify organizational goals and strategies they felt important to pursue. Mr. Malsbary has over 36 years of experience in Human Resource Management and serves as an international business consultant. He is a Farmer-to-Farmer veteran, having completed over 25 international assignments that have focused on improving business operations of agricultural cooperatives, developing best practices in board and management operations, strategic planning, and conflict resolution. See more information on Mr. Malsbary’s most recent F2F assignment below.

Adapted from the trip report of Bryce Malsbary


Coffee co-op member shows off his newly harvested coffee beans
Per capita income in Haiti is less than $900.  At one point in time prior to the 1950’s, Haiti was the third largest coffee producer in the world. Haiti coffee production continued to decline since then as a result of political instability, plant disease, and environmental factors.  Partners of Americas and USAID are implementing F2F development projects in an effort to strengthen coffee cooperative capacity and revive the Haiti coffee industry.
ATD and CACEMUD are two coffee cooperatives created in 2012. Both cooperatives have very similar issues, primarily lack of capital to buy member production and limited member production capacity to meet the market demand for green coffee. CACEMUD has had difficulty over the last 3 years and, in 2014, was not able to buy or sell any member produce. ATD has shown steady growth over the last 4 years and projections indicate that both production yield and sales profits will increase at a steady rate through 2020. However, the challenge for both of these cooperatives will be how to generate additional capital and improve coffee production yield.

This F2F assignment is to focus on developing a business plan and identifying some tangible and achievable strategies which will provide some direction where CACEMUD and ATD can measure performance toward goal achievement. The purpose of developing a business plan and identifying some strategies is to advance CACEMUD and ATD to the next level of performance. This document will be used as an introduction to improve financing possibilities and acquaint prospective buyers with each cooperatives’ quality product, their projected production yield, and anticipated growth potential.


Upon my arrival to Cap Haitian on Sunday October 23, meetings were schedule with both CACEMUD and ATD coffee cooperatives for the next two weeks of my assignment. The first two meetings with both of these groups were with at least 3 board members in a meeting room in the hotel where I was staying. During the meetings, we discussed some of the major challenges each cooperative faced and reviewed the objectives of my assignment. We also agreed to draft a mission, vision and conducted a SWOT analysis to get a better idea of the cooperatives current status with regard to strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The mission, vision and the results of the SWOT analysis were drafted by the volunteer utilizing the input obtained from the board discussions. Once drafted, however, a meeting with the cooperative members was scheduled for both cooperatives to review and allow feedback and input.

F2F volunteer Bryce Malsbarry (right), reviews with revenue records with
cooperative members
I also travelled to Dondon where the two cooperatives were located and visited their existing facilities and some of the seedling areas. There, I reviewed with the hosts a second draft of the mission, vision, and SWOT analysis and began collecting data to build their business plan. We also identified 5 goals that the board wanted to achieve over the next several years.  During the final week of the assignment, we held focus group member meetings where we reviewed the mission, vision, SWOT results and discussed cooperative components, the benefits of a cooperative, developed the member values for each cooperative, and obtained member concurrence that the goals identified by the board were reasonable and achievable.  The agenda for the focus groups also included some training and discussion on the components and benefits of an agriculture cooperative, board of directors and member responsibilities, and a review of why cooperatives succeed or fail.   

A meaningful business plan was developed that both cooperatives can utilize to establish financial relationship with lending institutions and instill confidence that each co-op is operating effectively and efficiently.  Also the goals each co-op has identified can be achieved if they follow the format outline I discussed with them. 

Personal Reflection

On his assignment, Bryce says, “I enjoyed this assignment and am appreciative of Stessy [the F2F field officer] and Benito’s [the F2F Country Coordinator] guidance and historical perspective to help me better understand some of the issues not only facing the two cooperatives but Haiti in general.  The farmers face many challenges but have a determination that I believe will advance them forward into a higher coffee producing nation as they have been in years past.”

Thursday, November 10, 2016

10 Fun Facts about Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer Progam

Partners of the Americas has been implementing the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program for over 25 years, making it one of our longest standing programs in the history of our organization. There are several organizations that manage the F2F program throughout the world. Historically, Partners has been in charge of the F2F program in Latin America and the Caribbean. Here are some other fun facts about our program:

1. We have completed over 283 volunteer assignments
During this funding cycle (October 2013 - September 2018), we have recruited for and filled over 283 volunteer assignments to our four core countries and eight Flex countries. Our goal is to fill 540 assignments by the end of the program.

F2F volunteer Bill Nichols in the Dominican Republic
2. We work with 139 host organizations throughout Latin America
Host organizations are cooperatives, associations, farmers groups, small businesses, public and private education institutions, public sector agencies, and individual private farmers that request and receive Farmer-to-Farmer technical assistance. We work with 29 host organizations in Haiti, 37 in Guatemala, 18 in the DR, 23 in Nicaragua, and 32 in other Flex (non-core) countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

3. Aside from our core countries, we have also sent volunteers to Flex countries in: Bahamas, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama, and Paraguay
The F2F Flex program allows us to respond to USAID Mission requests and/or requests for volunteer assistance that fall outside of our core countries or core country projects. Through the Flex program, we are able to support a wide range of activities including ongoing activities of past F2F programs, other programs supported by Partners, and small independent projects that seek to improve agricultural development or food security throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

F2F volunteer Carmen Pacheco-Borden leads a tomato processing workshop in Panama

F2F volunteer Tom Hebert leading a training on top bar hive management in Jamaica

4. A total of 842 recommendations have been made to farmers and host organizations
Commonly referred to as the "currency" of our program, F2F volunteers leave specific, measurable, practical, and environmentally conscious recommendations for host organizations to take the next steps towards achieving their goals. Often, these recommendations lead host organizations to request further Farmer-to-Farmer technical assistance. At the end of the program, we measure the number of recommendations that have been adopted by each host organization as the main indication of program impact and change.

5. Our program has the potential to benefit over 627,000 beneficiaries
One of the USAID indicators we measure is the number of individuals who could potentially be influenced directly, or as a direct result, of the F2F program. This includes clients and suppliers, employees, and family members. As you can see, our F2F program has great potential for the spread of benefits and impact in surrounding communities and households!

Community members in Haiti after an F2F training
6. Many of our volunteers stay involved much longer after their assignments
A highlight of our F2F program is the relationships and connections that are built and maintained even after an assignment has ended. In Colombia, three of the F2F volunteers that worked with Zen Naturals, a small eco-cosmetic company, later joined the Board of Directors of the company and continue to advise the staff today. In Haiti, an F2F volunteer assisted a Haitian coffee business to conduct a study on the feasibility of connecting producers to U.S. markets. This volunteer, in collaboration with the host, then went on to develop a small agribusiness called HaitiCoffee.com, Inc. In its first year of business, Haiti Coffee imported 11,000 pounds of coffee to the U.S., and coffee bean sales have positively impacted the lives of over 3,000 farmer families in Haiti. Partners is a regular customer of Haiti Coffee, it is what we serve in our office!

Coffee producers sorting coffee beans in Haiti
7. Our Nicaragua F2F program helped to create the first ever value-added beef brand
F2F volunteers helped organize a national commission in Nicaragua that launched a "Calf Quality" pilot program. Producers who participate in this program are required to follow specific best practices for the care and feeding of calves in order to improve the health of the calves and quality of the meat. As a result of this program, there is now a premium paid for high quality meat, the first of its kind in the country. This pilot program is also helping to improve the brand of Nicaraguan beef and increase access for farmers to niche value-added markets.

F2F volunteer George Roemer showing how to properly feed a calf
8. Our Guatemala F2F program sponsored the first ever training on goat artificial insemination
Guatemala has one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the Americas, particularly in the Western Highlands. Goat milk is an important tool to combat child malnutrition in the region. In 2014, F2F volunteer Bill Knox trained almost 100 producers, technicians, and veterinary students in two methods for artificial goat insemination. This technology is important because it allows technicians to travel to very rural and hard-to-reach areas of the country to increase the goat population and also introduces improved genetics into Guatemalan goat herds. After the training, Mr. Knox was told that there had never been a training like this before in the country. 

Offspring from Bill Knox's training on artificial goat insemination
9. Our DR program was one of the first to focus on climate change
While other F2F programs may have some focus on climate change or climate-smart agriculture, our country strategy in the DR was the first to focus solely on climate change rather than on a specific agriculture sector or value chain. This is good because we found that 100% of banana producers we surveyed are affected by drought, and the majority also report being greatly affected by floods and heavy wind.

Damaged banana trees after a heavy wind storm
Flooded fields on the north coast of the DR
10. We have been implementing the Farmer-to-Farmer program in Haiti for two straight decades! 
Partners has been continuously implementing F2F in Haiti since 1996. Although we have been implementing the F2F program in Nicaragua since 1991, we took a hiatus from working there from 2003-2008. This means Haiti is our longest continuous F2F program.

Learn more about our Farmer-to-Farmer program by visiting our website here: http://partners.net/farmer-farmer

Monday, November 7, 2016

Our Blog is Awarded in the Top 50 Agriculture Blogs for Agriculturists and Farmers!

We are #38!

Thank you Feedspot.com for ranking Partners of the Americas' "Cultivating Change: Agriculture and Food Security Blog" as one of the top 50 Agriculture Blog Winners!

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.