Friday, April 21, 2017

Food Challenges for the Americas - A Review of IFPRI's 2017 Global Policy Report

Highlights from IFRPI’s 2017 Food Policy report: Part 2

The effects of Climate Change, Violence, and Inequality and how Agricultural R&D expenditures and better trade policies can help

Nicaragua's Dry Corridor was especially hit by El Niño last year 
Some parts below are paraphrased from the report. Here's the original link to the report:

Read the first part of our reflections on the IFRPI’s report here:

In our recent reflection of  IFPRI’s 2017 Global Food Policy Report, we discussed major themes of the urban-rural divide and the changing diets that are evolving in urban centers. We connected these issues with poverty in countries where this divide is most prominent and focused in on Latin America in particular. In the second part of this reflection, we will discuss the challenges affecting the LAC region, which include issues such as climate change impacts, research and development expenditures, and total food productivity.

For many Latin Americans, there has been a great deal of socioeconomic progress made in the last few decades. Between 2002 and 2013, 60 million people in the region escaped poverty. Despite these improvements, the LAC region remains the most unequal region in the world. For the past three years, the poverty rate has stayed stubbornly at around 28% of the population, according to household surveys collated by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Furthermore, inequality is pervasive. A measurement for inequality is known as the GINI coefficient. This measurement detects where the most pronounced differences occur between the wealthy and the poor. The average Gini coefficient for Latin American countries sat around 0.51. This high score was even higher than Sub-Saharan Africa with a Gini score of 0.47. This means that LAC countries are experiencing growth in very concentrated sectors of their economies, whereas in Africa the significance of the growth that has occurred is slightly more nuanced.

A ramification for this degree of wealth inequality is the urban poverty that affects many of region's cities. Urban centers in Latin America and the Caribbean are among those most affected by violence and crime, apart from countries at war. Measured by homicides per 100,000 individuals, the 8 most dangerous cities in the world and 42 of the top 50 are in Latin America. Until urban poverty can be helped through more job opportunities, cities will be impaired in their ability to serve their citizens.

IFPRI: Data on this map shows the inequality present throughout Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Conflicts in some countries are prolonging agricultural economic growth as well. For example, even while in Colombia there’s been steady growth of the agriculture sector at a steady pace of about 2–3% annually, there have been constraints by the presence of armed groups. As the government’s peace agreement with the FARC is implemented, Colombia’s agricultural area could expand, with the prospect of rural development and private investment in areas controlled by these armed factions.

In addition, intense weather patterns from El Niño continued the drought from Central America in 2015 through early 2016. A region particularly impacted by the climatic changes is known as the Dry Corridor, a semi-arid region covering nearly one-third of Central America, primarily in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The productivity of nearly 3.5 million agriculturalists was affected. In particular, the weather patterns affected the growers who export crops like coffee and staple crops like maize and pulses. Subsistence farmers in the Dry Corridor were also affected, and a country like Honduras could have nearly lost 80% of its maize. Currently, El Niño is tapering off as it transitions to La Niña, a climate pattern that brings excessive rains, which lead to land erosion, floods, and powerful tropical storms. Due to the international prices of key staple foods being reduced, from the increased worldwide flow of agricultural goods, the hunger that El Niño could have caused was reduced, through affordable food imports for the countries’ most affected populations. 
See the info-graphic below:

Infographic on El Niño weather pattern
Haiti, the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, also experienced extreme drought conditions as a result of El Niño. Half a million people of its 10 million were estimated to be suffering from a lack of food due to decreased production, and inability to pay for imported food. Then last October, Haiti was directly hit by the massive Hurricane Matthew, creating Haiti’s worst humanitarian crisis since the 2010 earthquake. As of late 2016, the population in the southern part of the country was in dire need of medicine, clean water, and food to avoid an even worse humanitarian catastrophe.

El Niño had an impact throughout other countries as well, particularly Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, northern Brazil, and the southern regions of Argentina and Chile, while generating excess rain in parts of Brazil, Peru, and eastern areas of Argentina, with negative impacts on a variety of crops and livestock production.

The increasing frequency of extreme weather events will require substantial investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) and in infrastructure to cope with this changing environment. However, agricultural research investment levels in most low- and middle-income countries still fall well below the minimum target of 1 percent of agricultural gross domestic product recommended by the United Nations. Higher levels of funding are needed to establish and maintain viable agricultural research programs that achieve tangible results.

1) Agricultural R&D Spending + Number of Researchers

Working with a large network of country-level collaborators, Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) conducted surveys to collect primary data and analysis on agricultural R&D investments. After analyzing the data, ASTI publishes information and identifies trends in funding sources, spending levels and allocations. Indicators derived from this information allow the performance, inputs, and outcomes of national agricultural R&D systems to be measured, monitored, and bench-marked, with the ultimate goal of informing and improving decision making. This table shows a breakdown of Latin American investment into agricultural researchers.

Among the countries that Partners of the Americas works with, Nicaragua had 132 researchers, Guatemala had 142, the Dominican Republic had 200, and Colombia had over 1,100. Haiti was not included.  At the global level, per capita agricultural expenditure increased at a rate of 1.9 percent per year between 1980 and 2014.3 Much of the observed growth took place in the last two decades (1995–2014), reversing the decline observed between 1980 and 1994.

IFPRI: This table shows the investment in agricultural research spending and how many researchers each country has recruited. 

2) Agricultural Expenditure by Region

Moreover, tracking public expenditure by national governments allows policy makers and analysts to examine: (1) national policy priorities, as reflected in the allocation of funds, and (2) the cost-effectiveness of public spending both within and across countries. Public expenditure is expenditure incurred by public authorities—including central, state, and local governments, public corporations, and state enterprises—to provide public goods and services or to achieve national development goals. The Statistics of Public Expenditure for Economic Development (SPEED) database, a resource of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), provides data that policy makers, researchers, and other stakeholders can use to examine both historical trends and the allocation of government resources across sectors.

Several regions showed a strong recovery in the most recent period (1995–2014), while others experienced further declines in agricultural spending. This disparity reflects differences in levels of resources, economic performance, demographic shifts, and development priorities.
IFPRI: Latin America and the Carribean lags behind East Asia and the Middle East in the relative percentage of agricultural R&D to agricultural GDP

3) Global Hunger Index 

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) provides a comprehensive measure of hunger at the global level and by country. It allows for tracking progress and setbacks in addressing hunger and malnutrition over time and for assessing the drivers of these changes. The GHI is designed to raise awareness and understanding of regional and country differences in the struggle against hunger and to trigger action to reduce hunger around the world.
Source: World Economic Forum
The GHI scores for East and Southeast Asia, Near East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States range between 7.8 and 12.8, and represent low or moderate levels of hunger. Yet disparities within each region are important to recognize. For example, Haiti has a 2016 GHI score of 36.9, which places it in the alarming category, although Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole is the developing region with the lowest GHI score.

A good first step to fighting hunger is to add more value to domestic producers. This step was taken by nations present at the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference in Nairobi that took place in December 2015, where member countries agreed to ban export subsidies. This benefits agricultural exporting countries from Latin America and Africa. It also benefits those countries which imported food, where some countries experienced a flood of foreign subsidized goods into their domestic markets. It benefits domestic producers most notably. Furthermore, negotiations between MERCOSUR, composed of South American countries, and the European Union are discussing trade issues related to market access, particularly trading off European manufacturing for MERCOSUR agriculture.

MERCOSUR's trade initiative is a good step to benefit LAC farmers

In this article, we've looked at various food and agricultural challenges, and how international NGOs are leveraging their resources to measure the effect of these conflicts on hunger around the world. With a focus on Latin America, more needs to be done when looking to create urban-rural connections. Additionally, resources need to be directed towards R&D and education for agricultural technicians in these countries as climate change impacts the growing patterns of these countries.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Connecting Farmers to City Dwellers - A Review of IFPRI's Global Food Policy Report 2017

Highlights from IFPRI's 2017 Food Policy Report: Part 1

Original link to the report is here:

How hungry is the world today? Are more people suffering from hunger today than 50 years ago? What can be done about the hunger that remains so visible in our world today? Where is work being done, and who can we look to for the best practices in solving this grand problem?

These are questions that the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) recently published Global Food Policy Report 2017 seeks to answer. Its meticulous efforts of gathering data now point to a positive trend! Global Hunger affects now 11 percent, down from 19 percent in 1990. While this is certainly progress, this 770+ million-strong collection of individuals still presents a major challenge to the international humanitarian landscape.

We spent some time reading through the IFPRI's report and wanted to highlight developments relevant to the shared mission of Agriculture and Food Security (AFS) team and USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer’s to ensure that no one goes hungry. In particular, we focused on food and agriculture developments in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. The IFPRI seriously recommends more government investment into agricultural research and development across developing countries. More government support comes in the form of providing better equipment, upgrading food distribution policies, opening markets up to export, and subsidizing small-scale farmers to produce necessary crops and create a self-sufficient micro-businesses

“Climate change is part of the problem and the solution” – Alex De Pinto, IFPRI researcher

Some of the key highlights included progress against child stunting. For example, Peru rapidly reduced its child stunting from 28 percent to 18 percent in the span of four years (2008 to 2012). Another key highlight were the global effects falling prices, driven by new levels of maize and wheat agricultural productivity.

A major objective of the report was to identify urbanization as a major trend in shaping agricultural policy, especially in response to hunger and poverty. 167 countries adopted the New Urban Agenda and a further 132 mayors signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. A further 60 countries committed $75 million towards the International Development Association, part of the World Bank. These alliances were created to address the 90% of the projected urban population growth that is concentrated in Africa and Asia. Latin American countries will only experience a fraction of this, as it is one of the most urbanized regions in the world. However, major challenges remain in the LAC region.

Urbanizing lifestyles have affected the distribution networks for food in Latin America. The report states that:

 “By the mid-2000s, super­markets controlled 30 to 50 percent of the food market in Southeast Asia, Central America, and Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Supermarkets can offer a wide range of fresh produce, dairy prod­ucts, animal-source foods, and a host of processed foods.
Agricultural food networks have broadened within the countries that Partners of the Americas works. For example, recently, a volunteer to the Dominican Republic took inventory of prices of coffee in local markets and in superstores. A supermarket chain now exists in the country, and more effort needs to taken by both the Jarabacoa Cluster of Greenhouses and the government to market the small-scale agriculture community within the domestic markets before considering exportation to the United States.

Distribution networks are essential for both the urban consumer and the rural producer. F2F works with several rural enterprises to help develop their marketing techniques. Read last week’s article about Guatemalan coffee producer FECCEG’s marketing scheme:
Agriculture remains a vital source of employment for many LAC countries:

 “A recent analysis of 15 developing and transitional countries shows enormous variation in the share of urban households that participate in agriculture, ranging from 11 percent in Indonesia to 70 percent in Nicaragua and Vietnam. Still, urban agriculture accounts for only 5 to 15 percent of total agricultural production in the studied countries, and most households consume the food they produce rather than sell it. “
With ever more people living in cities, there is an ever increasing need to improve the connections to the countryside. This includes improved electrification, communication, and infrastructure. Organizations like the Global BrightLight foundation are among the organizations improving electrification. Read about them here:
The FAO estimates the significance that farmers have to the rest of the population. In the 1950s, one farmer was responsible for feeding up to 16 people. Today, due to changing job specializations and urbanization, farmers in some countries are responsible for feeding up to 200 people. Enhancing the linkages between the rural producers and the urban consumers aligns closely with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the mission that the AFS team has. The IFPRI shows this trend in the graphic below.

Key components to these linkages are improved infrastructure. Rural infrastructure is only slowly being improved among the countries that Partners of the Americas works with including  Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic; however, multiple studies show that investment into these projects have demonstrable results on poverty alleviation and supply value chain flows.

Rural infrastructure is improving and rural poverty is declining. Despite these improvements over time, these trends are not reflected in cities. In 2014, 881 million people lived in slums in the developing world, an increase from 689 million in 1990. Urban growth in Latin America will not be fast as in Africa and Asia, as 73 – 82% of the population already is urbanized in most countries; however, urban poverty continues to grow. It remains unchanged at 13%. The emphasis on poverty alleviation in cities is vital. By 2020, 85% or more of Latin American people living in poverty will live in towns and cities, more than the 45% of the poor in Africa and Asia. Even more worrisome, by 2030, the number of slum residents in low- and middle-income countries is projected to reach 2 billion, with most living in Africa and Asia and in smaller cities.

Plans need to be set, and actions must be taken, and tailored policies are needed to target the urban poor.  For instance, already in Peru, 34% of the urban population lives in slums. This correlates with the higher incidence of hunger in these environments. Providing these linkages to poor urban dwellers is imperative for Latin American countries, especially since supermarkets now control 30-50% of the food market, but prices are still a serious burdensome for impoverished city dwellers

“Extremely poor urban house­holds in low income countries were found, on average, to spend more than 50 percent of their budget on food. Even in Guatemala, 48% of the budgets of urban poor were spent on food.”
So what actions can be taken? These are nine key recommendations according to the IFPRI:

IFPRI Recommendations for Urban Food Security
Tip #

Increase access of the urban poor to healthy, nutritious, and safe foods and stimulate demand for high-quality diets through targeted interventions and policies to create a more enabling environment for healthy choices


Promote and support urban agriculture to increase food access and allow urban dwellers to cope with price and income shocks, where space and conditions allow


Regulate the production of safe, affordable, and nutritious street foods; and provide regular food-safety trainings for informal food retailers and street food vendors


Support and manage the informal sector economy and harness its potential to protect the livelihoods of the poor and help them move out of poverty


Ease the trade-offs for working mothers by providing safe, affordable, and accessible childcare options


Design cost-effective, well-targeted social protection instruments to help the urban poor cope with income or price shocks and build assets


Address the severe inequalities in access of poor urban (and especially slum) dwellers to healthcare, water, sanitation, waste removal, and electricity services, and lift the access and utilization barriers faced by urban dwellers where services are available


Review policy options and adopt context-specific policies to regularize tenure in squatter settlements & slums


Provide opportunities for physical activity (to prevent overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable diseases) through smart urban development that eases access, affordability, and safety constraints related to recreational facilities and public transport

The IFPRI's recommendations bring up an important concept, healthful lifestyles. Among the challenges of providing low priced food options for impoverished urban dwellers is providing those citizens with healthful food options. According to the report, food diets have been significantly impacted by rising incomes and urbanization, where people are consuming more animal-sourced foods, including more red meats, and getting more access to sugars, processed foods, fats and oils, refined grains. The “nutrition transition,” as the report defined this problem, is a leading cause of obesity that is inextricably connected with rising diet-related diseases like diabetes and heart diseases.

Amidst the challenges of feeding the world, problems that those who have escaped hunger require more complexity. The numbers are staggering:

“The World Health Organization estimates that 1.9 billion people are now overweight or obese, and 1 in 12 people throughout the world have diabetes. These diseases are proving very costly: non-communicable diseases are expected to cost the global economy as much as $47 trillion in lost earnings and health bills over the coming two decades”
A commitment to promoting Healthful lifestyles will continue to be a part of Partners’ programs with in country partners in the future! Read more next time, as the IFPRI discusses climate, food productivity, and research and development.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Progress Made on FECCEG Marketing Assignment!

Highlight from Tommy and Arthur Bassett's recent trip to Guatemala

Help was needed to follow up on the host communication strategy proposed last year in Guatemala as part of Farmer-to Farmer (F2F) Rural Enterprise Development program. One of these host organization, FECCEG (Federacion Commercializadora de Café Especial de Guatemala),  was looking to strengthen current relationships and improve their methods of connecting with buyers and customers in the United States in order to increase sales and promote their coffee in new markets.

F2F Luncheon: Top left to top right (Arthur Bassett, Blake Scott, Tommy Bassett, Andrea Fión)

FECCEG is a federation of 13 small coffee cooperatives, encompassed by 2,136 small-holder farmers, including 562 women producers. By working across six departments in Guatemala, the federation helps scale local coffee value chains. FECCEG supports small producers with a wide array of integrated technical assistance, including organic certification, the adoption of agro-ecological practices, the preparation of products for export, and the development of new market linkages. As a member of Kishe Foods LLC, a company legally established in Los Angeles California, FECCEG and other members are now selling organic roasted coffee and honey as a finished product directly to consumers in the United States.  

Traditionally, producer organizations like FECCEG have sold green coffee beans to exporters as a raw material. Through this exchange, most of the value and profits generated have remained with intermediaries and final sellers. The goal of the assignment was to bring some of that value back to FECCEG producers by improving and establishing direct relationships with U.S buyers willing to purchase their packaged roasted coffee.

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
In order to scale their presence outside of Guatemala, FECCEG was actively looking for marketing specialists to help them understand how the specialty coffee market operates in the United States.  In addition, the federation was also looking to expand their working knowledge on U.S consumer preferences and coffee distribution systems (distributors, buyers, brokers) and how to best optimize them for marketing and selling their products.

When Arthur and Tommy Bossereturned returned to Guatemala in January 2017 they were pleasantly surprised to see that most of the recommendations made from their March 2016 visit were implemented. During their latest visit, the father and son duo traveled to Quetzaltenango, where they helped local staff identify and analyze information about the U.S specialty coffee market. Moreover, they also trained local staff on developing and implementing strategies for increasing sales at the federation’s Quetzaltenango coffee shop. Arthur and Tommy also had the chance to meet with representatives from Heifer in Antigua, where they were able to discuss potential business opportunities.

Bessets' diagram of how to improve strategic relationships in the US-Guatemala coffee value chain

Through these engagements, Arthur and Tommy developed  almost 100 recommendations broken down into 12 categories. First, they helped FECCEG generate a comprehensive calendar for tracking sales and strategic events. They also assisted with the editing of a business post card for FECCEG, generated organizational diagram for KISHE US, and created job descriptions for the hiring of new staff and interns. Moreover, the pair also worked alongside staff and graphic designers to develop a sound social media campaign. They were also instrumental in reorganize the layout of the Quetzaltengo coffee shop to optimize space and make it more welcoming for customers.

Partners of the Americas is committed to establishing lasting people-to-people connection between U.S volunteers and host organization throughout the hemisphere. As such, we are very glad to have the Bassetts' continued support in another Guatemala assignment. Overall, Arthur and Tommy reported that our local team provided excellent logistical support and clear information about the assignment objectives. The also provide positive feedback and suggestions for how to improve our program even further.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hybridizing Cattle Can Help Improve Farmers' Well-being

Summary by Anthony Jilek of his recent trip to Nicaragua and how crossbreeding programs and record keeping can improve livelihoods for small dairy and livestock producers.

Jerry Nolte, Julio Cisne and his herdsman evaluating Julio’s pastures near Matagalpa
Most farmers in Nicaragua follow a very traditional system of dual-purpose livestock production. This means that the cows produce milk and the calves are raised for meat. Modern practices of management are not often followed. No production records are kept on the cows, and yields are simply calculated by dividing the liters of milk sold by the number of cows milked. The managers of slaughter plants have stated the cost to slaughter a 600 kg animal is the same as the cost to slaughter a 450 kg animal. Therefore, the larger animals are preferred. This includes cattle like Holsteins, Brown Swiss, and Brahman, large, late maturing breeds. Most steers are slaughtered at 3 ½ - 4 years of age. Heifers, young females cow without offspring, do not calve until they are that same age. The meat from these mature animals can only be exported as hamburger meat, which receives the lowest price in the market. Furthermore, calving intervals (time between consecutive calves for the same cow) is usually 2 years or more.

For many small cattle farmers in Nicaragua, these factors have led to reduced farm income and quality of life. Unfortunately, many areas of Nicaragua suffer through extended periods with little or no rain (dry season) which can place further stresses on a farmer's herd. The high maintenance and input requirements for these large animals can further reduced income per manzana (the Nicaraguan land measure equal to 1.74 acres). Nicaraguan livestock producers in these tough climatic conditions need access to records on their calving cycles so they can plan according to season. Moreover, there is an impending need to expand and improve artificial insemination as well as the tracking of conception rates, pregnancy rates, and the reproductive efficiency of the cattle herd.

Victor Ivan Diaz Mendez, Norberto Zamora Rivera, Jerry Nolte, Omar, and Tony Jilek discussing individual cow records and their importance to selection and genetic improvement at Victor’s farm at Pantasma
In light of these challenges, the focus of m Nicaragua F2F assignment was to teach farmers and hosts organizations how to keep and utilize individual cow records in a selection program. Selection is one of the methods of making genetic improvement in the herd. Throughout my various visits, I discussed the value of establishing an individual cow record keeping system with weighing the milk from each cow every 28 days or every month. Lactation could be calculated along with production curves from this estimated milk production for the month. During the first two months of lactation, a cow will increase milk production, then plateau for a month or two, only to decrease the daily amount produced. For maximum farm production, it is necessary to maximize the number of those peak points. This is attained by having a 12 month calving interval. It is imperative to include calving dates on the individual cow record from which calving intervals can be calculated. While nutrition plays a large part in calving intervals, selection for the more fertile cows (shorter calving intervals) will improve fertility.

Tony Jilek, Jerry Nolte and Leonardo Castro discussing modern calf raising system at Leonardo’s farm at San Ramon
The second part of the teaching was to encourage farmers to establish a crossbreeding program. Many farmers in Nicragua are using what I would consider a random or haphazard crossbreeding program. They use whatever bull they can find or afford. A crossbreeding program has two major advantages: 1) combining the positive traits of two or three breeds into your production, and 2) heterosis (or hybrid vigor), the improved function of a biological quality in hybrid offspring. Under adverse conditions present in Nicaragua, it is essential that farmers take advantage of these two factors. A three way rotational cross would allow the farmers to combine the positive traits of three breeds and would maintain a high level of heterosis. A simple way to implement this system would be to use artificial insemination. This also removes one animal from the farm and its nutritional maintenance requirements.

Most farmers I had the chance to work with appeared to be very receptive to these recommendations and asked many questions, implying that they were willing to try to incorporate them. However, more specific results will only be available after sufficient time has passed so that we can tell whether they followed through on the implementation of these recommendations. The value of record keeping has been demonstrated in the US close to a century ago; however, the use of computerized systems in the milking parlors in the US is a technology that has not reached the majority of the producers in Nicaragua. About three years ago, I was able to secure hundreds of strands of genes to inseminate cattle in Nicaragua, and the resulting calves should be reaching milking age (heifers) and slaughter age (bulls). The benefits of a systematic crossbreeding program have been demonstrated in many countries around the world and should show similar benefits in Nicaragua.
Link to article: here
Personally, I have been working with Nicaraguan agriculture since 1971 and have had numerous F2F assignments in Nicaragua. The future for milk and meat production in Nicaragua is high quality grass-fed cattle. The production of high quality beef (tender, juicy and flavorful) on pasture requires high quality forages throughout the year so that the animals attain 450-500 kg before 24 months of age. It also requires early maturing breeds that are good grazers and at least one of the breeds should be adapted to the region. Heterosis, from a rotational crossbreeding system, would add to the potential of attaining these animals.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Scalable Solution to Contaminated Water

Interview with EcoFiltro CEO Philip Wilson

CEO and founder of EcoFiltro, Philip Wilson, sharing
filtered water with schoolchildren in Guatemala 
Last week, as part of our continuing series to learn and highlight the work the tech innovators and startups are carrying out in many of the same communities that Partners of the Americas strives to empower, our AFS intern Mitchell Opatowsky interviewed Benjamin Bunker, CEO and Founder of Global BrightLight Foundation. After learning more about the foundation’s efforts to bring solar-powered electricity to marginalized rural localities in Guatemala, Ben mentioned that there other innovative businesses trying to address other challenges afflicting the farming localities where we carry out our work. He recommended that we reach out to EcoFiltro, a socially-minded company that sells ceramic pot water filters in Guatemala and recently expanded to Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica. This week, Mitchell had the opportunity to speak with EcoFliltro’s CEO and founder, Philip Wilson and learn about their work.

EcoFiltro connects its efforts to many of the communities in Guatemala that USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers work with. Their determination at bringing clean drinking water to rural localities aligns perfectly with Partners of the Americas’ own commitment to fostering sustainable development through horticulture and rural enterprise projects. Through these methods, our organizations provide under-served communities with the tools and opportunity they need to lift themselves out of their circumstances and improve their overall well-being.

Philip Wilson: A significant problem that impoverished people face is the lack of access to potable water. About 80% of global illnesses stems from lack of access to clean drinking water. Many times, people have wells and drink from streams and rivers in their own country. Of course, without isopropyl or some filtration agent, all you’re really drinking is water contaminated by bacteria of fecal origin. Water scarcity is particularly chronic in Africa; however, in Latin America, access to water is not much of a problem. What is a problem is when 1 in 20 Latin American children die from intestinal infections due to lack of clean drinking water.

As of now, there four basic methods for rural families to get the water they need: 1) bottled waters; 2) fetching water from river, lake or stream; 3) rain water; or 4) local wells. Unfortunately, 97% of the water in Guatemala is contaminated, eliminating ground water and local wells as safe alternatives. Furthermore, half the rural population, which is equivalent to more than 7 million people, does not have access to quality potable water. Many rural families try to overcome their lack of access to potable water by boiling cooking water. However, this means that families are burning an average of 21 pounds of wood per day to have clean water. These is a huge problem, not only are these families spending time to find wood to burn, but these open pit fires are not controlled, and consistent presence of these fires causes respiratory diseases.

So what can you do if you have plenty of water to drink, but it is all contaminated? How do you afford a water filtration system if you’re spending money to pay phone bills, for TV service, and for candles and kerosene lamps?

According to Philip, There are 3 actors who should be involved in this area:

1) Government – Access to clean water is the government’s responsibility. Unfortunately, it’s all too commonplace for other public expenses to get in the way of rural investment into water filtration. Even though many governments are pushed by the medical community, they have made minimal investment into water treatment plants or sanitation for the general population.

2) NGOs – Because the government can’t provide for the needy, NGOs step into help. The problem with this is that they are limited by the donations they can raise.

3) Corporations – Because governments lack the money and because NGOs are limited by donations, the problem remains unsolved. It takes a social business to create a hybrid return on investment activity that finds a way to empower these people to become financial actors.

Philip’s sister and mother worked with NGOs focused in water. They had failing business models that were not having the intended impact on their recipients. In our interview, he stated, “I could have provided for 14,000 families if I was an NGO. Sure, that’s fine. But with a scalable social business model, EcoFiltro can provide for over 240,000 rural families and 100,000 urban families. And some of these families are saving $120 to $200 per year because of it.”

The reason this model failed is that the NGO donated chlorine to rural consumers. The intention was for the chlorine to be used as a water purifier; however, Philip stated that only 3% of consumers used it as a water purifier, and the other 97% used it to wash clothes. When he turned 40, he went to Guatemala. He observed that many rural citizens were spending about $13 to 16 dollars per month for water. His goal was to create a portable water filter that could pay for itself within 3 months.

He started by creating an urban water filter. This business model became sustainable by saving the average urban consumer nearly $200 on bottled water. Currently, he serves over 98,000 urban customers in Guatemala, and the EcoFiltro brand is the number one water filter brand in Guatemala. He then used these profits to fund the real intent of his venture: rural water consumers. He used what he made from urban consumers to subsidize the cost of the filter for rural poor.

In Guatemala, even the poorest households have TVs and cellphones. However, their houses have dirt floors and many homes, despite rural electrification efforts, still rely on kerosene lamps and candles, and cooking food in open pit fires results in pollution of air and respiratory diseases. EcoFiltro had an idea that perhaps through donations; demand from consumers could be created. The organization donated their filters to schools. The strategies was to have over 400,000 kids drinking better-tasting, healthier water, and educate their parents on why the filters mattered, almost as brand ambassadors for the EcoFiltro brand. It is essentially what the big software companies like Microsoft and Apple do already with schools by providing cheaper software and encouraging purchasing the software later. EcoFiltro is spreading at about 90 – 100 schools per month, and it strives to reach 1,000,000 families by 2020.

EcoFiltro’s ceramic water filters are sourced from local materials. The secret is ancient. Clay makes water fresher. This ceramic pot filter technology was invented in Guatemala, but is spreading worldwide to 59 factories in 39 countries. Even in Uganda, there are 33 employees making 1500 filters a month for communities there.

Although our interview with Philip was short, it really helped us learn more about innovative and scalable models for addressing common rural challenges. After all, EcoFiltro like Partners of the Americas, strives to empower under-served communities through an equal and mutual exchange of ideas and lessons, providing them the tools they need to be self-sustaining for the long-term.

Want to learn more about EcoFiltro’s work? Then make sure to watch Philip Wilson’s recent presentation for the Wharton Global Forum in Miami:



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What do You Call Cheese in Nicaragua? Reflections from Louella Hill

Above: Creamery owner Marilyn Cisne (left) gathers with worker Jamilette (near left), her daughter Alexandra and worker Helen for a taste-testing of yogurts. We worked on adjusting the tanginess, the density of the yogurt body, sugar, amount of flavoring and coloring. Asking the opinions of everyone in the creamery (and family) helped to include everyone in the new production process and give them ownership of the future product. Note the use of cheap and expired plastic containers. This was common as disposable and high quality stainless-steel products and equipment are less available here than in the U.S.

The answer is queso fresco. It is a similar cheese to queso blanco, but with a creamier and softer white texture. It’s popular in Spain, Portugal, and across many countries of Latin America, including Nicaragua. This is the same type of cheese that is used to make dishes like cheesecake, enchiladas, as well as distinctively Nicaraguan cuisine like cuajada frita and Güirila.

This type of cheese is not only delicious and nutritious, it is also an important source of additional income for many impoverished farmers. Across Nicaragua, as in other areas of Central America, small-holder dairy farmers are increasingly turning to cheese manufacturing as way to turn their surplus milk into a transformed value added product that can diversify and increase their incomes. Despite the recent successes of the artisan cheese industry in Nicaragua, many local dairy producers still lack the knowledge and technical skills to properly produce and market their cheeses. In light of these challenges, in February, the Agriculture & Food Security (AFS) team at Partners of the Americas sent Louella Hill, a U.S cheese manufacturing specialist, to Nicaragua to assist some producer groups in tackling the existing gap of technical knowledge in the cheese value chain. This trip took place as part of the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program and its Nicaragua Dairy and Livestock project.

The Dairy and Livestock Project aims to build the capacity of Nicaragua’s dairy and 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. F2F, in coordination with national cattle organizations helps develop and promote a brand that guarantees good agricultural practices of grass-fed beef and dairy farms. Through these engagements, we empower producers to transform their raw materials into high quality, value-added product for sale. By providing technical training and helping producers to obtain certifications, F2F volunteers will link producers and their value-added products to the national tourism industry and other niche markets.
Above: At “El Norteño” Creamery, it was difficult to tell how much of what we saw was put together for our visit. Regardless, the Creamery was in fairly excellent shape. Their biggest challenge is ensuring the quality of their milk sources. We watched outside as milk was delivered by horse, foot and bus. None of the milk had been chilled. None was stored in a stainless steel container.
For this specific Dairy and Livestock F2F assignment, a volunteer was needed to conduct interactive workshops for dairy farmers on proper cheese processing techniques to ensure a safe, high-quality product. The volunteer would also be in charge of training local hosts organizations on proper methods for evaluating the quality of various gourmet cheeses during the National Dairy Congress, including queso fresco (artisanal basic cheese), mozzarella, hard cheeses (e.g. parmesan), and specialty cheeses (e.g. goat cheese). The volunteer was expected to train dairy producers on how to improve their processing skills to make higher quality cheese.

During her two week visit, Louella spent her initiating and improving cheese production on several dairy farms. The vast majority of her time was spent working with the Cisne Family. However she visited a number of other organizations that included: 1) Delait Yogurt, a small agribusiness located in Matagalpa that produces milk and yogurt for sale in local markets, 2) GRINSA, a small agribusiness that produces milk, cheese, flavored milks, and sour cream, 3) The Nicaraguan Dairy Chamber (CANISLAC), an umbrella organization that works to improve processing and marketing of milk and dairy products for producers and processors that target local and international markets, among many others. At the end of her travels, she attended and presented at the “Congreso Nicaragüense de Sector Lacteo” in Managua.

Above: The creamery beyond this door was built in 6 days and in anticipation of my arrival. The benefit of starting from scratch in a new space—working with dairy farmers who up until then were not officially cheese-makers—is that there were few processes that had to be corrected. The challenge was more getting the producers to commit to a system that was more laborious (such as not allowing outside traffic through the creamery or asking workers to wash hands multiple times throughout the work day). This sign shows three top “Creamery Rules” that we collectively decided upon as a beginning for food safety practices.
By the end of her travels, Louella had three critical recommendations for the businesses she met:
  1. Set up a match-making program that connects U.S. and Nicaraguan creameries. This program could allow for more permanent and in-depth cheesemaker-to-cheesemaker relationships as well as a convenient transfer (through donation) of used (but quality) dairy and creamery equipment. 
  2. Invite a F2F volunteer to stay for a longer duration (6 months, for example) with a focus on running trainings in milk handling. This will help improve the milk supply in a more strategic manner. Distribute milk handling training kit to improve milk supply to cheese manufacturers. 
  3. Connect with the “Universidad Agronoma” in Esteli to set up a multi-day “Milk Handlers Certificate Program”. The program could be open to all producers. This university already has a herd of cows and a creamery. The agenda for the program could be something such as assigning a day for "Milk Handling," one for "Best Management Practices in the Creamery," and lastly one on "Increasing Sales and Business Sustainability." The goal could be getting more people trained at once as well as bringing neighboring creameries into the same space. If in the same space, these creameries could potentially figure out ways to collaborate.
Above: Marilyn Cisne and I worked through ideas for a label. The goal was to communicate to the customer the added value of this product based on it coming from a local family farm where the cows eat a pasture-based diet. It was also important to communicate the pureness and the wholesomeness of the product. A graphic design friend of mine whipped together the ideas into a label that the Cisnes fell in love with and plan to use.
As Louella notes, the best application of her skills occurred when she was assisting the “Ganadería Cisne” dairy near Matagalpa. Their goal was to create a line of value-added dairy products and they worked on yogurt, quesillo and mozzarella recipes. Furthermore, this work would professionalize the creamery and allow it to produce cheese styles that offered longer shelf life. It was the farm’s first experience making these varieties though they had been previously producing queso fresco as well as cuajada which they distributed informally within their community.

Louella took account of a number of observations in her research.


The F2F program has a strong and positive presence within the communities I interacted with. This is likely due in large part to Noel and Eliza’s extensive efforts to facilitate and maintain relationships. After my presentation at the Dairy Congress, I was approached by a dozen farmers who said they wished they could participate in the F2F program. That’s a good sign!


Nicaragua had surprisingly distinct socioeconomic strata. It was clear to me which people were in positions of power and who were deemed the lower ‘worker’ class. Many times I had to make an extra effort to ensure that everyone in the room was included in my lessons. I felt a certain reverence for myself as a kind of ‘foreign expert’. I was catered to by the upper class, and I was to an extent kept away from the more worker class.
Above: Creamery workers Jamilette (front) and Helen (back) of Ganadería Cisne weigh out portions of the fresh cheese “Cuajada”. This cheese—which the Cisne family was making before I arrived—took  approximately 4 hours from start to finish (for approximately 10# of finished product). It was very labor intensive to make but Jamilette—who made the cheese-- wasn’t interested in updating the process because she only trusted making it the way she was taught. The benefit of teaching new recipes was that there was no ‘correcting’ another version. It was a clean slate for setting more efficient practices into motion.


At a basic level, there is a resistance to change and technology. Julio Cisne explained to me that he had purchased a milk chiller—and that he understood the benefits of chilling the milk—but that his customers wanted to purchase their milk while still warm. They preferred that the milk not be chilled! To the customers, warm milk meant it hadn’t been watered down. You can see how Julio, despite being open to the recommendation to chill his milk, was at odds with the cultural standards within his community. Julio’s whole milk sold at retail for C$16 / L versus the corporate brand Lala whose skim sold for C$28 / L.


Several large corporations control nearly all dairy sales throughout much of Central America. This was most evident to me during the Dairy Congress, sponsored by the Lala brand. The real puzzle for me during my visit was trying to identify ways that smaller, family-run dairies could claim a niche in the dairy sector, given this monopoly.


Much like dreams of human migration, nearly all the cheese makers I observed also had dreams of exporting their cheeses to the U.S. The reality is that ‘FSMA’ (Food Safety Modernization Act) legislation puts extra strain on small scale producers to export into a market with regulations for safety on the food that the US consumes. It is imperative that Nicaraguan producers understand that US requirements on food imports are extremely stringent, and that the government should play an active role in supporting the exportation sector through frequent supervision. A more plausible goal would be to export cheeses to Central American markets or to focus on ex-pat communities and high-end hotels in-country. A future F2F project should be to clarify and summarize standards of exportation to neighboring Central American countries instead of to the US.

Above: Marilyn Cisne, myself, daughter Alexandra and Julio Cisne take a talk in the pastures. We look at the health of the cows and the types of forage plants available. We also talk about access to clean water and rotational grazing patterns, the integration of coffee growing areas and more. It was a true pleasure to work with such a dedicated and hard-working family farm. I wish them tons of luck on their future cheese-making endeavors.

Louella also wrote down a powerful reflection of the lives of the people with whom she came into contact with and her words best describe the issues at play here:

"Most cheese being made in the US is being made by Latin American immigrants. I feel this fact is ignored. My trip to Nicaragua was meaningful because I feel strongly that we need to acknowledge the presence of Latin American immigrants in the cheese processing industry. More specifically, understanding these workers’ cultural background and their need for adequate training and buy-in is crucial to advancing the US dairy industry to higher ethical and good safety standards.

Visiting Nicaragua is like unveiling the intricacies of US cheese production puzzle from the opposite direction; it was an opportunity to understand where cheese factory workers in the US originate. If all US creamery owners could have the opportunity to visit creameries in Latin America, especially Nicaragua, they could better understand the cultural context from where their employees are coming. I’ve worked in creameries where the workers had a hard time understanding the urgency for refrigerating milk and cheese. I’ve worked in creameries where workers have not innately understood the importance of having no gum or cell phones in the plant.

After two weeks in Nicaragua, any creamery owner would see that these tendencies that we might find unacceptable are completely acceptable in another cultural context. In Nicaragua the people WANT to buy their milk when it is still hot. They are not offended to buy non-refrigerated, unwrapped, and unlabeled cheese. This cultural difference should be respected.

My hope is that I can help become part of the bridge between these two deeply connected yet deeply divided places. Even the reason I speak Spanish is due to the nature of my work in a U.S. cheese factory where 40 Guatemalan employees speak little to no English and one American owner spoke no Spanish. My personal hope is to bring understanding to both sides of this equation.
Above: Hand milkers at Ganadería Cisne have no interest in transitioning to machine milking; despite the fact the owners have already purchased the machinery. This resistance to new technology logically stems from a fear that the machines will replace the need for worker.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Amazon Cacao Farmers: Preventing Deforestation in Ecuador

Article Written by Rebecca Roebber, Marketing Director for indi chocolate

Chuya Yaku is a Kichwa community in Ecuador located in the heart of the Amazon. Their cacao growing efforts are preventing deforestation in the rainforest.

In Kichwa, Chuya Yaku means clear water. Kichwa is the indigenous language spoken by just over 180 people that live in the community and is a common dialect of the region.

Until 2012, Chuya Yaku was inaccessible by road, the elders of the community report that it would take them over a week to reach Puyo, and two days to the nearest town. Once oil industries found out that there was valuable oil in the region, they built a road with the intention of extracting resources. Excessive logging is a secondary effect of the road being built. In the last three years lumber and oil industries and even the local municipality have put money into road and bridge development for continued extraction of resources and extending roads farther into the rainforest.

Even though resources are being exploited and creating a negative impact on surrounding communities, the majority of Kichwa people still would choose to have road access rather than being secluded in the jungle. On our way down to Chuya Yuku, we saw at least ten illegal logging access points, half a dozen trucks carrying oil and brand new Volkswagon bus-full of workers to aid in the extraction of oil.

With the help of volunteers and organizations working with Farmer to Farmer and the Arajuno Road Project (ARP), there has been a lot of movement away from supporting industries that contribute to the contamination and deforestation of the rainforest. More focus is being put on ways for farmers to make sustainable incomes, like cacao farming. They play a crucial role in the sustainable development in these communities.

Having an open dialogue about the communities’ experiences and hardships with cacao production was invaluable. They told me stories of how they continually get taken advantage of by greedy intermediaries, sometimes only getting 30 cents per pound of cacao. The intermediaries are buying cacao to sell to Nestle or other large chocolate corporations and are only concerned with the bottom line. The farmers also face diseases that infect their cacao pods, diseases like Monilia, that infect and rot the cacao pod.

They have stories of government funded agencies coming in and giving them a high yield cacao, called CCN-51, which is less susceptible to diseases, but lacks any flavor. Many farmers have left the more flavorful and native varietals to rot on the trees favoring the higher yielding varietals.

It is clear that in order to prevent deforestation, contamination of the environment and the livelihood of its people, there needs to be opportunities for the Kichwa people to have a sustainable income as they become more and more exposed to a globalized world. When it comes to combating multinational oil and timber industries, they can use all the support and expertise they can get, as long as their best interests are being met.

Chuya Yaku has dedicated a large portion of their territory to preserving their natural resources, many thanks to the Arajuno Road Project who worked with the Chuya Yaku on a community zoning and mapping project. If they can successfully make a living selling cacao instead of hardwood they can show other neighboring communities that there are better long-term solutions for their community than the complete destruction of the environment they live in.

The cultivation of cacao offers a symbiotic solution with the rainforest and its people. It has the potential to bring a more holistic level of prosperity to the community and region without destroying their complex ecosystem.

It is easy for me to be offer up my opinions on preserving the rainforest and present my solutions coming from a nation that is developed, otherwise known as the Minority World. People in developing nations or the Majority World are still fighting for basic needs and often do whatever they can do to feed their families, the need direct incentives that help them feed their families in the short term. Offering long term solutions like the cultivation of cacao requires a lot of continued support and farmers already feel burned from past experiences working with companies from the Minority World.

When I first spoke with the farmers, they wanted to know who was going to buy their cacao at a fair price if they spent the time to nurture their heirloom varietals.

They wanted to know how to prevent their cacao from diseases.

They wanted to know how many kilos of cacao they needed to produce to be able to have control of the price of their cacao.

They wanted to trust that caring for their plants was worth it in order to support their families.

They wanted to know how they could afford building a fermentation and drying center for processing the cacao to sell higher quality product.

Even though I did not have all of the answers for them my goal was to show them all the possibilities they had with the production of cacao. Empower them with the knowledge that they could have control of their own production and post harvest production of cacao and therefore have more control over price they charge for their cacao. I wanted them to know that there are more and more bean to bar chocolate makers in the Minority World that cared about the farmers. indi chocolate and other bean to bar makers want a fair and just price for cacao that was properly cared for, to pay farmers direct. We care about the success and well being of the farmer.

Offering technical support, making connections and opening the door to possibilities is what I offered during my time spent with the community. The term direct trade was definitely a newer concept that took some time to explain, but was important for me to relay.

Throughout the class we tried various chocolate, made by bean to bar chocolate makers from the United States. They tasted multiple bars all using Ecuadorian cacao, including indi chocolate. None of them had ever tried chocolate made from Cacao Nacional beans.

Some cultures in what was once Mesoamerica have a special history with cacao, but in these jungle communities cacao is a fruit, like papaya or mango. The Kichwa do not have a history of making cacao into chocolate, so when they heard that I was going to teach them how to make chocolate they were very excited.

The first day we brought gas into the community and got the generator working to run the Chocolate Refiner and we made chocolate together. Everyone stuck their heads in to see the stone wheels grinding the cacao. When the chocolate was smooth enough, we filled a giant cauldron with milk, sugar and chocolate. Everyone sipped happily as we filled and refilled each other’s cup.