Friday, September 22, 2017

Transforming Goat Milk into Valued-Added Soaps & Lotions

Team Presentations at the CEPROCAL Center in Nebaj

The first concrete evidence of soap-like substance is dated around 2800 BC., the first soap makers were Babylonians, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, as well as the ancient Greeks and Romans. While volunteer Robert Spencer does not have that many years of experience he does have sixteen years of experience in making cold-process goat milk soap, shampoo, and lotion.  And has done multiple trainings in Myanmar, Haiti, and Guatemala. 

The overall goal of this project was to provide economic opportunities for women in small-scale production of value-added agriculture products (oils, animal byproducts, herbs, vegetables, and fruits), along with goat milk in making skin care products including soap, shampoo, and lotion in rural areas of Guatemala. This project host was CEPROCAL who collaborated with Save the Children Foundation, and the first week of training was conducted in Nebaj (El Quiche Department) at the local CEPROCAL office.  Students for this class were Save the Children field officers and technicians who would later be responsible for going out into their respective communities and train clientele.

During these four days of training agriculture products used included: goat milk, vegetable oils, lard avocado, tomato, coffee grounds, aloe vera, and flower petals. One of the objectives of this project was to utilize as many readily available agriculture products as possible while using the cold-process for making soaps. The only heat involved was a small propane stove to melt the lard and solid oils (cocoa oil), and the chemical process between the sodium hydroxide, oils, and liquids.

Photos in this blog will verify the strategy worked. Spencer said it was inspiring to watch the trainees learn and implement the process, then take it further to packaging, labeling, and presenting in team competitions

The second week of training was conducted in Cunen (El Quiche Department). Our goals and objectives, and training agenda were very similar to the first week. Trainees in Cunen were also associated with Save the Children along with a few of the local population. The ingredients used were the same with additional botanical products specifically beneficial to skin and hair.  Trainees in Cunen also readily adapted to the training and did outstanding jobs of the packaging, labeling, and presenting in competitive teams.

Quantitative outcomes for combined trainings were as follows:
o   31 men & women trained at these two locations, all were adult, 18 were females, 13 males
o    80% increase in knowledge regarding production of soap, shampoo, and lotion
o   65 % plan to implement production & marketing of soap, shampoo, and lotion
o   100% will train others on all aspects associated with production and marketing of soap, shampoo, and lotion

Soap Mold (Left) and Packaging (Right)

This was the first time for Spencer to experience using unrefined animal lard and it worked out just fine. The training also utilized lard so the people could compare, and it too worked out just fine. Every time Spencer does this in rudimentary conditions he is always impressed with how well everything works out, and really enjoys working with people in various countries.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Strengthening agroforestry systems in smallholder Dominican farms

Altair Rodriguez’s demonstration farm in La Vega Province, Dominican Republic

In August 2017, Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer Tom Gaman traveled to the Dominican Republic to support the agroforestry efforts of Altair Rodriguez’s demonstration farm.

Located in La Vega Province, Finca Tierra Negra is a 66 hectare farm that is made up by partially-shaded cacao trees grown primarily under a broken canopy of nitrogen-fixing native (e.g.Erythrina) and non-native trees (e.g. African Tulip). Much of farm sits on land that was previously used to produce conventional plantain (Musa paradisiaca) and cassava (Manihot esculenta). 

The land is also susceptible to excess concentrations of pesticides and inorganic fertilizer runoff emanating from nearby farms. There are also a series of non-organic crops in the farm that have been neglected for years, and are hampering the ability of the Rodriguez family from obtaining organic production. Altair and her family are currently trying to integrate more organic agro-forestry systems at Finca Tierra Negra. With these systems in place, they hope to restore and improve soil quality, increase production, and generate a higher and more diversified income base for the family and the surrounding community that benefits from the demonstration plots.

With these challenges in mind, the purpose of Tom Gaman’s assignment was to help the farm complement the farm’s existing base of cocoa trees, permaculture systems, and nursery with more robust agroforestry systems. As part of these efforts, Tom carried out an extensive forest inventory of the demonstration farm, which included using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in order to inform the long-term agroforestry implementation and monitoring plan for the property. Based on his field observations, Tom and Altair discussed ways to put in place a diverse set of financially-viable climate-smart crops, such as breadfruit and locally-appropriate spices (e.g. turmeric). Prior to ending his assignment, Tom also generated a series of practical recommendations that Altair and her family can use to incorporate new agroforestry systems into their farm. 

These recommendations included:
  1.  The use the GIS tools and agroforest inventory plots established during the assignment to inform on-site management decisions (e.g. planting locations & species combinations) 
  2. Based on GIS maps and inventory, continue to develop a business plan and financial spreadsheet that includes projections for the next 5 years.
  3. Maintain cacao cultivation and production with nitrogen-fixing trees.
  4.  Prior to harvest, survey or monitor the most productive cacao trees. This will facilitate monitoring and assessment of changes in productivity and to eliminate/replace unproductive trees.
  5. Experiment with different products such as pepper, turmeric, breadfruit and spices, using windbreaks and symbiotic out plantings.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Strengthening the Digital Branding and Online Marketing of Artisanal Kits in Guatemala

By Andrés Varona, Program Officer - Agriculture & Food Security

Through the manufacturing of educational kits, DIDART is a small Guatemalan enterprise that teaches children about the cultural heritage of the country. In order to spur community development, DIDARD purchases the materials that go into their kits directly from rural artisans from across Guatemala. Since 2015, Partner of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program has been sending volunteers in order to assist the company with various organizational, financial, and sales aspects of their enterprise. In the latest F2F assignment, Kate Senn traveled to Guatemala City in order to support DIDART with a series of digital branding and online marketing efforts.

In preparation for her F2F assignment, Kate reviewed DIDART’s websites and social media platforms as well as identified areas that could help her draft a “Social Media Strategy Handbook” for the small company. Upon her arrival in Guatemala on August 13th, Kate had the opportunity to travel to various rural communities in order to see firsthand the locally-sourced materials and indigenous traditions that go into each of DIDART’s educational kits. In the village of Guanagazapa, for example, the volunteer was able to learn about the morros, a “hard-as-coconut-like fruit that can be hollowed and used for the musical instrument known as a chin-chin, souvenir bowls, or for making jewelry.”

DIDART Staff members with F2F Volunteer Kate Senn (Center) with F2F Field Officer Andrea Fion (Right

Once back at the DIDART office in Guatemala City, Kate began working alongside Anna Lucia, the company’s graphic designer. During her first week at the office, Kate led trainings on Pinterest marketing strategies, editorial calendars as well as social media branding. In the second week, the volunteer and Anna Lucia revised the interface of the DIDART’s new mobile app that DIDART in order to ensure that it was consistent with the company’s brand identity. At the end of the assignment, Kate generated a comprehensive ““Social Media Strategy Handbook” with a series of recommendations that DIDART can use to grow their web and social media presence. Some of these recommendations included:

1. Targeting key stakeholders (e.g. school teachers) with more personalized online /social media messaging such as “Are you a teacher in Guatemala? We want to hear from YOU!” Encourage them to be DIDART ambassadors”, receiving additional fluffy discounts or free stuff to support and promote the educational kits to their teacher friends.

2. Setting a monthly agenda for Social Media campaigns so posts do not need to be done last minute. Foresee posts about holidays, special celebrations, school year calendar, etc. Change the cover page photo with the season. This technique will allow DIDART staff to identify gaps in the schedule and plan out future content.

3. Leveraging the power of Pinterest in order to 1) create photos sequence of the educational kits (e.g. before, during, and after the manufacturing phases are complete), and 2) promote a link long Pinterest Pin, with a link to where to buy the specific kit (etsy, shopify, DIDART’s website).

4. Create quick speedy videos for each of the kits being produce and share them on YouTube and Facebook. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Host Highlight: Fundación para la Autonomía y el Desarrollo de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua (FADCANIC)

One of the newest hosts that Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer program has been working with is FADCANIC (Fundación para la Autonomía y el Desarrollo de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua). FADCANIC is a civil society organization based in the two autonomous regions of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast (e.g. RAAS and RAAN). Partners of the Americas began working with FADCANIC in mid-2016. Since then, the relationship has already proven fruitful.

FADCANIC was founded in 1990 after a government statute recognized the autonomy of the Atlantic coastal regions of Nicaragua. FADCANIC’s mission is to support the autonomy of these areas by improving the livelihoods of its inhabitants. FADCANIC achieve these through two different educational centers: 1) the Center for Agroforestry (Centro Agroforestal or “CAF”) and 2) the Center for Environmental and Agroforestry Education (Centro Educación Técnica Ambiental y Agroforestal or “CEAA”. Through these centers, FADCANIC offers free three-year technical program that focuses on environmental management, horticulture, animal science, carpentry, and forestry, as well as some basics such as history, music, and art. The hope is students who graduate from these programs will be able to return to their rural communities’ better prepared to find ways to improve their income and also with an environmentally conscious focus in their work.

In May 2016, Partners of the Americas sent the first F2F volunteer to FADCANIC in order to determine the best way for them to collaborate with the Farmer-to-Farmer program. During this initial visit, Dr. Andrew Margenot, a professor from UC Davis, noted that FADCANIC’s centers and agricultural facilities demonstrated a high diversity of crops, largely agroforestry species, that were being well-managed by a team of FADCANIC agronomists. He noted several areas where volunteers could work. First, in the forest reserve, Dr. Margenot noted severe erosion in the surrounding grazed pasture that had been illegally converted from reserve forest. Dr. Margenot also noted that many of the producers in the area were still practicing slash-and-burn to renew pasture growth and to clear the forest for new pasture. FADCANIC has several demonstration farms that serve as an “outdoor classroom” for the students, as only about 20% of the activities are in the classroom setting and the remainder is in the field demonstrations and hands-on practice. Dr. Margenot noted a variety of potential future assignments such as citrus production, ecotourism to financially sustaining a forest reserve, as well as the implementation of biogas systems that run on farm waste.

FADCANIC agronomist and F2F field officer Noel Diaz discussing pineapple cultivation

Later that month, F2F volunteer Barbara Brown arrived to Wawashang. After a brief tour of the Center and the Kahka Creek preserve, the innovation center, and the agroforestry center, she left recommendations to develop a strategic plan for FADCANIC to seek additional funding. As far as food processing, Ms. Brown recommended that FADCANIC consider expanding the number of dried products they offer that could be marketed jointly, such as pineapple, coconut and banana chips sold in small bags as a snack. Efforts to implement a consistent method to determine acceptable dryness of each product also needs to be developed. An HACCP plan for products and best practices for food safety also need to be developed.

Most recently, in April 2017, two Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteers traveled to Wawashang in order to support FADCANIC with the construction of several biodigesters. This assignment included the participation of Vance Haugen (a University of Wisconsin Extension professor specializing in biogas production) as well as James Rhode (Director of the 4-H Adventure Project in Crawford County, Wisconsin). Mr. Haugen and Mr. Rohde’s assignment was centered on the implementation of bio-digesters systems for FADCANIC’s Wawashang School. Due to the school’s remote location, the administrators are actively trying to strengthen the institution’s self-sufficiency by generating all the food, energy (e.g. biogas), and agricultural inputs (e.g. fertilizers) it needs to function properly.

F2F Volunteer Vance Haugen leading a interactive
lecture on bio-digester design at the Wawashang School

After a year of collaborating with our program, FADCANIC now has a better idea of the type of work that it can do with Farmer-to-Farmer. In the coming months, Partners already plans to send several more F2F volunteers to support FADCANIC both in their headquarters in Managua as well as in the field offices along the Atlantic Coast.  Future assignments will focus on fruit dehydration and artisanal coconut oil production. Additionally, more specific assignments were identified such as agricultural economists to assist in the development of market analyses and agricultural engineers to work with food processing staff to develop low-cost technologies to equipment generate value-added products (e.g. jam, jellies, and preserves).

Friday, September 8, 2017

Host Highlight: Fabretto Foundation (Nicaragua)

During the last four years of the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, Partners of the Americas has been actively working to strengthen the production and organizational capacity of numerous women and youth-based groups in Nicaragua. As with other country-specific F2F projects, the “Women&Youth” project in Nicaragua relies on the mutual collaboration of a myriad of local agricultural cooperatives, foundations, as well as educational institutions. Among these various entities, Partners will like to take the opportunity to recognize the work of our local host, Fabretto Foundation.

With their HQ in Managua and field offices throughout the country, Fabretto’s mission is to ensure that children, families and communities in the most disadvantaged areas of Nicaragua, reach their full potential and improve their future opportunities through educational and nutritional programs. Currently, Fabretto implements an innovative high school program called SAT (Tutorial Learning System) in rural and remote communities. This program is tailored to the real needs of these young people and the curriculum is based on the practical methodology of "learning by doing". Simce many of the Fabretto tutors are community leaders that don’t necessarily have formal training, the program is facing an increasing need to strengthen the capacity of these mentors in order to ensure that their grassroots youth initiatives are effective and their impact is long-lasting.

In May 2016, F2F Volunteer Dustin Homan took his passion
for 4-H to Nicaragua to work with youth
at Fabretto Foundation on their community goals.
In the last three years, the Farmer-to-Farmer program has sent dozens of volunteers to assist Fabretto and their commitment to empower both underserved women and youth in Nicaragua. These volunteer assignments have cover a wide range of areas including 1) the implementation of 4-H programs for rural youth centers, 2) the development of business skills training courses for youth entrepreneurs, as well as the 3) interactive workshops on soil conservation and integrated pest management (IPM) practices for women-led agricultural cooperatives.

In August 2017, F2F Volunteer Megan Roberts
taught several accounting workshops for women
and youth groups in the Department of Madriz
These specialists are just some of the long list of F2F volunteers that have assisted Fabretto’ s initiatives. In the coming months, the F2F program at Partners of the Americas plans to send several other volunteers to strengthen the foundation’s capacity in several strategic fields, such as crop-processing, soil analysis, brand marketing, as well as supply chain management. In the coming years, we hope to continue this ongoing partnership with Fabretto in order to advance the capacity and skills of women and youth in all of Nicaragua.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Major Findings & Recommendations from the “Food Security and Emigration: Why People Flee and the Impact on Family Members Left Behind in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras” Report.

On August 21st, Partners of the Americas’ Agriculture & Food Security (AFS) team had the opportunity to attend a ceremony at the historic Hall of the Americas in Washington, D.C. The event was centered around the launch of a new collaborative report between the the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the World Food Programme (WFP), titled “Food Security and Emigration: Why People Flee and the Impact on Family Members Left Behind in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras”. As the title of the document shows, the report was focused on the food-related factors that prompt people from Central America’s Northern Triangle region to migrate to other countries, mainly the United States.

As the international development organization in charge of implementing the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in Latin America and the Caribbean, Partners’ AFS team though it would be strategic to deepen our understanding on how challenges in agricultural production and food security can translate into large-scale migration in the countries where we work. As such, we have developed a brief summary of the report’s major findings as well as practical recommendations for addressing food insecurity in Central America’s Northern Triangle region.

While for us, as with many of the entities in charge in developing this report, the rural exodus and consequent emigration flows in Central America is a matter of great concern, nowhere is the sense of urgency more profound than along the region’s Corredor Seco. Throughout this dry corridor, which encompasses most of El Salvador and a great share of eastern Honduras and Guatemala, there are a higher proportion of people immigrating to the United States (and other countries) than in other areas of Northern Triangle. In many ways, the reasons behind these emigration flows (e.g. high unemployment rates, limited or seasonal labor demand, and low wages/salaries) are directly interlinked with poor agricultural yields and food insecurity. According to a separate Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, the Corredor Seco also suffers very high rates (between 50 and 90 percent) of crop harvest loss. Due to these conditions, the region is now home to more than 1.6 million individuals who are food insecure. These rates of food insecurity, according to collaborative report, are exacerbated by both food availability and prices and, consequently, by adverse climatic events that affect local harvests and, in turn, food security. In terms of food prices, a great proportion (58 percent) of people in the Corredor Seco spends well over 2/3 of their income on food costs. While the food supply are diminishing due to climate change (extremes temperatures and droughts), which are not only having an impact on agricultural output, but also on many rural livelihoods (e.g. smallholder farming).

Another of the major findings of these collaborative reports concerned the impacts and benefits that migration can have on agricultural production and food security in the Central America’s Dry Corridor. One of the negative impacts associated with migration is that because migrating requires substantial economic costs (e.g. supplies, payment to trafficker), many households must often sell or use their homes/land as collateral to pay for these costs. On the other hand, for those households whose family members are able to migrate from the United States (and elsewhere), they can experience nutritional improvements as they are able to purchase more food with the remittances they receive from abroad.

Given the challenges and promises highlight in this report, there are substantial steps that the international community, civil society, the private sector, as well as host governments can do to address the food security that is driving so many (young) Central American to emigrate. Among the various recommendations presented by the “Food Security and Emigration: Why People Flee and the Impact on Family Members Left Behind in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras” report, it is worth highlight the following two strategies:

1) Reducing vulnerability to root causes: In this regards for inter-sectorial efforts are needed to strengthening the resilience of rural communities to adapt to the effects of a changing climate. This could be done through increase investment and capacity building programing for community-driven weather monitoring, soil analysis, and watershed conservation. Moreover, increasing the market access of smallholder producers in the Corredor Seco could also be a viable strategy to curb the unprecedented rates of emigration emanating from these communities.

2) Enhancing International cooperation: In addition, there is much that international and national institutions in the host countries (e.g. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) can do collectively to foster opportunity and mitigate emigration along the Corredor Seco. For instance, national institutions (e.g. Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment) should adapt their existing programing and projects to ensure that they are in lined with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), among which are the objectives of no poverty (Goal 1), zero hunger (Goal 2), clean water and sanitation (Goal 6), decent work and economic growth (8), climate action (Goal 13), as well as partnership for the goals (Goal 14). Moreover, when formulating public policies and development strategies, national government should also consider the interlinking role between food insecurity and migration. As this internal commitment are consolidated, host government should work to establish meaningful partnership with international donor institutions, finance institutions and civil society in order to widen the support of frameworks that reduce both food insecurity and migration flows.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Goat Milk is a Solution for the Socio-Economic Wellbeing of Rural Guatemala

By Young W. Park, Ph. D., F2F Volunteer

While sometimes overlooked, goat milk can be an important source of essential nutrients and animal-based proteins for the people of developing countries. During the last four decades, the reputation of the dairy goat has been changing and is now has become a vital member of the world dairy industry. The FAO statistics (2001) have shown that goat milk makes up 55% of all milk consumed in Bangladesh, 51% in Somalia, 24% in Iran, and 16% in Sudan, demonstrating the significance and nutritional value that goat milk has for emerging economies. The world statistics of goat milk production also shows a 62% increase from 1993 to 2013 or from 11 to 18 million metric tons, with France, Spain, Turkey and Greece leading in tonnage in that order. To my knowledge, there has been no comprehensive statistics on how much goat milk has been produced or how many small dairy goat producers are currently working in Guatemala.

Currently in Guatemala, there is a series of interlinking challenges facing the dairy goat industry. These obstacles include 1) an apparent gap of trained personnel for manufacturing dairy goat products, 2) lack of dairy goat production and management systems, 3) very limited processing facilities and equipment available as well as a 4) lack of financial support for communities engaged in dairy goat production. Then why produce goat milk in Guatemala? While dairy cows are still number one in terms of global milk production for human consumption, dairy cows can be difficult and expensive to rise in the topography of mountainous countries. Guatemala is a good example of a mostly mountainous country with a clear lack of feed resources and pastoral lands for raising dairy cows. Goat farming, on the other hand, has a distinct advantage in areas with harsher climates, steep mountainous terrain and high altitude. As such, Guatemala’s mountainous regions are much more adaptable for dairy goat production.

Moreover, as goat meat and goat milk have become more popularly consumed in the more affluent nations of the world, the global demand for goat farming has also increased substantially. This can prove to be a good opportunity for rural Guatemalans to engage in dairy goat production. After all, goats have a superior growth rate in numbers compared to other milk producing domestic animals, especially in the developing countries with large population increases and high rates of undernutrition and malnutrition. Not to mention that if the right set of intensive management systems are practiced, goat farming can be profitable in most countries.

In the case of Guatemala, there are three main reasons why more dairy goat operations should be considered: (1) Goats are more adaptable to the local climate conditions and terrain than any other domestic milk producing mammal, (2) Goats are easier and cheaper to be kept than any other domestic milk producing dairy species, and (3) Goats’ milk has superior nutritional and health advantages compared to the milk of other domestic milk producing mammals.

For my Farmer-to-Farmer assignment I was entrusted to develop and lead hands-on-trainings for smallholder dairy goat producers, university students and faculty, as well as professionals, staffs and technicians associated with the Save the Children/ Centro de Producción Caprina del Altiplano (CEPROCAL) program. In particular, my volunteer assignment focused on improving the capacity of these groups on how to 1) adequately process goat milk, 2) manufacture goat cheese, as well as 3) adapt basic dairy technology for smallholder dairy goat farmers. Overall, these trainings had two main goals in mind. The first would be to build a strong foundation for the community-based dairy goat industry that is taking root in Guatemala. The second objective would be to enhance a viable, profitable, sustainable and replicable dairy goat enterprise model in the country. Given the existing lack of a comprehensive dairy goat sector/industry in Guatemala, I am hopeful that this assignment will provide some of these communities and enterprises with the knowledge and skills they need to scale their current operations.

Overall, there were two key accomplishments that were achieved during this Farmer-to-Farmer assignment. The first achievement included leading a cheese-making seminar with smallholder dairy goat farmers at the CEPROCAL facility in Nebaj. While these farmers had no previous formal training in cheese-making, they are now they now able to produce various goat cheeses with little to no access to equipment and/or processing facilities. If organized effectively, the local dairy goat owners have the potential to start manufacturing goat cheese and selling their products across local and national markets. This process, in turn, will allow them the chance to boost/diversify their incomes and help improve the nutrition of local communities. The second of these accomplishments was related to the lectures and trainings I led on the economic and nutritional benefits of goat milk products. In total, 186 participants took part of these interactive lectures and trainings. While these trainings were especially valuable for the small dairy goat producers in Nebaj, they were also beneficial for the numerous Save the Children nutritional technicians, Guatemala government officials, USAID representatives as well as professors and students Universidad de San Carlos and Universidad del Valle de Guatemala who participated in these activities.

Upon completion of this USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer assignment, I found the F2F program at Partners of the Americas to be an outstanding initiative to strengthen rural enterprises in the developing countries of the Western Hemisphere. I was delighted to be able to use my experience and skillset as a dairy goat production specialist and Food Science Professor at Fort Valley State University with the dairy goat producing communities of Guatemala. I have been convinced and strongly feel that this F2F volunteer assignment has provided me with a unique opportunity to strengthen the foundation for the emerging dairy goat industry in Guatemala.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Strengthening Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Strategies in the “Land of Eternal Spring”

By F2F Volunteer Don Schultz 

Guatemala is known as the “Land of Eternal Spring” for its year-round mild climate, one that is ideal for the production of many horticultural and floral crops. Many farms of all sizes have succeeded in creating an export market, shipping principally to the United States and Europe. The buyers demand high quality plant material that is free of pests and diseases. However, the export industry is challenged to maintain a modern integrated pest management (IPM) standard within Guatemala’s limited institutional and government support. Some of the farms also have a pesticide safety culture that is behind the standards of the countries to which they export their plants. It is into this state of affairs that I ventured during my volunteer assignment with Farmer to Farmer (F2F).

My two week assignment seemed barely long enough to simply gain some understanding of the situation, so I knew beforehand I would be challenged to accomplish my goals. Notwithstanding, I was quite impressed by the advanced level of knowledge and dedication by the agronomists at some of the ten farms I visited. They are producing quality plant material and were interested in improving their IPM programs. The advice they sought, however, was usually centered around a different pesticide that could be used. Some producers seemed to be somewhat stuck in the classic pesticide treadmill by applying pesticides at regular, and sometimes excessive levels. Their reasons were understandable – without another good option they would suffer reduced production and lesser quality than would be acceptable from buyers. Other farms that I visited were smaller and had agronomy staff that was dedicated, but less educated. I was able to assist them with some standard IPM strategies such as solarization of potting soil mixes and improved monitoring techniques, as well as a better understanding of pesticide labels. I also helped them with plant nutritional needs and fertilizers, especially related to nitrogen.

Pesticide safety standards in Guatemala are what you would expect when there is limited worker protection laws related to the handing of pesticides. While most larger farms are very conscientious of worker protection, many small operation allowed workers to handle hazardous and, in some cases, dangerous pesticides without proper protection. I took every opportunity to discuss this with all workers, informing them of safe pesticide handling methods.

At the end of the farm visits, I was invited to give a four-hour presentation at the AGEXPORT office in Guatemala City. The event was attended by numerous agronomists, college professors as well as employees from the National Agricultural Ministry. As a result of conversations and discussions during these two days I realized that there was a lack of reliable studies and other resources to help them in their pest management strategies. This explained why many had the mindset to simply apply pesticides as needed.
During the presentation I also discussed the level of information sharing and research related to pest management that occurs in California. I showed them the extensive amount of information on the UCIPM web site and on pesticide labels of product sold in the United States. I also gave a presentation on the pesticide use standards and training material available through the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (most of it in Spanish). I tried to instill a sense of responsibility to create a safe pesticide use culture, despite the lack of laws and regulations.

All in all, the two-week assignment was an incredible experience with never a dull moment. It was amazing to return 30 years later to the country where I lived for two years in the Peace Corps. The changes were amazing – things had modernized considerably. The one thing that did not change was the generous and considerate nature of the Guatemalan people. While it is also tough to gauge the impact of such a short project, you can only hope you had as much effect on the people you met as they did on you.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Accounting and Record-keeping for Young Rural Entrepreneurs in Northern Nicaragua

By Megan Roberts, F2F Volunteer 

Greetings from northern Nicaragua! My name is Megan Roberts, and I have just concluded two weeks as a Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer with Partners for the Americas. Farmer-to-Farmer is a USAID-funded program that connects specialized agriculturalists from the United States with farmers, cooperatives, agribusinesses, extension services, government agencies and other institutions in Latin America and beyond. For this assignment, Fabretto Foundation ( hosted me on location. Over the past two weeks, Fabretto Foundation coordinated workshops where I participated in teaching beginning farm financial recordkeeping to farmers and students, with the help of Fabretto tutors, in several communities in the Department of Madriz. I also participated in two train-the-trainer activities with Fabretto tutors, staff, and directors.

Back in the United States I recently was hired by the University of Minnesota as an Extension Educator in Agricultural Business Management, and previously I taught agricultural economics and farm recordkeeping for five years to community college students. My husband is a full-time farmer, and as much as possible, I participate our farming operation. I know the importance of keeping track of farm expenses and income not only because of my day-job, but because I am a farmer, too. Farm recordkeeping actually excites me (which is not normal for most people), so I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this specific Farmer-to-Farmer experience.

After arriving in Nicaragua and collaborating with my Fabretto hosts, we decided to focus on creating a basic income and expense transaction register with a chart of accounts and enterprise allocation for students and farmers to fill out to record their farm finances. The system is paper and pen based for practicality purposes. This system allows for calculation of total cost of production, cost of production by category, net cash profit, and if students and farmers keep track of personal hours worked, net cash profit per hour. One of the highlights of my last two weeks was at the end of a workshop when a student started critically applying the recordkeeping concepts to his own farming project. I had asked the class, “What might you do if you realize at the end of the production cycle, that even though you made a net profit, that your net profit per hour was very low?” The student answered that he could try to find ways to make his labor more efficient or analyze which expenses might be lowered without lowering income produced. It was the perfect answer from a young student of agriculture! It was clear he had learned a lot previously in his Fabretto agriculture classes from his local tutors (and maybe even a little from me during my workshop, too).

For the workshops with Fabretto staff and the president of a local women’s cooperative, we transitioned the record-keeping to Excel and also looked at incorporating income statements, balance sheets, and cash flows. The biggest challenge here was making sure I was working in harmony with formatting and wording of financial statements, the tutors were already using. Overall, this has been a great experience, and I encourage anyone with agricultural expertise to consider volunteering for Farmer-to-Farmer.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Searching for Bees: An Apiculture Assignment in Haiti

Back in February 2017, longtime Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer Robert Sterk returned to Haiti to lead various beekeeping seminars in and around Port-au-Prince.  During this apiculture-oriented assignment, Mr. Sterk also worked alongside SAKALA, an F2F host, to establish community apiaries where local farmers and youth groups could be trained on various beehive management methods and techniques. Given the impact of the first assignment had on these communities, he decided to return to once more to Haiti in July 2017 in order to build on the progress that had been made.  

Upon arriving in Port-au-Prince, Mr. Sterk prepared and led a series of beekeeping workshops with SAKALA associated farmers. These included a series of hands-on trainings related to 1) bee biology, 2) colony health inspections, 2) varroa mite testing with sugar roll, as well as 3) treatment strategies. He also had the opportunity to travel to several communities outside the capital. In the community of Kenscoff, for instance, Mr. Sterk conducted some hive evaluations (e.g. TBHs, & Langstroth hives) at the local Wyann farm. He also had the chance to go to Mirogoáne, in the NIppes Department,  and visit one of the largest beekeeping farmsin Haiti.

During all these field visits, Mr. Sterk was able to distribute countless copies of the Simple Guide to Caribbean Beekeeping which was recently translated into Haitian Creole. For many Haitian farmers, this guidebook has become a valuable resource for establishing and managing small-scale apiaries. At the end of his assignment, Mr. Sterk presented SAKALA with a diverse array of recommendations to improve the apiculture systems of the organizations and its associated farmers. These suggestions included, 1) changing the lids and removing frames on the top bar hives, 2) performing bi-monthly sugar roll test for varroa mites, as well as 3) setting up swarm traps (with swarm lures) to find wild, endemic bees.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Are you a DC-based student with a passion for communications and international development? Apply now to our Fall 2017 Internship. DEADLINE: September 1st.

Agriculture and Food Security Programs
Outreach and Communications Internship

Partners of the Americas, a nonprofit organization engaged in development programs in the Western Hemisphere, seeks an intern to support its Agriculture and Food Security (AFS) team. The AFS team manages USAID programs focused on agriculture, economic development, nutrition, and natural resource management. AFS works primarily in the countries of Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Haiti.

Internship Description
Qualified candidates must be able to work a minimum of 15-20 hours per week. AFS intern responsibilities include but are not limited to:

§  Draft and disseminate press releases to relevant media outlets (primary responsibility)
§  Assist in drafting and posting blog stories each week;
§  Assist in managing AFS social media accounts (i.e., Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
§  Assist with drafting brochures, newsletter articles and other public outreach documents;
§  Attend public meetings and events hosted by local organizations and think tanks;
§  Other duties as assigned.

Small transportation stipend provided.

§  Strong writing skills and attention to detail
§  Demonstrated experience in communications and multimedia, specifically in drafting press releases and communicating with local and national press
§  Ability to prioritize tasks in order to meet deadlines
§  Degree in communications, media, journalism, or related field preferred

To apply, please submit your resume, cover letter, and a relevant writing sample to Andres Varona at avarona@partners.netPlease note that only finalists will be contacted.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Micro-Watershed Restoration Programs in the Dominican Republic's Yaque del Norte River

By F2F Volunteer Peter Phillips

Micro-watershed that feeds into the Yaque del Norte River system

During June 2017, I spent two weeks in the Dominican Republic with the goal of training Dominican colleagues on themes related to water conservation and water quality. The majority of my assignment was focalized in the Arroyo Gurabo micro-watershed of the Yaque del Norte River in and near the city of Santiago in the Cibao Valley. My host agency was a local NGO, Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral (APEDI), and my faithful guide was Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) field officer, José Alejandro Almodóvar Gómez.

The Yaque del Norte is the longest river on the island of Hispaniola. Extending for more than 200 km, the river originates in the high mountains of the Cordillera Central of the Dominican Republic and discharges in the northwest of the country not far from Haitian border. Santiago is the second largest city in the country and is located at the midpoint along the Yaque del Norte. In 2004, with support from a Fulbright Scholar program grant, I established a series of water quality sampling stations along the entire length of the Yaque del Norte River and so I was fortunate to have had prior experience in the region and of having established a record of baseline data. The Arroyo Gurabo stream is a major tributary originating in the Cordillera Septentrional, a mountain chain that forms the northern boundary of the Cibao Valley. The stream is formed by a series of springs at about 800 meters in elevation, and eventually discharges into the Yaque del Norte near downtown Santiago.

These springs all receive some sort of protection. At a minimum, the periphery of each is fenced off to protect them from livestock intrusion, at best, they are located in a heavily forested area, but that’s rare in this densely populated region. Descending from the mountains into the city, the stream edge, or the riparian zone, tends to be packed in with marginal communities of very poor residents who have, over time, settled here for lack of a better option. This is a common pattern along most streams running through Santiago.

Generally, residents must discharge their untreated wastewater into the stream. The stream also serves as a garbage dump as evidenced by the accumulation of solid waste ranging from plastics, to paper, to assorted construction debris. During flood events, which are not uncommon, the stream banks are undermined, destroying structures that have been built up over time. The loss of natural vegetation to absorb high water episodes is an endless cycle of stream bed widening that can seem hopeless to control.

However, encouraging signs are evident in unexpected moments and places. For one, I was highly impressed by measures already taken to protect all the spring sources of the Arroyo Gurabo. This was thanks to the consistent efforts by my APEDI colleagues, the managers and trainers of this particular project. Also, I was heartened to observe in my first visit to a marginal community the rapport with which APEDI colleagues interacted with community leaders and the level of understanding that these local leaders had regarding the challenges their communities faced being perched on the edge of the Arroyo Gurabo. In my second week, I was surprised by a visit to a marginal community directly on the banks of the Yaque del Norte that also happened to be my downtown Santiago sampling station from my 2004 research. This community has benefitted from USAID funding and using their own labor had constructed a wastewater collection system for the area. Now, untreated wastewater no longer enters the river, the neighborhood has a hygienic and tidy appearance, undoubtedly public health has improved and there was a very discernible lack of accumulated solid waste throughout the community alleyways and along the riverbank. This community certainly serves as an example to achieve in all Santiago’s marginal communities.

My culminating experience was a full day of dialogue and a water quality workshop well attended by APEDI colleagues and local community leaders from the upper Arroyo Gurabo watershed. I feel that my major contribution was to introduce the idea that inhabitants of the region should expand their vision of preserving water quality and water quantity to satisfy needs of human inhabitants and begin to consider the needs of the entire aquatic ecosystem.

Often, we think of the health of the environment by observing the terrestrial vegetation only and ignoring what’s in the water, what’s below the surface. Perhaps this is because it’s harder to see life in the water than on the land. But if we are good stewards of the land and the water, we will not only have a safe and reliable water supply, but we will have excellent conditions to sustain aquatic plants and animals; animals such as fish, amphibians, and all sorts of invertebrates that are important in the aquatic food web. These two aspects, satisfying human needs for clean fresh water and satisfying the minimum needs of aquatic organisms, are interdependent. One depends on the other. To accomplish this, I suggested that actions be taken to engage children in the activity of monitoring Arroyo Gurabo stream health. This could be accomplished by incorporating stream studies into school curriculum. Take the kids out to the stream and let them have fun. They’ll begin to appreciate their water source in all its aspects and likely train their families to think and take action similarly.

It was a great experience being in the Dominican Republic again after a 12 year absence and I look forward to the possibility of becoming more engaged with the recovery and sustainable management of the Arroyo Gurabo into the future.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Conmemoración del Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas

 Por: Andrés Varona
Coordinador, Programas Agrícolas y Seguridad Alimentaria, Partners of the Americas

Ayer, 8 de Agosto, alrededor del mundo se celebró el Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas. Esta fecha conmemora el día en que la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) aprobó la Declaración de los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas. Desde su incepción en 2007, la declaración ha sido marco universal de normas mínimas para la supervivencia, la dignidad y el bienestar de los pueblos indígenas de planeta. La  aplicación de esta declaración ha alcanzado resultados contundentes para cerrar la brecha entre el reconocimiento formal de los pueblos indígenas y el ejercicio de sus derechos en la práctica, especialmente  con respecto a sus esfuerzos para combatir la exclusión y  la pobreza sistemática de estas comunidades.  Además de la ONU, esta fecha (y el hito que representa) también es conmemorada por diversas agencias federales en Estados Unidos, incluyendo USAID y sus diversas misiones en el exterior. Considerando la importancia de esta declaración, USAID reitera el rol estratégico que los pueblos indígenas ejercen como socios para el desarrollo sostenible y la diversidad cultural de los países donde focaliza su trabajo.

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala: Cooperativas de Mujeres Mayas participan en un taller de manejo integral de plagas (MIP) orientado por Leah Tewksbury, voluntaria del programa F2F.

A través de sus más de 50 años de historia, Partners of the Americas ha trabajado fuertemente para conectar, servir and cambiar vidas en diversas comunidades, incluyendo el mantra de pueblos indígenas que constituye nuestro hemisferio. Con respecto al programa de Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F), iniciativa financiada por USAID, Partners continua implementando numerosos proyectos que avanzan las cadenas de valor de estas comunidades. En el ciclo actual (2013 -2018) del programa F2F, Partners ha mandado a cientos de especialistas agropecuarios estadunidenses para empoderar a estos grupos con el conocimiento, capacidades y herramientas para generar y fortalecer sus propias activadades agrícolas e, consecuentemente, su desarrollo socioeconómico y seguridad alimentaria. En Guatemala, por ejemplo, docenas de voluntarios de F2F han apoyado a cooperativas de mujeres indígenas en diversas áreas de producción orgánica, manejo integrado de plagas (MIP), procesamiento como también mercadeo y branding de productos agrícolas (ej. champiñones, vegetales, frutas). En Colombia, la asistencia de voluntarios F2F está ayudado a transformar quínoa producida por la comunidad Páez en Cauca y comercializandola a los estantes de los supermercados de Whole Foods Market en Estados Unidos. Mientras que en Arajuno y Chuya Yaku, localidades de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana, el apoyo de estos especialistas está fortaleciendo la conservación de los suelos y la producción de chocolate orgánico de estas comunidades quechuas.

Chuya Yaku, Ecuador: Miembros de la Comunidad participan en un entrenamiento sobre producción de chocolate organico.  

Para nosotros en Partners of the Americas es un honor poder trabajar en colaboración mutua con estas diversas comunidades para ser socios de su desarrollo. En los meses y años que vienen, esperamos poder seguir conectando, sirviendo y cambiando vidas en las pueblos indígenas de las Americas y el mundo.  

¡Feliz Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas!