Monday, February 27, 2017

10 Weeks in Puyo, Ecuador: Part I

By: Rip Winkel, F2F Volunteer 

To start the year 2017 off, I am privileged to be working on yet another Farmer to Farmer assignment, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Partners of the Americas. My project takes me back to familiar territory in Ecuador. I am working in in the Ecuadorian province of Puyo, a high-altitude land where the frequent rains run off down into the Pastaza River that eventually joins into the Amazon. Since my arrival here, I have been fortunate to work with the same communities as last year, as well as adding couple of new ones to the project.  And, just like last year, this project is 10 weeks duration, instead of the normal 2 week length.  The date set for this project started on the 8th of January, and will go through to 19th of March, 2017. Currently I am half way through the assignment, and this article is the first of two that I will be writing; the second article will be posted soon after my return to the United States.    
During a workshop, Hugo Mucushigua prunes cacao for proper formation on his farm in Chuya Yaku.
The main goal of this assignment remains the same. My objective is to train field technicians, representatives from Arajuno Road Project (ARP), and members from communities partnering with ARP, in sustainable management practices for cocoa production. More specifically, my goal is to build on the progress that what was accomplished last year in the soil sampling/analysis from the participating communities. During that analysis, we sampled the soil's pH and levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. My work also includes leading workshops and training sessions on sustainable cacao production (techniques that include pruning, grafting, soil fertility), homemade organic pesticides, grafting methods and techniques, and soil amendment practices and maintenance of possible tropical crops not being grown currently.

Though arriving in Quito on the evening of Jan. 8, it was well into the early morning of the 9th before I was able to get from the airport to the hotel which was located in the historical district of the city. Later that same day I traveled by bus to Puyo, arriving at the terminal by late afternoon. I then took a taxi to the community of Kilometer 6, a town also known as La Libertad. It is located on the route to Arajuno, and is the current headquarters for ARP. As soon as I arrived, I unpacked my things and took some time to relax and become familiar with my new surroundings.
During a lecture on soil fertility, students from 10 de Agosto analyze soil sample from their garden for pH.
The next few days were spent meeting with staff members of ARP.. After orientation with the ARP staff, I also traveled a bit, touching base with familiar as well as new communities with whom I would be working for the next couple of months. There are four communities that we are engaging currently, and they include Chuya Yaku, Esfuerzo 2, La Libertad, and 10 de Agosto. Currently, we visit each community at least once a week, if not more, during which time we'll conduct a lecture and a hands-on training lesson.

Planting veggies from the semillero in Esfuerzo 2.
My schedule for each week goes as follows. Every Monday and Thursday, I take a bus for one and a half hours down into the Amazon Basin, arriving in the Chuya Yaku area to conduct a pruning workshop, accompanied with a discussion on different topics, like soil structure and fertility, methods to address fungus and insect problems, as well as review grafting techniques. For each pruning workshop that is conducted the group meets at a different cacao farm belonging to one of its community members.

On Tuesdays the day begins with meeting in Esfuerzo 2, where a lecture is conducted, again on different topics that pertain to community/family gardens, organic pesticides, and grafting techniques. This community just happens to meet on its own every Tuesday morning to work over compost piles, and in which has become quite a successful little business in the Puyo area. I begin working with them as soon as they are done with their work. The lectures given take place after their work detail was finished. From here it’s back to La Libertad to help out Rodrigo Engarcia of ARP to conduct a workshop and/or to give a lecture.

At La Libertad, a lecture on the characteristics of soil was conducted before work in the green house began.
On Wednesdays, I meet with a group of 10 year-olds at the school in 10 de Agosto. It had been requested by one of the teachers to investigate what caused the die-off of the vegetable plants in the garden. In conversing with them, the opportunity presented itself to give classroom talks on a variety of agricultural issues like plants, soil, composting, and to have workshops where the garden area can be re-planted with a variety of different or new types of vegetables. When finished, it’s back to La Libertad to meet with Laura Hepting of ARP to discuss and review various agricultural topics in detail.

Friday is for gathering information and sourcing materials in Puyo, or elsewhere.

Thanks for reading! In my next report, I will explore with more detail what sort of project we have in these communities as well as the  individuals involved in Arajuno Road Project.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Andrea Fión’s US Travels Come to a Close

On February 4th 2017, as a Field Officer for the Farmer-To-Farmer Program (F2F) in Guatemala, I got the chance to travel to United States in order to participate in the 2017 Joint Council of Extension Professionals (JECP) Leadership Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Prior to the start of the conference, I had the opportunity to do a quick trip to Washington, DC where I had the chance to visit Partners of the Americas’ international headquarters. By further cementing our professional relationships, the visit to HQ provided with the chance to deepen the link between field office and the HQ staff. On February 6th, I was fortunate enough to lead a presentation on the work being done by the F2F Program in Guatemala. This was a great platform to unveil my work as a F2F team member and present to others the significant impact that F2F has had in Guatemalan communities for the last two and a half years.

During the presentation, I was also able to answer all the questions staff members had about the field work and what impact we were making. This was a great opportunity to link the coordinated work being carried out in the field and at Partner’s headquarters. The visit to our international office also gave me the chance to meet new members of the F2F team: Miss Stephanie Verganza and Mr. Andrés Varona, both Agriculture& Food Security Program Officers.  We were able to discuss subjects of common interest and solve doubts from the field office to the HQ office and vice versa.  

Later that day, Miss Peggy Carlson, Partners of the Americas’ Senior Director for Agriculture and Food Security, and I met with J. Erin Baize, Farmer-To-Farmer Program Analyst from U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This meeting served as a great opportunity to share with her the pros and cons of USAID’s procedures for F2F field staff. We were also able to discuss and share with her the program’s success stories and the positive impact that has been accomplished by the F2F work in the region, specifically in Guatemala.

On February 7th, I met with Michael Moscarelli (Director for Agriculture and Food Security), along with Andrés Varona, and Stephanie Verganza to review Guatemala’s F2F Recruitment Plan for the next six months. We also had the chance to solve doubts and establish a better relationship between the program officers and the field office. Later that day, I left DC and traveled to Orlando for the JCEP Conference.

On February 8th and 9th I participated in the Joint Council of Extension Professionals (JECP) Leadership Conference. The theme for this year’s conference was “Emerging Leadership for Tomorrow’s Extension.” As part the conference, I was invited by four former F2F volunteers (Normal Samuel, Vanessa Campoverde, Shawn Steed, Lee Harrison, and Dan Culbert) to help them co-lead a panel session titled: “University Extension Educators Responding to International Emerging Issues.” Through this session, I was able to shared experiences about our F2F programs and promote the F2F Program to potential volunteers.  

All in all, this conference was a great professional opportunity to showcase the work of F2F Guatemala. All the seats in the room were filled and we had a fun, interactive session. I was very happy to represent Partners of the Americas and the F2F Program, and my country. The JCEP Conference was a great professional growth opportunity, I learned so much from it and felt more empowered as part of the F2F team. It was amazing to be on the “other side” of the work and have the chance to travel and share with others the work I do each and every day. I also believe this conference afforded me the opportunity  to learn more about the F2F Program itself as I was preparing for it; and not only from the Guatemalan end, but from the diverse perspectives of our other focus countries, Nicaragua, Haiti, Dominican Republic.
As a field officer, I feel this activity made me feel proud of being part of the F2F team.  While the work that Field Officers do is demanding, and it is also extremely rewarding as it determines the success or failure on any assignment. By giving me the chance to grow as a professional, I am confident that all of F2F Guatemala staff will benefit from these experiences. I believe opportunities like this should be awarded to Field Officers as part of their regular training and their engagement headquarters.

I had an amazing time visiting DC, it was my first time in this city and I just felt in love with it. I enjoyed touring the city on a bike and learning so much from the Memorials and the so many Museums, which I still can’t believe are free! I will definitely be returning. As for Orlando, although I had been there before, it was the first time I went there on “business” and it was a great experience overall. I also got the chance to visit Orlando’s attractions and had a blast!

I would like to thank all of the Partner’s staff members who made this possible and made my stay in DC an incredible one. A very special thanks to Vanessa Campoverde, who accompanied me in Orlando, to Daniel Culbert who introduced me to so many great people and started this whole adventure, and also to F2F volunteers, Norma, Lee, and Shawn. And once again, a big thanks to the wonderful Courtney Dunham who always believed in me and encourage me to always get better, all of this great success may honor her memory. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

F2F Host Highlight & Interview with DIDART's Christa Nunez


The Rural Entrepreneurship Development is a tenet of Partners of the Americas' Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) work in Guatemala. This USAID-funded F2F program offers U.S business professionals the chance to support small and medium-size agricultural enterprises in Guatemala by helping them develop sound business practices.

Recently, Bill Nichols, a West Point and Harvard graduate, traveled to Guatemala to assist with these efforts. Bill volunteered as a Marketing and Fundraising Specialist with DIDART, a Guatemalan nonprofit that helps teach children valuable business and art skills. During his time, he worked closely with Christa Nunez, an inspirational entrepreneur who attends Hult International Business School in Boston, Massachusetts.

Farmer-to-Farmer team member Mitchell Opatowsky recently had an opportunity to speak with Christa to learn more about DIDART’s mission:

Interview with Christa Nunez
Mitchell: What was your initial vision with DIDART? And what is your vision now?
Christa: I started because I used to work with artisans. I wanted to create new lines of products. However, I soon realized that it wasn’t just about creating new products. Ultimately, artisans needed to know the value of what they were producing. So I thought that the best solution would be to local invite children to participate in the practice of their culture. We take raw materials from artisans, but in the process immerse the children into a world of handcrafts. We want to help both the artisans and the children in the long term. Our vision now is pretty similar, now we are focused on expanding DIDART beyond Guatemala, because this problem is really shared by a lot of cultures. It’s all about embracing your own identity in a world where identity and culture are tossed around so much. We really want to expand globally.
Mitchell: How did you hear about Farmer-to-Farmer?
Christa: I was working in Guatemala with DIDART and was looking for some potential partners that could help us improve our processes. In particular, we needed help improving the business model. By chance, I reconnected with Andrea Fión, a Farmer-to-Farmer country officer, who attended the same school as I a few years earlier. Thanks to Andrea’s guidance, I linked DIDART to the F2F network since we were working with artisans in the local area. After all, the main focus of DIDART is to use local products over foreign ones.
Mitchell: So what is it that you make? Who are you selling your artisanal products to?
Christa: We sell our products to Saul Bistro, who have art workshops and acquire our materials. DIDART has workshops with them every Sunday. In addition to that, we sell our products to schools, museums, and restaurants. So what we are making are art kits that are assembled from local materials in Guatemala and reflect the authentic culture of our rural communities.. We use a local material called mauge, which is collected from local crops. We use other materials like ripe pine needle, a fruit called morro, clay, and seeds that help to glue our work together. We want to encourage our local farmers to grow mauge and morro, since these crops are more suitable for the local environment and help us practice our Guatemalan heritage.
Mitchell: What kind of issues do you think you’re tackling?
Christa: We’re trying tackling several ways of preserving and promoting our local cultures. For many Guatemalan youth, sadly, there is an aspiration to grow up not feeling part of the Guatemalan spirit. Though our work, we are trying to  encourage younger generations to have a sense of belonging to who they are. As such, we are currently combing augmented reality and locally-sourced handcrafts.  We have developed an app where you can capture an image/video of your design and make it appear in the screen as a 3D model.
Mitchell: About how many children have you taught through your program?
Christa: Close to 10,000 children.
Mitchell: That’s really incredible. I’m going to switch gears and ask more about one of our volunteers, Bill Nichols, and his trip. What was the impact of his visit?
Christa: Bill really helped DIDART to improve our marketing and sales strategy. Additionally, he provided guidance around business decision that was offered to us by a Children’s Museum, where they wanted to develop an activity space at the Guatemala Children’s Museum.
Mitchell: And if someone else wanted to help, what would you tell them?
Christa: Just learn about what we are doing, and email us if you have questions or suggestions! Part of Bill’s visit was to evaluate a potential partnership model with a Children’s Museum. It’s all about spreading the awareness of what our mission is to as many people as we can. It’s a thing of educating, and we don’t necessarily have the resources to make this promotion on our own. As such, we will need to seek out corporate sponsorships to make these efforts possible.

Christa’s interview shows just how much an impact a brief visit from a F2F specialist can have on rural entrepreneurship development. This will be a growing program for the country’s field office, as it  reflects the foundational values of Partners of the Americas and the importance of a two-way learning exchange.

Bill spent nearly three weeks in Guatemala to help identify essential business strategy, and encouraged several marketing and sales steps that should be taken to grow the business. DIDART will benefit greatly by receiving assistance in setting up a systematic sales and customer relationship management system.  Various online systems exist, as several are free and are in Spanish.  The next volunteer to go to Guatemala and work with DIDART should help to set up and train them in the use of such a system.

If you would like to see how you can help, email Christa here:

If you would like to learn more about upcoming Farmer-to-Farmer opportunities, follow us on LinkedIn:

For more information on DIDART:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Tips for Thrips: Integrated Pest Management in the DR

Source: Western FarmPress
Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic - Western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis) are one of the most detrimental pests for agricultural production in the developing world.  Their impact is particular profound in impoverished communities where integrated pest management (IPM) practices and advance production strategies are neither as prevalent nor comprehensive. In Caribbean nations like the Dominican Republic (DR), these types of thrips have cause devastating crop losses, particularly to vegatable farmers cultivating inside greenhouses.

To address the impact that thrips have on crop production and producer wellbeing, Partners of the Americas’ identified Dr. Vonny Barlow, a U.S integrated pest management specialist, to help train Dominican farmers on the importance of sound IPM and greenhouse production methods.  During his two week field assignment, Dr. Barlow provided technical assistance to farmers from the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster. Established in 2002, the cluster is comprised of over 106 member farmers who use greenhouses in the town of Jarabacoa to produce vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant for local consumption and for export. In Jarabacoa, the environment favors the implementation of crops in greenhouses. As a result, a group of producers decided to form a cluster in order to develop potential areas of synergy and collaboration, and built several greenhouses in the process.

Thanks to the expertise of Dr. Barlow, local farmers in Jarabacoa were able to learn new ways to control and eradicate western flower thrips. Through trainings on biological, cultural, and physical controls, farmers were able to adapt and implement a sound IPM plan. As part of his assignments, Dr. Barlow also generated a series of practical recommendation to deal with these types of pest in greenhouse enviroments. A summary of these suggestions is included below:

Dr. Barlow’s Tips for Thrips
1. Exclusion screening
·         Exclude thrips from the production facility through a scheduled management
·         All infected plant material and weeds in surrounding landscape should be removed
·         Clear a radius of 3.5 meters around important crops & buildings
2. Sticky traps
·         Place traps in a staggered pattern around entrances to homes or greenhouses
·         Check Traps once per week
3. Regular sampling
·         Keep records of trap counts to determine what stage the population is in, a huge burst of adults should cause more alertness
4.  Rotation
·         Rotate IRAC class every 2 to 3 weeks to fight different generations with different resistances
·         Chemical insecticides should not be overused, and cycle their usage with insect growth regulators
·         There’s a risk for insecticide resistance for Western Flower Thrips  since they have short lifespans and high offspring
5. Spray
·         Spray equipment with good coverage is the best for thrips
·         Use surfactants
·         Large droplet size
·         Directed sprays
6. Protective equipment
·         Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is essential for applying pesticides
·         Pesticides is dangerous and can lead to serious results
7. Don’t mix your medicine
·         Do not mix two insecticides for long-term solutions, this may have short term solutions but it paves the way for resistances

Interested in learning more about IPM in the developing world? Here are some useful resources:

v  Using Dr. Barlow's tips, Dominican farmers in Jarabacoa will be more equipped to defend against the thrips. Here's a link to a lecture he gave on pest control:

v  Other pests, like the Armyworm swarm, have become a serious problem, especially in central African countries like Malawi, Zambia, and Namibia. Read more about them here:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Boosting Livestock Productivity in Nicaragua

You know that feeling when you just want to jump on an opportunity? Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Dr. Fabio Lima, an assistant professor from University of Illinois, must have felt like after his recent trip to Nicaragua, where he saw the tremendous potential for the Livestock and Dairy program in the country. As Fabio explains:

“Nicaragua is a lovely country with a great potential. Considering its strategic location in Central America, its tradition to raise cattle, and vast farmland, an increase of efficiency could offer them competitiveness necessary to take a significant position in the global market.”

Livestock production is a big part of the Nicaraguan agriculture sector. There are 130,000 Nicaraguan farmers who manage 5 million heads of cattle. But many farmers could benefit from technical assistance to improve their livestock management practices. Dr. Lima traveled to Nicaragua to help address on of the challenges in the livestock sector and improve productivity and profitability through breeding program. The primary purpose of his trip was to provide training on artificial insemination in cattle. During his trip he:

  • Worked with representatives of the National Cattleman's Association in Nicaragua (CONAGAN) 
  • Met with representatives of several cooperatives, including Nicacentro, San Francisco
  • Visited a number of farms in San Ramon, Matagalpa, Matiguas
Dr. Lima collected information during these visits and meetings and used this data as part of two seminars titled:
  • Advances in bio-technologies that support the use of artificial insemination and genetic improvement
  •  Importance of reproductive management to support the cattle industry sustainability and improve the efficiency of milk and beef production
He also taught a week-long workshop in artificial insemination to students and had the opportunity to share information with a broader audience via interviews with the local news. He was also featured on a radio program - “Radio Coorporación Managua” called “La Hora del Ganadero.” 

Dr. Lima made a number of recommendations to help improve livestock practices and efficiency in the value chain. Currently, only very progressive farmers use artificial insemination but there is a lot of potential for other to adopt this practice. Of nearly 120 people Dr. Lima interacted with, only one farmer was currently using artificial insemination. There is great potential, and although change will not come fast, but there are people like Dr. Lima who are very excited about it.

Some of the specific recommendations that Dr. Lima shared were about raising awareness of artificial insemination, including:

  • CONAGAN should launch an awareness campaign about reproductive parameters for cattle which includes vital metrics on calving date, heat detection date, coverage by the bull or artificial insemination date, and pregnancy diagnosis results in cattle that are necessary
  • Raise awareness about the pivotal role of determining bulls’ fertility in a cattle operation and implement a national program for evaluation of bull’s reproductive soundness
  • Increase the number of training courses to disseminate knowledge of reproduction, how to perform breeding soundness exam, how to use artificial insemination strategic to improve cattle genetics. 
  • Design a 5-year strategic plan to improve cattle productivity in Nicaragua. 
Dr. Lima is convinced of a critical need to raise awareness of how reproductive performance can dictate the entire productive cycle in a farm. This includes how important it is to collect information that can then be used to make well-calculated decisions about management. And hopefully through the help by USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program and CONAGAN, this potential will be realized.

Interested in livestock? Read NPR's latest article about how just changing the grass the livestock grazes on could have a monumental impact on gas emissions:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

F2F Guatemala Field Officer goes to JCEP Leadership Conference

Hello everyone, this is Andrea Fión!

On February 8 and 9, I will be attending the Joint Council of Extension Professionals Leadership Conference in Orlando, Florida for the very first time! As a Field Officer for the F2F Program in Guatemala, I was invited by former F2F volunteers,  Dan Culbert, Shawn Steed, and Vanessa Campoverde, to  conducting a round table discussion titled: “University Extension Educators Responding to International Emerging Issues.”

I first met Vanessa, a plant pathologist and horticulture extension agent at the University of Florida when, in March 2016 when we conducted a F2F assignment in Guatemala working with ornamental export producers to improve plant nutrition in their nurseries.

I also worked with Shawn and Dan during that same Spring on F2F assignments in Guatemala to improve smallholder aloe vera production.

During this round table discussion, we will touch on four important topics:

1) Share collective experiences

2) Review follow-up progress after initial programs

3) Reflect on how Guatemala’s, Haiti’s, and Ghana’s producers benefited from the experience

4) Discuss openings for future international extension and education volunteer opportunities

During my part of the discussion, I hope to discuss new opportunities for U.S. extension agents to establish new partnerships with USAID-funded organizations through the F2F program. As a field officer, delivering this talk about how to improve our volunteers’ experiences reminds me as to why I love being a part of this program!

I am very excited to do this and to share more about it with the whole staff soon. I feel this will empower and benefit all of our field offices and I am honored to have this opportunity. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our dear Courtney Dunham for making this possible!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

F2F Guatemala Field Officer Andrea Fión comes to Washington, D.C.

Andrea Fión, one of our Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Guatemala Field Officers, visited Partners of the Americas HQ in Washington, D.C. this past Monday and Tuesday. During Andrea's visit to HQ - a brief stop on her way to the JCEP Leadership Conference in Orlando - she gave a presentation to Partners staff, sharing success stories and lessons learned from our USAID-funded F2F program. The success stories focused on the great impact F2F assignments have had in Guatemala with farmer associations, exporters, and research institutions alike. In addition to her presentation to Partners staff, Andrea met with USAID/Washington to discuss the many successes of the F2F Guatemala Horticulture and Rural Enterprise Development projects.

Andrea left today for Orlando, Florida, where she will be attending the Joint Council of Extension Professionals Leadership Conference. At this event, she and several past F2F volunteers will lead a roundtable discussion on the role that university extension agents can play through the F2F program in response to emerging international agricultural development issues.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer Empowers Paraguayan Youth

Like many places in the world, Paraguay is a country of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.  Tremendous inequality exists between urban centers like Asunción that have access to basic amenities like clean water, electricity, education, and internet access to people outside the city living in rural areas. There are many other challenges as well and Partners of the Americas is helping address one of them - child labor. Partners’ is implementing the Paraguay OKAKUAA, a 3-year cross-sector project between the central, departmental, and district governments in the Department of Guairá. project. It is funded by the US Department of Labor and focuses on addressing child labor issues in the sugarcane industry.  Partners' USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program is collaborating with this effort.  F2F volunteer Lauren Hrncirik traveled to help start a 4-H program to help OKAKUAA meet one of it's objectives - to improve educational opportunities for children and youth in rural areas.

A fisherman rows his boat along polluted waters of  
La Chacarita in Asunción, Paraguay, Apr. 19, 2013.
Photographer: Tomas Munita/The New York Times
Lauren worked closely with a large Paraguayan NGO called CIRD that’s a key player in the fight against child labor. The concept of 4-H is not new in Paraguay - at one point, there was a thriving “4C program” that was slowly shut down in the 80s/90s. Now, there is a large scale effort by CIRD to revitalize the program.

In addition to working with CIRD, Lauren met with FECO PROD (Federación de Cooperatives de Producción), an organization interested in supporting youth programs and partnering with CIRD, and with the Peace Corps. She discussed the potential for a “train the trainer” 4-H program in which CIRD would provide the educational resources and support to train other community organizations and leaders in 4-H program methodology which would lead to the creation of 4-H clubs across the country. Peace Corps invited CIRD to deliver 4-H training to their 200 volunteers serving around the country. In addition to helping to lay the groundwork for scaling up the 4-H program countrywide, Lauren worked hard to create and compile over 50 4-H education resources in Spanish. She also designed and delivered 9 hours of hands-on-training in Spanish on 4-H youth development methodology to 15 new Paraguayan educators working in Guairá on the OKAKUAA project. She even appeared on a local radio station together with CIRD to present the progress on the project

Learn more here:
Lauren ended her trip feeling accomplished! “I did not feel like a stranger or a visitor. I truly felt like I was a part of the family. Overall this assignment was a tremendous growth opportunity for me, traveling and living outside of my comfort zone.” Her optimism for CIRD’s capacity to use their networks, resources, and desire to reorganize the 4-H programs provides hope for the future of youth empowerment in the country.

Read more about how Farmer-to-Farmer has helped 4-H here

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Video Synopsis of F2F Volunteer Melissa Delzio's Work in Haiti

In case you missed it, here's a quick video synopsis of Melissa Delzio's trip to Haiti:

We love our volunteers! Email Stephanie Verganza ( to see how you can get involved and write your own story!