Thursday, June 29, 2017

Volunteer Highlight: Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak

Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak is a veterinarian, farmer, agricultural development practitioner and now CEO of Haiti Coffee. Since 1971, Myriam and her husband Mark have owned and managed Devil's Gulch Ranch in Nicasio, California, a diversified family farm that supplies high-end restaurants and wineries as well as educates children about nutrition and food production. Her experience in international development began in Niger, where she was a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1983-85 focusing on nutrition. Since 2007, Myriam has been working with Makouti Agro-Enterprise as a Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer. Throughout her 16 F2F assignments in Haiti, Dr. Kaplan-Pasternak has used her technical expertise to support the needs of impoverished communities in Haiti for which she received a Presidential Volunteer Service Award in 2010. Her efforts intensified following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which she along with her husband and children experienced firsthand. She currently acts as a consultant, catalyst, and grant-writer for several agricultural projects throughout Haiti. She also helped found and direct several 501(c) 3 nonprofit organizations, including DG Educational Services and the West Coast Haiti Network.

While working with host Makouti Agro-Enterprise, veteran F2F volunteer Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak realized the potential for exporting high-quality Haitian coffee to the international market. In July 2010, Dr. Kaplan-Pasternak recruited Haitian-American businessman Yves Gourdet, to travel to Haiti as a F2F volunteer in order to 1) assess coffee production in specific regions of country, 2) educate producers on the U.S specialty coffee market, as well as 3) determine the feasibility of connecting Haitian producers to U.S markets. Based on Gourdet’s findings, he and Dr. Kaplan-Pasternak developed a business plan and launched Haiti Coffee Inc.

In the first year, Haiti Coffee imported 11,000 pounds of coffee, ending the year with a small profit, and was extended a line of credit from a private supporter. The next year, Haiti coffee imported a full shipping container of coffee and expanded to a second production site. Coffee bean sales have now impacted the lives of thousands of farming families in Haiti, and the company has started reintroducing Haitian coffee to the world. What is most significant about Haiti Coffee is not only that is the result of cooperation between individuals and groups affiliated with F2F, but also that it is working to build a sustainable network to support viable, income-generating agricultural opportunities for Haitian farmers, and moving up the value-chain to access larger markets.

In addition to linking coffee producers to markets, Myriam, has been a key influence in the launch and ongoing development of locally-driven producer associations in Haiti. Among these cooperatives is the Association des Travailleurs de Dondon (ATD), a thriving, young cooperative that is leading the charge in their region’s resurgence. As they head into their fifth harvest season, founding director Jacquelin Lucas takes time to reflect on where they’ve been and where they are going:

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

Myriam had been working with Jacquelin in his role as a field technician for Makouti and supported him in the creation of the cooperative. In the beginning, Jacquelin needed to educate the producers on quality standards for the international market. Thanks to F2F and volunteers like Myriam, he was able to teach other producers how to assess and meet quality standards at every step of the process. In addition to providing training and technical assistance, Myriam, through her role with Haiti Coffee, invested financially and emotionally in the success of the effort.

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. John Rushing

                                                               F2F Volunteer Dr. John Rushing

Dr. John Rushing is an emeritus professor at North Carolina State University’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. During his decades’ long career in NCSU’s Food Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences, Dr. Rushing has advised and directed numerous food technology and food safety programs at various regulatory agencies and private companies in North Carolina, and throughout the world. Currently, Dr. Rushing is an independent foot technology consultant who remains committed to training the next generation of Food Scientists. By way of the annual “John and Kelli Rushing Food Science Freshman Scholarship”, Dr. Rushing and his wife support Food Science students at NCSU with the financial assistance they need to continue pursuing their potential.

In addition to being leader in the area of Food Technology, Dr. John Rushing has also been a committed Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer. During the last decade, he has participated in numerous F2F volunteer assignments in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Nicaragua. In March 2017, Dr. Rushing returned to the Dominican Republic to work with local host, ISA University. Located just outside Santiago de Los Caballeros, ISA trains students in a wide array of academic fields ranging from agro-forestry and environmental management to food technology. During this F2F assignment, Dr. Rushing assisted technicians from ISA’s food microbiology lab in improving their methods and techniques for analyzing food-based pathogens, including E. coli, coliforms, aerobic mesophiles, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria, molds, yeasts, among others. He also provided technical advice on equipment acquisitions, made recommendations on plant layouts and evaluated operations to meet international food safety standards and improve food technologies. As part of these trainings, Dr. Rushing also worked alongside ISA Faculty to lead various lectures related to dairy processing plants. These modules included topics such as milk pasteurization, hygiene management, as well as post-processing contamination.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cultivating Peace and Rural Development in Post-Conflict Colombia

By: Andres Varona, Agriculture & Food Security Program Officer at Partners of the Americas

La Union, Valle del Cauca (Photo by Andres Varona)

For more than 50 years, large segments of Colombia’s countryside have been the battlefront of guerrilla rebels, paramilitaries, and drug cartels. The violent clash between these factions and Colombia’s armed forces has not only displaced millions of campesinos to the country’s sprawling cities, it has also contributed to the further degradation and neglect of Colombia’s rich agricultural and food-producing regions. With the signing of the peace deal with the FARC, the largest guerrilla group, the government of Colombia faces a unique opportunity to not only forge greater peace and security, but also a chance to restore the environmental vitality of its countryside and the socio-economic well-being of millions of people that been displaced from their lands. As the FARC put down their weapons and other armed groups (e.g. ELN) begin negotiations to do so, the government should move quickly to regain control of the areas previous controlled by these armed factions. This will have to be done swiftly but with tactical precision as to prevent the proliferation of other armed groups and criminal activities (e.g. illicit mining, deforestation, coca production) into these fragile and impoverished conflict hotspots.

The aim of this revamped rural development strategy, however, should not only be to win the hearts and minds of local people. Likewise, it should also incorporate mechanisms that empower a real and tangible improvement in the quality of life of rural communities that, for decades, have been systematically neglected. Such a strategy will require various levels of government (e.g. national, departmental, municipal, indigenous) to work in concert with a wide array of private enterprises (e.g. agribusiness, ICT, tourism providers), civil society organizations (e.g. NGOs, foundations, academia) and the international and bilateral donor community (e.g. United Nations, IDB, USAID, European Union) to develop and rollout a comprehensive rural development plan in Colombia’s conflict-prone areas. These initiatives should also integrate and promote the conservation Colombia’s natural protected areas, especially given that many of these ecological areas also straddle areas of high and medium conflict.

To be effective, inclusive, sustainable and participatory, this rural development strategy should prioritize the following three areas:

1) Investing in social services: Many rural communities in Colombia lack basic and quality social services such as schools, hospitals, law enforcement and emergency response. Without these in place, many rural dwellers will continue to face growing levels of poverty, undernourishment, illness, and insecurity. The government out to direct more of the national budget towards investment in these geographic and thematic areas. For example, the government could expand the network and reach of public schools and agricultural universities, thus providing rural children and youth with increased educational opportunities. With more access to a quality education in their communities, many of this young people could break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, avoid moving to the already crowded cities, as well as deter them from turning to criminal activities and/or armed groups.

2) Generating quality and formal employment: While education is important, Colombians in conflict prone areas also need access to a more diverse base of quality and formal jobs. The absence of technical skills and formal employment opportunities leads many campesinos to either move to the cities in search of economic opportunities or fall victim to criminal or illicit activities that can provide them sustenance. In this way, there is much that the government, along with the private sector and academia, can do more to strengthen the technical skills of rural dwellers as well as generate good paying jobs in the most remote and conflict-prone communities. For example, the government could work with leading universities to expand its current network of National Learning Service (SENA) centers to more remote and conflict-prone areas. In partnership with leading public and private univerisities, these SENA center could get access to more resources (e.g. funds, books, technology) as well as a more robust course curriculm that empowers campesinos with the set of skills they need to work and generate value in the context of their communties. For example, these centers could also partner with private enterpirses (e.g. agribusinesses, hotel chains, energy providers) in order to train and hire people from conflict areas in various local and sustianble value chains, such as environmental management, permaculture, ecoturism, small enterprise development, renewable energies, among others.

3) Improving transportation infrastructure and market linkages: In addition to more schools and hospitals as well as increased technical capacities, rural communities in Colombia are also in desperate need of transport infrastructure. This means better quality roads that wither through intense tropical weather patterns. It also means revamping the country’s outdated rail network and fluvial ports so that local campesinos have transportation multiple transportation option to take the crops they produced to markets. In addition to infrastructure, these communities will also need better access to markets. This could be done by establishing procurement policies so the government as well private contractors have cost incentives to procure more of their materials and services (e.g. coffee, snacks, building materials, and call centers) from small and medium enterprises situated in these areas.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Scaling the Sale of Educational Artisan Products in Guatemala

Written by F2F Volunteer  Jo Anne Cohn 

 F2F volunteer Jo Anne Cohn
   visiting a shop in Antigua which carries DIDART kits

This month I had my first opportunity to work with Farmer-to-Farmer and Partners of the Americas. My assignment was to assist DIDART, a small business which makes educational kits for children in Guatemala. My task was to help staff members develop a sales strategy in order to enter new markets for their craft products.

First, let me tell you a little about the product. Each kit comes with raw materials gathered by indigenous communities in Guatemala to make a craft. In addition, each kit contains a “passport” with an App to download. Once the App is downloaded, you can visit Guatemala electronically and learn more about the country's diverse indigenous populations and how the raw materials are used to make artisan crafts. Out of my kit which contained pine needles, I made a bracelet! Other kits include manguey for making key chains, clay for making figures and seeds for making masks.

 DIDART employee Anna Lucia Quevado modeling a DIDART display in a store where DIDART kits are sold

Most of the DIDART kits sold in Guatemala are sold to schools. I did have the opportunity to accompany the DIDART team on a sales call to the Liceo Javier, in Guatemala City. In addition, we went to Antigua to visit local shops where kits are being sold. DIDART is also teaming up with the private sector in the area of social responsibility. The idea is for corporations to buy kits to be used in underserved communities.

 DIDART employee Marielos Pichillá making a sales presentation to a school in Guatemala City

What I like about DIDART kits is that not only is it a great learning tool for children, it helps out the local economy as well by buying raw materials from more than 250 local artisans. There’s also an environmental component to DIDART. They have teamed up with CBC (Central America Bottling Corporation) to develop an application called “Ecounidos” where you can determine the location of the recycling centers nearest to you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Banana Production and Fertilization in the Dominican Republic

Dr. Pablo Jordan Soto traveled to the Dominican Republic from March 26 – April 9, 2017 to assess the organic banana production practices of the Banelino Association and the Project La Cruz de Manzanillo and provide them with recommendations on environmentally-friendly technologies and best practices to increase the quality and production of their banana crops.

Banelino is an association of banana producers that encompasses over 300 farmer households. Aside from its focus on banana production, the association also manages a number of social, educational, and medical programs for its members, including a youth training program in banana production. The Project La Cruz de Manzanillo is a national project that supports job creation for residents of Bateyes, a community in the Provice of Montecristi. The project has 250 hectares of land dedicated to banana production and employs over 2,000 low-income families.

During his trip, Dr. Soto visited 12 farms in Valverde and Montecristi to meet with the growers, production managers, and technical staff of both organizations. In these site visits he was able to assess and compare the production methods being implemented at each farm, including their fertilization, pruning, and pest control practices. One of Dr. Soto’s key observations was that these production practices varied across all farms and, for the most part, did not follow recommended standards. This inconsistency can affect the growth and development of the banana crops, as well as increase their vulnerability to pest infestations. In order to bolster production and quality, Dr. Soto made several recommendations, including altering fertilization methods to include increasing the cycles of organic fertilizer by 8-10 per year. Additionally, he recommended the application of 10 to 12 cycles of potassium sulfate per year, implementing training sessions on proper pruning and leaf removal techniques, standardizing production strategies to avoid inconsistencies, and using soap formulations to control pests.

Dr. Soto, originally from Guatemala, has over 30 years of experience in banana production, with a focus in entomology, and has volunteered for the Farmer-to-Farmer program since 2003 in several countries including Nepal, Bangladesh, and Guatemala. He received his PhD in Entomology-Zoology from the North Carolina State University in 1970. This two-week project was part of Partners of the Americas’ overall Farmer-to-Farmer objective in the Dominican Republic to increase the resilience of vulnerable populations to the impacts of climate change. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Two weeks in Guatemala with Vision Maya ‘s Oyster Mushroom Growers

Written by F2F Volunteer Kathleen Preis

Vision Maya is a grower co-op of approximately 25 members with 12 active members growing Oyster Mushrooms from their homes in Municipality of San Andrés Semetabaj, Guatemala. TEach week, the Oyster Mushroom harvest is collected and sold collectively throughout the community of San Andrés. The organization is primarily led by the President of the association, Carmela, and the Vice President, Juan. The group benefits greatly from initial Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers helping to improve their various production operations. The Vision Maya growers have managed to take what they have learned and continue to produce high quality Oyster Mushrooms under variable conditions.

The growers are primarily female heads of household from the neighborhood of La Barranca . They are a close group of friends and enjoy growing mushrooms to contribute to their family’s income. They primarily grow mushrooms out of their homes. Many of their children help their mothers with the harvesting and delivering of mushrooms. Most of the farms are within walking distance of each other and the Vision Maya headquarters adding to bond between the growers.

I arrived in Guatemala with the purpose of helping the Vision Maya group increase their sales through marketing efforts. We began our time together by reviewing the basics of marketing and detailed information on the nutrition and culinary attributes of Oyster mushrooms. We followed each presentation with activities and workshops to encourage confidence in the group when talking about and selling their premium product to customers.

As the sessions continued the group focused more on the development of their brand, packaging and digital presence by drafting logos, slogans and marketing messages to duplicate in sales materials. The group was extremely knowledgeable that the Oyster Mushrooms they were producing were healthy but a review of the factual nutritional benefits gave the group the confidence they needed to more actively share content with customers.

The final day of workshops was spent developing a sales plan and developing tactics to meet sales goals. The group now have the tools needed to facilitate growth and the confidence to pursue additional markets to sell their Oyster Mushrooms to increase sales and profit for their organization and community.

The Vision Maya group is an incredible entrepreneurial organization that I have no doubt will continue to succeed and grow in their business.  The women in Vision Maya are proud to provide food and funds for their family and are determined to increase sales of their Oyster Mushrooms. I look forward to learning more of their success in the future. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hydroponic and Organic Vegetable Production in Guyana.

In March 2017, Dr. Rex Ukaejiofo and Dr. Muamba Jerry Kabeya traveled to Guyana for a two week-long Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer assignment. The purpose of this assignment was to monitor and evaluate the potential that hydroponic and organic vegetable farming can have for underserved rural communities in Guyana. As part of this trip, the pair met with a wide range of stakeholders in the country’s agri-food value chain. Rex and Muamba led multiple key informant interviews with country representatives of leading institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA); the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the National Agriculture Research and Extension Institute (NAREI); as well as the Management Committee of the St. Stanislaus College Farm. They also had the opportunity to meet with a diverse array of educational institutions for Guyanan youth, including the Georgetown International Academy, Sophia Special Needs School, St. Barnabas Special Needs School and Joshua House for Orphans. The team of volunteers also held numerous group discussion with producer groups in the coastal and riverine communities of Guyana’s Region 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10. These engagement provided them with a holistic view of the complex challenges and promises that organic and hydroponic vegetable farm has in Guyana.

Given the high levels of poverty and food insecurity that affect many rural Guyanan communities, Rex and Muamba were tasked with researching how two distinct vegetable production methods, organic and hydroponic farming, can improve the quality of yields and strengthen food security in these impoverished localities. These two types of farming methods were prioritized since they have been proven to avoid the use and application of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides that can runoff and degrade surrounding tropical ecosystems. In the case of organic vegetable farming, the method consists of controlling pests naturally and without toxic pesticides. To be considered organic, plants or vegetables cannot be nourished with mineral salts or any other refined substances except for manure or other natural fertilizers. Meanwhile, hydroponic farming involves the growing of crops in nutrient solutions, usually indoors and under lights.

This objective of this F2F assignment was divided in three distinct phases. The first component focused on the vegetable production, which involved the development of hydroponic shade-houses, natural/organic farms and home-based gardens supported by regional Demonstration, Support and Learning Centers (DSLC). This component was relevant to the target communities to meet both the food security and nutritional profile of the households.

The second phase of the project focused on improving the economic welfare of the producers (disadvantaged and vulnerable groups). This phase was intended to promote and market hydroponic and natural/organic vegetables and culinary herbs for local consumption as well as external markets.

Lastly, the third phase was focused on the development of a national association of hydroponic and natural/organic vegetable producers. The rationale for this phase was to empower target groups by helping create business planning initiatives and build management skills on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Additionally, the goal was to form cooperatives to increase the incomes of both households and communities.

As part of these efforts, the team of F2F volunteers carried out a comprehensive final effectiveness, efficiency, relevance and the sustainability of the hydroponic and organic vegetable production project.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Increasing Poultry Productivity and Competitiveness in Haiti

In March of 2017, Dr. Jacqueline Jacobs, a poultry extension project manager at the University of Kentucky, traveled to Haiti to conduct a USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer assignment with local host SAKALA under Partners of the Americas' Rural Enterprise Development project. SAKALA is an organization that provides technical assistance to groups throughout Haiti and runs a community center in the heart of Haiti's largest underdeveloped area, where youth come together to grow, learn, and play. The purpose of the assignment was to train older students on how to raise poultry and  develop a poultry flock at the community center that can be used as a training tool for the school. As SAKALA supports other communities around the country, the second part of the assignment was to give outreach and technical assistance to these groups.

Dr. Jacobs provided SAKALA with several recommendations to assist them in developing their poultry operations. These recommendations consisted of a 6-tier development framework that included the use of free-range Haitian chickens for the production of eggs for sale. Additionally, Dr. Jacobs suggested that the organization and students work to develop business plans prior to implementing their poultry systems. Dr. Jacobs is an extension project manager from the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at the University of Kentucky. She earned her PhD from the University of British Columbia and has extensive experience in poultry management and production.