Monday, March 27, 2017

If You Give A Man A Rabbit

If You Give a Man a Rabbit
By: Abe Fisher, F2F Volunteer - Haiti

Who does not enjoy a cookie and a tall glass of milk? While in the U.S. a cold glass of milk and a delicious cookie is commonplace, in Haiti, this delicious treat is regarded differently. Bon Bon Te cookies are a finite tradition given to pregnant women and hungry children across Haiti. While most U.S cookies contain chocolate and lots of flour and sugar, Bon Bon Te cookies are made from water, cooking oil, salt, sugar, and clay. The clay is found in the deep pits and caves that make up Haiti's Central Plateau. The clay is shipped to urban areas like Port-au-Prince where they are sifted and strained to remove small rocks, branches, or other foreign objects. After being processed, the clay is used to make Bon Bon Te. Despite providing impoverished Haitians with a cheap source of nutrients, much of these "cookies" are laden with parasites which for many Haitians can lead to medical complications. As one can conclude, Haitians still need a sustainable food solution that can  provide much needed protein in their diets, and empower the local economy. In the case of Haiti, rabbits might just hold the answer.

Back in the 1800s, rabbit meat could be found on dinner plates, general stores, local restaurants, and many other locations. Over time, though, American consumers turned to beef, chicken, fish, and pork as the main source of protein. Fast forward to today when rabbit meat can be found at local farmers markets, higher-end restaurants, and select grocery stores. Yes, people in United States and across the developing world still eat rabbit meat. Rabbit meat is high in protein, low in fat, and requires little income and space to raise. After all, rabbits are one of the quickest mammals to reproduce offspring. The gestation period for rabbits is between 28 to 32 days and they are able to become pregnant even when still nursing newborn bunnies. The idea of year-round  rabbit breeding and a quick gestation period is ideal to help solve the Haitian chronic food crisis. This is where I come in.

My name is Abe Fisher and I live with my wife and three children (soon-to-be four, after our Haitian adoption is finalized) in Juniata County, Pennsylvania. While I am a career network engineer and tech guru, I am also a hobby rabbit farmer. In 2014, I travelled to Haiti for the first time on a mission trip through Juniper Community Missions. While I was there, I instantly fell in love with the culture, the  landscapes, and most importantly, the people. After returning home, I knew this wouldnt be my one and only experience and I felt this trip was the beginning of something new. Soon after my return, I began thinking about how I could make a difference in the lives of Haitian and how I could help solve the food insecurity that plagued so many Haitians. I was confident that I didnt want to just fix the problem by feeding them all. Rather, I wanted to empower Haitians, so they could take ownership of their long-term food security solution.

While I was in Haiti, I met a man that worked at the local mission where our team stayed. He was very kind and spoke excellent English making it easy for us to communicate. I shared with him that I raised rabbits at my home and he was instantly intrigued. After returning home, we kept in contact and I told my new friend that I would be happy to sponsor him if he would like to try raising rabbits in Haiti. After securing some supplies and finding rabbits available for purchase, he founded what today is the Hares for Haiti project. Now, Hares for Haiti is one of many protein project sponsored by Juniper Community Missions. Since its inception in 2015, 159 rabbit farmers have been trained and rabbit meat is starting to become more common than ever before. Not only does  raising rabbit provide a means of protein for their daily diets, it also generates higher incomes for Haitian families. I want to tell you about my most recent Hares for Haiti trip and the amazing experiences I was privileged to encounter while I was there.

I said goodbye to my family and boarded the flight on March 2 to embark on my two week journey, sponsored by USAID Farmer to Farmer program in partnership with Partners of the Americas. I knew the journey ahead would be both informative and somewhat exhausting, but I was up for the challenge. Shortly after arriving, I headed to LaGonave, a small island off central  coast of Haiti, with ten rabbits in tow. LaGonave is one of the most desolate parts of Haiti and I was able to make contact with a missionary named Brian Tucker, founder of Community of Hope Haiti. While on the island, I was able to observe their living conditions and train 17 farmers on rabbit production. The training day went off without any problems, and I thought I was going to be heading back to the mainland the next day to continue my work. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had something else in mind and due to high winds; we were stranded on the island for two additional nights. While the storm winds did not help with my plans, I did have the time to work alongside Brian to build a fantastic hutch (cage) for their rabbits, so my time was not wasted!

When I finally arrived back to the mainland, I had a few short hours to rest before it was off to my next project to visit my current rabbit farmers and purchase few of their rabbits for some upcoming trainings. All in all, we were able squeeze in visits to 24 different farmers. After these trainings we traveled to  with more than 50 rabbits to Christianville, where the training would take place the following day. The amazing thing was that all of the rabbits that we bought for the training were purchased from existing Hares for Haiti farmers. 9:00AM came quickly, and up to one hour before, I was still putting the finishing touches on cages. Nonetheless, we were ready  at 9:00am to begin training. The second training was a success. We even had a participant from Jeremie, a city Hurricane Matthew directly hit just five months prior, who had hopes of replicating the rabbit breeding program there. What a gift to know that I am helping people improve their lives without even being able to travel there first hand! Just a day later, I hopped on a small plane and headed to Cap-Haitien in the far north of Haiti. For me, this was by far the most informational part of the trip as I was able to visit with Benito, who is a rabbit breeding expert. Benito works closely with Farmer to Farmer and also with Partners of the Americas on not only the rabbit project, but also on other agricultural projects such as beekeeping, coffee production, goat raising, reforestation, cocoa production, and so much more. During my visit with Benito, I was able to gain valuable knowledge on rabbit nutrition, best marketing practices as well as how to deliver the instructional information in a more engaging and ffective manner. Benito also took me to the largest chicken processing plant in Haiti where he plans to process rabbits as well. Additionally, we made rounds to visit Benitos rabbit farmers, which helped me to better understand successes and challenges of rabbit farming from a new vantage point.

This trip was truly something I will never forget and I would be remiss if I didnt send my sincere thanks to Partners of the Americas, USAID, and Juniper Community Missions for entrusting me with such an incredible opportunity. The next time you sit down with a cold glass of milk and your scrumptious cookie, think about Haiti. Better yet, dont just think about it. Reach out to Juniper Community Missions ( ) and find out how you too can get involved in making the world a better place.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Brief Look at Marketing Dominican Produce

A grower from the Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster in the Dominican Republic
Currently, small-scale greenhouse owners in the Jarabacoa region of the Dominican Republic produce several horticultural crops including tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and herbs. While the producers are able to consistently produce quality yields, they are vulnerable to volatile local and export markets, including wide price fluctuations. A F2F volunteer was requested to assess domestic and international markets for high-value vegetable crops and give recommendations to producers regarding next steps to ensure more consistent market and price options, possibly including negotiating firm production contracts. The goal was for producers and extension agents to better understand their options to increase the consistency of farm gate price and sales.

Supermarket in Jarabacoa
F2F volunteer Jean Schwaller traveled in January to access markets. One problem identified by the Ministry of Agriculture is access to export markets. Jean, however, maintained that many of the local producers would benefit from better access to market within the DR rather than focus on foreign consumers due to a lack of proper packaging materials and USDA import standards. As part of her assignment, Jean visited a local community market where 15 vendors were selling meat, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes. Cucumbers were being sold for 10 to 15 pesos, peppers ranged between 35 to 50 pesos, and tomatoes were priced 35 to 40 pesos, with price differences due mainly to the size of the produce. In Santiago, Jean visited a chain of supermarkets similar to Walmart called LaSirena, where she noted a wide range of prices on produce. Jean also visited some of Jarabacoa’s greenhouses which sell herbs, spinach, green peppers and cucumbers to these national supermarkets.

LaSirena supermarket in Santiago
Jean had lunch one day at Buen Sabor restaurant and asked the owner about where she gets her vegetables. The owner said she buys cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, directly from local producers and she uses the same person for many of the ingredients she uses daily. For other items, like cabbage, carrot, and onion, she buys through a wholesale distributor. This gave Jean more information about other marketing venues.

After her market assessments and field visits, Jean held a marketing presentation for fifteen producers. She provided training on domestic and local markets and about the value-added by their association. Many local producers were still very interested in exporting to the US but realistically, in order to be competitive, these growers from Jarabacoa Greenhouse Cluster need to make some improvements to access new marketplace. One of Jean's recommendations was that a brand be used for all growers of the association to build a reliable identity, which would help influence consumers.  She recommended a logo be designed that clearly identifies the association and its members. 

Furthermore, Jean did training on calculating the cost of distribution as part of marketing products. And she suggested the association be more active and visit more restaurants, hotels, open-air markets, and supermarkets to be competitive in local markets. 

Jean also visited the country’s local wholesale farmers’ market, which was very well organized and very busy with consumers. Jean strongly recommended that Jarabacoa growers to bring some products to this farmers’ market. For example, the association could help it's members by coordinating the transportation from the cluster farms to the market; ensuring that higher quality products reach these marketplaces; identifying their products with a Jarabacoa Greenhoue Cluster Association brand, and seeking funding to collectively pay for the space rented at the market.

Lastly, Jean recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture gather market price information regularly and share it with the producers. Information could be disseminated through daily ‘market reports’ given by radio or television, or even via SMS technology. With reliable and real-time market information, producers make better decision at the time of establish contracts with their customers.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Evaluation of Onion Growing Practices in Guatemala

F2F Volunteer Deron Beck (far right) with the rest of the Sacapulas, Guatemala Team

Take a look at the colorful picture to the right. What does it remind you of? A beautiful tapestry? A new clothing pattern? It is actually the new onion planting strategy for Sacapulas, Guatemala. The colorful spaces and checkerboards are different growth trials. This color coded organizational chart is part of a procedure of crop rotation to find the best way to grow the onions. At the bottom is a space for a rotation demo.

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Deron Beck designed this system as a way to encourage new practices by comparing them with traditional practices. Deron knew that farmers are often reluctant to adopting new practices so by developing a system for them to compare results, he felt they would be willing to make changes and eventually maximize their production of onions.

In Guatemala, and other countries around the world, onion growing practices are not standardized. Deron believes that a more standardized practice for irrigation, land planning, crop rotation, and fertilizer usage will not just yield better products in the short team, but will improve the sustainability of the land for future generations.

Onions play an important role in the Guatemalan agricultural sector. Currently, onion production in Guatemala is 52 metric tons per hectare. The genetic potential of many varieties being cultivated in the region, however, indicate that production can reach 78 metric tons per hectare. Lower production can be attributed to several factors, including poor soil fertility and limited smallholder farmer knowledge of proper onion fertilization. Like other crops, there are best methods to maximizing productive efficiency in the local environment, and F2F volunteers can help share best practices.

The onion industry in Sacapulas, Quiche has grown substantially over the past 30 years. Larger growers in Sacapulas use experienced planting crews to plant the onion transplants.  They prepare beds about 5 feet wide and crews plant 10-14 plants across the bed in single rows at a time. The crew pokes holes in the beds using a stick or metal tool. After transplanted, the white onions can mature in 90 days in the lower regions, whereas they may take 110 day in the higher regions.
Storage areas are especially important in the highlands since growers are further from the markets. The added storage also allows growers to supply onions to the market through the rainy season (mid-May - Nov). One interesting practice comes from the Mayan growers who use pine needles to cover onions to reduce rot. Deron hypothesizes that the acidic pine needle reduces rotting organisms and absorbs moisture from the outer bulb of the onion. This process greatly improves product quality.

Planting Method of Mayan Grower. 
As part of his F2F assignment, Deron made a number of recommendations for onion producers in Sacapulas. Many of these recommendations could be applied to producers in other regions as well. These recommendations include:

1) Implement sustainable farming practices that will reduce erosion and improve soil tilth
2) Improve fertility practices and refine current recommendations for clay soil types found in Sacapulas
3) Improve knowledge of water usage and crop need by using soil moisture monitors 
4) Experiment with planting configurations that will allow for easier cultivation.
5) Establish variety trials and measure marketable yield at the end of the season to best identify cultivars best suited for the grower’s soil and elevation.
6) Identify 1 grower in each of the 4 of the municipalities in Sacapulas for field demonstrations.

These are just a few of Deron's ideas but if producers can implement some of these, they can improve their farming practices, protect against rain and erosion on the hillsides where many of them plant, and improve their income!

Onion storage

Monday, March 6, 2017

Partners of the Americas Representatives Attend DC Nonprofit Training

Old Naval Hospital, Eastern Market, Washington DC
Last week, a few representatives from the Partners of the Americas attended the Nonprofit Essentials of M&E aand Communications at the Old Naval Hospital in Eastern Market, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill. 

Key points from the morning M&E session included discussions of cost benefit analysis and the inclusion of discount rate, randomized controlled trials (RCTs), evaluation of the team’s culture, impact valuation measurements, and difference indifference curves.During the time, we learned extensively about cost-benefit equation. They highlighted creating an analysis where the discount rate is taken into consideration. Dan Tsin from the Urban Alliance really pressed the point of how important it was to formalize monitoring and evaluation, even for small nonprofits. Down below is a great example of a cost-benefit analysis illustrated for a constituency of online readers to get engaged in the mission.


This is an example that combines the two elements pretty well from our talk. This is a simple cost benefit analysis of adding bike lanes to a city street in Australia. These statistics can really tell a story, but illustrating them through simple bullet points won’t get a good point across. We were advised to use the online tools Canva and Infogram for designing out clear infograms.

During a formal report, they highlighted the use of difference-indifference curves to show gross differences in impact between implementing a strategy of observing some variable.

This difference-indifference curve shows the relationshipbetween the production of two goods, but can be used toshow the impacts of different strategic plans.

The integration of economic charts to convey this information surprised us. Being able to demonstrate your program’s value through these economic graphs are persuasive to professionals, but may not impact your regular readers. Remember the purpose of these charts are to inform readers about your program's:

“Diminishing marginal utility - The indifference curve is convex because of diminishing marginal utility. When you have a certain number of bananas – that is all you want to eat in a week. Extra bananas give very little utility, so you would give up a lot of bananas to get something else.”

Several case studies were mentioned to provide their points. These included studies that correlated the tactic of providing Kenyan school children free uniforms led to lower teenage pregnancy rates, how U.S students going to college were uniformed about their FAFSA opportunities, and the cost-benefit analysis that Martha’s table did to measure their cost-effectiveness. These studies helped to illustrate the power of precise monitoring and evaluation for any nonprofit.

Quentin Wodon speaks about methodology for proper impact evaluation measurements
The key note speaker was the president of the Grameen Foundation, Steve Hollingworth, who helps to manage the international arm of the Grameen Bank. He reiterated the fact that 800,000 million people today are still chronically poor, and that 1 billion people live without easy access to electricity. Mr. Hollingworth believes that we are experiencing a the problem of nuanced gradation of poverty with this existing poverty, and that this has not helped more recently with targeting impoverished environments with growth strategies.

Even from 2012, this map shows the impact of
mobile money transfers on the market in Africa.
He spoke considerably about the changing nature of development and micro-finance through the introduction of the mobile phone. These devices has allowed to push and pull in data that has shaken up the market quite a bit. This included talking about MPESA, a mobile phone app that is growing in popularity in East Africa. The Grameen Foundation began studies on the annual impact inventories related to the theory of change. They were unsure if the mobile financial tools could provide micro-insurance, enable mobility, or whether it brought costs down? In the end, the group discovered a sizable 2% increase in household income through MPESA.


His final note related to some of what he learned about communicating with your supporters. There were 5 key points:
1) Evidence / impact
2) Emotion
3) Touch the mission
4) Brand Value promotion
5) Donor as subject, not objects

As he stated, “Donors want to have a touch of the mission.”

The second half of the day focused on communication.The first session on communication came from Jose Baig, who just left the World Bank for work in South America. He suggested 6 key strategies for the companies use on twitter:
1) Have a story. Make it clear, make it simple, people will support why you do something
2) Have a strategy. Know who you are trying to target online with your voice
3) Have a goal. Not just we want X amount followers, have a goal that your followers can actively participate in helping you to achieve and keep them updated on the progress
4) Create a plan.
5) Understand your voice. Find the right balance between formality without pushing people aside
6) Get everyone involved. Handling the group’s online voice is normally left up to one individual, but everyone on the team should have an opportunity to contribute ideas to how they want that voice to reflect the organization’s goals.

Jose Baig addressed the audience during the second half of the training

The story of your nonprofit is incredibly important in developing your voice. It should be present in the cover photo, and in the short description on twitter at least a general sense of the issues you are trying to do something about. Moreover, the long term goals of your organization should be updated frequently. The speakers suggested a change to your Twitter cover photo about every 2 – 3 months to encourage participants to return to the page.

Another suggestion they mentioned were Twitter polls. These can be used as a conversation mechanism for connecting with your audience members about certain issues. Mention statistics of progress, and relate them back to your long term goals. These are a great way of iterating long stories into a brief description.

The next session came from the Glen O'Gilvie and Courtnie Thurston from the Center for Nonprofit Advancement in DC. Here, they discussed the contents, strategy, and analytics to study your social media. They mentioned Hootsuite and Google Analytics as popular tools to use. During the speech, one of the speakers assigned listeners with the activity of judging their target audiences online, and strategies for reaching out to each one.

Overall, the event was very educational. They provided everyone a free copy of Impact Evaluation in Practice by Paul Gertler at The World Bank. We hope there’s more events like it in the future!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Videographer Documents Remote Guatemalan Agriculture

At just over 6200ft elevation, winded, but yet proud of my accomplishment, I began setting up my camera gear for what was next to come.

The coffee harvest here in the mountainous region of Huehuetenango. Guatemala is home to what surely were severe 45° mountain slopes and expansive highland views; a perfect setting for great imagery. Elvera, and her two daughters, are indigenous coffee farmers and owners of a small plot of land filled with organically grown coffee plants. This is a precious opportunity so rarely given to women in a society so dominated by male influence. This was a welcomed open door for change. 

As a documentary videographer, I have been tasked by F2F to tell Elvera’s story as she works to better her family’s lives through the exportation of high quality, woman-grown, organic coffee.  Through the FECCEG’s (Federaci√≥n Comercializadora de Caf√© Especial de Guatemala) concerted effort to extend local markets, these small micro-producers finally have a voice in such a competitive international market.

 Throughout my two-week assignment here in Guatemala I traveled to multiple coffee-producing farms, beekeeper’s hives, goat raising communities and also documented the coffee production process from start to finish. Countless hours of filming, tireless effort of chasing the light of the sun, multiple bee stings, thousands of clips, and two terabytes of footage later I can proudly look back and say my time and effort was very well spent and will hopefully do some good for these communities and organizations.

So lets rewind back to the mountainside where I found myself ducking under trees and hauling camera gear up these steep slopes trying to keep up with the local kid who was leading the way to the location where the coffee harvest was taking place.  He was an ace at it and I was crashing my way through, I can assure you of that. We eventually arrived to this singular flat spot on the mountain which gave me the opportunity to film amazing landscapes with humble people working extremely hard at their craft. Between unique GoPro point of view shots from the farmers’ perspectives’, stabilized RED Epic Dragon movement shots, and drone aerials to sincere personalized interviews- it was safe to say the steep hike was absolutely worth it.

Fast forward from here, and we are driving down a dusty, windy dirt road at 4:30am on our way to capture the first rays of light casting down on a series of bee hives where honey is produced. Adorn with a full veil, gloves (not so lucky the next time) and long sleeves head to toe we were ready to head in for battle. Armed with my RED Epic Dragon 6k balanced on a Ronin-M camera stabilizer I had no other way but to stay focused on the task at hand as over 12,000 bees were abruptly awoken.
“Whatever happens, don’t drop the camera…” I kept thinking to myself, as the bees turned the silent mountainside into a an overwhelming, reverberating buzz. Despite the turmoil, a feeling of serenity passed over me as I realized I was in very good hands with the FECCEG technical  staff. In order to help me capture the imagery we needed to show these bee hives in good light the locals continually took the initiative to apply smoke to my hands and head in order to keep the bees at bay. After a few hours of squinting at my screen through my netted veil I captured the imagery we needed. I learned a tremendous amount about the toils of being a beekeeper and have such a deeper appreciation for acquiring quality honey. 

We continued our journey from there, documenting the work that FECCEG is doing to build up local capacity of knowledge and expertise, as these farmers hone their craft and exercise their newly found voice. We traveled to local women weavers, goat farms and to see the honey extraction process. We started with coffee cherries (pre shelling) and ended with roasted and packaged coffee.

I was able to capture it, every step of the coffee process, and met some truly amazing people along the way. Everyone at FECCEG was extremely helpful in the best kind of way because as a filmmaker there are always challenges with setting up shots. From getting the perfect lighting, to repositioning subjects and repeating actions from different angles, there is always a challenge so while working in these remote environments. I couldn’t have been more thankful for this help I received.

As I sit here at my computer, categorizing footage and translating interviews, I am humbled by the opportunity that this assignment placed before me to truly impact other people’s lives. I am eager to dig into this footage and craft something that both embodies FECCEG and Kishe but also creates a feeling of intense pride towards the tireless efforts of the many hundreds of producers that create the FECCEG name.  

Time. Well. Spent.