Thursday, May 17, 2018

Marketing for Women-run Cooperatives and Youth-led Businesses in Nicaragua

May 1-15, 2018, I had the pleasure of working with Noel Diaz, Program Officer, Farmer-to-Farmer Nicaragua, and Xenia Castillo of Fabretto Foundation Nicaragua to conduct workshops for three groups in Nicaragua. The main objective of this mission was to help them develop business plans, specifically marketing plans. Pinos Fabrettinos is a cooperative formed by 38 indigenous women in San Jose de Cusmapa who decided to take charge of their lives by making and selling pine needle baskets. 

The first week, we worked with them to provide training on business plans, specifically details on Mission Statements, SWOT Analysis, and Marketing plans. I admired their lovely baskets in their show room, and commented about the Easter colors on some of them, and how an Easter basket would be nice. They were not familiar with Easter baskets. Since we had free wi-fi from the park next door, I showed them some Easter baskets on line. They said they would have the woman who could make baskets the quickest make an Easter basket. They asked a lot of questions about size, colors, etc. On my last day with them, they had the Easter basket! They gave me the Easter basket as a thank you gift. I tried to get them to keep it as a model, but they insisted that I take it. They had taken several photographs of the basket as well as of the whiteboards where we wrote plans for their coop. We provided training on business plans, specifically details on Mission Statements, SWOT Analysis, and Marketing plans. The women were very receptive and developed their Mission Statement which they now want to put on their products. They plan to review their by-laws and bring up changes at the next annual meeting. They also have plans to be more active in marketing their products domestically and with Fabretto Foundation and plan to introduce 3 new products per year. We had the women re-write their Mission Statement at the top of the write board. They we took it outside and made photos with all of the women holding their baskets.

The second week I worked with two other groups in Somoto, Nicaragua which are also sponsored by Fabretto Foundation. I met with a group of 7 tutors at Fabretto Foundation who work with beekeepers and tomato producers and other groups. Juli, who was a volunteer from Germany did a fantastic job. Noel had already translated most of my Power Point Slides into Spanish.We covered an overview of a business plan and worked on a SWOT analysis for beekeeping. The second day with 7 educators I had hoped to show some of the EMWOFA e-learning videos, but the internet didn’t work well enough at Fabretto to show them. So, I gave the educators the website. We worked on a Mission Statement for the beekeeping coop and covered marketing plans. I reviewed a business plan that the tutors had developed for their greenhouse producing greenhouse. 

My last group was 5 students who grow greenhouse tomatoes with the help of the tutors. I worked with all of them to develop business plans. After the students had developed their own plan, I reviewed the business plan that the tutors had started for the tomato greenhouse, with them. We added the tutors ideas to the students’ plan. I think all three groups made progress and all feel proud of the Mission Statements that they developed. I feel that they will keep developing their coops and taking more control of their marketing.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel and work in such a beautiful country. I am sad to hear about the political developments since I left, and hope they are resolved quickly. I have made many friends in Nicaragua with kind and hardworking people, and I hope their country will continue to progress economically, and more tourists will discover its natural beauty and wonderful people. I was very impressed with the insights of Noel Diaz and Xenia Castillo. If they continue to receive support, they will guide these groups and others into coops that provide for many families in Nicaragua and will build a better future for the members, their families, and their communities.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

From Puerto Rico to Nebaj, Guatemala: A Volunteer's Personal F2F Experience

Written by F2F Volunteer Dr. Abner Rodriguez, Professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus

Located in Nebaj, Department of Quiché, Guatemala, Save the Children, with USAID and other funding agencies, developed the Goat Production Center of the Western Highlands, known by its Spanish acronym CEPROCAL (Centro de Producción Caprina del Altiplano). The project is focused on reducing malnutrition in families with children in Nebaj and other rural areas with the highest poverty rates in the country. In Guatemala’s Western Highlands, chronic malnutrition in children is the result of multiple factors, being the most important the lack of a good source of protein at the onset of the weaning period. Raising goats for milk production is the international agency and funding organizations strategy to alleviate the problem. During the last years, goat milk has been utilized for hundreds of families to improve children’s diets and as a product for local cheese production. In order to be successful, the program needs CEPROCAL to produce the goats that are distributed to the families or beneficiaries. 

Visiting the Save the Children /USAID - Farmer to Farmer program beneficiaries 
On April 2018, I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Farmer-to-Farmer program to train technicians at CEPROCAL in the production of compost using goat manure. Composted goat manure, a value-added product, is later utilized as a nutrient source during the cultivation of corn, beans, and other crops. During my visit, I had an unforgettable time training and working with CEPROCAL technicians and visiting the program beneficiaries. However, my most valuable experience was to know and see how the Ixil people maintain their traditions and culture. The Ixil are a Maya people indigenous to Guatemala. In the early eighties, the Ixil community was one of the principal targets of a genocide operation during the Guatemalan civil war. Today, they are living examples of dedication, resilience, and love for their history, ancestors, and roots. In CEPROCAL, almost all workers are of the ethnic Ixil. Among these workers, I had the pleasure to meet “Chico”, a friendly hard-working, always smiling, young boy that might represent all builders of hope working in CEPROCAL. 

Francisco Alejandro Terraza de Paz “Chico”
Chico is one of the children of a widow mother. He works in CEPROCAL during the day to help his mother, two brothers and two sisters. His daily routine includes cutting and carrying the forage to feed the goats, clean the bars, milk the goats, and transport the milk to the processing plant. During the evening he is a freshman student pursing a degree in agricultural sciences at the University of San Carlos, Nebaj Campus. Chico is only one of many young men working under similar circumstances in CEPROCAL, during my visit, however, I saw all of them working with great enthusiasm, and dedication and with the common goal to enhance the living conditions of their ethnic group and improve their quality of life. All of them very proud to be an Ixil

Chico in a daily routine in CEPROCAL
Upon graduation, Chico’s goal is to have his own farm, help his family and his community, and give employment opportunities to other young people from Nebaj. 

I felt very honored to volunteer for the USAID Farmer to Farmer program in Nebaj, Guatemala training technicians and farmers in compost production using goat manure. However, at the end, I was the one that learned more from this academic and personal experience. Seeing Nebaj, “Builders of Hope” reinforced my believe that as volunteers we have a great opportunity to share our knowledge and assist people with difficult living conditions. We have the opportunity to help build a better world and improve the quality of life of people from difficult backgrounds who have limited opportunities, but the biggest heart and love for life and pride for their culture.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Soil and Water Conservation Engineering in the Dominican Republic

Written by F2F volunteer, John Tiedeman, April 15-29, 2018

Farmers are practical people wherever you find them in the world. Challenges in the Dominican Republic were to identify opportunities for soil and water conservation in the fertile Cibao Valley and surrounding mountains.

Week 1 focused on a 160 acre ranch where goals include preservation of a remaining cacao plantation, plus demonstration of sustainable organic production methods. Most acreage in the area of La Vega has been converted to intensive cultivation of cassava/yuca and bananas using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Adequate drainage and water supply are essential to healthy plant growth, whether in the humid climate of the D.R. or in the dry summer climate where I live in northern California. For surface drainage, the starting point is to ensure an unobstructed outlet. Although landowner Altair Rodriquez had installed hand-dug surface drains in her cacao plantation, the downstream outlet was completely plugged by a failed concrete culvert under a paved highway. Flow over the highway has failed the highway shoulder and presents a risk to traffic safety. In collaboration with neighbors and local road department officials, repairing the culvert will improve farm drainage and remove a transportation safety hazard.      

                               Plugged culvert outlet                                                                                     Highway shoulder failure                                                 
On the water management side, we field tested drip irrigation to demonstrate the uniform applications available under low head (pressure). In a one acre test planting of green pepper (spice), a thousand and more plants are being watered by hand (picture below).

Pimienta verde (green pepper spice) with support trees (“pinon Cubano”  Gliricidia sepium). The support trees have other beneficial properties, including nitrogen fixation, livestock forage, and that they respond well to coppicing (opportunity for use of wood products).

Aside from the labor requirement for hand irrigation, it is difficult to deliver a uniform application of water to each plant. With the clay soil, a drip irrigation system was proposed (single one gal/hr emitter per plant) using ½” poly tubing for 80 meter long rows. Once the hand-dug well pump is restored, benefits will include (1) labor savings, (2) uniform application to each plant, and (3) water conservation.

Week 2 was spent in with rural farmer groups in three different regions, focusing on soil conservation, soil health, and supplemental (drip) irrigation.

    (1)  Manuel Bueno, west of Mao, near the Haitian border. Soils tend to be shallow, and rainfall is limiting. We discussed maintaining cover over soil (reduced tillage, lower grazing pressure) as well a living terraces (perennial grass contour strips) to protect soil from erosion and dissipate erosive energy of runoff.

A family scale drip irrigation system was installed to demonstrate improved water conservation and vegetable production.

(2) North of Santiago. In this mountainous area, the family must haul water up a hillside to reach their garden area. Under these conditions every drop counts due to the difficulty of obtaining and applying water. 

    (3)  La Vega area. This area receives more abundant rainfall, and also experiences flooding when the capacity of drains and canals is exceeded. For this reason supplemental irrigation is important for harvesting vegetable crops during windows in the dry season. In addition to individual drip emitters, small micro-sprinklers were found to operate under low head and be well suited to dense plantings such as spinach, lettuce, and radishes. 

The two weeks in the Dominican Republic were productive time well-spent.   The Farmer-to-Farmer staff in the Dominican Republic are well-organized to ensure efficient use of time at the right pace. It was a privilege to participate with the staff and farming communities.

Recommendations for future F2F volunteers:

    1). Ask questions and attempt to understand existing constraints before offering solutions.

    2). Provide training and materials to F2F staff and communities leaders, such that they can continue implementation after you’ve returned home.

    3). Be flexible and enjoy the cultural experience. The Dominicans are warm and friendly people, eager to learn new skills that will enhance their food security and well-being.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A First-time F2F Volunteer's Experience in Nicaragua

During my volunteer assignment in Nicaragua I had the opportunity to visit different cities to give workshops. At first, I was a little bit nervous because I’d never given any type of workshops before. I was really excited about it, but nervous at the same time. Even more when they told me that I was going to give the first workshop to teachers. The first workshop was called “Marketing Digital” and I gave that to the middle school teachers of the Collegio San Luis. This one, consisted of giving teachers different ideas and tools that they could use within their classrooms.

During the workshop, I explained what social media is and what type of social media platforms are out there. I also explained them the different kinds of Technologies of Information and Communication (ICT) like computes and cellphones and the way we utilize them. I told the teachers what were the benefits of using new technologies and social media platforms. For example, how their students are always in touch with social media and they’re experts in using it, and how their parents can know what they’re doing in class. It was very nice meeting the teachers because they were really fun and sweet! They even got me a card and bracelet form their school to thank me for the workshops! 

During my assignment, there were other workshops I gave including public relations for business owners and how they can increase their followers and potential buyers by increasing their public relations awareness and using social media. It was very fun to give these workshops and also to learn from Nicaraguans. I was even covered by the media over there. It was very exiting being interviewed for the first time! (link to video of interview below)

My weekend in Nicaragua was also very fun I visited the city of Granada which is a colonial city In Nicaragua. When the weekend was over I continued with the workshops and also took some photos and PR videos for a non-profit organization in Nicaragua called Finde.

Definitely this is an experienced that I’m going to remember my whole life. I’m very happy I had the opportunity to volunteer and give something back to people. I studied a lot during college and I did not have a lot of time to complete volunteer assignments, so I’m happy I was able to complete this one. Honestly, at first, I was kind of skeptical on how people could benefit from the workshops I was going to give. Since I thought it was very basic information. However, once I arrived to Nicaragua I realized that the teaching methods and technologies are different than in the U.S. and I’m very sure the workshops I gave, were very useful to them.

Now, I think they not only have the tools, but the enthusiasm to learn and use social media and technologies to teach, promote, and create awareness. I also think I gained a lot of professional experienced during my volunteer assignments. Since, I had never taught anything before. I think this is definitely something I can put in my curriculum. I’m very thankful for the opportunity that was given to me. I learned a lot from the people I worked with. Now, I think I’m not only a better communicator but also a better human being.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Mitigating soil erosion in the Dominican Republic

Written by F2F volunteer Elizabeth Miernicki

In March 2018, I traveled to the Dominican Republic for my first ever USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) assignment. As my plane flew over the country towards Las Americas airport, my eyes never left the window. I could not stop thinking about what the soil looked like underneath all of the lush green foliage before my eyes. I soon found myself in a country three times smaller than my home state of Illinois, but with greater soil diversity. A true treat for me!

Terraces in Mao formed by livestock walking along the contours.
My F2F assignment specifically focused on improving soil management and water conservation practices to reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility and improve water quality, with an emphasis on global climate change in the Ciabo Central region. The overall objective of the assignment was to provide vulnerable farming communities with the necessary strategies and technologies to improve the resiliency of their farming systems. The impact of global climate change on farming systems in the Dominican Republic is evident. The frequency of severe droughts, floods and storms have increased, and as a result, farmers are finding it difficult to manage their land properly due to unpredictable weather patterns.

I traveled to a total of three farming communities located in the provinces of Puerto Plata, Santiago Rodríguez and La Vega. A large variety of crops were grown between all farming communities. Dominant crops included banana, cacao, plantain and various vegetables. Despite varying cropping systems and management techniques, common issues within each community included crop disease, varying stages of soil erosion and poor soil fertility.

Two-day visits occurred for the three farming communities. The first day was spent assessing farms to gain a better understanding of the current management practices being implemented. In addition to farm visits, soil samples were collected to conduct soil nutrient tests. If time allowed, a soil nutrient test and pH test were performed with the participation of the community to provide an understanding of the nutrient testing process. Test results were presented in a lecture the following day. Water quality tests measuring nitrate levels were also conducted. The second day of each visit consisted of a lecture specifically tailored to the farming communities’ management techniques and soil/water related challenges.
Drip irrigation in a pepper field in La Vega

Recommendations at a quick glance:

  •       Soil conservation practices
o   Terracing
o   Buffer strips and wind breaks
o   Cover crops
  • Improved nutrient management practices
o   Basic soil tests
o   Incorporation of organic fertilizers
  • Cultural practices
o   Crop rotation
o   Disease management techniques
o   Appropriate irrigation systems to improve water use efficiency
o   Improved crop varieties
  • Workshops
o   Compost and biochar production
o   Growing transplants
  • Demonstration plots
o   Organic vs. conventional management practices
o   Comparison of crop varieties, fertilizer types, transplants vs. direct-seed and cover crops
o   Sediment traps
  • Co-op formation to increase overall farm profits

I would like to thank Partners of the Americas F2F program for the wonderful opportunity to help farming communities in the DR. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Marketing for Products with a Story: An F2F Volunteer's Experience in Colombia

By F2F volunteer, Rebecca Roebber

Marketing is changing so fast with the influence of social media and access to the internet. There are so many products we are exposed to everyday, when we open our Instagram or browse through Facebook, companies send us emails with discounts and new products. How do we know what to buy anymore?

We are all looking to purchase products that speak to us, that stand out compared to other products. Great marketing shows us products that represent who we are, who we want to be, and what we believe in. I bet that if you look at some of the products you’ve recently purchased, you’ve felt that personal connection, even if you didn’t recognize that the company is working to connect.

An example of a connection that brands make with the customer is a chocolate company called “Endangered Species,” their brand is sold at Whole Foods and other natural grocery store and reaches a large audience that care about animals in the rainforest, that is a pretty straight forward message, that doesn’t really represent the quality of the chocolate at all. Only 10% goes back to endangered species, but their entire marketing strategy is putting faces of beautiful endangered animals in order to connect to their audience and it works! 

New products that don’t tell a story have a hard time finding an audience and don’t sell. It is no longer about the product itself, but the lifestyle and the story that comes with the product.

Livu, which comes from “Live You,” means that we should all be living the best versions of ourselves. Livu is a product that is made by Latina women for Latina women. Without even knowing what the product is I can already tell you that there is a huge audience to speak to. Fortunately, Livu’s story is not the only amazing part of the business, Livu is a natural cosmetic and body care line that represents the beautiful and colorful Latina culture and women all over the world. They make products that are vibrant, fragrant and affordable to Latina women and all women. 

Founder of Livu, Nathly Millan understands that a product is not just a product, it is a culture. Women want to feel alive, empowered and beautiful everyday and that is what Livu represents. She noticed that there was a demand for natural body care products in Colombia, but the only products like that were coming from the United States. The organic and natural body care companies in the US share a similar marketing strategy to one another: avoiding strong fragrances, using neutral colors in their packaging and they all have a high price point, making it hard for Colombian women to buy.

During two weeks working with Livu we developed a strong foundation for the business by creating a strategic marketing plan and designing Livu’s website. Defining Livu’s audience, analyzing and developing the website,  creating a marketing voice and a marketing plan to guide Livu.  We brainstormed best approaches on marketing, most effective social media platforms, packaging design and ways to collaborate with other like-minded businesses.

We started by identifying Livu’s audience so that all marketing materials speak to that group. We analyzed many websites with similar products. We looked at brands that had natural, organic body care products with a social and environmental mission similar to Livu. We wanted to see what were things that we felt were good things to include in our plan, include on the website and portray using social media. Once we had an idea of what we wanted to convey and who we wanted to convey it to, we worked on a marketing plan. Identifying interests of the audience, gathering ideas for types of posts and content, creating a calendar with important and relevant dates, a strategy for creating content and a plan to get it in front of the right people.

I have no doubt that Livu Beauty will have a successful launch and empower many women in the process!

Rebecca Roebber is the Marketing Director at indi chocolate in Seattle, WA. She has previously volunteered with Partners F2F in Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Passion for Nurturing Body and Soul Through Healthful Foods & the Important Role of a Business Plan

Written by Russ Webster, F2F Volunteer, Guatemala
New logo featuring Marco Barbi,
created by F2F volunteer Melissa Delzio

Yogi-Superfoods has a great set of products, and a great story, both driven by the passion of its founder and owner Marco Barbi. Yogi began in Marco’s kitchen in 2014. Italian by birth, Marco immigrated to Guatemala in 2008 to pursue a more meaningful life through good health and spiritual growth. He sought to help others too on their personal journey through his inspirational books, yoga instruction, and meditation classes. During this time, Marco also began preparing organic health foods such as kombucha, kefir, tahini, and ghee in his kitchen, with each recipe aimed at delivering nutritious, natural sustenance to the body. Marco knew too, through his own experience, that healthy foods help not only the physical body but promote a positive state of mind and emotional health as well—"health body and happy soul,” as Marco liked to say. He shared his food preparations with friends, who enjoyed them tremendously, and they encouraged him to go into business and reach others with his good food and positive attitude.

Yogi is not just about food. When a consumer buys a Yogi-Superfoods product, they get more than just an organic, nutritious food item. Through its unique packaging, Yogi also offers the buyer inspirational messages, and invites them to continue eating healthy and thinking positively. This is what Marco calls the “Healthy Body-Happy Soul!” project: helping his customers improve themselves physically through healthy eating, as well as emotionally through positive thinking and taking action. Yogi’s packaging and labeling are meant to inspire well-being for anyone. Marco has since grown his business to about US $200,000 in annual sales, employing eight staff, producing and packaging over 50 food items, selling through 50 plus retailers ranging from large supermarkets to local produce stands, and buying much of his supplies from small-scale Guatemalan producers. For example, four of his 12 local suppliers are women-owned cooperatives engaged in such activities as fruit production and drying. Yogi has a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility and has received commendations and awards for being a socially-minded enterprise in national and global competitions.

Marco hopes to reach as many people as possible with Yogi’s nutritious foods, and its positive messaging. Building on a strong business foundation and reputation from his base in Antigua, Guatemala, Marco wants to expand to more outlets around the country and the region, increasing sales by 50 percent per annum over the upcoming 5 years. In the food sector that Yogi operates in, this is a plausible objective: according to one research firm, the global organic food market, valued at USD 77.4 billion in 2015, is expected to reach USD 320.5 billion by 2025. [1] Although US consumers have led this upward trend to date—making up USD 40 of the total 77.5 billion in 2015—consumers in Europe, Asia, and Latin America are increasingly demanding better-quality food and a healthier lifestyle, and this will be a major factor driving market growth for highly nutritious organic foods over the next decade.

Latin America is a premium region to capitalize on this market trend, both as supplier and consumer of healthier foods. According to the Inter-American Commission for Organic Agriculture, of the 2.2 million producers of organic foods worldwide, 400,000 are in Latin America, with the numbers of producers growing at a rapid pace. [2] Although the consumption of health food products in the Latin American region is not as big as in the US or Europe, it too is growing: in Mexico alone, the health food market is estimated at USD $12 million per annum and growing (Euromonitor International). Brazil is another promising market, in particular as the economy recovers from its recent 4-year recession. And, both countries are good export targets for Yogi.

The purpose of my technical assistance assignment was to help Marco set out his business plan to achieve this growth objective. Over the course of two weeks consisting of several scheduled meetings and ad hoc interactions, I was able to craft a document for Marco that he’s now using in his discussions with potential investors. The business plan—Yogi-Superfoods: A Plan for Expansion—outlines a plan for expanding operations, strengthening the management team, intensifying marketing/communications/and use of social media, opening up new sales and distribution channels—including through business-to-customer e-commerce distribution, as well as financial projections for the upcoming 5 years.

With this business plan in hand, Marco is now able to meet with prospective investors, and discuss his capital requirements. As an addendum to the plan, I prepared a financial modeling tool that can be used to evaluate various debt or equity investment scenarios. This capital injection is necessary for Yogi to grow, and doubt that Marco will have a difficult time attracting potential investors—the financial return should be good, as well as the feeling of doing something good—through food—for the consumer’s physical and emotional well-being.