Friday, February 16, 2018

F2F Volunteer Duo Bolster Youth Entrepreneurship in Nicaragua

Husband and wife, Barry Evans and Louisa Rogers, traveled to Nicaragua as F2F volunteers to conduct interactive workshops for Junior Achievement Nicaragua (JA) to help them improve their educational processes and teaching methodologies. JA is a non-profit educational organization that promotes economic education from an early age and empowers young leaders to be proactive in their own development, both personally and professionally. It implements business education programs aimed at children and adolescents, young women, and female heads of household. 

Louisa Rogers conducted interactive workshops on entrepreneurship, leadership, life skills, career planning, and teamwork. The JA youth also developed individual projects and presented in front of the group and on social media. As an experienced world as a training consultant, Louisa was able to effectively share her teaching methods in entrepreneurship, leadership, management, and conflict resolution to participants. Through her training, JA youth entrepreneurs gained substantial training in leadership and entrepreneurship that should help them to develop their projects and become effective leaders in their communities.

Meanwhile, Barry Evans worked with the Junior Achievement facilitators to strengthen their capacity to train youth entrepreneurs, particularly on how to organize, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, lead, and ultimately run small businesses. Evans led a variety of lectures and trainings on organizational and enterprise leadership development aimed at youth. The topics were related to organizational governance, formation of by-laws, generating business plans for micro-enterprises, business development strategies, conflict resolution, and negotiation skills. Barry has an extensive knowledge of teaching as well as practical professional experience in developing marketing strategies through his work in photography, marketing, and website design. His knowledge has now equipped JA facilitators to replicate the trainings with youth entrepreneurs throughout the region.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rehabilitating a Watershed in the Dominican Republic

By Jan Surface, F2F Volunteer in the Dominican Republic 

This past January, F2F volunteer, Jan Marie Surface traveled to the Dominican Republic, where she worked with Plan Yaque on recommendations to improve water quality within the Yaque del Norte watershed. Plan Yaque is a non-governmental institution that combines efforts between the State and Civil Society for the protection, conservation, and sustainable management of natural resources of the Yaque del Norte River Basin. Its fundamental purpose is to contribute to regional and national development towards the construction of a better and sustainable quality of life in the Dominican Republic.

During her stay, Jan Marie provided examples on how to set up photo-monitoring points; a list of references for best management practices to improve water quality, tips for writing grants, equipment recommendations for their new water quality lab, and UV treatment recommendations.
One of the highlights of her trip, was meeting with Williams Hernandez (Plan Yaque Coordinator of Water and Sanitation Program) to see a septic tank plus wetland cell treatment system currently under construction for sewage treatment at the newly constructed relocation community for families who are currently living illegally in a National Park. Fifty-two houses have been constructed for 350 people and each family will be provided 629m2 of land for agricultural production.

[Left] 6-cell septic tank under construction [Right] Jan Marie Surface (blue hat on left) discusses system with Williams Hernandez (Plan Yaque; orange hard hat) and resident workers
The wastewater treatment system for the project is designed as a gravity flow system starting with a 6 cells septic tank to settle out all the solids and begin anaerobic digestion. The liquid waste will then flow through a constructed wetland consisting of a gravel substrate and vetiver plants. The wetland treatment system was sized (load calculations) and designed by Plan Yaque staff. As designed, the treatment system will address nutrient issues, but it will not treat bacteria. Jan Marie researched alternatives for providing tertiary Ultra Violet bacteria treatment and provided those recommendations to Plan Yaque.

[Left] Williams Hernandez (Plan Yaque) and Jan Marie Surface (F2F volunteer) discuss wetland treatment system [Right] Wetland cell has been leveled and is ready for gravel substrate and plants.

Jan Surface is a watershed planning specialist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Little Rock, Arkansas. This was her second F2F trip to the Dominican Republic and assignment with Plan Yaque on this topic. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

F2F Volunteer Supports Colombian All Natural Skincare Company Zen Naturals

F2F volunteer, Bryce Malsbary, an international business development expert, traveled to Colombia in January of this year to offer his business expertise to natural cosmetic company, Zen Naturals. Based in Cali, Colombia, Zen Naturals sources their natural ingredients from the nearby Department of Cauca. Zen Naturals works directly with the Paez indigenous communities that grow the quinoa used in many of their products. As their business continues to expand, they have maintained their core values of ethical manufacturing, fair trade practices and loyalty to producer communities. The goal of this assignment was to help Zen Naturals with their business strategies to positively affect sales and to efficiently aim their marketing efforts. Bryce held brainstorming and training sessions that helped employees to accomplish this task. The training activities included both individual and group meetings to evaluate which actions were needed to improve product and outreach strategies, particularly for their Zue beauty line. Bryce helped members of the Zue team better define their roles and responsibilities to improve the management and organizational structure. 

Bryce also led various workshops on how to improve business development efforts that foster lasting  relationships with customers.Through these trainings, the teams were also able to discover how to monitor competition and perform analysis on new and existing markets to better target customer demographics. Zue has already launched an E-Commerce sales program to promote and sell Zue products through social media. 

Overall, Bryce is confident that Zue will be successful and believes that their Zue line are both quality products and showcase the company's focus on protecting the environment and being socially conscious. As the natural skincare market continues to grow, it will be exciting to see what strategies Zen Naturals will develop to drive them even further towards success!

Read more about Zen Naturals' Zue products through their website and Twitter page here:   @zuebeauty 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Coffee Expert Sarah Brinkley's Journey in Haiti

By Sarah Brinkley, F2F Volunteer In Haiti

I’m thrown into a world of chaos: the smell of diesel, heaps of traffic-impeding garbage, pigs and goats feasting freely—extreme poverty. Though I have traveled to farming communities throughout Latin America, I had never seen such hardship. My assignment with Partners of the Americas brought me to Cap-Haitien, the original capital of Haiti. I was debriefed upon arrival. The Partners’ USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program appointed me to serve as a Coffee Production Specialist. My expertise was needed to survey coffee production, implement agricultural management strategies, and train the local co-op (including farmers, extension agents, and university students). I was optimistic about how my assignment would unfold, who I would meet, and what I would learn.

On day 1, I made the rutted, 2-hour journey south through the Nord department to visit the co-op of Association des Travailleurs de Dondon (ATD). In Dondon, I was first acquainted with Haitian coffee. I got straight to work surveying two forested coffee plots. It was mid-December 2017, roughly a month after harvest. The first plot reflected this and was virtually devoid of fruit. It was well managed. By contrast, the second plot was nearly inaccessible. The bend of a small river framed in this peninsula on three sides. The remaining side was banded by a cactus fence. This formidable layout made me pause to consider how the women of Dondon traverse this section while balancing buckets brimming with coffee cherry. I took field counts of both plots. The latter plot was clearly in distress. Roughly 75% of the leaves displayed signs of disease, and there were high counts of unharvested cherry. This neglected fruit was infested with coffee berry borer (CBB) or “eskolit” in Haitian Creole. My survey revealed the urgency of including CBB control strategies in my trainings over the coming weeks.

Training ATD began with a nursery construction project to address problems with root development. While we worked, I probed the group about their concerns with eskolit. Were they aware of the threats posed by CBB? Did they struggle to control the beetle? Were there barriers to successful CBB management? It turned out, ATD was well aware of CBB. They had seen up to 25% loss and even knew, theoretically, how to create CBB traps made from recycled materials. However, the co-op members had heard a pheromone attractant was required as bait but didn’t have access to it. To overcome this limitation, I offered a solution based on my review of the literature. I explained, a 3:1 ethanol/methanol mixture is proven to be effective bait. Since the alcohols may still be hard to find, I recommended the ATD co-op members experiment with readily available alternatives, like fermented fruit juices or honey. Even more importantly, beyond the traps, I stressed that management practices were the first line of defense against CBB. To reinforce this message, we put theory into practice by cleaning high priority fields.

With all of our efforts a question arose, “What options do I have if my neighbors are mismanaging their CBB infestation?” I explained that the traps also indicate population count and direction of emergence. Equipped with that information, they could engage their coffee producing neighbors. With the right tools, vigilant management, and open dialog they were ready to tackle CBB losses, which would in turn lead to prosperity for their whole community.

Nearing the end of my assignment, I came upon an important revelation. Before arriving in Haiti, I couldn’t imagine what I would teach veterans of 30+ years about their livelihoods, yet my time in Dondon helped me to realize an important link between the technician and the farmer. The technician works in a realm that is all theory and the farmer, all practice. For the future of coffeeand all agricultureto be sustainable, there must be a bridge connecting the two. The USAID and F2F enabled me to be that missing link bridging a knowledge gap. At Re:co, I will have the opportunity to build many more connections with those of diverse professional and cultural backgrounds. Such connections are bound to result in discovery, elevating the future of specialty coffee for us all. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Producing High Quality Chocolate: The Importance of Cacao Fermentation

Nathan King worked with a leading supplier of high quality cacao in the Dominican Republic, Zorzal Cacao, to establish fermentation protocols that will improve cacao quality and ultimately increase its marketability in the lucrative global chocolate market. 

Nathan has an extensive knowledge of Reserva Zorzal as he has worked as both a bird researcher and technical consultant for them in the past. On this assignment, Nathan set out to produce higher quality beans by improving the fermentation process and consistency so that there are less undesirable beans in the sorting stage. He also collaborated with the Zorzal team to design and build an electronic monitoring and logging system to closely manage the fermentation and drying processes.

During this process, Nathan used cacao elements that are typically waste products to study how it affects the taste. Esters, components used for flavor, are increased at higher temperatures and add quality to the finished chocolate product. He believes that there will be a new interest in studying the fermentation stage to positively affect the flavor of the cacao. By focusing on flavor development during the fermentation stage, the host organization can potentially add exotic flavors and avoid having to add them in the final stages of chocolate-making

Nathan is optimistic that customers of Zorzal Cacao will be pleased by these improved cacao processing procedures that will result in a higher quality product. For future assignments, he recommended a focus on investigating different sustainable methods for inoculating cacao as well as the effects of external factors like temperature on the fermentation process. Through Nathan's training, other local cacao farmers will also be able to improve their fermentation processes and produce more climate-resistant and high quality cacao.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Fostering Youth Empowerment in Nicaragua

This past December, F2F volunteer, Melanie Forstrom traveled to Nicaragua, where she conducted interactive workshops for Junior Achievement Nicaragua (JA) facilitators and trainers to improve educational processes and teaching methodologies. JA is a non-profit educational organization that is present in more than 120 countries. The goal of the organization is to promote economic education from an early age and empower young leaders to be proactive in their own development, both personally and professionally. It implements business education programs aimed at children and adolescents, young women, and female heads of household. 

Melanie Forstom earned her Master’s degree in Conflict Transformation from the School for International Training and has spent countless years working with at-risk youth in a variety of different locations and programs throughout the United States. She currently leads youth development programming in Ulster Country through the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program.

The experiential learning method is renowned for being effective in youth engagement programs and avidly used by Melanie in her 4-H programs. Melanie demonstrated her teaching method by directly engaging with facilitators, trainers and participants to integrate this teaching method in a variety of activities and games. This style of teaching entails engaging in an activity and then asking reflective questions to speak about the skills that were applied during the activity. 

Junior Achievement Supervisor, Ana Carolina, was a vital workshop participant as she is equipped with invaluable observation tools to ensure that facilitators are as efficient as possible during programs. Melanie created activity and program manuals in Spanish that facilitators can use to ensure the utmost preparedness. 

In the next few months, Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program will continue working with JA to build on Melanie's assistance and help the organization continue to strengthen their youth empowerment and entrepreneurship programs. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Developing Agrotourism Opportunities In Guatemala

In December, Mark Willuhn traveled to western Guatemala to work with smallholder farmers who have been searching for ways to diversify their income sources and expand into the agrotourism industry. Mark worked with an organization called FECCEG which is a federation formed by 35 organic coffee farmers. He first surveyed the farms to assess the potential for agrotourism market and then began working with FECCEG staff to develop an agrotourism implementation plan.

Mark also developed a Visitor Management and Tourism Development Plan with FECCEG staff to begin construction and marketing strategies immediately. He believes that social media will be vital to spark the interest of local and world markets to the beauty and potential of the region as a place to visit. 
[Left] Fresh bags of coffee being stored before shipment [Right] Five visitor cabanas were constructed in El Vergel

An FECCEG federation advertisement. Translation: "Together we can go further"

Mark has extensive knowledge in sustainable tourism as he currently serves as the Executive Director at Alianza Mesoamericana de Ecotourismo which is a company that links visitors that are eager to help conserve protected areas within countries in Mesoamerica. Since Mark avidly travels to Mesoamerica, he is excited by the opportunity to check in on FECCEG and see how the farms are reaching their goals. Looking forward, Mark is optimistic that the region will generate income for the local communities through the growth of this sustainable agrotourism market.

View on El Sendero Catarata (The Waterfall Trail) where Mark saw great potential for agrotourism to be developed

 Credit for all photos goes to Mark Willuhn. If you are interested in ecotourism in Mesoamerica here is a link to Mark's website: