Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Supporting Anti-Child Labor Projects in Ecuador and Panama

EducaFuturo is a program currently being implemented by Partners of the Americas in Ecuador and Panama. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), EducaFuturo seeks to combat child labor in both countries through educational programs, vocational training, and livelihood services. F2F has partnered with EducaFuturo on numerous occasions over the past 5 years, sending 7 volunteers to support their efforts in improving the educational outcomes of youth involved in child labor, while also increasing the income opportunities of households to reduce reliance on child labor. Volunteers have provided training on a range of topics, including sustainable production practices, processing, business management, and marketing.

In January 2016, F2F volunteer Carmen Pacheco-Borden traveled to Panama to work with native Ngabe-Bugle women’s groups in the tomato farming communities of Hato Chami and Boca de Monte to make value-added products from their harvests and consequently increase their household income. Historically, smallholder farming families in the communities produce roughly 500 pounds of tomatoes per growing season, of which they sell 50% and consume 10% in the household. The remaining 40% (200 pounds) is usually not sold in time, resulting in a large post-harvest loss.

Ms. Pacheco-Borden, the owner of a small salsa business and a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado, trained the women’s groups in processing and canning tomato-based products for future household consumption or sale in local tourist markets. Through her training, it is expected that the farmers will be able to reduce their post-harvest losses significantly and generate additional income through value-added products, like salsas.

Similarly this past May in Ecuador, University of Oklahoma Extension Specialist, Dr. Barbara Brown, traveled to the city of Otavalo to provide training to EducaFuturo participants on fruit processing and value-added products from their uvilla and strawberry fruit. During her two-week trip, she visited the communities of San Rafael and Pijal to tour their strawberry and uvilla fields. Strawberries and uvilla are the two most abundant crops grown in the communities. Growers sell their fruit in nearby markets, including to the fast food chain KFC. However, in order to reduce their post-harvest losses, they are seeking to develop new products to add value to their fruit. As part of this effort, Dr. Brown conducted workshops on the production of fruit pulp, preserves, and jams (with and without added pectin). In addition, she discussed the feasibility of developing preserves and jams from tree tomatoes, blackberries, apples, and apricots. In order to better tailor the training sessions to the needs of the communities, Dr. Brown conducted workshops on the preparation of each value-added product using home-sized quantities, equipment, and resources. The goal is to allow the groups to first become familiar with home-scale production of these goods and then build their way up to commercial scale. As part of her recommendations, she noted that investing in heavy-grade plastic bags with a heat sealed closure will be extremely beneficial in increasing the shelf-life of their products. Dr. Brown felt confident that, with the right resources and continued support from the EducaFuturo program and Otavalo community, the two groups in Pijal and San Rafael will be able to follow through with the production of these products.

The assignments completed by both Carmen Pacheco-Borden and Dr. Barbara Brown are just two examples of the successful partnership between the Farmer-to-Farmer and EducaFuturo programs. The goal of this relationship was to combine the efforts and benefits of both programs with the hope of creating a greater and longer-lasting impact.  

Thursday, July 19, 2018

F2F Haiti Volunteer Spotlight: Robert Spencer

Robert Spencer during an assignment in Guatemala in 2016
Alabama Extension agent, Robert Spencer, has been a long-time F2F volunteer with Partners of the Americas. During the current program cycle he completed 5 assignments, including 2 in Haiti on food safety and quality. His first assignment in the country was in September 2015, working with F2F host, Makouti Agro-Enterprise, and several rabbit producers in the northern region of the country. The focus of this trip was to train small animal producers in meat quality assurance and safety. Following site visits to producer farms, Robert conducted four days of workshops to address food quality and safety concerns that he observed. His presentations focused on HACCP, food safety and quality across value chains, and public relations in the meat industry. While in Haiti, Robert also visited over ten restaurants to conduct needs assessments and interviews to gain a better understanding of food safety expectations, inspection practices, and overall concerns coming from restaurant managers. During his discussions with owners, he learned that a major concern for them was the lack of a uniform commercial standard for meat cuts that are internationally recognized. Robert recommended future assistance in this area to train all relevant restaurant employees in proper cuts of meats and other areas of food safety and quality. Furthermore, he suggested that Makouti initiate a training program for all associated farmers on food safety and meat quality to continue building their capacity in these subjects.

A year later in November 2016, Robert returned to Haiti for another assignment—this time related to goat meat production and management. During this trip, he worked alongside another F2F volunteer, Myriam Pasternak, to deliver a series of workshops to goat producers in Cap Haitian, Robillard, and Ferrier. The two volunteers were able to procure supplies for a goat evaluation demonstration during their second week. During the event, Spencer led a group activity to discuss and demonstrate proper evaluation of individual goats. Participants were provided evaluation sheets and assigned a number of goats. Participants went over several assessment criteria including aging based on teeth, FAMACHA scoring, eye health, and body condition. Other workshops and trainings featured discussions on goat feeding, health, and reproduction, as well as proper conditions of farms. Overall, Robert felt that participants were very receptive and enthusiastic. However, he did recommend continued efforts in emphasizing the importance of goat health and increasing production quality.

Since his two assignments in Haiti, Robert returned as an F2F volunteer in 2017 to conduct trainings in Guatemala on value-added goat milk products. Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. He holds a Master’s degree in Agribusiness Management from the Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Host Highlight: The Fabretto Foundation

The Fabretto Foundation (Fabretto) is a non-profit organization that provides educational and nutritional programs to children and families in the most disadvantaged areas of Nicaragua. Aligning with Partners of the Americas' Women & Youth F2F strategy in the country, Fabretto seeks to build the entrepreneurship and leadership skills of children and youth to improve their livelihoods and empower them to reach their full potential. The Foundation boasts seven community Education Centers and over 400 public schools throughout Nicaragua, with programs focused on three strategic areas: (1) Early Education, (2) Primary Education, and (3) Technical Vocational Education. Fabretto’s community-based approach allows parents and teachers to also benefit from their education and health programs, while providing them with a platform to become leaders in their communities. Teachers and tutors at each of the schools and centers receive training on innovative methodologies and tools to improve their teaching and classroom management. In addition, parents have the opportunity to participate in workshops on various topics to allow them to become more involved in their children’s education.

Among the programs that Fabretto implements is an innovative high school program called the Tutorial Learning System (SAT). Accredited by the Ministry of Education as an alternative secondary education program, SAT provides many rural youth, located in regions of the country where access to secondary education is limited, an opportunity to continue their education. The SAT curriculum is based on the practical methodology of "learning by doing," whereby students learn mathematics and science, while also growing crops and designing a business plan to sell their harvest. Through this approach, students gain key entrepreneurship skills and are encouraged to start their own small businesses. Many SAT graduates and other beneficiaries of Fabretto’s programs have gone on to establish their own cooperatives and small enterprises, including the artisanal jewelry cooperative, Nica HOPE. 

During the last four years, the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program has sent a total of 18 volunteers to support Fabretto's commitment to empower both under-served women and youth in Nicaragua. Assignments have focused on helping Fabretto improve their programming through training on business and marketing, 4-H programs, soil conservation, and coffee production, among other topics. Volunteers have included Timothy Bowser, who in 2016 visited three of Fabretto’s schools to train students on the construction of a solar dehydrator that can be used to dry their fruit and make beef jerky as value-added products. That same year, F2F volunteer Dustin Homan trained Fabretto tutors on 4-H methodology that they could adopt into their current youth programs, particularly SAT. Other volunteers have included Bettina Barillas who in 2017 worked alongside Fabretto leadership to develop an improved strategic business & e-commerce plan with the goal of increasing sales of products developed by their affiliated cooperatives and farmers. Lastly, Arthur Bassett traveled to Nicaragua in March 2018 to assist Fabretto’s cooperatives in obtaining organic coffee certification. Arthur also conducted workshops for students on organic farming, including necessary materials, composting and soil management, and coffee cupping and drying. 

Throughout the start of this partnership, the F2F program has sought to advance the mission of the Fabretto Foundation, supporting its nearly 250 members. Through the help of volunteer assistance, it is expected that Fabretto will continue to improve and strengthen its operations, leading to continued success in the future. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Team Assignment Highlight: Dr. Ethel Villalobos & Scott Nikaido

In May 2017, University of Hawaii-Manoa (UH) professor, Dr. Ethel Villalobos and UH graduate student, Scott Nikaido, traveled to the regions of Valverde and Monte Cristi in the northeast of the Dominican Republic, where they surveyed eight apiaries and made recommendations on beekeeping management. The objective of this F2F team assignment was to provide hands-on training to banana producers of the Banelino Association on the development and implementation of apiculture projects for honey production. As part of this assignment, Dr. Villalobos and Mr. Nikaido worked alongside Banelino staff and led workshops focused on production techniques and technologies for honey bees and queen rearing. The volunteers also assisted Banelino by identifying the best set of endemic flowers for beekeeping and ways that local farmers could improve their apiculture management practices in order to optimize honey production.

Dr. Villalobos during her visit to Partners HQ in October 2017
Throughout their assignment, they noticed several critical practices that the producers were not implementing, including the use of proper clothing and protection gear. In addition, following colony inspections, the volunteer team suggested changes that needed to be made in order to improve colony health. According to Dr. Villalobos, there is a series of challenges afflicting the country’s honeybees. These issues include: (1) hunger and starvation; (2) poor location of apiaries; (3) poor equipment condition; (4) little understanding of bee management; and (4) limited knowledge of honey plants. As a result, the team stressed the need for Banelino to conduct outreach promoting colony health to producers, in addition to further training regarding colony management and honey production. Through these recommendations, the team believes producers will be able to improve their overall beekeeping and honey production operations.

Among the many outcomes of this team assignment, an unexpected and significant discovery was made related to the origin of many of the honey bees seen at the apiaries. During their site visits, Dr. Villalobos and Mr. Nikaido noticed that several bees exhibited defensive behaviors and had other distinctive characteristics from typical European honey bees known to the region. In response, the two volunteers decided to collect bee samples from several apiaries across the country that they could take with them to test at the UH Honeybee Project’s molecular laboratory upon their return. In total, the team collected 41 honey bees from fifteen apiaries located across eight provinces in the country. Test results, based on maternal DNA, showed that many of the bees were in fact Africanized honey bees (AHB), particularly those collected from the northwest region of the country (see map below). Due to the necessary protective measures that need to be taken when dealing with AHB, the team decided to submit their findings to a scientific journal, which was recently published in May 2018. While Africanized bees are more resistant to bee pests and diseases, they tend to be more defensive and therefore need to be managed differently over European honey bees. In the article, Dr. Villalobos and Mr. Nikaido stress the importance of further study into the prevalence of AHB in the country, and to a larger extent the entire island. They also recommended building awareness about the situation and conducting outreach to hive managers about proper management practices and safety measures.

The efforts of both Mr. Nikaido and Dr. Villalobos proved to be beneficial not just for F2F host Banelino and their banana producers, but also for the entire beekeeping community in the country. The discovery of AHB will require continued support to better understand its impact in the country and to raise awareness among beekeepers. The F2F program hopes to continue working with Dominican beekeepers to build on the progress made by the volunteer team.

Map of regions sampled for AHB (*indicated no AHB detected)[1]

[1] Scott S Nikaido, Ethel M Villalobos, Niyra R Castillo, Ana Cubero Murillo, John M Rodríguez & Rafael Marte Aracena (2018) Detection of Africanized bees in the Dominican Republic, Journal of Apicultural Research, 57:3, 351-353, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2018.1447838

Monday, June 11, 2018

Host Spotlight: Federación Comercializadora de Café Especial de Guatemala (FECCEG)

The Federacion Comercializadora de Café Especial de Guatemala (FECCEG) is an association of small organic coffee producers established in 2006. FECCEG currently works with 10 cooperatives in Chimaltenango, Huehuetenango, Quiché, Sololá, San Marcos, and Quetzaltenango, and over 1,000 farmers, of which more than 350 are women. Their mission is to promote and support the sustainability of small-scale producers by providing training in the production of organic coffee, honey, and sugar cane, in addition to value-chain support services. FECCEG seeks to increase the incomes of member producers, while also promoting environmental sustainability and gender equality. In 2013, Kishé Foods, LLC (Kishé) was founded in California as a subsidiary of FECCEG in order to help the association have a more established presence in the U.S. market. In addition, as a social enterprise, Kishé Foods serves to strengthen the coffee value chain by directly selling Guatemalan coffee to US consumers.   

While FECCEG has seen much success in promoting its mission and reaching its goals, as it continues to grow it has requested assistance from the Farmer-to-Farmer program in areas related to organizational development, marketing, traceability, and product handling and safety. Father and son duo, Tommy and Arthur Bassett, collaborated on two team assignments in 2016 and 2017 focused on developing FECCEG’s communications and marketing strategies to increase coffee sales locally, with the potential to open more coffee shops in the region. During their recent trip to follow-up on their initial assignments, the duo visited the Kishé Coffee and Tea shop in Xela where they evaluated current operations and made recommendations to improve their sales, advertising, product display, and the overall layout of the store.

Overlapping with Arthur and Tommy’s assignments, volunteer Blake Scott worked closely with staff and the volunteer duo to create a series of promotional videos for FECCEG, specifically highlighting Kishé and their women-grown coffee brand. Recent F2F volunteers have also included Keith Moore, who collaborated with FECCEG leadership to develop a 2017-2022 strategic plan, with an updated monitoring & evaluation system. The latest volunteer, Michael Drankwalter, led several workshops with FECCEG beekeepers and honey producers on added-value products that they could develop with their excess honey, including bee wax, honey straws, soaps, creams, and lip balms. 

Since 2014, 13 F2F assignments have been completed with FECCEG on various topics within the coffee and honey value chains. During the remainder of the program cycle, F2F will seek to continue building on the accomplishments and progress it has made with FECCEG in promoting Guatemalan coffee and increasing the income opportunities of local farmers. 

Video below developed by F2F volunteer, Blake Scott as part of his assignment in 2017

Friday, June 1, 2018

Essential Oils Production in Jamaica and Haiti

Clare Licher, owner of the Arizona-based family-run business PhiBee Aromatics, not only possesses thirty years of experience in aromatherapy and essential oils, but is also a frequent Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer. In the past, Clare traveled to Jamaica in both 2016 and 2017 to consult with the Yerba Buena Farm regarding the establishment of a commercial essential oils distillery and market growth potential. Most recently, she traveled to Haiti to again utilize her highly-specialized knowledge of essential oils to assist the non-profit, Prosperity Catalyst, and their Haitian affiliate Fanm Limye.

[Left] Clare during a workshop in Jamaica in 2016. [Right] Clare during her assignment in 2017.
Fanm Limye has operated in Haiti since 2012, working directly with over 400 beekeepers in Western Haiti. Most recently, the organization has assisted beekeepers in cultivating essential oil-yielding plants to provide nectar for their bees and scent candles made from their beeswax. Clare helped Fanm Limye with these goals by first purchasing a portable distillation system for use in beekeeping communities. She then traveled to Haiti to recommend herbaceous plants, grasses, trees, and wild nectar plants that were suited for tropical weather and would best suit the needs of local beekeepers.

In addition to issuing recommendations, Clare also worked directly with community members, giving six presentations on essential oils, performing five distillations, and training 128 people in distillation. These interactive trainings and presentations took place throughout the Haitian countryside, and involved distilling lemongrass, basil, and other plants nurtured by small farmers. Upon the completion of her assignment, Clare was confident that the men and women she trained would be able to train other beekeepers in the future.

Clare with workshop participants in Haiti in 2018
Clare’s knowledge of essential oils and distilling practices proved beneficial in this assignment, and as a result of her hard work, more than one hundred small farmers and beekeepers in rural Haiti have improved their capacities to simultaneously support their bees and supplement their income. At the same time, Clare expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to work with and learn from the Haitian people, especially Thony Querette, Prosperity Catalyst Program Manager in Haiti, who not only translated during her trainings, but also welcomed Clare into his family’s home during her stay.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Strengthening Public Relations for Colombian Natural Cosmetics Company

In March 2018, Kathleen (Kath) Lestina, a business owner and designer from the United States, traveled to Zen Naturals' headquarters in Cali, Colombia as a Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer. The company's Zue Beauty line is a brand of quinoa-based natural cosmetics that emphasizes sustainable, ethical manufacturing and fair trade in order to improve the lives of quinoa farming communities in Colombia. Through Zue’s Give-Back program, customers are empowered to donate to Colombian organizations, contributing to the company’s two central goals: providing high-quality natural skincare products and generating social and environmental change. 

F2F volunteers have been integral to the growth of Zue, as several agricultural and technical volunteers have helped train indigenous farmers to harvest quinoa. Other F2F volunteers have assisted with marketing, branding, and digital media. The purpose of Kath’s visit, the most recent F2F-Zen Naturals partnership, was to assist Zue’s public relations team in preparation for expansion to the United States.

Upon her arrival in Cali, Kath met with executives from Zue to discuss pertinent topics such as the effect of cultural differences on business practices, potential U.S. stores for expansion, and the overall goals of the company. During her time in Colombia, Kath critiqued Zue’s social media platforms, suggested strategies to draw attention to the Zue Give-Back program, and offered methods to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention.

Due to her 25 years of experience, Kath was able to offer valuable recommendations to the Zue team. She explained the importance of packaging, suggesting that shipped products should include a personalized note thanking the customer for empowering Colombian farmers. Kath also suggested changes to the company’s website and social media platforms, which are currently being implemented to make them stronger and more engaging in order to drive e-commerce sales. One particularly crucial contribution was Kath’s creation of response templates to positive and negative customer feedback. By thanking customers for their feedback and maintaining timely, helpful communication, Zue can ensure customer loyalty.

Kath’s experience as a volunteer with F2F was one of collaboration and open discussion between herself and the team in Colombia. She brought a new and valuable perspective to the office, engaging in a true professional exchange that resulted in improved public relations practices for the U.S. beauty market, and, by extension, empowered Colombian communities.