Posts Tagged: Blog

Improving a Malawian Cooperative’s Production of Mushrooms

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By: The Farmer-to-Farmer Team, Washington D.C. and Malawi

This article is a contribution to a four-week blog series celebrating 30 years of USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.

From November 16 – December 11, 2015, partners of the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program are sharing their knowledge and experience in providing volunteer technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. Closely aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, the F2F Program works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity, and promote climate-smart development. Targeted volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth in ways which increase incomes and improve access to nutritious food. This blog series aims to capture and share the experiences of hosts, volunteers, and program partners.

Meet the Chalera Mushroom Farmers’ Cooperative

Established in 2003, the Chalera Mushroom Farmers’ Cooperative is located just outside of Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital.  The cooperative, comprised of 29 women and six men, had been experiencing difficulties in cultivating mushrooms for sale and consumption since its inception, due to inadequate growing methods and a lack of access to quality resources. Despite these challenges, the members of the Chalera Cooperative refused to abandon their goals of developing a successful mushroom cooperative, and turned to Farmer-to-Farmer for assistance with learning new methods of cultivation to improve their operations.

CNFA responded to their request by sending Matthew Cleaver, a seasoned CNFA volunteer and mushroom expert, on an assignment to equip cooperative members with the skills needed to improve their mushroom production.  With more than 15 years in the mushroom industry, Mr. Cleaver has an impressive record of successfully introducing new technologies to mushroom farmers, enabling them to increase their yields through improved production practices.

Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer Addresses Challenges to Production

Mr. Cleaver worked with the Chalera members to find solutions to the challenges they faced, including inadequate chemical pasteurization methods and a lack of proper growing spaces.  He trained the members on chemical, heat, and natural pasteurization methods, which are vital in reducing any microscopic “competitors,” allowing the fungi to thrive. He also made recommendations to the group on how to transform their grow-house into a mushroom growing haven by adding clear plastic over the windows and roof to allow light and heat in, keeping the space at an ideal temperature for mushroom cultivation. The cooperative members pictured here are working to implement one of the key lessons from their training: reducing the size of corn husk pieces which are used as a base for mushroom cultivation, which helps the growing fungi absorb more water.

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Farmer-to-Farmer Stories – The Key to Success

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This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and American volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks.

Today is the last day of Agrilink’s Blog Carnival for the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program. Each day this week, stories from nine organizations were released. The stories, experiences, and ideas expressed in these posts came from all over the globe and discussed different technical areas of expertise. There were several sources of these stories: volunteers, local field staff, farmers, business owners, government employees, and more. Although the storytelling and knowledge sharing have been different and unique in their own ways, one thing remains clear: stories from the Farmer-to-Farmer field are valuable and need to be heard.

The very nature of the F2F program fosters deep connections among people from different backgrounds. Volunteers arrive in country and immediately start creating networks, knowing that meeting anyone they can and hearing their stories is the best way to gain a deep understanding of their environments. Local F2F staff connect volunteers not only to their designated host organization but also to other individuals who have information that can benefit volunteers. The farmers or business owners take the information they are passed down and spread it throughout their communities. This knowledge sharing is the real key to Farmer-to-Farmer success.

Many times, international development programs focus their efforts on improving impact numbers and analyzing large data sets to try and make a picture of the program’s results. While this data is a necessary part of program implementation, it cannot tell a story. People tell stories. There are individuals behind every program, and with F2F, we have the unique opportunity of hearing these testimonials to get a real understanding of the valuable day-to-day work that is actually being accomplished.

Storytelling and knowledge sharing is only made possible through the organization of a solid structure. Without structure, this information would get carried away, and the value would be lost. The implementing organizations behind the F2F program create the foundation and structure through which these stories are spread.

Thank you to all the organizations involved in this week’s Blog Carnival for the F2F Program. Through collaborating on events such as this one, the F2F experience can be shared with all to create higher impact, improved knowledge sharing of technical expertise, and increased cultural awareness at home and overseas.  It’s been a pleasure to hear your stories, and I look forward to hearing many more.

As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only!

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Fish Farming in Malawi: an Integrated Approach to Improving Food Security

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This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and American volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks.

Malawi, ‘The Warm Heart of Africa” as it’s called, is a small, land-locked country in Southern Africa.  While Malawi has benefitted from economic growth and stable governance in recent years, the country is still considered one of the world’s least developed countries, highly susceptible to food insecurity and malnutrition. Low agricultural production, poor nutrition, and underdeveloped markets hinder the development of the agriculture sector and perpetuate high rates of poverty in Malawi.  The majority of the population works in agriculture, and a large portion of the sector’s labor force is made up of smallholder farmers.

The integration of agriculture and aquaculture is a unique option for smallholder farmers to improve their farming systems economically and
ecologically. Integrated fish farming occurs when fish are farmed alongside livestock and agricultural crops. When executed properly, it is a highly efficient system as waste or byproduct from one system is recycled. The fish products form a critical part of the system and also provide a highly nutritious food source as well as act as a means for income generation.

Lusangazi Integrated Fish Farming Initiative is a farmers’ association located in Mzuzu, Malawi. In 2006, the group received training in integrated fish farming but no further support was offered in subsequent years. The group currently integrates dairy cow farming, aquaculture, and vegetable production into their operation.

In June of 2014, the farmers of the Lusangazi Integrated Fish Farming Initiative welcomed CNFA Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Dr. Leonard “Leo” Obaldo to assist them in updating their fish farming practices. Using a combination of theoretical sessions in a training center as well as interactive training using the farmers’ ponds, Leo addressed the needs of individual farmers while giving an overview of best practices. Dr. Obaldo focused largely on improving fingerling (juvenile fish) production, which can lead to improved fish farming operations as well as a new source of revenue for those who wish to sell fingerlings to other fish farmers. Leo also developed a fish farming manual that will soon be translated into the local language and act as a resource for many farmers across the country.

Improved fish farming for the Lusangazi group specifically targets women farmers. Thirty-three of Leo’s forty-two trainees were women, and two of the plots used for demonstration training were done on farms owned and operated by women. One woman farmer who has already started implementing Leo’s recommendations will move towards a larger-scale operation of fingerling production, a new source of income generation for her blossoming fish farming business.

Empowering women is crucial to bolstering food security. From a nutrition standpoint, women are a vital target group for assistance as they make consumption decisions for households and are the primary caretakers of children. Ensuring women continuous sources of income and knowledge in proper nutrition will lead to better care for children and a stronger, more productive generation of Malawians.

The training Dr. Obaldo did was the first time these farmers have received assistance in fish farming since the creation of the association. While aquaculture is recognized as an important way to improve nutrition and increase incomes for smalholder farmers, many do not have access to training or technical resources that could help them improve their operations. Leo’s Farmer-to-Farmer assignment will not only allow the Lusangazi farmers to expand and improve their operations, but it will have a positive ripple effect on other fish farmers in the community.

By strategically focusing on volunteer assignments that both improve food security and income generation for smallholder farmers, the Farmer-to-Farmer program can ensure comprehensive development for farming communities across Southern Africa. For more information on the importance of volunteer assignments, please check out CNFA’s Farmer-to-Farmer overview video.

As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only!

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Finding Solutions to Food Security Issues in the Farmer-to-Farmer Field

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This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and American volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks.

Food Security and nutrition are major concerns across all three of the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Southern Africa countries: Malawi, Mozambique, and Angola. Although the region as a whole has experienced political stability and economic growth in recent years, there is still a large portion of the population living below the poverty line and struggling with malnutrition and hunger. While the region has high potential for agricultural growth, it is highly vulnerable to climate change, drought, flooding, and tropical storms, and agricultural crops are largely dependent on rain-fed irrigation creating an unpredictable food supply.   Agricultural productivity of major crops is quite low, especially among smallholder farmers that do not have adequate access to needed inputs and information.

Of the many food security issues in the Farmer-to-Farmer field, one key problem is that most households struggle with having food reserves available on a continuous basis. To try and understand this complex issue better, CNFA Angola Country Director, Luciano Silva, and I met with two cooperative members that our F2F team will be working within M’banza Kongo in north Angola. Maria Rosa and Liliane Mayamba are members of a woman’s cooperative that grows cassava as well as some fruits and vegetables.

Maria and Liliane each have four children whom they must feed and care for each day. To maintain their crops, they must be at the field at least four days a week, but ensuring their children have food prepared on the days they are away can be difficult. I spoke with the two women about their daily challenges regarding meals.

Q: What do you do when you need to make a meal for yourselves and your family?

Maria: Today, for example, we brought our children to the field. We have tea with us, and we will dig up these sweet potatoes for lunch. We will cook everything here in the field. When we don’t have potatoes, we can eat some cassava. Everything we eat comes from the ground. Many days I have to leave my children at home for the whole day, and I worry about what they will eat or if they will have enough food while they wait for me to come back home.

Q: Do you have a place in your house to save food?

Liliane: There is no space to save food. Our houses are small and built low to the ground. We don’t have electricity. We can’t keep food there.

Q: Your crops are mainly sweet potatoes and cassava. Do you try and eat different fruits or vegetables?

Liliane: Nearly every day we can eat cabbage, but we have to buy it. I like to buy extra food when I can. Maria doesn’t like to buy food.

Maria: No, I can only eat what we have here or what other family members can contribute. We don’t know what that will be today, tomorrow, or the next day.

Liliane: Every day I worry about what we will be eating tomorrow.

Many smallholder farmers share the same plight as Maria and Liliane. With little knowledge of how to store food and no place to keep it, farmers across the region are forced to go to their farms every day to harvest small batches of food to eat. This time-consuming task results in lower productivity, and I asked some of CNFA’s experienced local staff why this may be the case.

Why must smallholder farmers harvest and consume their food on the same day?

Antonio Aljofre, Country Director Mozambique: Lack of food reserves in households and communities has an enormous impact on the availability of food throughout the year – this is a major problem in Mozambique, for example, where a large portion of cereals and vegetables are lost due to inadequate post-harvest techniques. Farmers who harvest only what they can consume are most-likely doing this to avoid post-harvest waste.

The F2F program can directly address these issues. F2F volunteers can train smallholder farmers in simple techniques to process their crops to last longer. Basic technologies, such as solar dryers for vegetables, can conserve nutritious foods without using electricity or water. Developing effective processing techniques for different crops can ensure that poverty-stricken communities maintain a stock of food in their homes as well as access nutrient-diverse diets. To expand this impact to more farmers, F2F staff and volunteers focus on training people who will, in turn, train others. Such trainees include government and cooperative extension staff, community leaders, progressive farmers, and others.

Q: How can Farmer-to-Farmer improve availability of food reserves for cooperatives and associations?

Rodrick Chirambo, Country Director Malawi: Farmers benefit from working in cooperatives and associations, including the use of communal storage facilities. While individual families may not be able to build proper storage facilities on their own, cooperatives or associations can band together and create these facilities for the entire community. The F2F program’s work in improving cooperative and association management can help farmers reach this goal. A properly managed group can address the needs of its members far better than an individual. By combining the efforts of smallholder farmers and technical assistance provided by CNFA’s F2F volunteers, priority issues like the steady availability of food reserves can be tackled more effectively.

Food security issues are complex, and it takes a specialized combination of technical assistance and resources to improve the unique challenges of farmers. CNFA’s F2F Southern Africa program works directly with host organizations to solve these issues while promoting improved agricultural practices and business skills in a comprehensive package of technical assistance.

As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only! 

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Dr. Leon Young: A Volunteer’s Lifestyle

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This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and American volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks.

Leon Young finally arrives in Soyo, Angola after patiently traveling on a four day trip. This type of travel isn’t unusual for Leon who’s on his seventh trip to Africa for volunteer work, and he alights with a positive attitude, eager to begin his journey: experiencing a new culture, working with young farmers, and making lasting friendships.

Leon is in Soyo to work with a local cooperative on improving the quality of their soil for vegetable cultivation using sustainable practices and resources easily accessible to the farmers. Leon is familiar with the lack of quality agricultural inputs in many African countries, so he came prepared with a training plan focused on using organic materials readily available to the group.

On the first day of training, Leon can barely contain his excitement. The cooperative members arrive at the training site, initially wary of Leon’s strong presence, but they soon relax as Leon opens the floor with questions about each of their farms. He smiles as the farmers open up and eagerly describe how they prepare their soil for planting, the challenges they face, and the types of crops they grow, which are primarily spinach, kale, cabbage, eggplants, tomatoes, okra, green peppers, and bok choy. As they finish introductions, an excited Leon exclaims, “Muito Bom!” (Very good!), in his best Portuguese, eliciting laughter from all in attendance.

The following day, Leon leaves even earlier than the day before, because the farmers want to get started at 8:30 am sharp. He understands the busy farmers only have a few precious hours every day to dedicate to training before they hasten back to the fields and work their land – a time-consuming task for farmers who have no machinery to help them with their daily toil. It takes three hours alone to water their plots that are under a quarter-hectare in size before they can even start the daily tasks of weeding and caring for their growing vegetables.

By engaging with the participants, Leon discovered that their level of aptitude was far above what he’d expected, which both encouraged Leon and necessitated a change in curriculum and an afternoon reworking his plans. Changing his planned training is all part of the Farmer-to-Farmer experience. In the F2F field, there is no set curriculum, and the farmers did not take any prerequisites to understand the type of higher-level science Leon now wants to convey. Volunteers have to be flexible and ready to adapt their training to fit both the literacy level and scientific background of the group: a welcome challenge to brave instructors.

When training ends around lunch time, Leon’s day isn’t over. He spends the afternoon searching town for an ag-input store to check on the prices of fertilizer. To his dismay, the one and only ag-input supplier has a limited inventory of prohibitively expensive fertilizer and limited supplies. He makes a mental note to spend time in Luanda, the capital of Angola, on his way out of the country to search for better inputs that can be shipped up to the remote town of Soyo. Leon understands that creating these types of linkages is one way to ensure the development of the agriculture sector in isolated areas of the country.

The working day is nearly over, but not for Leon. He spends the rest of his evening running soil tests on samples he took from each of the participants’ plots. To fully understand what types of inputs are required to improve the quality of the soil, Leon needs to test for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium as well as pH levels for each soil sample. Running soil tests on about twenty samples is no easy task without his lab equipment at home, but he’s glad to take on this challenge knowing this data will benefit the farmers’ understanding of their land.

While on a F2F assignment, the weekends are no time to lie about, there’s far too much to see and do. On his day off, Leon tags along with the local in-country staff to visit a potential host organization. Wasting no time when arriving at the farm, Leon gets right in the dirt to take soil samples, inspecting the water source, and applauding the farmers for their technique of pulling weeds and immediately returning the weed residue to the soil. Leon pulls up the roots of the farm’s bean plots and explains that if you cut open the nodules on those roots, a pink or red color will tell you that nitrogen is being fixed into the soil by the legume crop. Leon nearly jumps for joy when he cuts open the nodule to see the vibrant pink color. His excitement upon this discovery spreads to the farmers who now understand the importance of planting legumes and what to look for in the future. “Face it” he says, “I’m a certified nerd.”

Leon Young’s assignment took place from June 12 – July 3, 2014. The improved soil practices Leon taught have been put in place and the farmers are eagerly awaiting the results. CNFA’s local Angola staff already has plans to follow-up on Leon’s training periodically throughout the year. F2F assistance won’t stop here – this cooperative will receive management and financial training so they can understand how to allocate their precious resources to implementing the recommendations left by Leon and commercialize their improved products. This package of F2F assistance will lead to increased production, sales, and inevitably income for the cooperative, improving the livelihoods of its farmers and surrounding community.

F2F volunteers are a different breed of international volunteers. Every environment is a classroom: whether it’s the farm, the bush, a construction site, or the open-air market and input supply stores. The life of an F2F volunteer is an ongoing assessment of dynamic challenges, creative implementation of problem solving, and the sharing of information that enriches its recipients. Their passion in sharing their expertise with those in need results in real rewards not only for the program’s beneficiaries, but for the volunteers themselves.

For more information on the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer experience, please view CNFA’s Farmer-to-Farmer recruitment video.

As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only! 

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CNFA Joins Devex’s #FeedingDev Campaign

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CNFA is thrilled to be joining Devex on the Feeding Development campaign! Feeding Development is an online conversation hosted by Devex to reimagine solutions for a food-secure future from seed and soil to a healthy meal. Through various media channels, Devex has been taking part in the #FeedingDev conversation through blogs, videos, tweets and many more opportunities to reach around the world! Now it’s our turn!

Since September 2012, CNFA has been implementing the Commercial Farm Service Program (CFSP), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to establish six private and cooperative-owned Farm Service Centers (FSCs) that provide a complete range of high quality inputs, services, information and output marketing linkages.  For 70 percent of the developing world, agriculture is the main source of income and employment.  In Ethiopia, agriculture accounts for almost half of the country’s GDP, 90 percent of its exports and is the main source of income for over 85 percent of the population – which these days is nearing 100 million people.  Despite its mass importance, agriculture in Ethiopia is characterized by low productivity with most smallholder farmers having limited access to inputs, information and services.  CFSP is part of President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative  – which aims to help vulnerable households participate in economic activities and bring jobs and income opportunities for rural households.

CFSP builds upon CNFA’s track record of developing networks of input supply retailers in Afghanistan, Georgia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Moldova, Romania, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.  These “one-stop-shops” for local, smallholder farmers demonstrate a profitable business model that is based on a large volume of individually small transactions with small farmer clients. CFSP’s FSC network is driven by and adapted to local production, markets, entrepreneurs and context and serves more than 30,000 Ethiopian smallholders. CFSP has relied on a team of experts in various fields to establish this new and first of its kind network of Farm Service Centers in Ethiopia.

The CFSP team is ready to share their experiences with you.  Have you ever wondered how the supply chain model really works? Or how expanding a network can lead to effective and established commercial enterprises?  Maybe you just don’t quite understand how this could possibly work in Ethiopia. Whatever it may be, we will do our best to give you a thorough, understandable answer. With a history of success and current initiatives centered around expanding Ethiopian smallholder’s access to inputs, training and services, we are ready to share our  knowledge with you!

Send us your questions via Facebook or Twitter using #CFSPQuestions over the next few days as they relate to input supply and environmental protection and our experts will respond with their valuable insight! You have until July 17 to let us know your inquiries! After you submit a question or two, stay tuned for our video response that will be posted on July 25!

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook by using the hashtag #FeedingDev and be sure to follow @CNFA and @Devex to get the most up-to-date information about #FeedingDev and our participation with #CFSPQuestions.

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Empowering Smallholder Farmers with Inputs and Information

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Read about CNFA’s Commercial Farm Service Program featured on Feed the Future’s blog!

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Partnering to Feed the Future in Ethiopia

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Read USAID Agricultural Growth Program – Livestock Market Development Chief of Party Marc Steen’s blog post on how this project is helping improve the nutrition and livelihoods of Ethiopians.

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