Written by Otto Rivera, F2F Field Officer in Guatemala. This article was originally posted here.
Guatemalan smallholder farmers were hit especially hard by COVID-19’s impact on agricultural value chains. While many do not have access to technical assistance and training during normal conditions, the pandemic worsened this isolation as no technicians or trainers could physically reach rural communities and farms. Additionally, growing concern about drought conditions, especially in Central America, has increased the focus on hardier animal husbandry options, specifically small ruminants.
The Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) team in Guatemala implemented a rapid response to these challenges by contacting their partner organizations to identify their training and assistance needs that F2F could address virtually. Among many opportunities identified and seized, F2F Guatemala embarked on a unique endeavor to facilitate knowledge exchange for small ruminant production, processing, and sustainability in the region.
The first remote assignment in Guatemala was with the Agrocadena Caprina Nacional (National Goat Farming Guild) and long-tenured F2F volunteer Dr. Abner Rodríguez. F2F Guatemala and the Goat Farming Guild teamed up with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of San Carlos de Guatemala, the country’s public agricultural extension ministry, and other agricultural organizations to host free goat production webinars for all interested stakeholders. From April 13th to June 10th, 2020, Dr. Rodríguez, a professor of Veterinary Technology at the University of Puerto Rico, remotely trained 85 farmers and extension technicians in sustainable goat production, breeding, grazing, and milk production practices.
Later, between June and December 2020, Dr. Rodríguez’s remote workshops were replicated by local specialists from the Goat Farming Guild, the International Goat Association (IGA), the Latin American Association of Specialists in Small Ruminants and South American Camelids (ALEPRyCS). These experts hosted 17 more webinars, training over 1,500 people on improved goat production and management. In addition to Guatemalan participants, attendees included farmers and extension personnel from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. In their feedback, the attendees highlighted the quality of the content and its expert delivery by presenters. This rapid transmission of valuable information during the pandemic birthed another opportunity for F2F Guatemala.
With the success of the virtual goat value chain training, the varied stakeholders requested that F2F Guatemala organize and host the “Virtual Congress 2021: Small Ruminants and their Importance in Food Security, Rural Development and Entrepreneurship”, focused on Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to F2F Guatemala, the main coordinators were the Latin American Association of Specialists in Small Ruminants and South American Camelids (ALEPRyCS), the International Goat Association, and the Guatemalan Sheep and Goat Value Chain Guilds. Additionally, twelve organizations from Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico offered technical presentations and support during the congress.
Invitation to the Virtual Small Ruminant Goat Congress - Image Created by Otto Rivera
From April 16th to June 4th, 2021, F2F Guatemala hosted eight weekly webinars featuring presentations and panels from 38 small ruminant specialists from México, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Guatemala. Wildly popular, the webinars reached over 1,000 attendees from Latin American and Caribbean countries. Participants appreciated the applicability of the presenters’ content. Also, the congress’s multi-stakeholder approach resulted in a comprehensive look at improvements in the diverse small ruminant sectors across the region.
F2F Guatemala continues to host webinars for small ruminant value chains and has emerged as a critical facilitator of information exchange for small ruminant production in Latin America and the Caribbean. F2F Guatemala is proud to be at the forefront of the capacity building for small ruminants and has shown that agricultural development can continue during a pandemic. Moving forward, F2F Guatemala is starting similar initiatives with the Guatemalan National Tilapia Producers Guild while planning for a return to in-person volunteer assistance after the pandemic.