MFK in the field
In addition to conducting peanut research with the USAID Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab and local Haitian universities, Meds & Food for Kids also works directly with peanut farmers, teaching best practices in a hands-on manner. MFK uses the farmer field school methodology, delivering a season-long training package to smallholder peanut farmers consisting of a mixture of focus group discussions and technical in-field activities. With the help of local community leaders, the agriculture team selects 30 new farmers in two locations every planting season to participate in the extension program. Farmers meet with the MFK agronomists and agriculture technician weekly; some of the meetings consist of group discussions, but most of them are in the field.
Each season, one of the farmers from the group offers a small parcel of land for the group to use as a demonstration plot. MFK staff work with the farmers to design simple experiments comparing traditional cultivation practices with industry best practices, including practices devised as a result of MFK and PMIL research activities. Examples include comparing yield and plant growth of Valencia versus Runner peanut varieties, row planting versus traditional plant spacing, presence versus absence of fungicide, and presence versus absence of irrigation. The training series also focuses on soil conservation, because many farmers have at least one mountain plot. Hillside plots are especially susceptible to soil erosion and environmental degradation, but economic realities in these communities dictate that many hillside plots will continue to be farmed into the foreseeable future. In order to combat soil erosion on these plots, MFK includes training on construction of ditches and tree/shrub crops planted along contour lines to halt downward movement of soil.
Participants in the extension program are encouraged to connect with MFK partner organizations, including Acceso Peanut Enterprise Corporation. Acceso’s microcredit program enables farmers to gain access to many of the interventions and best practices we teach in our program, including fungicide applications and differing varieties of peanuts. MFK also purchases some of its local peanuts directly from smallholder farmer associations.
Additionally, we are constantly on the lookout for grants and other programs that could benefit the farmers. For example, MFK recently applied for a grant to make mobile irrigation technology, tarps for proper drying of peanuts, aflatoxin testing, and high-quality storage bags available to smallholder farmers in the communities where we work. Part of applying for the grant involved surveying farmers and their lands, which was conducted by the agronomists, agriculture technician, agriculture coordinator, and MFK student volunteers from Haiti and abroad. MFK will continue collaborating with these groups to teach best practices and connect farmers with resources that will enable them to improve their production.