On a recent Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Honduras, José Carlos Ortiz (MIB ’05) got his feet wet.
As part of the College of Business Administration’s John Ogonowski Farmer-to-Farmer Program, funded by USAID, Ortiz was engaged to do a marketing study for PDA Valle in Nacaome, Honduras. He was to evaluate the production of cashew apples (marañons)—a fruit popular in juices—and the viability of establishing a small production plant. The cashew nut, which is popular around the world, is an appendage of the cashew apple, a soft fruit that looks like a pear. The cashew apple is highly perishable, making its commercialization a challenge.
“At the time I accepted the two-week assignment, little did I know that I would have to trudge through the mountains for hours looking for cashew apple producers and their plantations,” said Ortiz, who had previously completed a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment for chili sauce producers in Honduras, doing much of his research in supermarkets. “I only brought tennis shoes with me when I should have brought boots!”
When he started the assignment with its required travel on foot, it had been raining for more than a week.
“I kept getting my feet stuck in the mud on every step I took,” he said. “Luckily for me, there were small ponds of fresh water where I could clean my shoes.”
Luckily for his hosts, Ortiz was able to do more than tend to his footwear. He organized meetings to evaluate the producers’ skills, developed a SWOT analysis, noted how already-established plants in the region could be improved upon, and fashioned the techniques required to operate a successful plant.
Despite some skepticism on the part of local producers who have seen other projects fail, Ortiz developed a lengthy set of recommendations, from the kinds of specialists and staff members needed to the establishment of offices that could handle business issues. In addition to sharing with the producers what he had learned, he also learned from them.
“I acquired new knowledge about land treatment, fruit cycles, and other derivative products as well as people’s conduct, ways of living, and culture,” he said. “This assignment took me inside a real emerging market condition, which I personally think can only be understood through experience.”
He credits his previous assignment, as well as his solid academic background in the college, with helping him get the most out of the two weeks.
“Being in Honduras previously helped me a lot—with technical information and the do’s and don’ts of interacting with people,” he said. “Also, I’m glad I took so many marketing classes because I used a lot of marketing research techniques.”
And, he would eagerly take on another assignment.
“Opportunities like these cannot be matched by anyone,” he said. “To help the neediest while learning and putting your knowledge to work in the field is the most gratifying experience I have ever had.”
For more information about the program, visit www.entrepreneurship.fiu.edu/usaid. To learn how to participate, contact Carmen Algeciras, director, USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program in the College, at 305-348-0399 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.