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Canora resident participates in memorable visit to Belize

Gwen Machnee was one of the Parkland College staff members who made a recent trip to Belize to help educators and farmers explore environmentally friendly options for farmers to become more efficient and profitable.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of two parts of a story on the trip made by Gwen Machnee of Canora and her colleagues at Parkland College to work with the Unversity of Belize and local farmers in Belize to help farmers improve their productivity and command higher prices for their production.) 

BELIZE - Parkland College has been involved in a number of projects with the University of Belize over the last 10 years. The current project is called SAGE (Skills to Access the Green Economy) 01 Belize and is sponsored by Global Affairs Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada. Three Canadian post-secondary institutions are involved in the project: Vancouver Island University, the Marine Institute at Memorial University, and Parkland College. SAGE is a five-year, $15 million project over several Caribbean countries. The Parkland College team was made up of several members. Kami DePape, Vice-President of International, Marketing and Applied Research, was joined by Gail Gorshinski and her husband John. Gail, now retired, was the head counsellor at Parkland College. Ben Swanson, a counsellor at Parkland College and Gwen Machnee of Canora, Applied Research Specialist at Parkland College, were other members of the group.
Over the last two years, staff members from Parkland College and Vancouver Island University have been meeting online with the teaching staff at the University of Belize Central Farm. 
The team goal was to redevelop the curriculum of the two-year associate degree to incorporate Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices. Thom Weir and I were very involved in this process which was completed in the new year. In late August, 34 students began classes in the new associate’s degree program. Also included as part of the project at the University of Belize were training courses for staff in counselling skills, suicide prevention, and equity and inclusion.
I visited the University of Belize, Central Farm for a week in August. The goal was to work with the agriculture staff to develop three short courses for farmers and begin an applied research project on soils and soil types in Belize.  
Travel to Belize
The group left Yorkton to stay overnight in Regina before an early morning flight to Calgary, from Calgary there was a five-hour flight to Houston, Texas. The group had to stay overnight at an airport hotel and took an early morning flight to Belize International airport, a flight of just over two hours. From the airport, the team was able to rent an SUV with room for five people and a lot of luggage. Initially, the agency that the vehicle was booked with was unable to supply a vehicle, but another agency in the next building was able to find a vehicle for the team to use for the two weeks of their stay. 
Leaving the airport to travel to San Ignacio there were very few road signs and google maps helped “our” group get on the right road, the Western Highway from Belize City to San Ignacio went past the Belize Zoo. Two people on the team had been to Belize several times but they had never stopped at the zoo. The team decided that this time it would stop at the zoo to see some of the local animals. 
The zoo was started to house animals that had been involved in shooting a film in 1987. It occupies 29 acres of native forest and has around 175 animals and birds of 45 species. There were: jaguars, toucans, tapirs, storks, iguanas and many different small rodents. One of the most impressive sights was two harpy eagles; very large eagles with feathers that look like a tiara on their heads. The dense forest, heat and humidity at the zoo were a great early introduction to life in Belize. 
When the team returned to the car to continue the journey to San Ignacio, the vehicle would not start. After phone calls to the rental agency and fiddling with battery posts under the hood, the team learned about the generosity and friendliness of the Belizean people as some other guests tried to help us. Eventually, it was identified as a dead battery. After a boost, we were once again on our way. The family that came to the team’s assistance included a person who was born in Canada to Belizean parents who returned to Belize to live.
Before the team checked into the hotel members went to the Xunantunich, Mayan ruins about 10 km west of San Ignacio. Access to the site was by a hand-cranked ferry across the river. followed by a very steep climb up the riverbank to the top of a ridge. Four of the team members explored the ruins for an hour before the site closed. This included Swanson, DePape and myself, who climbed the 44-meter-high temple at one end of the large plaza. From the top there was a fantastic view of the site, the Macal River valley and into Guatemala. The fifth member of the team, Gail Gorchinski, stayed with the vehicle and kept it running to make sure that the team could get back to the hotel.
University of Belize Central Farm.
The grounds of UB Central Farm are located on the Western Highway around 100 km from the Philip F.W. Goldson International Airport near Belize City in a community known as Central Farm. The region is quite hilly, and covered in dense jungle. Most of the communities along the Western Highway are in the Macal River valley and subject to periodic flooding. The climate is tropical with temperatures in the 30-degree range every day. At the time of this visit it was the rainy season, with the humidity always very high, mostly at the 90 to 100 per cent level. It rained at least part of every day, mostly late afternoon thundershowers. The vegetation was very lush with lots of coconut trees and other fruit trees along the roads and around people’s houses. In the wide river valley, there were some areas that were cleared to make larger pastures for cattle and annual crops. Most houses were small wooden buildings on short stilts with outdoor rooms beside them, made of reed thatched roofs on poles. There were some larger houses built with cinderblocks, also with covered outdoor living areas.
The campus is made up of a group of buildings built about three feet off the ground to accommodate periodic flooding from the Macal River nearby. Most of the offices were plain, uninsulated structures with a window on opposite walls with shutters and a ceiling fan. There was a covered walkway connecting the offices around a central courtyard. Classroom buildings, labs and the extensive grounds of the UB Central Farm lands stretched out from the highway to the river bank 500 metres away. There was another college east to UB Central Farm (Galen University) and The Taiwan Research Institute to the west. The immediate area is mostly farm land with cattle pasture and some cereal crops. 
I worked at UB Central farm for five days, and was fortunate enough to be given the director’s office to work in, the only office with air conditioning. 
The other Parkland College staff were there to work with a number of staff from many different departments of the University of Belize; on the first two days they were at UB Central Farm, they then moved on to the capital city, Belmopan, 40 km away and later to Hopkins on the south coast of Belize to conduct workshops with staff from ITVETS at Stann Creek and Toledo. While working at Central Farm, our group stayed at a hotel in San Ignacio about 15 km west of Central Farm. San Ignacio is the second-largest town in Belize.
The short courses were made up of elements of the associate’s degree program broken down into smaller one-day workshops aimed at working farmers. I worked with Fransisco Tzul and Dr. Gerado Aldana to create three, one-day workshops to teach the principles of Climate Smart Agriculture. The workshop subjects were chosen based on a survey of 56 farmers that Tzul, Aldana and I had developed in May, and Tzul and Aldana conducted in June. 
The team developed the overall concept of the three short courses leading to a certificate in Climate Smart Agriculture. It is expected that participants in all three courses could use the certificate to demonstrate to food purchasers at tourist resorts that the food that they sell has been raised using Climate Smart Agriculture methods. This will allow them to command a higher price for their produce than at the open market in San Igacio.
During the week the final subjects and objectives for the short courses were established. The team developed the outline and learning objectives for each day and discussed the blend of direct instruction and hands-on learning to incorporate into each program. I met with the team members over the course of two days, working around their busy teaching schedules. 

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