Pivoting Amidst the Pandemic: 2020 Look at Farmer-to-Farmer Program Challenges and Successes
This year the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program (F2F) saw both great challenges as well as progress. The COVID-19 pandemic brought international travel almost to a standstill, which presented the program with a sizable hurdle.
The F2F program sends U.S.-based volunteers on technical assignments to provide hands-on training to communities, cooperatives, agribusinesses and educational institutions in developing and transitional countries to promote sustainable improvements in food security and agricultural production, processing and marketing.
In response to international travel restrictions, the F2F program quickly pivoted to providing remote assistance to local host organizations in order to continue supporting them. This assistance included paired remote volunteer assignments in which a remote U.S. volunteer is paired with a local expert to carry out the assignment. This adaptation allowed the program to continue to provide valuable technical assistance in a critical time as well as build on the capacity of local expertise.
This year, the F2F program learned to adapt to a new way of working and seized new opportunities through collaboration among its various implementing partners. On December 8, 2020, the program celebrated its 35th Anniversary — since 1985, over 19,000 F2F volunteers have supported over 117 million people in 116 countries.
As the F2F program pauses to celebrate and reflect on this unprecedented year, here are a few notable stories and impacts shared in 2020:
Rising of Benin’s top cashew nurseryman
Dr. Joshua Idassi is an agriculture and natural resources specialist at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, who seeks to empower youth and women through sustainable agroforestry. During his volunteer assignment in the Ouémé region of Benin, he provided training on cashew nursery management and grafting at the Regional Union of Cashew Producers of Ouémé-Plateau (URPA-OP). There, he met Donatien Kouakanou, a 24-year-old cashew farmer, who had recently lost 30 percent of his grafted plants. Since, Donatien has had to supplement his income by working as a laborer for various cashew producers in the region.
During the training, Donatien learned about optimal growing areas, wedge cleft grafting technology and the use of neem bioinsecticide to control insects attacking young grafted cashew trees. Dr. Idassi was very impressed by him: “Donatien is a young cashew farmer with an outstanding attitude. He has great leadership potential. He is a great mentor to the new, young and beginning cashew growers.” Eight months after adopting Idassi’s recommendations, Donatien’s nursery produced 8,000 cashew seedlings — a yield with less than 1 percent loss and with an earning potential of $2,780.
In addition to increasing his sales, Donatien helped other nurserymen sell more than 20,000 seedlings to Benin's Ministry of Agriculture for about $25,000. The Ministry of Agriculture took notice of Donatien’s work and recognized him as one of the country’s top nurserymen and included his name in their cashew nurseryman directory.
Building the capacity of agritourism in Armenia
John Heather is an international tourism lecturer at Arizona State University who helped the F2F program in Armenia pivot to paired remote assignments and build the capacity of local agritourism. After overcoming large time zone differences and tight schedules, Heather paired with a local volunteer, Vahagn Vardumnyan. Heather adds, “As a tourism consultant, this assignment provided a fantastic opportunity to learn about Armenia and to apply community‐based tourism concepts to a destination with very unique heritage, recreation and agritourism potential. Working remotely and on a two‐week time schedule was a challenge, but I was very fortunate to have excellent field support and technical collaboration from the F2F program.”
Heather and Vahagan facilitated a training and outdoor excursion on rural tourism for a group of young aspiring tour guides, aged 15-18, and developed a partnership with DVV Armenia, a youth-serving vocation education organization. After the training, the group plans to use their newly gained skills to provide support to local bed and breakfasts and guesthouses through training, workshops and, possibly, a local study tour.
The paired remote assignment allowed the F2F program to leverage Vahagan’s expansive network to develop lasting partnerships with local organizations and potential future F2F hosts. Heather has already expressed a desire to participate in a follow‐up assignment next year when travel restrictions are lifted, to continue to develop the capacity of youth in Armenian agritourism.
Raising packaging and labeling standards in Guyana
Dr. Melvin Pascall is a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State University whose personal ties to Guyana have ignited “a personal commitment” to help raise the living standards of the country and improve market access for the local agro-processing industry. During his assignment, he worked with the Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) and assisted over 160 people from small-scale food processors and exporters from around the country.
The GMC is a government agency that offers extension-style services to promote the cultivation and sale of non-traditional products to local and international markets, which has been successful in helping many producers and processors improve their production and processing abilities. However, the local capacity around product labeling and packaging inhibited overall local sales and exports.
Pascall trained participants on food packaging, labeling materials and strategies, and regulatory requirements for exporting into international markets. He also trained them to identify niche markets, factors that influence the shelf-life of their products, and consumer behavior. Vilma De Silva said, “The training gave me a better understanding of how to market my products ... and how that information affects the sale of your product ... depending on which country or market you are targeting, you’ll need to know how to design and label your packaging to suit that country or market.”
Pascall has helped narrow the quality gap between local Guyanese and foreign packaged foods and has also helped build the capacity and competitiveness of these small enterprises
Diversifying veterinary course curriculum in Kyrgyzstan
Daniel Flaherty is a resource conservationist at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service, who recently received the USAID 2020 Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer of the Year Award for his outreach efforts to spread the word on the program works around the globe. During his volunteer assignments, he trained veterinary students and veterinary teachers at vocational schools in Southern Kyrgyzstan and at the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Jalal‐Abad State University.
During these sessions, Flaherty provided training to almost 500 students and 50 teachers on U.S. sheep and lamb production, integrated parasite management, animal nutrition and the economics of farming, grazing and animal diseases. Additionally, he provided students with practical demonstrations using sheep, goats and cows from nearby farms. After the trainings, participants received certificates of participation on the final day of each session.
Flaherty says, “The best part of my experience has been working with veterinary students and witnessing their interest in learning new techniques and concepts.” Teachers and students at the vocational schools and the university are eager for Flaherty to return to provide additional hands‐on training sessions. He has continued to support the students and requested assistance from the State University of New York (SUNY) Delhi to provide the university with 10 electron microscopes to hone their knowledge.
To learn more about the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer program and how you can get involved please visit: https://farmer-to-farmer.org/