Editor’s Note: This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and American volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks.
Thomas Cadwallader is a seasoned Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, having volunteered in over 20 countries around the world. This spring, he traveled to Kenya to work with the Kitui Development Centre. Read on to hear about his experiences in the field and the impact he made.
CRS: Tell us a little bit about your relationship with the Farmer-to-Farmer program?
Tom: In 2013 I celebrated 20 years of assignments through the Farmer-To-Farmer program. I was approached for my first assignment by a good friend who had taken the job of VOCA Country Director in Macedonia. My friend knew that I came from a fairly diverse farming background that provided me with lots of experience in everything from commercial production to direct marketing so I he thought I could draw from those experiences to customize the assignment as needed once I got on the ground.
After meeting with the brothers, I found that they had lots of great things going on and I was able to finish my assignment early. That allowed me the opportunity to take on another assignment in Slovakia with a gentleman who was putting a business plan together for a dairy goat operation. I was hooked. Although my career with the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service and helping my wife run our own farm were keeping me plenty busy, whenever I saw an opportunity to work on an interesting project and I could carve time out of my schedule I jumped on the chance. Over those 20 years, I’ve worked on about 25 individual assignments in 11 different countries around the globe; from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia to the rain forest of Guyana.
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CRS: What were the goals of your F2F assignment in Kenya? Why did your host organization need your help?
Tom: The latest F2F assignment in Kenya was working with a community development group, Kitui Development Centre (KDC), which has been working with several different NGOs on projects devoted to helping rural farmers set up some value-added opportunities to improve their quality of life. The challenge that KDC has faced is showing the impact of their work, especially in the early phases of the project before there is much to show as far as additional income.
This is a common challenge for Extensionists and the KDC staff just needed to know that they weren’t alone and that there are a number of survey tools available for assessing changes in a particular population that are important for the long-term success of a project, such as increased knowledge in skills, a positive change in attitude and some behavioral changes.
CRS: What methods did you utilize to achieve this goal?
Tom: For researchers studying populations, it is important to use statistical, strong research techniques to make sure they are making valid statements about changes and/or trends in whatever aspect of a population they are studying. However, for practitioners who are working out in the field, those techniques and the types of software they might use are very expensive in both time and money. In this assignment I showed the staff at KDC some simple survey tools they could use that would help them in continually checking on the progress of their project and the data could be analyzed using a simple Excel spreadsheet that they could create themselves.
CRS: What were the challenges of working on this project?
Tom: The most common challenge in these types of projects is usually not enough time. While I was able to help them develop a survey tool that we could experiment with I had to leave before we could modify it and try using what was learned for different applications.
CRS: What kind of results did you see upon completion of your project?
Tom: There were a couple of early positive impacts. The first had to do with tool we developed and tested on a few different farmer groups; the farmers loved the opportunity to provide feedback on how the project they were involved with has changed their lives and they found the information gathering process very educational. Although they had been to workshops where they were introduced to many new ideas, this was the first time they had a chance to talk about the challenges they faced in applying that knowledge.
The other very positive impact was within the KDC staff; they saw how they could use their current knowledge of Excel to do their own surveys and develop some very useful reports to share with their donors and adjust their programs.
CRS: What kind of response did you get from the host organization based on your work?
Tom: The host organization loved the opportunity to experiment with some new techniques using tools they already had. They gained a great deal of confidence in their abilities and began developing questions for their donors to help clarify the goals of the assignment and the needs of the donor organization.
CRS: You’ve done many F2F programs in the past. What was different or special about this one?
Tom: This was the second assignment I had with KDC in a year. It was so nice to see how the staff had continued to make progress over that year. They are young professionals who are committed to improving the lives of the people in their community. There have been many assignments that I’ve worked on over the years that I left wondering how things would progress, but for this one, I knew we were really building the community capacity that F2F always strive for.
CRS: What will you take away from your experience in Kenya?
Tom: Kenya is a very young country and I was so impressed with the level of commitment in the community for long-term growth and development. Yes, there are always challenges of corruption and political gamesmanship but there is a growing middle class that is connected to the world and hungry for developing opportunities within their own nation.
CRS: Do you have any advice for those who are considering a Farmer to Farmer volunteer assignment?
Tom: After many years of doing F2F assignments I guess the one bit of advice I’d have for anyone taking on a volunteer assignment is to be patient. Even though the assignments may seem fairly short, 2 and half to 3 weeks, it is so important to take time in the first week of so to learn as much as you can about the people and the challenges they face. Only then can you provide recommendations that are achievable. There have been many assignments that all of the best work happened in the last 4 to 7 days, once understanding and trust were established.
As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food. Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only!
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