Stories tagged: Extension

Behind the Success of the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Approach

In this guest post, Sylvain Roy, CEO of Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) champions the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program as a highly effective approach to improving the productivity and sustainability of agriculture in the developing world.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer program (F2F) is very likely our nation’s single most cost-effective and successful effort to assist developing countries around the world.

The concept of F2F is simple. U.S. volunteers with decades of experience in farming and agriculture-related fields—as well as those with expertise in banking, business, academia and government service—spend about two to four weeks in a developing country working with local counterparts to help improve agricultural productivity.

Since the inception of F2F more than 30 years ago, showcasing the best of ‘citizen diplomacy’, nearly 17,000 American volunteers have shared American know-how and worked to improve agriculture in 112 countries. Armed with experience working in our own nation’s vast range of climates, ecosystems and soil types—as well as our strong tradition of agricultural research—these American volunteers are uniquely equipped to serve the needs of many different developing countries.

F2F volunteers work on assignments all along the agricultural value chain—from the field to processing to sales in the marketplace. To ensure the sustainability of these improvements, volunteers also work to facilitate access to credit, encourage environmentally friendly techniques, and equip participants with business skills. The use of volunteers for all of this keeps program costs down, ensures the dedication of participants, and allows thousands of experts to contribute their valuable knowledge to international development.

F2F volunteer Matt Cleaver worked with farmers in Malawi to implement improved mushroom processing and production techniques. Image credit: CNFA

F2F volunteer Matt Cleaver worked with farmers in Malawi to implement improved mushroom processing and production techniques. Image credit: CNFA

While farmers in developing countries are often knowledgeable about raising their crops and livestock, improved methods developed in other parts of the world can be slow to arrive. This is where the practical experience of F2F’s volunteers is most useful. In most cases, their introduction of new and simple techniques that use inexpensive, locally available products can provide the key to significantly improving production.

Using these techniques, farmers gain the tools they need to advance beyond growing only enough food to feed their own families, and to begin growing and selling surplus products to generate extra cash. That means more food to feed growing populations—as well as higher incomes to reduce the exodus of rural people to the poverty of megacities.

F2F volunteers also help countries avoid some of the problems developed nations once faced as they moved from subsistence farming to more intensive agriculture. For example, the introduction of dry-land farming techniques can help a developing nation avoid a disaster like the Dust Bowl that hit United States in the 1930s.

I personally witnessed the considerable benefits generated through the F2F program through my own experience with CNFA (Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture), one of seven implementing partners of F2F today.

In Malawi, for example, one of our F2F volunteer experts worked with a mushroom cooperative to improve the pasteurization techniques that allow their mushrooms to grow without competition from other, undesirable fungi. After implementing some additional, simple changes in growing techniques—such as covering the buildings where they grow their mushrooms with clear plastic to better regulate temperature—the cooperative’s weekly sales of oyster mushrooms rose from 96 kg to 168 kg.

In many countries, farmers looking to earn an income or simply feed their family face many challenges during the dry season, especially as a changing climate has increased the variability of its timing and intensity in recent years.

F2F assignments allow implementers to provide a rapid, tailored response in communities in need of climate-smart agriculture techniques. This includes everything from starting preparations early enough to harvest currently available rain water to more effectively manage the soil in ways that minimize loss of moisture moving forward.

This year, one of CNFA’s volunteers Phineas Ellis supported Face-to-Face village facilitators in Malawi using a “training of trainers” approach. By helping these local lead farmers develop practices to get rain and moisture deeper into the soil, cover cropping and dry season indigenous plant cultivation, as well as to teach the importance of perennials and perennial foods, they are able to disseminate these practices to farmers long after the conclusion of Phineas’ assignment. As a result, a single volunteer’s impact is extended and more at-risk farmers are able to benefit from plants that are able to access deeper ground water and are more resilient during droughts or in dry areas.

When participants make this sort of progress, other farmers strive to imitate their success. In this way, good practices spread to help many more people beyond the initial beneficiaries of our efforts.

The U.S. benefits in ways beyond simple moral satisfaction. We gain security when higher incomes in these nations provide stability and reduce the risk of civil conflict. We gain trading opportunities by building a middle class that can purchase not only our agriculture-related goods and services—but also many other U.S. products.

And most importantly, our volunteers gain a deep understanding of the challenges faced by those in other countries and cultures—understanding that they can share with other Americans on their return home. And through their interactions with beneficiaries abroad, they also serve as “citizen diplomats” who represent the United States as a positive force in the international sphere.

And we get all this at a modest price. Between 2004 and 2014 alone, F2F assisted more than 460,000 people in dozens of countries, adding nearly quarter billion dollars to the gross annual incomes of these beneficiaries.

By using dedicated, expert volunteers to teach, train and facilitate, F2F provides the proverbial fishing pole rather than the fish. For more than 30 years, Farmer-to-Farmer has leveraged its humble budget to provide an enormous impact on international agricultural development. We need to keep it going for another 30.

Kristin Davis: Helping Small Farmer Families Through Extension

In this guest post, Kristin Davis, Executive Secretary of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) tells Farming First about a new tool to support agricultural extension agents around the world, and invites you to be part of it.

Agricultural extension – also known as agricultural or rural advisory services (RAS) – is back on the development agenda. A confluence of factors has led to this resurgence of interest. Extension is explicitly mentioned in indicator 2.a of the Sustainable Development Goals, as one of the areas that needs increased investment in order to meet the goal of ending hunger, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture. Rising food prices have also triggered renewed government and donor interest in agriculture and advisory services. Continue reading

Veneless Chimpesa: Why Agricultural Extension Matters

Bahkita Mkwingwiri from Balaka District in Malawi works with Gorta-Self Help Africa as a village-based farm adviser to lead farmers in Bisani village. She and Gorta-Self Help Africa extension agent Veneless Chimpesa were amongst the recipients of a travel bursary to attend a ten-week training course at Shuttleworth Agricultural College in the UK this summer. Farming First interviewed them about their experiences in Malawi and the UK. 

Bakhita, what are you responsibilities as a lead farmer in Balaka district?

My role is to help and encourage my fellow farmers how we can improve our families, our community and Malawi as a nation. I share knowledge with them. I grow maize, cotton and pigeon pea, as well as horticulture products. I also encourage working in clubs. This is important because we share knowledge so that we all have enough food in our household. Continue reading

Sue Carlson: Why Agriculture is Essential to the Success of the SDGs as a Whole

Farming First is at the United Nations today, addressing a session on Financing for Development and the Post-2015 process. The delegation is bringing agriculture’s central role in achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals to the attention of negotiators, not just those relating to hunger.

Sue Carlson, Chair of the Women’s Committee of the World Farmers’ Organisation has also highlighted concern that access to inputs and extension is not currently featured in the draft outcome statement of the International Conference on Financing Development. Read her statement below. Continue reading : A reliable internet resource for farmers, an American research-based learning network, launched in 2003, provides objective, peer-reviewed, scientific information, on a range of subjects. It draws information from 60 organisations and universities, and publishes between 10 and 20 articles a day.

Agricultural extension was once known as the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education. Today it encompasses a much wider range of communication and learning activities, organised by professionals from different backgrounds.

Over the past few decades, the Internet has transformed the way we live, work, learn and play. By the end of 2010, 2 billion people were online, and it is estimated that 66 percent of households in developed countries now have Internet access. Today we live in a world that revolves around information and knowledge. Via the Internet, scientific experts are now able to interact virtually with people across the globe, taking their expertise to those who need it. This is the basis of

The website is organised into nine main categories or ‘resource areas’:

  • Alerts
  • Community
  • Disaster issue
  • Energy
  • Farm
  • Health & nutrition
  • Pest management
  • Youth

Each of these specific sections contains information on upcoming events, articles, news updates and latest research results in each field, from a team of leading experts. Even educational lessons can be found, such as instructions on how to prepare for an agricultural disaster, or the affordability of sustainable living.

In the “Farm” category alone, no less than 19 subject areas are listed and sub-categories include; corn and soybean production, forest farming, plant breeding and genomics, freshwater aquaculture, and aquaculture. Farmers can click on the precise category they are interested in and get specific information, matching their needs.

One significant feature of the website is its interactive capability, whereby individuals can contact the foundation directly if they cannot find the information they are looking for, via written posts or by phone. If eXtension is unable to respond to a request, a new resource area can be created as soon as possible, once its team of experts has found a solution.

In a recent interview with Farming First, Gregory L. Crosby, from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, explained how beneficial this type of interface could be to smallholder farmers. He said:

The smallholder farmer could call into a telecentre and ask for recommendations, and the extension agent could be looking at a data base, such as eXtension, and would be able to call up geographically specific advice, let’s say on the application of fertilizer. In fact there are several of these projects around the world right now. Another is called nutrient manager, where a rice farmer can call in and get a specific fertilizer recommendation.

Many institutions and organisations have already joined this national project, which is helping people improve the way they farm. Through further collaboration, the website will continue to be a rich source of information, making it a valuable resource for years to come.