News and Events

Catherine Rasmussen

"Catherine has been an Extension Educator in Leadership and Civic Engagement since 1997.  Along with her prior career as a secondary teacher, she brings over thirty years of experience in educational programming. Her work focuses on building leadership capacity and enhancing collaboration among communities to address public issues. She has co-authored a facilitation guidebook and is a trainer of leadership development workshops organizations and state and national leadership cohort programs." 

                                                                                       


Profession: Extension Educator, Leadership and Civic Engagement, University of Minnesota

Home State: Minnesota, U.S.

Career Summary: Catherine has been an Extension Educator in Leadership and Civic Engagement since 1997. Along with her prior career as a secondary teacher, she brings over thirty years of experience in educational programming. Her work focuses on building leadership capacity and enhancing collaboration among communities to address public issues. She has co-authored a facilitation guidebook and is a trainer of leadership development workshops for organizations and state and national leadership cohort programs.

Areas of Expertise: Emotional intelligence, personal leadership styles, communication and conflict, strategic visioning, team building, and effective group processes.

Education: MS, Continuing Studies, emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction BS, English and Speech, Minnesota State University, Mankato 

Language Spoken: English


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Rural Leadership Farmer-to-Farmer Program

Country: Morocco

SPSP Grantee: University of Minnesota Extension

Duration of Assignment: Program was conducted in three one-week sessions implemented over nine months during June 2014, October 2015 and February 2015.

Volunteer Assignment and Impact: The Rural Leadership Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Morocco included virtual and in-person trainings. The goal of the trainings was to increase the leadership competencies of rural farmers to enhance the development of local leadership in farmer-based associations in the Meknes-Tafilalet region. The completed work plan for the program was based on a three-tiered process. The first tier of the program involved volunteers from the University of Minnesota Extension (U of M) and the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) program. The volunteers worked together to prepare working drafts of agendas and activities   to present to the team of four faculty from the National School of Agriculture, Meknes (ENA). The second tier of the program included a training-of-trainer (ToT)   component on leadership of local farming organizations, which targeted the four Moroccan professors from ENA. The ToT included virtual and in-person working sessions. The third tier required the ENA faculty to teach leadership components to 22 farmers from 17 different associations across eight value chains (honey, milk, apples, olives, seeds, dates, medicinal plants and meat). The farmers learned processes to help their associations to set goals and strategies to achieve them. 
An evaluation of the Rural Leadership Farmer-to-Farmer Program revealed positive changes among farmer networks and an increase in leadership competencies. The evaluation data indicated a clear increase in the number of farmers and frequency they communicate with other members in their association and external to their association. Pre and post assessments of leadership competencies also indicated positive changes in increased knowledge of strategic planning, decision making and critical thinking, which were all key concepts taught in the training. In addition, the farmers showed a general commitment to ongoing learning and actions by self-organizing strategizing ways to continue the cohort because they all found value in learning from each other and from the ENA and Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteers.

Russ Zick

Russ Zick (left) and Gezim Mecktec of Kosovo exchange design ideas to improve the dryer system used to dry herbs such as chamomile and mint.

 

Name: Russ Zick

Current title/profession: Project Engineer of Facility and Utility projects

Current hometown: Denver, Colorado

Areas of expertise: Mechanical engineering, postharvest processing, supply chain management, forensic engineering

Education: Masters degree in business administration specializing in international business and entrepreneurship, Bachelors degree in Aerospace Engineering


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Improving the Agricultural Sustainability in Kosovo

Location of the project: Kosovo

Organization that sent the volunteer: Engineers Without Borders USA

Through summer 2017, EWB-USA’s Engineering Service Corps (ESC) will be working alongside Kosovo’s Agricultural Growth and Rural Opportunities (AGRO) Program, which is administered by USAID through Tetra Tech. Kosovo’s citizens are the poorest in Europe, with most of the population living in rural towns outside of the capital. Economic opportunity is limited by common reliance on inefficient farming practices. Primary factors that hinder production are limited farm mechanization and lack of technical expertise.

An ESC team is currently on the ground providing engineering support to agriculture businesses who work with the farming community throughout the country. These highly skilled volunteers will work on assignments to evaluate, design and improve the process to bring agriculture products to the commercial market in Kosovo and for export throughout Europe. Kosovo’s value chain products  include apples, pears, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, peppers, tomatoes, gherkin, cucumbers, lettuce, asparagus, medicinal and aromatic plants and dairy.

Volunteer Impact 

In summer 2016, Russ Zick, a project engineer, traveled to Kosovo to help partners of Tetra Tech team at the Agriculture Growth and Rural Opportunities (AGRO) office in Pristina, the capital and largest city in Kosovo. In his role, Russ provided mechanical engineering services, supplier identification and assessment, and assisted with project and talent identification.

When Russ landed in Kosovo he noticed how fortunate they are to have productive land and a capable farming culture. He noticed Kosovo also recognized the need to upgrade its food and food product processing capacity to expand export opportunities to the European Union and ultimately improve the country’s economic viability. With EWB, Russ accomplished some amazing in roads to achieve this goal. He worked with I Seferi diversifying its already established business by offering the nation’s first table grape pre-cooler to their more than 50 growers. He aided Eurolona in creating a system that pasteurizes all milk products and its 20 small local dairy farms. He consulted with Produkt Natyrale to support the facility's first seed harvest. Finally, he assessed the energy sources for Fruitomania, reducing its high energy costs.

With great volunteers like Russ Zick, EWB-USA, USAID and VEGA are able to continue to upgrade Kosovo’s agribusiness industry, improving the lives of Kosovars across the country.

“For me personally, my time in Kosovo provided an opportunity to be further engaged with the international development sector. It’s exciting to watch the evolution of EWB-USA’s continued partnership with USAID, VEGA and Tetra Tech, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for the Farmer-to-Farmer program!”

David Pearce

"After implementing changes introduced by David, Abdi Gudina Dairy Cooperative increased membership by 20; annual organizational revenue (from membership dues) increased from $1,624 to $2,200; annual sales increased from $954 to $18,838; and net annual income increased from $405 to $1,540."

                                                                                                       


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Home State: North Dakota, U.S.

Country: Ethiopia

Core Implementer: Winrock International

Volunteer Assignment and Impact:

 During his volunteer assignment in Ethiopia, David trained  members of two dairy cooperatives, Abdi Gudina Dairy Cooperative and Chefe Kersa, on how to  improve their organizational capacity and increase their incomes. They were trained to redefine the roles and responsibilities of different committees, introduce new participatory procedures within their meetings, revise their constitution and by-laws, and establish regular reporting systems on finance and physical performance to the general assembly. In addition, both cooperatives developed an action plan for one year, and called a general meeting to disclose and endorse the plan with their members. With these changes in place, the members are now sharing agenda points before meetings, exercising their free voting rights, and accessing important information on the cooperatives’ status every quarter. In addition, both cooperatives implemented a democratic leadership style to ensure transparency. 

According to Gaarii Hurrisaa, one of the cooperative members, , David’s training  restored the dairy operation. For example, the members regained their confidence and commitment to the Cooperative, the amount of milk collected and sold increased, and the quality of the milk improved, due to the members’ high engagement s in controlling quality factors and consumers’ willingness to pay for quality. Hurrisaa also added that, “we also know where the money goes now as things become more transparent.” All of these positive changes amounted to an increase in twenty new members, an increase in the organization’s annual revenue (from membership dues) from $1,624 to $2,200, an increase in annual sales from $954 to $18,838; and an increase in net annual income from $405 to $1,540.
The Chefe Kersa Dairy Cooperative, which was nearly nonfunctional before David’s volunteer assignment, has also experienced positive impacts as a result of his training. For example, the Cooperative instituted a more democratic leadership style, which has allowed members to regain their confidence in the cooperative’s leadership and management. In addition, their ability to improve their record keeping capabilities has helped them analyze their actual income expenses and profits. Overall, in the past year, Chefe Kersa’s membership has increased by 32 members; annual sales have increased by $4,420; net annual income increased by $3,549; and the members shared dividends of $1,722, for the first time in three years. 

Mike Sturdivant

"We found happiness without indoor plumbing! They face so many barriers, but are so grateful for what they have. We took conservation coloring books and gave these to the children—the kids had never seen a crayon. [The gifts] brought big smiles to the children. The generosity of the Myanmar people often brought us to tears." 

Name: Mike Sturdivant

Current title/profession: Soil Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service

Current hometown: Chatham County, North Carolina

Areas of expertise: Management practices, capacity building, soil conservation, food security, climate change


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Asia Farmer-to-Farmer

Location of the project: Burma

Organization that sent the volunteer: Winrock International

Mike Sturdivant is a soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a department of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Chatham County, North Carolina. He works with farmers to incorporate best management practices and trains new USDA employees across the U.S.

Mike volunteered on an USAID-funded project to train 40 agriculture extension agents in Myanmar on best management practices, food security, climate change and gender analysis. Climate change, Mike found, is widely acknowledged in Myanmar, where everyone from the children to the elders is aware of the rising temperatures and sea levels and more severe storms. In advance of his trip, Mike worked closely, almost full time for two months, with the Winrock Program Manager to begin to develop a presentation, review reports on previous trainings and learn about farming conditions in Myanmar. His wife Margaret, a nurse, joined him (at their own expense) on the trip and prepared a presentation on nutrition and health. Once on the ground, Mike and two interpreters, one with specialized agricultural knowledge and the other who could speak local dialects, spent two and a half weeks visiting farms, where Margaret took detailed notes and pictures. Mike was struck by how comfortable he felt talking with farmers because their experiences resonated with issues experienced by farmers he’s been advising his whole career. The four-day training Mike led was well received by the Myanmar extension agents, who had a hunger to learn new practices. Mike provided recommendations, using the photos and examples he’d gathered on the farm visits, about laying out farms, animal waste, reforestation, and, perhaps most critical, a metric conversion system and best practices for spraying herbicides and insecticides.

Mike had been extremely busy with work and exhausted before he left for Myanmar, but he now has a different appreciation for work. What Mike learned from the Myanmar farmers, and has passed on to his clients in North Carolina, is to make do as best you can with the resources and equipment you have, rather than always buying the latest technology. At the request of organizations in and around their home community, Mike and Margaret have already shared their experiences with about 200 people.

 

Howard Fenton

Originally posted by Partners of the Americas here.

"Specific items like developing a business plan, setting goals and planning the steps to achieve those goals, and self-evaluation are essential to a successful farm operation."


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Project: Record-keeping in Coffee Cooperatives

Profession: Accountant

Implementer: Partners of the Americas

Volunteer Assignment & Impact: 

F2F volunteer Howard Fenton prepares notes prior to leading 2 workshops. While many of our volunteer Farmer-to-Farmer projects focus on providing agricultural assistance in host countries, we frequently field volunteers that offer organizational assistance. Organizational assistance allows owners of rural enterprises to make business operations more financially efficient and socially and environmentally sustainable. Organizational projects can take the form of professional development trainings, strategic communications planning, or record-keeping analysis.

For coffee cooperatives in Haiti’s northern regions surrounding Cap-Haitien, record-keeping is an invaluable asset for monitoring and controlling day-to-day business costs. F2F volunteer and accountant Howard Fenton took on this challenge as he traveled to Haiti in June to conduct site visits and led several trainings with the coffee cooperatives. As a result of his work, producers will be able to recognize best business practices and opportunities to capitalize on them. Specific items like developing a business plan, setting goals and planning the steps to achieve those goals, and self-evaluation are essential to a successful farm operation. Workshop participants complete a cost analysis exercise. In addition to leading trainings on financial management, Howard worked with cooperatives to help define roles and responsibilities for each member of the enterprise. Before leaving the site, Howard also left behind a manual to supplement the trainings he conducted while in country. The manual allows cooperatives to: (1) Know whether the business is making a profit; (2) Control costs; (3) Justify using credit; (4) Compare alternatives. The resulting information can be used to help identify the degree of financial success experienced by a business or enterprise, provide it with the necessary information to develop business plans and analyze business alternatives that benefit owners, members, and the community at large. Howard reported overwhelming success with the trainings he conducted and reported hosts were eager to talk about their businesses. He was also interested in the wide variety of income producing enterprises (goats, rabbits, bees, and pineapples) that existed!

David Roberts

F2F volunteer David Roberts (third from left) collaborated with local dairy farmers to increase milk production.

 

Name: David Roberts

Current title/profession: State Grazing Lands Specialist

Current hometown: Marcy, New York

Areas of expertise: Livestock husbandry and pasture management

Education: BS, Colorado State University


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in Kyrgyzstan Improving Milk and Meat Production

Location of the project: Naryn Oblast, Kyrgyzstan

Organization that sent the volunteer: ACDI/VOCA


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

F2F Volunteer Helps Boost Milk Production and Incomes in Kyrgyzstan

In 2007, Emilbek Shamyrkanov started his own cattle-rearing business and dairy farm in northeast Kyrgyzstan to provide extra income for his family. Beginning with five cows, Emilbek steadily increased his herd to 40 over the past decade. Milk production among his dairy cows, however, was consistently low, earning him little profit. Emilbek wasn’t sure how to increase production but knew that something had to change for his family’s sake.

To help Emilbek and other local dairy farmers troubleshoot their milk production problems, USAID Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer David Roberts, a livestock specialist from New York with 42 years of experience, arrived in Kyrgyzstan in July 2016 to complete a two-week assignment. David stayed with Emilbek and his family for eight days, adding that “Emil and his family welcomed me and made my stay very comfortable, showing me their culture first hand.”

 During his assignment, David toured several farms and a livestock market, and spoke with farmers to better understand the agricultural context and the constraints farmers face. “It was evident that since the fall of the Soviet Union, the supply chain has been disrupted. Purchasing feed, vaccines, and medicine for livestock is very difficult to do,” David observed.

To improve milk production in this context, David offered a series of easy-to-implement suggestions to help Emilbek and his fellow farmers upgrade housing conditions for the cows, which has been shown to increase milk production. David also suggested increasing the amount of protein in the animal feed to improve the health of the cows, leading to more milk.

After the visit, Emilbek set to work implementing David’s suggestions and quickly saw results: cows that were producing nine liters of milk were now producing up to 17 liters. “I have increased my income by nearly 20 percent, and I’m using this extra money to purchase more cows and improve the housing conditions for the cows,” Emilbek stated. After seeing this success, Emilbek is eager to continue working with his new friend. “I am ready to get more recommendations from David as I’ve already successfully applied his initial recommendations.” The esteem and respect is mutual as David continues to stay in touch with Emilbek and is learning Russian to more easily communicate with him.

David’s work in Kyrgyzstan is one piece of the broader USAID F2F program, which sends American farmers and agribusiness professionals around the world for short-term technical assistance assignments in food security and agricultural processing, production, and marketing. Since 2013, ACDI/VOCA has supported 245 volunteer assignments as part of our Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia F2F program to promote sustainable economic growth, food security, and agricultural development worldwide.

 

 

“I have increased my income by nearly 20 percent, and I’m using this extra money to purchase more cows and improve the housing conditions for the cows,”
– Emilbek Shamyrkanov, dairy farmer

Alan Robinson

Originally posted by Winrock International here.

"Inevitably this [meeting] takes place shoeless on a mat on the ground or in a traditional stilted wooden home where we might have been the first foreigners to set foot in their remote village."


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Project: Ecotourism in Cambodia: Supporting Forest and Biodiversity (SFB) Project

Implementer: Winrock International 

Volunteer Assignment & Impact: 

“Critical to evaluating potential for developing community-based ecotourism is understanding people’s aspirations, abilities and local cultural or natural features which might be of interest to visitors. [My] very professional Winrock counterparts had already spent weeks or months in that process but our own short visits always began with a meeting with a local committee to get a sense of wants and needs. Inevitably this takes place shoeless on a mat on the ground or in a traditional stilted wooden home where we might have been the first foreigners to set foot in their remote village. At the end of the five-week project [I and my] colleagues hosted a workshop in which 20 representatives of these villages and provincial officials and conservation groups jointly developed ecotourism frameworks for the next several years of development. “One of [my] tasks involved suggesting an ecotourism strategy for villages along the Mekong River. One scenario would combine an adventurous small boat ascent of this mighty river with mountainbike explorations of undisturbed riverside forest, with overnight stays in village guesthouses. This section of the Mekong is home to small populations of the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin (photo below), glimpses of which would be one of the highlights of an ecotourism visit.” –Alan Robinson

SFB project staff noted that the participants in the trainings learned a lot of things from Alan especially on how to use locally available resources to attract visitors. In addition, the SFB project continues to assist these communities and is working with one to develop a business plan using the inputs from Alan’s training and the ecotourism products he recommended. 

Jock Brandis and Randy Shackelford

The aflatoxin tailgate test

Name: Jock Brandis and Randy Shackelford

Current title/profession: Jock Brandis is the director of R&D at Full Belly Project, Randy Shackelford is the QA manager for Mission Defense Corporation

Current hometown: Wilmington, NC

Areas of expertise: Agriculture value chain, crop yield, development solutions


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: NCBA CLUSA's Farmer-to-Farmer Special Program Support Project in Zambia

Location of the project: Zambia

Organization that sent the volunteer: NCBA CLUSA through VEGA SPSP


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

Jock Brandis is the founder and research and development director of Full Belly Project, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that develops agricultural productivity tools. Jock began designing tools to solve development problems following a 2001 trip to Mali where he noticed the difficulty of shelling sun-dried peanuts. He promised to send a solution, only to find that no effective tool had been invented. He set about inventing the Universal Nut Sheller, which can be made anywhere from basic materials and shells peanuts 95% faster than hand-shelling.

National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International recruited Jock and Full Belly volunteer Randy Shackelford to help implement an USAID-funded project to address aflatoxin in peanuts. Their assignment was to teach a farming cooperative in Chipata, Zambia, how to prevent aflatoxin, a chemical that causes severe health consequences and keeps Zambian peanut products out of the European Union market. But their interest in solving the peanut aflatoxin problem has led them to go far beyond their original assignment.

Upon arriving, they saw that farmers were already employing good aflatoxin prevention practices. It didn’t take long to realize that the script they had arrived with wasn’t the right one. They set up the first-ever aflatoxin testing tailgate, using a portable on-the-spot test kit on farmers’ fields. All but one of the samples they tested registered levels well within EU export standards, however the peanut butters for sale locally did not. They concluded that the fungus is introduced during collection or processing, where a few contaminated peanuts can infect the whole supply. They trained the government lab director and technicians to use the test kit and left it with the local lab. The technicians are following Jock and Randy’s example and taking the test kits to farms rather than making farmers mail samples to the lab. This change delivers test results within 15 minutes rather than 3-4 weeks, letting both farmers and buyers know which peanuts are marketable so that contaminated products can be kept out of the food supply.

Jock and Randy advised farmers on concerns beyond aflatoxin, particularly drought, by introducing an effective, easy-to-use pump and discussing seed selection and planning for hotter, drier weather. They taught three cooperative members to make the Universal Nut Sheller so that members can more readily sell their produce. 

Jock and Randy have stayed engaged to move testing forward. The pair is determined to develop an “aflatoxin safe certification” for Zambia and, ultimately, to re-establish Zambia’s groundnut export market. They have already returned to begin testing an ozone generator, which they hope will help rid the local food supply of aflatoxin fungus.

Between visits they stay in touch with farmers. Nearly 5,000 Facebook followers and friends have learned about Chipata and Jock and Randy’s work there through their postings and local communication outreach.

 

“We were there to teach farmers how to grow safe peanuts, only to discover they were already doing it … We had to suddenly, on the fly, change our message.”
 

Sherry - Land O'Lakes International Development

Quality – a universal language

Oreland plant employee takes her lab expertise to Egypt

 


Asssignment Overview

Project: Quality Assurance Training in Bani Suef

Implementer: Land O'Lakes International Development

Volunteer Interview: 

Salam alaikum, Sherry! What do you do for Land O’Lakes and what is a highlight of your job?

I have been working at a dairy production plant in Orland, California for eight years. Currently, I am the laboratory lead for quality assurance. My favorite part of the job is problem solving.

A problem-solver up for a challenge. This is a nice lead into your Farmer-to-Farmer assignment. Egypt: the land of the Great Sphinx, King Tut and possibly the birthplace of modern agriculture. You must be a veteran traveler to go on such an adventure.

No! In fact, this was my first time ever being outside of North America. It was also, my first time traveling solo.

Wow. What was it like?

I was nervous at first. However, someone from the Land O’Lakes Farmer-to-Farmer office was with me every step of the way. The people were so nice, including the plant staff I was working with. Also, my college roommate lives in Cairo with her family, so it great to tour around with them on the weekends.

Tell us more about the plant and your assignment working there.

The dairy processing plant is in a small, very poor village called Bani Suef– just south of Cairo. They have 26 employees including one lab technician named Mohamed. My role was to work with him on how to test the milk quality, run the equipment and understand procedures in the lab manual I provided him.

What a unique way to share your expertise. What kind of products do they make?

Overall, they process about one ton of cow and buffalo milk a day to make cheese, custard, and my personal favorites: rice pudding and yogurt. Our Orland facility goes through over 1,000 tons of milk a day, so they run a small operation in comparison.

What did you take away from this experience?

It was incredibly fulfilling to help people improve their operation and jobs – especially in such a poor village. And back at home, it is powerful to share how positive my experience was with my family and friends. It is a fascinating place, and the people treated me like royalty.

That is great to hear. Any closing anecdotes for our readers?

During one of my days in the lab, I was having a hard time explaining an important procedure because Mohamed was still waiting on the equipment. That night I wrote to my team in Orland to explain the predicament. By the time I woke up the next day, they had recorded a video showing them performing the procedure for Mohamed to watch. For me, that moment really represented what Land O’Lakes is doing through its international development projects: One team helping another half a world away.

Farmer-to-Farmer is a USAID program, which relies on the expertise of American volunteers to respond to the needs of farmers and agribusinesses in the developing world. Land O'Lakes International Development implements the program in the Middle East and North Africa region. Most two to three week assignments are in Egypt or Lebanon. If you or someone you know are interested in volunteering and have agribusiness expertise, email the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer recruiter, Sadie Paschke for more information at SPaschke@landolakes.com.

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