News and Events

Eric Bowman

"Eric served as a cooperative development specialist at the Northwest Cooperative Development Center in Olympia, WA for over 10 years. As a cooperative development specialist, Eric provided business development services and technical training in business planning, management and governance, accounting and finance. Bowman also serves as the director and board chair of the Tulip Credit Union."


Profession: Executive Director, Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc.

Home State: Washington, U.S.

Career Summary: Eric served as a cooperative development specialist at the Northwest Cooperative Development Center in Olympia, WA for over 10 years. As a cooperative development specialist, Eric provided business development services and technical training in business planning, management and governance, accounting and finance. Bowman also serves as the director and board chair of the Tulip Credit Union.

Areas of Expertise: Cooperative development, natural resources and marketing for value-added/organic agriculture. Eric has a BA, focused on Economics and Business Administration, from Evergreen State College.

Language Spoken: English


Name of project: Cooperative Governance

Country: El Salvador

SPSP Grantee: National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA)

Objective: To provide El Salvadorian cooperatives, particularly Board Members and management, governance trainings to help strengthen and grow the cooperatives.

Volunteer Assignment and Impact: During his two-week assignment, Eric worked with four cooperatives in El Salvador—El Jabali, APRAINORES, the Cooperative Association of Organic Producers (ACOPO), and the Cooperative Association of Acocaluco (ACOCALUCO). He provided trainings to the cooperative’s board members and management on governance issues affecting cooperatives, including how to conduct board meetings, the role of the board of directors, conflict resolution, and cooperative principles and values. Eric also worked with these cooperatives on business and financial planning.
While working with the four cooperatives, Eric quickly discovered the members’ understanding of governance and business management was also very limited. In response, he worked with the members  to help them understand key governance functions and concepts, as well as helping them develop action plans to put the ideas they discussed into practice. In addition, within all of his trainings with the board of directors, management, and members, Eric focused on participatory and group activities to encourage team-building and emphasize the community aspect of cooperative business. Overall, Eric’s effort to assess each cooperative’s strengths and weaknesses enabled him to tailor the trainings for maximum impact. For example, board members demonstrated an increase in knowledge of governance functions and were excited to implement their action plans.

Charlene Nash: VEGA Volunteer of the Year for Farmer-to-Farmer SPSP 2016

Name: Charlene Nash

Current title/profession: Senior Horticulturalist at the Tennessee Aquarium

Current hometown: Chattanooga, TN

Areas of expertise: Horticulture


Name of project: Zambia Farmer-to-Farmer SPSP, Senegal Farmer-to-Farmer Project

Volunteer Scope of Work: Improving peanut seed production (Zambia), composing and conservation agriculture (Senegal), soil fertility improvement (Senegal)

Location of the project: Zambia (1), Senegal (2)

Duration of assignment(s): 48 days

Organization that sent the volunteer: NCBA CLUSA

Charlene Nash has volunteered three times with National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA) F2F projects this year for a total of 48 days, once in Zambia under the VEGA SPSP, and twice in Senegal. In Zambia, Charlene supported the Chipata District Farmers Association and Community Oriented Development Program members in improving peanut seed production. During the improved soil fertility portion of the training, Charlene introduced compost tea and demonstrated how a solar air and water pump can be used to brew the tea, which is poured over the soil and the compost. Charlene left the device with the farmers and gave instructions so they could each brew tea for their field and then pass it along to other farmers.

Charlene also worked with a group of farmers on marketing strategies for selling their peanut seeds to other local farmers and buyers. She helped them design a logo for their seeds and donated money to the program to get the first 1,000 labels printed. As of September 2016 these farmers are now selling their peanut seed to local buyers in the newly labeled packaging.

Charlene’s dedication to the F2F Program goes far beyond her volunteer work on the ground in Africa. In 2012, Charlene started a nonprofit called Soil Resources Initiative to raise funds to purchase inputs and training supplies for her F2F assignments. Over the past four years she has raised approximately $15,000! Charlene’s goal is to expand Soil Resources Initiative’s fundraising efforts after she retires and can dedicate more time to the nonprofit.

Charlene Nash’s impact is not only in the number of assignments she’s completed, but also in her tireless efforts in the U.S. to educate her community about the important work the U.S. government is doing to promote sustainable international development through the F2F Program.

Charlene, originally from Columbia, South Carolina,  is the Senior Horticulturalist at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she has worked since 1992.

Cliff Wener

Name: Cliff Wener

Current hometown: Winnetka, Illinois

Areas of expertise: Food service, food processing, hospitality 


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in Bangladesh

Location of the project: Bangladesh

Organization that sent the volunteer: Winrock International


Cliff Wener is a food service, food processing and hospitality expert from Winnetka, Illinois. Over the last 12 years, he has lent his time and expertise to Winrock International and other organizations on more than 20 different volunteer assignments around the world. Most recently, Cliff volunteered with Winrock’s Farmer-to-Farmer program in Bangladesh, where he worked with a local food processor to improve food handling and safety practices, introduce new products and recipes, and increase overall productivity and profit. By strengthening food processors, volunteers help create better markets and income for farmers and new jobs for the unemployed. Winrock staff recently talked with Cliff about his past experiences and passion for volunteering. Some of his thoughts are included in the following interview.

What keeps you going back to volunteer?

It’s an opportunity to make a difference on a very personal level. Despite what you read in the newspapers about hostilities between one country and another, the everyday person just needs to get up and go about daily living of providing for family and raising children – just like me in the U.S. It’s really a good opportunity for people to show one-on-one that whatever you read in media, Americans are good people. And for me, I can come back and say, “Okay, the average people from [X country] are good people trying to get through life and make things happen.” People-to-people is what it is all about. My [volunteer] experiences are so rich for me personally, and being able to share the experience with family and colleagues is wonderful thing.

How have your assignments made a difference in your own life?

From a personal point of view, it is an unbelievable opportunity to see what the world is all about. There are approximately 160 million people living in Bangladesh, and up until a couple of months ago, I had no clue. The world is a big place. But now I see things related to countries I’ve been to, and it makes me a better citizen and helps me understand the world and U.S. politics better.

Do you keep in touch with your host organizations? [Host organizations are the organizations that receive volunteer support]

Sometimes I keep in touch with my hosts, and that is a great part of this. It is great if you can see where the host is going, what they tried, what they didn’t try, what has been successful, what hasn’t been successful. Once in a while I’ve gone back to the same country and worked with or visited the same host, and it’s great to see how they are doing. Even if they took one out of your 100 ideas and are running with it, it’s good to know.

Have any of the assignments caused you to do anything differently once you returned?

Never assume. This sticks out [to me]. Everyone comes to the party with different experiences and assumptions. I do a lot of food safety training. Everyone in the U.S. is concerned about keeping clean, and everyone has hand sanitizer, and the grocery store has wipes. And then I come to another country, and I’ve been on assignments where I haven’t had hot water. Coming from the U.S., we have a whole set of assumptions. In my life, when I approach trainings, I talk about what happens in other countries, and I think that presents a more sensitive case on problems and different solutions to the same type of problem.

What advice would you give someone considering volunteering?

Number one, you have to be flexible. A lot of times, the hosts don’t know what their own problems are, or what they say is the problem is not really the root problem. You need to take a 360-degree viewpoint when you come. Recognize that it isn’t necessarily going to be exactly what you thought was going to happen or what you prepared to do.

Why should people consider volunteering?

I think it’s an opportunity, one on one, to make a difference. People really appreciate it. From a personal point of view, it’s a rich and rewarding experience, and if you like to travel, it’s a great way to do so. The saying “teach a man to fish” is trite but still meaningful.

This article was originally written by Winrock International. 

Rachel Schattman

This article was written by Rachel Schattman and published by Winrock International here

Name: Rachel Schattman

Current title/profession: Produce Safety Specialist, University of Vermont 

Current hometown: Burlington, Vermont

Areas of expertise: Higher education, produce safety, extension specialist


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer for Agriculture Education & Training

Location of the project: Senegal

Organization that sent the volunteer: Winrock International


I have been working in agriculture, either as a farm worker, farm owner, or Extension specialist for 19 years. Recently, I volunteered with Winrock International in Senegal. I accepted the assignment because I was eager to see how farmers in other parts of the world ran their businesses. I was especially excited to see how people grow crops similar to those I am familiar with in a very different climate and soil type.

I volunteered in the Theis region of Senegal, which spans the coastal area between the national capital of Dakar and the colonial city of Saint Louis. In this region, several thousand vegetable farmers grow a diverse range of crops including peanuts, cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, cassava, and many more. Many farms belong to cooperatives, and these cooperatives are often federated under a single entity.

One such federated co-op, the Coastline Vegetable Producers Union (UML), has a leadership that works diligently to promote the interests of its members. For example, in recent years, they have attracted international funding for an onion drying facility which allows for some members to export onions for the first time. Since 2015, they have partnered with Winrock International to bring agricultural experts to Mboro to train co-op members on agro-ecological practices. I was fortunate to be the third volunteer brought in by Winrock to work with UML. As part of my assignment, I was asked to develop and give a 5-day workshop, to share what I know with the remarkable farmers of UML and I took the opportunity to learn from them in turn.

I began my volunteer period in mid-September, 2017 with two-days of field visits. On the first day, Winrock field staff Saliou Ndiaye, Ndiame Sene and I met with the President of UML, Soyibou Diaw, at UML headquarters in Mboro. The secretary of UML, Abdoul Aziz Sow, as well as several other members were also present for our discussion on the assignment and some common practices that I would likely see on our field visits. We then visited the farms of two members of UML located near Mboro (Soyibou Diaw, the President of UML, and Galaye Samb, another UML member) Both farmers showed our team the compost they had made following a previous Winrock training, and were eager to discuss how they were applying compost to their fields as well as the challenges they faced.

On the second day, we visited three farms in Joro, north of Mboro by 30km. Our hosts were kind enough to let me try my hand at tilling with a donkey, which was a first for me. Several plots that we observed were on significant slopes and we observed soil erosion related to rainfall and irrigation. Efforts to mitigate the erosion included redirecting water flow through hand-dug trenches. It was clear from these two sets of visits that the farmers of UML are driven by a desire to improve their production practices, and eager to experiment with new growing techniques.

Volunteer getting a chance to try tilling with a donkey.

After the visits, Saliou and I worked together to develop and translate a 5-day training course on soil health and nutrient management based on my observations from the fields and UML’s training requests. Approximately 30 UML members attended the course, which was held in the Mboro town hall. We started the week by covering 5-principles of ecological agriculture: (1) recycling biomass, (2) managing organic matter, (3) keeping nutrients in place, (4) diversification, and (5) synergy. Each principle was accompanied by examples of on-farm management approaches. In response to questions posed by UML participants, we also discussed the specific nutrient needs of crops grown on their farms, how to calculate the nutrient amounts in purchased fertilizer, and a comparison of nutrient amounts contained in a variety of fertilizers (including compost).

Participants practiced calculating nitrogen (N), potassium (P), and phosphorus (K) concentrations in fertilizer mixes based on the weight of the bag and percentage content in the fertilizer mix. I brought with me a home soil test kit and refill pack to use as a demonstration and to leave with UML.  In the last lecture of the workshop series, I showed how the coast of Senegal around Theis is already impaired by nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, and we discussed the importance of not over fertilizing for the protection of coastal areas.

I hope that the workshop provided useful and usable information to the UML farmers. As a volunteer, the experience of working with UML and Winrock was extremely valuable to me. Having only conducted extension and education in the USA, this assignment allowed me to work with growers in a completely different economic, ecological, and social context. It was a challenging and exciting exercise that forced me to return to the basic principles of agro-ecological agriculture, and apply it to an area that is almost the opposite of where I am from, in terms of soil characteristics and climate.  I was impressed and humbled by the UML farmers; there were several farmers, with whom I spoke at length, willing to try new practices, even in the face of a prevailing social pressure to maintain the status quo. The excitement and enthusiasm of the UML farmers is very contagious.

Farmer explaining to the volunteer how he makes his compost

I was very fortunate to work with a skilled professional, Saliou Ndiaye, who not only provided language translation, but also helped me to understand the social norms and expectations of the farmers and their communities. An agricultural professional himself, Saliou was able to help me distill key topics (such as soil pH, and cation exchange capacity) into terms farmers understood easily. Beyond the trainings, my time with Saliou and other members of the Winrock team in Senegal helped me to develop a deep appreciation of Senegalese culture, embodied in their teranga (hospitality) and generosity. I have a deep appreciation for the Dakar-based Winrock team, and I thank them for making this assignment a truly excellent experience.

Michael Morrow

"Apart from being a project indicator, promoting a local food system is key to rural economic development. And the establishment of an aggregation center and an IT platform through which producers can sell directly to consumers (a Consumer-Supported Agricultural system) is key to a local foods approach."


Profession: Market Manager, Hoosier Harvest Market

Home State: Indiana, U.S.

Career Summary: After military service in various countries, Michael worked as a financial consultant for several agencies and businesses, conducting profit and risk analysis. For the past two years, he has served as Market Manager for the Hoosier Harvest Market, an Indiana CSA.

Areas of Expertise: Business analysis, planning, project management, agricultural production and processing (as a small farmer and CSA market manager); leadership. Michael has a BS, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business Purdue University College of Agriculture

Languages Spoken: English, Spanish


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) in Colombia’s Orinoquia Region

Country: Colombia

SPSP Gratnee: Purdue University

Duration of Assignment: 8 days

Volunteer Assignment and Impact: In Colombia, the market conditions for the majority of food produced by small and medium farmers are poorly developed, negatively affecting prices, quality and energy costs. Political and marketing models favor the large-scale producers and generate food market monopolies. In general, there is no contact between producers and consumers, and the market is very variable and inconstant for prices, supplies and deliveries that normally affect small farmers’ stability and profitability. Access to markets is the main problem for small producers, and there are no regional and local markets for direct to consumer sales. Moreover, there is a lack of information about market contacts and potential market opportunities. ICT tools can help resolve many market issues, providing access to information and contacts, as well as opening opportunities to sell and deliver food products directly to consumers. ITC provides also an opportunity to interest young people in agricultural production and markets. Michael led the promotion of a local food system, investigation of feasibility, and recommendations on steps for establishing a direct to consumer local market system for small farmers and processors. Specifically, Michael recommended the following steps:

  1. Identify 5 - 10 farmers in the Meta region that want to be responsible for the administrative management of the food hub (This will be your first Board of Directors);
  2. Identify a centralized aggregation location;
  3. Develop sub-aggregation points to create communication and trust among food hub membership;
  4. Find local businesses to partner with for order distribution to retail customers, or wholesale marketplaces that will help develop farmer coordination to fill wholesale orders;
  5. Determine if Local Food Marketplace will be able to fulfill technical needs; and
  6. Start your online marketplace!

However, while initially Michael was seeking to link Unillanos and the Meta government with the application developers that Hoosier Harvest Market has used Local Food Marketplace, he found a much more appropriate source in Alex Cordona, Colombian-American founder of The Supply Chain Knowledge Company and his new platform called 47FARMS.


Dr. Dan McGrath

“We did not know that these insects could be controlled. Now that we know, we will deal with them.” – Martin Azum, Ghanaian farmer

Name: Dr. Dan McGrath

Current title/profession: Professor Emeritus

Current hometown: Corvallis, Oregon 

Areas of expertise: Integrated Pest Management

Education: PhD, Oregon State University



Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in Ghana

Location of the project: Bawku West District, Ghana

Name of assignment: Implementation and Training in Integrated Pest Management

Duration of assignment: Two weeks

Organization that sent the volunteer: ACDI/VOCA


F2F Volunteer Finds Link between Hungry Ants and Hungry Farmers in Ghana

In northern Ghana, where nearly half the population lives in poverty amid the vast savanna, agriculture is an important part of the local economy for many people. In recent years, the introduction of mechanized farm equipment has led many farmers to consolidate their fields. Now, tractors and other machines can more effectively and efficiently till the land as there are no trees or separations between plots.

As farming practices and harvests improved, however, farmers noticed the emergence of a new and prolific pest: a species of voracious black ants with a taste for corn—a staple crop in northern Ghana. As the ants feasted, yields decreased, and farmers grew increasingly frustrated in their attempts to eradicate the colonies.

To help farmers find a solution to this problem, USDA Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer Dr. Dan McGrath, an entomologist from Oregon with 26 years of experience, arrived in Ghana in November 2016 and quickly assessed the importance of his mission. “Success or failure for farmers is measured in sacks of corn. Here, they pay their bills with corn. A family of four needs about 16 50-pound bags to make it through the year,” he explained.

In collaboration with local farmers, Dan and Simon Gaab, an agricultural officer from Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, set to work to identify the species, test various baits, and discuss strategies for controlling the ants. After lengthy discussions and investigative work, Dan, Simon, and the farmers concluded that as trees were cut down to join farmers’ fields, black ants flourished in the hot, sunny landscape, while competing species died off as a result of the changed environment.

Dan and Simon proposed both planting more trees and the careful use of insecticide to re-balance the ecosystem, giving hope to farmers in the region. Martin Azum, a 56-year-old farmer and father, attended a clinic run by Dan and the USAID Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) II project to learn more about the ant problem. “We did not know that these insects could be controlled. Now that we know, we will deal with them,” he noted.

Dan is planning a second visit to northern Ghana in 2017 through the F2F program. Now that he has identified the species, he will return to test different insecticides and work with farmers to plant trees in their fields, seeking a long-term solution to a persistent threat. Dan’s work is one piece of the broader 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 275 volunteer assignments as part of our West Africa F2F program to promote sustainable economic growth, food security, and agricultural development worldwide.


Dr. Patricia Pratt

Name: Dr. Patricia Pratt

Current title/profession: Senior Manager of Expertise Regulatory Affairs, Land O'Lakes, Inc.

Areas of expertise: Global food laws and regulations, quality assurance and food safety


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in the Middle East and North Africa

Location of the project: Lebanon

Organization that sent the volunteer: Land O'Lakes International Development


Food safety is one of the biggest challenges faced by the agriculture and trade industries in Lebanon, with high rates of foodborne illnesses year after year. Land O’Lakes International Development, an independent nonprofit affiliate of Land O’Lakes, Inc., is working to improve food safety and quality in Lebanon through its Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East and North Africa Program (F2F MENA). Land O’Lakes International Development is sending experts to strategic actors throughout the food system in Lebanon who can implementing changes in their respective sectors.

One of the major roadblocks to food safety is the lack of collaboration among actors throughout the food system. In June of 2017 Land O’Lakes International Development sent Dr. Patricia Pratt, Senior Manager, Enterprise Regulatory Affairs at Land O’Lakes, Inc. and an expert in global food laws and regulations, quality assurance and food safety, to recommend changes in areas of food safety and quality across the country. Dr. Pratt worked with five host organizations during her three week assignment, ranging from small private businesses to a government ministry.

One of the most impactful portions of Dr. Pratt’s assignment was leading a two-day workshop with the Ministry of Economy and Trade (MOET). The workshop connected local governments and academic institutions, sectors that have historically had limited collaboration. Hearing about Dr. Pratt’s experiences in food quality and risk assessments and the collaboration between sectors in the U.S. prompted discussion on future partnership opportunities with the common goal of improving food safety and quality in the country, resulting in Public Academic Cooperation (PAC) Initiative.

“We established a collaborative relationship between the ministries and the Universities which had not previously existed. At the end of the workshop, we all realized that we were more alike than different,” Dr. Pratt says.

In addition to enhancing collaboration between government entities and academic instutitions, her breadth of expertise allowed her to lend her support in various ways to other types of organizations as well. She supported private businesses by evaluating the feasibility of a new incorporation business model for a family-owned dry-mix company; and reviewing food safety and quality protocols for a producer of jams, wines and beers. A nonprofit organization also benefitted from her expertise as she helped them to identify potential technical assistance needs for future F2F assignments. Finally, Dr. Pratt assisted a university program by offering guidance on establishing a food sensory program and is currently working on two potential partnerships for the University since her return to the U.S..  

Expertise from dedicated volunteers like Patricia can have a widespread impact in places such as Lebanon. Land O’Lakes International Development is thankful for our partners from Land O’Lakes, Inc. for lending some of the company’s top talent and expertise on Farmer-to-Farmer assignments. F2F MENA and the host organizations that Dr. Pratt served thank her for generously volunteering her time in Lebanon.

F2F MENA is implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

This article was originally written and published by Land O'Lakes International Development here

John Casazza

This article was written by CNFA. 

Name: John Casazza

Current title/profession: Agribusiness management consultant, Alumni Association President at the College of Nautral Resources

Current hometown: San Francisco, California 

Areas of expertise: Agribusiness, strategic planning


Name of project: Southern Africa Farmer-to-Farmer Program

Location of the project: Malawi

Organization that sent the volunteer: Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA)


There is a high demand for organic coffee in the world, and a small cooperative in Malawi called Ntchisi East Coffee Growers Cooperative, is roasting the competition.

Growing organic coffee in Malawi has not always been easy. In the 1980’s, there was no international or domestic market for coffee. During this time period, no coffee was grown in Malawi.  Later, a group reintroduced coffee growing with the Total Land Care (TLC) project. The project that left farmers with the knowledge on how to grow coffee, but not how to grow organic or climate smart coffee.  

Ntchisi East Coffee Growers Cooperative Society Limited is a group of coffee farmers. They were trained by TLC in 2009, and became formally registered in 2011.

Ntchisi wanted to grow coffee that did not negatively impact the environment with chemicals. The leaders of Ntchisi encouraged its farmers to consider growing organic coffee. Ntchisi members went to CNFA’s office in Lilongwe, Malawi for help on growing organic coffee.

In 2016, John Casazza trained the farmers on organic coffee farming and how to improve their pests and diseases control - especially towards coffee white stem borers. The white stem borers attack coffee plants everywhere, including Malawi. They can easily destroy 50% of the production in a field. Mr. Casazza teaches organic coffee growing all over the world and encounters these types of beetle infestations in other locations as well. Mr. Casazza started his training with visiting all the Ntchisi’s farms and addressing their questions in their own fields. He trained them on how to decrease and even control a coffee white stem borer infestation organically.  

According to Mr. Casazza, “They took my training and applied it to their farms. They were well organized and they all showed up every day and were eager to participate.” 

After the training, the farmers have also almost eradicated coffee white stem borers in their fields. Before the training, the cooperative harvested 44,564.5 kilograms of coffee beans. The harvest directly after the training, they harvested 63,086 kilograms, which equals $113,554.80 in profits. This year, they are on track to have their largest amount of coffee beans for sale.

During the 2016 growing season, the farmers applied Mr. Casazza’s trainings. Now, almost sixty percent of the farmers are making organic manure, pruning and mulching their coffee trees, this is quite comparable to the “one or two of the farmers who were in training to learn about organic farming practices before I arrived,” according Mr. Casazza.

 “This year farmers will make more profits, thanks to CNFA training through John Casazza” said Harrison Brown Chikadza, the Coordinator for Ntchisi East Coffee Growers Cooperative Society Limited.

Dr. Heidi Kassenborg

"In December of 2014, Heidi, a veterinarian and former Director of the Dairy and Food Inspection Division at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, traveled to Egypt to help several MCCs and milk processing centers tackle their food safety challenges."


Profession: Adjunct Professor, University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine Location: Minnesota, U.S.

Career Summary: Heidi is a food safety veterinarian with 20 years of broad experience in food safety regulatory programs at the state and national level, food borne disease outbreak investigations, epidemiology, animal disease emergency management and clinical veterinary practice.

Areas of Expertise: food safety, veterinary medicine, emergency management

Education: MPH, University of Minnesota, School of Public Health DVM, University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine

Languages Spoken: English


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Program

Country: Egypt

Core Implementer: Land O’Lakes International Development

Volunteer and Assignment and Impact: In December of 2014, Heidi, a veterinarian and former Director of the Dairy and Food Inspection Division at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, traveled to Egypt to help several Milk Collection Centers and milk processing centers tackle their food safety challenges. Milk Collection Centers (MCCs) have popped up in rural areas throughout Egypt to aggregate milk from multiple farmers (mostly women), provide farmers with a fair price for their milk, and also offer veterinarian services and training. However, many of these centers generally lack knowledge of good hygiene practices and food safety protocols and because milk provides the perfect environment for bacteria growth, bad hygiene practices are a recipe for disaster for unpasteurized and pasteurized milk. In fact, there have been an escalating number of zoonotic diseases in Egyptian hospitals, as a result of consuming unsafe unpasteurized milk. In addition to affecting public health, the threat of bacteria in farmer’s milk, whether it will be pasteurized or not, will adversely affect the farmer’s income. 

To address these issues,  Heidi’s main objective in Egypt was to provide important recommendations to help MCCs reduce the public health risk, improve food safety and quality, and increase the value of the products farmers produce. She visited four MCCs to gain an understanding of their food safety challenges and opportunities, while also providing important hygiene recommendations to help to improve their milk supply. In addition, Heidi also visited three representative farms and met with Field Representatives employed by MCCs. Because milking on farms in done by hand, the threat of contamination is great. Therefore, Heidi shared recommendations with the Field Representatives on how to reduce any contamination that may occur on-farm, to ensure improve the quality of the milk before it arrives at collection centers. Finally, Heidi’s trip concluded in Bani-Suif, where she delivered a seminar to MCC veterinarians, technicians and managers on zoonotic diseases and safe milking procedures. During her seminar she also made   recommendations on food safety protocols and hygiene practices.

Matt Cleaver

Name: Matt Cleaver

Current title/profession: International Business Management and Farm Consultant

Current hometown: Santa Cruz, California

Areas of expertise: Mushroom production

Career summary: 
Matthew Cleaver has been learning the art of mushroom cultivation since he was a child, working at the Stoller Research Spawn Laboratory in Santa Cruz, CA, where his father worked as a mycologist. Mr. Cleaver has over 15 years in the mushroom industry, and is currently an independent business and mycology consultant, developing new and innovative products and solutions to mushroom production. Mr. Cleaver has an MBA in International Business from the Monterey Bay Institute of International Studies, and a B.A. in Language Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Mr. Cleaver has a working knowledge of 13 languages, and has travelled to more than 70 countries. 


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Southern Africa (FY14 – FY18)

Location of the project: Malawi

Organization that sent the volunteer: Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA)

The cultivation of oyster mushrooms, which are not native to Malawi, was first introduced in the early 1980’s. Since introduction, mushroom production has not experienced rapid expansion despite its high market potential. In fall of 2014, the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program, implemented by CNFA in Southern Africa, supplied volunteer technical assistance to support this promising sector. The goal of CNFA F2F in Malawi for mushroom expansion is to increase dietary diversity, cultivate entrepreneurship, and stimulate economic growth in order to improve the incomes of participating farmers and their communities.

Since its establishment in 2003, members of the Chalera Mushroom Farmers’ Cooperative have experienced difficulties with cultivating mushrooms for sale and consumption. The cooperative, which is made up of 29 women and six men, is located just outside of Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. Despite initial training provided by the Malawi Government’s One Village One Product (OVOP) program, the mushroom farmers still needed additional training in the best methods for growing mushrooms. However, the local agriculture extension office did not possess mushroom expertise to support mushroom production and the cooperative began to lose motivation as a result of low yields and low profits. Chalera Cooperative was discouraged, but the members refused to give up. They contacted CNFA and requested training from the F2F program to revitalize their business, with a specific focus on training the members in the best methods of oyster mushroom farming and to explore the possibility of in-house spawn production.

Volunteer Impact 
Before Matthew Cleaver’s assignment, average sales for the cooperative were 98 kilograms of oyster mushrooms per week. As a result of implementing recommendations from the training, the cooperative is currently selling 168 kg per week, representing a 71% increase in sales. If the cooperative maintains its current rate of production, the potential increase in sales could jump from 5,096 kilograms sold per year to nearly 9,000 kilograms, and the annual revenue for the cooperative could increase from $3,740.25 to $6,400 per year.

Building on the momentum and increase in confidence following Mr. Cleaver’s visit, the growing cooperative built fourteen new mushroom growing sheds. These sheds have dramatically increased the quantity of their mushroom production and sales, and has increased the membership and production power of the cooperative.

In an interview, the cooperative Chairman Notis Chishasha expressed the impact of Matthew Cleaver’s assignment by saying, “I am pleased that we did not abandon mushroom farming, because we now are seeing increased income.”

A member of the cooperative, Mrs. Steria Damisoni, also expressed the beneficial effect of the income hike due to Mr. Cleaver’s technical assistance: “[the increased income] gives me enough to pay other people to work in my maize fields.”

As a result of Mr. Cleaver’s trainings, the Chalera cooperative members now have a hands-on understanding of six of the most successful and widely used pasteurization methods, proper pre-pasteurization substrate preparation, appropriate hygiene etiquette, post-inoculation treatment, growing structure care, as well as crop maintenance and improvement. Mr. Cleaver enables the cooperative to develop the tools they needed to significantly scale up their operation and sizably improve household incomes, strengthening livelihoods and building long-term technical abilities.

Mr. Cleaver’s ability to tailor trainings to his audience and imbed long-tern technical skills is a great asset to the communities in which he works. In addition to his multiple F2F assignments in Malawi, Mr. Cleaver engaged in citizen diplomacy upon his return to the United States, conducting over eight hours of outreach through writing a press release, engaging in group presentations about his experiences, and sharing stories and pictures on social media, reaching over 500 of his colleagues, friends and family.