News and Events

Lance Staggenborg

Rwandan feed sector hungry for growth

Purina Mills plant manager shares his Farmer-to-Farmer experience


Volunteer: Lance Staggenborg

Date: March 2016

Implementer: Land O'Lakes International Development

Volunteer Interview: 

Lance, welcome back to the U.S. Before we get to your experience in Rwanda, please tell us about what you do for Land O'Lakes.

I have worked as a Plant Manager for Purina Mills for almost seven years in different plants in Texas, Louisiana, and now, Illinois. We run a facility that produces more than 50,000 annual tons–95 percent bulk and 5 percent packing.

So you traveled all the way from Illinois to Rwanda–what were your first impressions of the country?

It was my first time traveling to Africa. We hear things about third world countries that paint a picture in our minds–poverty, poor infrastructure and unsafe environments. Shortly after our plane touched down in the capital city of Kigali, I quickly realized my expectations were wrong. I felt safe the whole time and it was a beautiful, very clean country.

Sounds amazing! Tell us about what you were doing there.

Rwanda has only been in feed operations for about two years and their production capacity is small. To put this in perspective, one facility makes about six tons a month. At our Nashville, Illinois production facility, we can produce 4,000 tons a month. I visited six feed mills that produced dairy and poultry and some swine and even floating fish food. I provided recommendations on how they can improve operations. I went in thinking they needed help with increasing production due to being over capacity, but once again, my expectations were wrong. They had equipment, resources and logistics figured out. Their largest gap was lack of sales and marketing.

What may be holding them back from getting word out about their products?

They don't have a sales force and general marketing strategy. When I visit plants and ask who was on their sales team, they'd say either no one or one person, and that person was also working on production at the plant.

What recommendations did you give them?

  • Prioritize creating a sales team: This is a new concept for them so it takes education. I gave them ideas to put on branded t-shirts and talk to current and potential customers to understand their needs. Then, tell them how they can help improve their business by feeding their cows your product.
  • Find ways to lower prices: Instead of paying to import maize, I asked them to consider utilizing maize from local farms. In doing so, they can build the price of the maize into the feed and sell it back to the farmers at a lower price.
  • Seek other ways of distributing: Right now, they are distributing to large individual customers. I suggested they partner with vets in town centers to get their product in store fronts.
  • Managing the business: I offered some technical advice on how to manage operations. For example, they were not weighing raw materials when they arrived, so it was unclear if they were receiving what they were paying for. I suggested purchasing a scale to validate the weight of the inventory. I also suggested purchasing some relatively inexpensive equipment to mix, test and portion out their products more accurately.

What did you learn from the assignment that applies to your stateside job at Purina?

To not take things for granted. Our plants in the U.S. are incredibly efficient. Plants in Rwanda are using mostly manpower to unload and stack 15 tons of product a day. To complete a ten-ton batch, it takes them four hours. For us, it takes around 20 minutes. The amount of physical labor they do in their plants is probably 200 times higher than ours.

Did you do anything recreational while in Rwanda?

We went on a self-guided safari over the weekend to Akagera National Park where we saw elephants, water buffalo, giraffes and more. Rwanda is roughly the size of the Ireland, so I was able to see a lot of the country during our drives to the plant sites. The scenery, rolling green hills and mountains are gorgeous.

Any closing thoughts?

I had never heard of international development before this experience–I found out about Farmer-to-Farmer by reading about another employee's experience on The Source. It made me proud to work for a company that's doing good things in the world and not just solely focused on making money. We are helping people who aren't as fortunate–and as a result, we are moving the industry forward. If my support in Rwanda helps even one person in the end, I consider it a success.

The Farmer- to-Farmer Program 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 (MENA) region.

Most two to three week assignments are in Egypt or Lebanon, the two program core countries, but Lance's assignment was one of several "flexible" assignments outside of the programs core. If you or someone you know are interested in volunteering for the Farmer-to-Farmer Program and have agricultural, agribusiness, or production expertise email the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer recruiter, Sadie Paschke for more information at

Christopher Mallek

Overlooking Ajaltoun forest, Chris is pointing to the ideal location to build a fire break to two community members.

Name: Christopher Mallek

Current title/profession: Fire Ecologist with the U.S Forest Service

Current hometown: Sacramento, California

Areas of expertise: Fire Management Planning and Operations


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


In March of 2016 , the Farmer-to-Farmer Program in the Middle East and North Africa (F2F MENA) implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development and funded by the United States Agency for International Development, sent Chris Mallek, an expert in fire ecology, to Lebanon at the request of the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI). LRI, a partnership between USAID and the US Forest Service (USFS), provides technical assistance and institutional support on sustainable forestry practies and wildfire management in economically depressed and environmentally degraded regions within Lebanon. F2F Lebanon has been partnering with LRI to provide highly skilled technical experts on short-term assignments to build the technical know-how of the program and its beneficiaries, and has fielded three forest management and fire prevention experts to Lebanon since 2015.

LRI’s community-based model is meant to build strong ties within and between communities and create sustainable reforestation with both local knowledge and outside expertise. At the request of LRI, F2F MENA sent Mallek to Lebanon to help them implement FIREWISE in 5 communities and evaluate its implementation in 2 pilot small communities. FIREWISE is a community-based, participatory approach to fire prevention that strives to empower local communities to work together for the prevention and reduction of wildfire risks and fits very well within the community-based model of LRI. Furthermore, LRI has been ensuring that this approach is replicable by making sure that the recommendations for each location take the local context into consideration and adapt FIREWISE in their own way, at a low cost.

Mallek conducted field visits to most of the sites and met with represenattaives of the local community. He ended his visit participating in a workshop where he trained at least one individual from each location on the fire prevention plan concept which was later used to set a customized Firewise action plan.

Mallek submitted to LRI a list of recommnedtaions based on the assessment he conducted with the local community representatives. His suggested measures that can be taken on a local scale to help prevent fires, vary form fuel management to the fireshed approach He also stressed on the safety procedures and person to go in case of emergency. LRI has relied on Mallek’s recommendation and adopted the fireshed approach in the Firewise upscale plan they are currently working on. Mr. Mallek who is sought to come back for a new assignment to further his work is still remotely replying on technical questions that LRI team is raising.

David Bernheisel

Name: David Bernheisel

Current title/profession: Former computer adviser and small business owner

Current hometown: Delaware

Areas of expertise: Financial planning, business development


Location of the project: Angola

Organization that sent the volunteer: CNFA


This article was originally written by Nick Roth and published in the Cape Gazette. 

There's a world traveler, then there's Dave Bernheisel.

Since 1991, the 81-year-old Lewes man tried to spread his business knowledge and ensure democracy thrives during more than two dozen missions in second- and third-world countries around the world.

His work often takes him to poorer African countries or former Soviet states. Whether observing an election or working with a struggling farmer, his goal is always to make the world a better place. "I just feel Americans should get out and mix with people around the world; get to know them and have them get to know us, so we're not just who they see on TV or in our movies," he said. "I think it is doing good in the world. My contribution is like one grain of sand on the beach, which is very, very small, but at least it's a step in the right direction."

For the last two years, Bernheisel has traveled to Angola, on Africa's western coast, representing Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture, a nonprofit dedicated to filling the world's growing demand for food, which implements the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program. On his most recent trip, he worked with the owner of a small farm to better understand the importance of financial planning. The farmer has a 75-acre farm where he harvests cassava, sugar cane and vegetables. He also has hogs, chickens, goats and sheep. The goal, Bernheisel said, was to improve the productivity and income of the farm. If successful, the farm's workers could enjoy a higher income and, hopefully, improve their quality of life.

Bernheisel shares his experiences gained from owning and operating a small business. After retiring from the government, Bernheisel started his own business in the marine field, distributing appliances for sailboats as well as natural gas for fuel. His small business background also came in handy when he and his wife, Mary, joined the Peace Corps in 1991. The couple was attracted to the Peace Corps while on a trip to Romania for their son's wedding in 1990. Their return trip took them through Prague, and they immediately fell in love with the city.

"We heard the Peace Corps was sending volunteers to Eastern Europe," he said. "We thought we could go to Prague and spend a couple of years there."

That wasn't the case, though. The couple was instead sent to Mongolia. Bernheisel first worked as a computer adviser to the Ministry of Health, the field in which he had worked with the government. Then, in his second year, he worked with the mission director to set up a small business development program. Bernheisel said he is proud of the work he has done over the last 25 years.

"Sometimes foreign assistance programs don't work out," he said. "You hear about graft and corruption, and people building a big building the people didn't want. But with this, there is no graft or corruption because there is nothing to steal. I'm working with people who I'm pretty sure are doing something they want to participate in."

When not helping farmers improve their business plans, Bernheisel often visits countries as an election observer with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Representatives from various countries will travel to observe an election, and OSCE does not dictate or interfere in the election, but offers an opinion once the election is complete.

"You're an observer, not an enforcer," Bernheisel said. "If I see someone stuffing the ballot box, I don't try to stop them. I might mention it to the polling station supervisor. If he tells me to mind my own business, then that's fine. I would just note what happened."

Bernheisel and all other observers travel to various polling stations throughout the election day. Once polling ends, each observer submits a report, and OSCE determines the legitimacy of the election.

"They'll grade it," he said. "A low grade is an election where they say there was fraud, and we don't recognize it. Or they could say that there were some irregularities, but the will of the people triumphed. For a good grade, they would say it was a great election, and democracy was in action."

Bernheisel has seen his fair share of election issues, including intimidation, stuffing the ballot box or carousel voting. In Azerbaijan in 2003, he saw several large men with video cameras taping voters as they entered the polling stations. He said the supervisor said it was a common thing. "Basically what he was doing was intimidating the voters," he said. Bernheisel said there is no foolproof election system, but fraud is more common in countries where elections are a newer phenomenon. Though Bernheisel has spent the last two decades volunteering in the world's poorer countries, he said he does enjoy traveling for leisure as well. While he doesn't keep a tally, he estimates he's been to 65 to 70 countries and visited all continents except Antarctica.

Bernheisel's father was stationed in Germany shortly after World War II, and he and his family were able to see most of western Europe at the time. As an adult, he lived three years in Bolivia, and again was able to travel quite a bit, seeing most of South America.

As he gets older, he isn't slowing down. He and his wife will soon set sail on an Adriatic cruise.

"I want to see the whole world before it's over," he said. "I don't think I'm going to make it, though. The world is too big of a place."

Heidi Lammers, Jerry Heaps and Anthony Vojta

Quality managers on assignment for Farmer-to-Farmer


Assignment Overview

Date: August 2015

Volunteers: Heidi Lammers, Jerry Heaps and Anthony Vojta, all senior quality managers with the Land O'Lakes Quality team

Volunteers Interview:

Welcome back to the United States! What was the structure of your two-week Farmer-to-Farmer assignment?

  • Heidi: The first week we facilitated a Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) training for 20 students enrolled at the American University of Beirut. We had a mix of undergrad and grad students. HACCP, a management system to address food safety, is a third-party course with 11 modules, which lasted the entire week. Though slightly modified, the course is mostly the same training we give at Land O'Lakes twice a year.
  • Jerry: The second week, Anthony and I took a one-hour bus ride with the students to two food processing plants, about an hour outside of Beirut, Lebanon. These visits were a lot of fun, and a very useful learning experience for all of us, because we were able to see some of the HACCP course learnings in a practical setting.

The first processing plant you visited was for cheese. What was it like?

  • Anthony: I'm what some would call a "cheese-head", so this was my favorite stop. The cheese they make is called halloumi–it's soft, non-cultured, very fresh cheese, made of sheep and goat's milk. Almost like a very bland mozzarella. They coagulate the milk and strain off the whey, then end up boiling the cheese curd back into the whey–a very uncommon process in the United States. There are hundreds of types of cheese in the world, so to see something unique to their culture was very cool. Even though there was a language barrier with the plant owner, we could communicate with the "cheese-making language." It was a unique bonding experience.
  • Jerry: In terms of preparation, they typically roll the cheese up in Lebanese bread (similar to a pita) and put it on a griddle to make the cheese melty and stretchy. Then they dress it up with herbs to give it some flavor. The plant has been operating for many years, and they use grandma's unwritten cheese recipe.

Sounds like you met some interesting people!

  • Jerry: Yes, the people were very warm and hospitable everywhere we went. Actually, Anthony and I both had our birthdays during the trip–the group surprised us with cake and birthday songs. It was very nice of them to do that for us, and so unexpected.

What a memorable birthday! Let's talk a bit about the tahini paste plant. But first, what exactly is tahini paste?

  • Heidi: Tahini paste is made from sesame seeds. The paste is used on hors d'oeuvres and is a main ingredient in hummus.

And what were the highlights of this plant?

  • Jerry: In contrast to the cheese plant, the tahini paste plant had many of their procedures and recipes written down, including HACCP critical control points. This is not to say one way of doing things was better than the other; it was just interesting to note the operational contrast. We made some suggestions on how to improve their safety systems. The owner has been using the same processes for 25 years, so it is difficult to just flip a switch and change behavior. This isn't an exclusive challenge to this plant–it's common in the United States, as well.

What surprised you about this trip as it relates to food quality assurance?

  • Jerry: [What surprised me was] the wide spectrum of food safety laws worldwide. The U.S. has the FDA and USDA to establish and enforce these policies. It's easy to take these entities for granted. Not all countries have this regulatory infrastructure, so it is an uphill battle to standardize.
  • Anthony: To Jerry's point, Lebanon doesn't have a robust food quality regulation, but there appears to be some movement in the this direction. In talking with some of the students, they were hopeful that they will land jobs within the industry as it moves forward in recognizing the value of adopting better quality systems and establishing food safety regulations.

What did you bring back from the experience that will help you in your current job at Land O'Lakes?

  • Heidi: The students asked a lot of questions about how to approach getting increased input from management on quality assurance practices. Land O'Lakes is more mature in our commitment to quality, but we hear those same questions at home. It shows that management's commitment to food safety and quality is critical to success–no matter where you are.
  • Jerry: In the United States and around the world, people come to these HACCP trainings with various levels of food quality knowledge. I learned the importance of breaking down the lessons into basic terms to ensure people are digesting the information. Anthony is very good at doing this!
  • Anthony: Jerry, Heidi and I have diverse quality assurance backgrounds, so as a team we brought a variety of examples to the classroom to help paint the picture for the students. This is important to keep in mind as we facilitate other training programs.

What did you learn about collaborating with the Land O'Lakes International Development team?

  • Jerry: We work well with them. They are great at identifying the needs and being specific about our scope of work.
  • Heidi: Collaborative initiatives like these help me understand what's going on around the world with food, so it's a unique professional opportunity to collaborate with them. Getting a better worldwide perspective helps me understand how the United States and Land O'Lakes fit into the bigger picture. And I now have a better understanding of how diverse the Farmer-to-Farmer assignments are – I used to think they just focused on dairy and crops, but there is more to it than that. We were there for food safety, and when we were leaving, we met another volunteer coming in to provide financial support to a Lebanese agribusiness. The assignments cover every aspect of doing business in agriculture.
  • Anthony: I learned firsthand that as a commercial employee, I can share my expertise as a resource to our International Development projects and make an impact. Just one example, when we first arrived, we toured the plants before the HACCP training. During these tours, we'd made initial suggestions on how to improve some of their processes. Just one week later, the dairy processing plant had already implemented some things we'd talked about. It was rewarding to see that they were so receptive to our suggestions.

The Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program sends U.S.-based volunteers on short-term, international assignments to address the needs of agribusinesses and farmers. Land O'Lakes International Development is currently leading an $8 million F2F program in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, working to improve market access for producers, food processors and exporters, along with ensuring that safe foods reach markets. Since 1987, we've fielded more than 1,300 volunteers–including nearly 150 of our own staff and cooperative members–to 27 countries.

Dr. Renae Moran

Name: Dr. Renae Moran

Current title/profession: Associate Professor of Pomology at the University of Maine

Current hometown: Monmouth, Maine

Areas of expertise: Tree fruit production and physiology


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


The apple industry in Lebanon faces major challenges. Most apples were previously exported through Syria to the Gulf countries, but since the Syrian border has closed due to the on-going conflict, the local demand for apples cannot absorb the volume produced, and farmers cannot sell their orchards produce anymore.

Additionally, apples are still being imported into the country through other channels, which domestic apple producers have to compete with. On another level, lack of knowledge about new pruning practices and the best varieties suitable for the climate have been negatively affecting quality and thus reducing demand of the local fruit.

As a result of these factors, and the subsequent reduction in profit, several orchard owners of Mount Lebanon reported to the Agriculture committee of Ehmej municipality that they were considering removing their orchards and selling their land. The committee requested the assistance of an expert in pome fruit from the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Program to work with these fruit tree farmers on improved agricultural practices.

Dr. Renae Moran, an Associate Professor at the University of Maine,  School of Food and Agriculture, visited Lebanon twice. During her two week assignment in October 2015 and her follow-up assignment in January 2016, she taught farmers better pruning techniques that improve both quantity and quality of the fruit and reduce the labor it takes to harvest. While not all the farmers in Ehmej adopted the practices she recommended, those who did have reported a 30 percent increase in quantity.

What’s even more important is that the quality of the apples produced has significantly improved, making them more appealing on the domestic market. The head of the Agriculture committee believes that it is only a matter of time before farmers who had decided to continue with their traditional pruning practices will be convinced by the results and begin using the new techniques.

While the results of Dr. Moran’s pruning techniques have not materialized yet into increased profits, the improvement in quality and quantity and decrease in labor costs for orchard owners has allowed the level of profit to remain steady and convinced several owners (5-10 percent)  who had been planning to sell their orchards to re-consider their decision and keep them in production.

Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East North Africa is implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

Erin Schneider

VEGA's Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer of the Year

Name: Erin Schneider

Current title/profession: Co-owner of Hilltop Community Farm

Current hometown: La Valle, Wisconsin

Areas of expertise: Organic farming, composting, vegetable production, beekeeping 


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in West Africa

Location of the project: Senegal

Organization that sent the volunteer: NCBA CLUSA


Erin Schneider has been volunteering with NCBA CLUSA’s Senegal Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program since 2012. She has completed six volunteer assignments to increase the Senegalese women’s economic empowerment and food security for the community. Her trainings have included organic farming, composting, vegetable production, seed saving techniques and beekeeping. Due to Ms. Schneider’s vegetable seed saving techniques, some of the farmers she worked with in 2016 are now producing enough quality vegetable seed to sell to local networks.

As a woman farmer from La Valle, Wisconsin, Ms. Schneider has built strong bonds with those she calls her “soil sisters” in Senegal. Because of her engaging trainings, these women farmers and the host organizations continue to ask for her to return. Ms. Schneider has gone beyond the traditional work of her volunteer assignments by helping foster other local partnerships. By reaching out to her now established network of local partners in Senegal, Ms. Schneider connected host organization Missirah Women’s Group with the local beekeeping organization to ensure the Missirah women would receive follow up training and support.

Ms. Schneider is a true ambassador for the F2F program, sharing with others how F2F leverages volunteers to improve global food security and natural resource management, as well as fostering cross-cultural connections. Ms. Schneider has shared her F2F experiences by hosting a roundtable, speaking at a university panel presentation and through the undergraduate courses she teaches. Thanks to Ms. Schneider, four other experts have become F2F volunteers. In addition to co-owning and stewarding Hilltop Community Farm, Ms. Schneider serves on the Administrative Council for the USDA North Central SARE Program, is the Sauk County Chapter President of Wisconsin Farmers Union, and was a recent North American delegate for the World Farmer Organization-Women in Agriculture Committee.

As Ms. Schneider wrote in her blog post from December 2016, “What is heartening in all my experiences farming and with the F2F program is that composting is a universal language farmers speak the world over…In all of the dozens of farms and hundreds of farmers I’ve interacted with through the F2F program, everyone was composting in some manner…I think we need more farmers who are willing to engage with their hands, hearts and heads to build a better world—one compost heap at a time.”

This article was written by NCBA CLUSA.


Read more about Erin: 

Co-op Community Wins Volunteer of the Year Awards at International Volunteer Day Celebration - NCBA CLUSA's website

Sequoia Ireland

"I learned that you have family everywhere you go."

Photo by Yaguemar Diop, NCBA CLUSA's Farmer-to-Farmer Program Country Director in Senegal

Profession: Organic Vegetable Specialist

Areas of Expertise: organic farming, sustainable agriculture, swine research, advocacy, teaching

Education: Master of Science from North Carolina A & T State University in Animal Health Sciences


Country: Senegal

Core Implementer: ACDI/VOCA and NCBA CLUSA

Volunteer and Assignment and Impact: In May of 2016, Sequoia, an organic vegetable and animal health specialist, traveled to the Koalack region of Senegal to help four women's vegetable cooperatives further improve their production methods. Sequoia helped the women decide which vegetables to grow including how to use complementary vegetables, crop rotation, inter-cropping, and under-cropping. These complementary vegetables help to ensure nutrient dense soil, prevent evaporation, prevent erosion, and keep pests under control. She also helped the women learn how to test soil fertility with baking soda and vinegar, products easily obtained at their local market. Sequoia also taught the women about water management, the soil food web, energy transfers, mulching, record keeping, and much more. 

Community members had a very positive response to learning that Sequoia was volunteering her time and expertise to help them, which contributed to the wonderful relationships Sequoia developed with the women she worked with. 

Dan Halsey

Dan Halsey (left) demonstrates good vermiculture practices. Vermiculture is the cultivation of earthworms.


Name: Dan Halsey

Current title/profession: Forest Ecology and Agro/Ecosystem Designer

Current hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Areas of expertise: Ecosystem restoration, horticulture, agroecology, sustainable agriculture 


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


Dan Halsey, a Permaculture Research Institute designer and lecturer from Minnesota, never dreamed his experience working with earthworms would bring him to Lebanon. But in September 2014, his expertise in worm nursery design and vermiculture, the raising and production of earthworms and their by-products, brought him halfway across the world to serve as a Farmer-to- Farmer (F2F) volunteer.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, Hal- sey’s assignment was focused on supporting two universities with development of worm farms and establishment of proper supply chains. He also helped the host organization understand broader benefits of vermiculture. “All they were thinking about were the castings, but there is a lot more to it than that. The soil is great, but the juice is what you want.” Halsey describes the juice as a powerful and concentrated super-fertilizer. As a result of this assignment the host has built a vermicomposting unit based on Haley’s design and recommendations and they are in the process of producing this new product for farmers.

Teaching about worm juice was not the only way that Halsey broadened the host’s knowledge. Vermiculture is one way to help maintain a healthy soil, but he explained that it is only one of many practices within permaculture to maintain healthy soils. Halsey describes permaculture as a more holistic approach “about the relationship between biotic and abiotic systems, nutrient cycling and sustainable practices.” He adds, “It involves houses, building structures, plants, graywater systems, healthy soils and everything on a landscape.”

Eager to learn more about permaculture, one of Halsey’s host universities along with another private university invited Halsey back in April of 2015 for another assignment on permaculture. He introduced permaculture to the two universities and taught two one-week workshops to a total of 78 students.

Designing an agricultural space with sustainability in mind while considering the relationships between plants, people, animals and structures is the essence of permaculture. Thanks to Dan Halsey’s high impact assignments, agricultural university stu- dents have learned important new methods for low-impact, effi- cient and low-maintenance design.

During this second assignment, Halsey experienced interesting challenges in the Lebanon context. For example, due to fre- quent power outages, he was sometimes unable to use his pre- pared slide deck. Thinking on his toes, Halsey had students draw a map of their fields and the various plants growing there from memory. Together, they learned a lot about their space from their collective knowledge.

“In the end I had two new teaching tools that I didn’t have be- fore,” says Halsey. When asked if he plans to go back, he says: “I’d go back in a flash! Beirut is very cool and there is no lacking of anything.” He is now planning a third assignment to teach university class on permaculture next year.

Matthew Amato

VEGA's Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer of the Year

Name: Matthew Amato

Current title/profession: Graduate student at Tufts University

Current hometown: Medford, Massachusetts

Areas of expertise: Teaching, recordkeeping, marketing and operations management


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Special Program Support Project in Madagascar: Addressing Vanilla through Cooperative Enterprise (ADVANCE)

Location of the project: Madagascar

Organization that sent the volunteer: NCBA CLUSA


As a volunteer for VEGA’s Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Special Program Support Project in Madagascar, Matthew Amato helped vanilla farmers successfully sell their vanilla through their co-op for the first time and was instrumental in the program’s success. This one-year F2F program partnered volunteers with vanilla farmers in Madagascar to help them create cooperatives, increase their annual income and tackle problems such as crop theft, access to finance and market linkages. Despite a demanding graduate school schedule, Mr. Amato volunteered 70 days of his time over the past year to help vanilla farmers build the capacity of their cooperatives, including giving up most of his winter and summer breaks. Through Mr. Amato’s expert training, guidance and dedication, the Avotra Cooperative and Mirary Soa Cooperative are now thriving from the sturdy foundation Mr. Amato helped them to build.

As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer for Madagascar, Mr. Amato is well experienced in the country’s complex and volatile vanilla industry—and effective volunteering. He demonstrated throughout the year his commitment to the people of Madagascar and the fact that he would do whatever he could to help the farmers and nascent cooperatives succeed. He worked with local partners at the Avotra Cooperative to strengthen their capacity, specifically providing trainings on recordkeeping, financial management and stock management. He also conducted an assessment on farmers’ post-harvest handling and storage of vanilla prior to its sale. During his second assignment, he helped to manage sales at the opening of the vanilla campaign with over 500 farmer members.

“The F2F program is so successful in my opinion, because it works directly with farmers and uses a ground up, community based approach to identifying and addressing community issues and concerns,” said Mr. Amato. “While I was working in the Peace Corps I learned a local proverb that has summarized many of my experiences in Madagascar and my F2F experience in particular. The proverb translates to: people one by one are like sand, but all together we are like stone.”

This article was written by NCBA CLUSA. 


Read more about Matthew: 

Co-op Community Wins Volunteer of the Year Awards at International Volunteer Day Celebration - NCBA CLUSA's website

Success for US co-op community at International Volunteer Day Awards - Coop News

Dr. Mushtaq Memon

 Mushtaq has 30 plus years of experience in veterinary medicine and education, specializing in livestock  reproductive health, disease diagnosis, treatment and disease control/ prevention. He teaches at Washington State University where he was instrumental in starting the International Veterinary Education program. In addition, Mushtaq has 25 years of veterinary teaching and designing university curriculum and courses around the world.


Profession: Associate Professor, Global Animal Health Pathway Coordinator at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health

Home State: Washington, U.S.

Career Summary: A volunteer for ACDI/VOCA since 2001, Mushtaq has 30 plus years of experience in veterinary medicine and education. He specializes in livestock reproductive health, disease diagnosis, treatment and disease control/ prevention. He also teaches at Washington State University where he was instrumental in starting the International Veterinary Education program. In addition, Mushtaq has 25 years of veterinary teaching and designing university curriculum and courses around the world.

Area(s) of Expertise: Veterinary medicine and education, livestock reproductive health, disease diagnosis, treatment and disease control/prevention


Name of project: ACDI/VOCA Lebanon

Country: Lebanon

Implementing Partner: ACDI/VOCA

Objective: To help organizations understand prevailing endemic livestock diseases and improve livestock veterinary practices.

Volunteer Assignment and Impact: Lebanon has experienced a deterioration of animal health and high mortality rates due a lack of knowledge about disease and vaccination, the sporadic availability of vaccines, and a lack of effective diagnostic veterinary laboratories or affordable services. To help address these issues and ultimately improve animal health, Dr. Mushtaq Memon visited dairy cooperatives and a private veterinary services company to impart knowledge and improve their practices, while also working to improve the education of and opportunities for Lebanese veterinary students. 

During Mushtaq’s first assignment in Lebanon, he visited a dairy cooperative and demonstrated the value of keeping individual records for every cow in order to manage disease and revenue. His second assignment entailed working with a private veterinary services company. During his time with the company he proposed establishing a frozen semen facility and heifer replacement business to control breeding costs and provide an additional source of income. One year later, guided by his recommendations, the private company, Lebanon University (LU) and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization are working to create the facility. During his third assignment he worked with various stakeholders to address the shortage of Lebanese veterinarians. First, he worked with Lebanon University to guide the expansion of their small veterinary curriculum, including recommendations to allow students to gain more practical experience. As a former Fulbright Fellowship recipient, Mushtaq In addition, he also initiated discussions between the U.S. Embassy and LU to facilitate an agreement, and also approached an education and scholarship organization about providing opportunities for students and instructors to apply for veterinary education masters degrees at U.S. universities.

Over the last three years, Dr. Mushtaq Memon has helped Lebanon make incredible strides towards improved veterinary services, including preparing the next generation of veterinarians.