News and Events

Ian Robinson

Name: Ian Robinson

Current title/profession: Social Science Research Assistant

Current hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Areas of expertise: Capacity building


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in Panama

Location of the project: Panama

Organization that sent the volunteer: Partners of the Americas


Panama - Located in eastern Panama along the country’s border with Colombia, the Darien region is known for being a difficult-to-access swath of jungle. There are no formal banks in the indigenous communities, and the common strategies for residents if they need a quick influx of cash are to get a loan with usurious interest from a loan shark or to sell off some of their chickens. Furthermore, most community members would not be able to qualify for loans in traditional banks in the cities because they do not have the necessary paperwork or enough assets to apply for them.

Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program teamed up with EducaFuturo to empower women in the community of Lajas Blancas to start and maintain their own community bank. EducaFuturo works with communities throughout the region to eradicate child labor. EducaFuturo’s work in Darien strives to keep children in school while training their parents with skills to improve their livelihoods.

Ian Robinson from Ann Arbor, Michigan has an MBA from the University of Michigan, Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, where he learned skills that could assist these women’s groups in Lajas Blancas. He had also been successful doing similar work with the US Peace Corps in Ecuador. Over the course of his two-week F2F workshop, each member of the women’s group learned how microcredit works, followed all of the necessary steps in starting a community bank, and made their first $1 deposit into the organization. Ian also trained the women on how to perform a feasibility analysis and what key questions to consider when starting a small business.

In addition to being an opportunity for savings and credit, the bank represents a chance for women to assume leadership roles. As a self-managing organization, each participant plays an integral role in ensuring that the bank functions as they intend. Furthermore, six women have leadership positions with greater responsibilities to allow the bank to achieve its goals. In a society where women rarely hold formal positions of power, the community bank represents a new opportunity for empowerment. The members understand that this institution can be a valuable tool to support their family’s livelihoods.

Partners of the Americas’ F2F Program is a US Agency for International Development (USAID) funded program that improves economic opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

This article was written by Partners of the Americas. Download the PDF below.

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Dr. Mehboob Sheikh

This article was originally written by Florida A&M University's F2F program staff. 

Name: Dr. Mehboob Sheikh

Current title/profession: Professor at Florida A&M University

Current hometown: Tallahassee, Florida

Areas of expertise: Agriculture, botany


Name of project: FAMU India Climate Smart Agriculture Farmer-to-Farmer Program

Location of the project: India

Organization that sent the volunteer: Florida A&M University, under Volunters for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA)'s Special Program Support Project (SPSP)


In India’s Gujarat State, farmers have suffered great losses in their harvest and income due to high levels of aflatoxin contaminating their peanut crops. To help address this challenge, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU)’s sent volunteer expert Dr. Mehboob Sheikh in June 2017 to train farmers on ways to monitor and prevent aflatoxin contamination, as part of FAMU’s Farmer-to-Farmer program under Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA)’s Special Program Support Project (SPSP). This was Dr. Sheikh’s first time volunteering for the VEGA F2F Program, and he trained a total of 400 local partners, including men and women farmers, agricultural extension staff and university faculty.

A key issue that Dr. Sheikh addressed was preventing and minimizing aflatoxin contamination pre- and post-harvest. Dr. Sheikh trained his local partners on methods to detect and decontaminate aflatoxin levels in harvested lots, how to follow best management practices to avoid contamination and how to prevent Aspergillus fungal entry into seed through using drought-tolerant genotypes. Raising awareness of aflatoxin contamination was an important part of Dr. Sheikh’s approach, but he also emphasized focusing on growing and developing drought tolerant and salt tolerant crop varieties in the future. Dr. Sheik identified a diverse range of issues to be addressed in the future, including increasing product value and consumer acceptance, accelerating date palm propagation and multiplication and setting up a demonstration site to test new crop varieties.

Dr. Sheikh went beyond his project volunteer duties and extended his visit, at his own time and expense, after completing his assignment so that he could meet and secure appropriate plant material for future use in FAMU’s F2F program. In addition, he met with Vice Chancellors of the Acharya N. G. Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) and the University of Agricultural Sciences (GKVK) to discuss warm climate grapes and establish and renew Memorandums of Understandings (MOU’s) with those institutions, helping to strengthen F2F partnerships with India and positively impact local partners. As a result of Dr. Sheikh’s outstanding work on this assignment, he volunteered again in January 2018 as part of a new FAMU India F2F project that builds on the important work of their first F2F small grant project to help Indian farmers increase their productivity. Per Dr. Sheikh’s recommendation from his first assignment, part of his 2018 assignment included developing an implementation strategy for a Demonstration Farm at the Vivekanand Research and Training Institute (VRTI) in Mandvi, India. Dr. Sheikh’s valuable contributions to FAMU’s F2F program have been critical in bettering Indian farmers’ livelihoods, and has paved a path forward for better addressing challenges with crop varieties and aflatoxin contamination.