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.

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. 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. 


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


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


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."



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


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.