News and Events

Jock Brandis and Randy Shackelford

The aflatoxin tailgate test

Name: Jock Brandis and Randy Shackelford

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

Current hometown: Wilmington, NC

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


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

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

Location of the project: Zambia

Organization that sent the volunteer: NCBA CLUSA through VEGA SPSP


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sherry - Land O'Lakes International Development

Quality – a universal language

Oreland plant employee takes her lab expertise to Egypt


Asssignment Overview

Project: Quality Assurance Training in Bani Suef

Implementer: Land O'Lakes International Development

Volunteer Interview: 

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

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

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

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

Wow. What was it like?

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

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

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

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

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

What did you take away from this experience?

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

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

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

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

Implementer: 
Country: 

Gabrielle Bohlman

Gabriel bohlman is explaining to the trainee how to delineate the plot using 2 perpendicular measure tapes which will identify a zone of interest for  data collection, species inventory and analysis of the forest's conditions.


Name: Gabrielle Bohlman

Current title/profession: Graduate Student Researcher at UC Davis

Current hometown: Davis, California

Areas of expertise: Ecology, Plant Biology, Post-Fire Management, Forest Regeneration


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

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


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

Lebanon is one of the most forested countries in the Middle East and is known for its iconic cedar forests. However, since the 1960’s forest cover has been reduced by 20% due to human activities like clearing land for agriculture and harvesting trees for wood. Over the past decade, the government has partnered with non-profit organizations and development programs in order to increase reforestation of these lost wild areas.

The Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI) was established in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Forest Service (USFS). LRI provides technical assistance and institutional support on sustainable forestry practies and wildfire management in economically depressed and environmentally degraded regions within Lebanon.

The Farmer-to-Farmer Program (F2F) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, has been partnering with LRI to provide highly skilled technical experts on short-term assignments to increase the technical know-how within LRI and partnering organizations and institutions.

In October of 2015, F2F MENA sent Gabrielle Bohlman, a graduate student at UC Davis in Ecology, to Lebanon to help develop an important tool for LRI and its partners.

The purpose of her work was to create a consistent process enabling a unified data collection sytem for allwho are gathering forestry data. While in country, Bohlman was able to adapt the local knowledge with the expertise that she brought from theUS to develop this protocol. Bohlman’s assignment was a great success! She trained 15 data collectors and the program used her protocol for the first time in 2016 and is planning to use it for their next round of data collection. In addition to the LRI’s and partnering NGO data collectors, Bohlman also shared her protocol with experts from five local universities who have integrated it into their work to be used for scientific purposes. Bohlman’s work is making it possible for analyists to create a map of vegetation in Lebanon, which will be developed at the end of 2017.

This map will inform reforestation decision-making in Lebanon by delineating where vegetation can exist and thus demarcate the best reforestation sites and species combinations. The analysis from the data that is collected using Bohlman’s method is also being used to create the country’s first open source web- based reforestation platform.

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

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 SPaschke@landolakes.com.

Implementer: 
Country: 

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


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

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


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

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.

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