New "Can Do" Program Assists Farmers in Post-Conflict Colombia

In a new Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) project, ten volunteers will provide training to Colombian smallholder farmers and agricultural extension agents in post-conflict rural areas under a grant implemented by New Mexico State University (NMSU). The Colombia Agricultural Network Development Opportunity, also known as “Can Do,” aims to develop agricultural extension models to ensure delivery of applied agricultural research news and information to farmers. The one-year grant is supported by Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA)’s Farmer-to-Farmer Special Program Support Project (SPSP).

Colombia’s rural farmers are facing potentially substantial change to their livelihoods. Following the new peace accord signed in fall 2016 between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the government announced plans to expand licit agricultural production and rehabilitate agricultural lands formerly under control of FARC, where narco-trafficking had thrived. Despite government incentives for shifting production, many farmers in these isolated areas lack access to training, information, and marketing channels needed to successfully integrate into the rest of Colombia’s agricultural economy.

Through community assessments in Bolivar in late 2016, NMSU has identified opportunities to link small farmers through agricultural extension agents to promote rural economic recovery. Volunteers will partner with graduates from Universidad de La Salle’s Utopia campus to work in remote areas of the Bolivar and Sucre departments during approximately two-week assignments. NMSU has previously collaborated with La Salle, which had established the Utopia program to provide educational and leadership opportunities for youth from conflict areas. NMSU also plans to partner with two host organizations with connections to post-conflict regions: Crecer en Paz (Growing in Peace), a development and peacebuilding NGO, and Salva Terra (Saving Land), a sustainable community development NGO. Each volunteer will work in a team of three along with a La Salle/Utopia extension agent and one host director.

Together, the teams will assess information gaps, share relevant research and techniques developed from Utopia’s agricultural school, and suggest interventions to improve production, food safety, marketing, nutrition, or other practices. The first team will assist the host NGOs on organizational development and capacity building to broaden the potential for positive impact from the following teams’ work. Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer participation will also help provide training for the local extension agents, like the Utopia graduates, and the community agricultural organizations.

Fundamentally, the Can Do project aims to build the capacity of a growing network of agricultural specialists in Colombia while supporting national goals to improve livelihoods and sustain peace. NMSU expects that volunteer assignments will increase water catchment and storage use, increase forage storage, and reduce use of prohibited chemicals, among others goals. Smallholder farmers will see tangible results in building their capacity to increase their numbers of livestock, and extension agents will practice effectively engaging with and transferring their academic training to community members.

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