The Farmer-to-Farmer Program (F2F) has sent volunteers around the world to provide technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries for 35 years. As the globe struggles together to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, our work has become ever more important. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world fight to survive on reduced incomes and amidst growing food insecurity. The host organizations and people we work with need us more than ever, and F2F has undoubtedly risen to the occasion.
F2F was forced to innovate to continue providing critical technical assistance. Considering international travel restrictions, F2F developed a strategy involving the recruitment of remote U.S. and local in-country volunteers to conduct F2F assignments. For example, F2F countries have been recruiting two volunteers for each assignment – one remote U.S. volunteer who collaborates with one local in-country volunteer to complete the assignment together. F2F implementers implemented this strategy successfully throughout most of 2020 and will continue until it is safe to travel.
Below are success stories of these new remote assignments from F2F’s Agricultural Volunteer Opportunity Program (AVOP). AVOP provides small grants to organizations seeking to test innovative approaches to recruit volunteers, draw from non-traditional sources of volunteers, and develop their capacity to implement F2F. These organizations generally have less experience implementing the F2F program compared to F2F’s core implementers, so their ability to innovate to successfully implement the new remote volunteer strategy is ever more impressive.
High Atlas Foundation
Farmer-To-Farmer Local and U.S. Volunteers Collaborate in Morocco
During the shut-down and uncertainties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID encouraged Farmer-To-Farmer (F2F) implementers worldwide to support local Volunteers, paired with remote U.S. Volunteers, as they collaborate with agricultural cooperatives and education centers in achieving their goals. The High Atlas Foundation (HAF)-F2F team and USAID launched the first local-U.S. Volunteer assignment in Morocco, with Rachida Outouchki, President of Aboughlo Women's Cooperative, working integrally with former Peace Corps and F2F Volunteer Mark Apel. Together they evaluated a new agricultural project managed by a group of six young women in the Tassa Ouirgane village in the Marrakech-Safi region. The women grow fruit trees and sell them to farming families.
Volunteers Mark (top left) and Rachida (bottom left) during their first online meeting
Volunteer Rachida meeting women in Tassa Ouirgane
The results of this assignment include the women registering as a formal cooperative. The women carry tremendous energy and potential, and they are aiming to develop a unique model in the region. Despite not being given the opportunity to continue their education after primary school, they embraced the experiential learning workshops on empowerment and self-discovery, as well as participatory planning of their projects and growth. Further, they seized chances to grow, took risks, compromised, challenged norms, and persisted. The F2F program promotes this initiative with expertise and follow-up, and volunteers Rachida and Mark provided the managerial and technical support to help the members formalize the creation of Women of Takhrkhourt Cooperative. The registration allows the members to create a bank account, benefit from government initiatives, receive investments, and expand.
The Cooperative’s members still face many challenges, however. During the initial visits by local volunteer Rachida, data was collectively gathered about the members’ immediate economic conditions and goals, and responsibilities and roles were defined. Rachida, Mark, and F2F staff consulted together and multiple recommendations were identified, including how to expand their membership and approaches to resolving competing points of view.
HAF continues to follow-up with the Takherkhourt Cooperative on such issues as locating work space, developing a beekeeping project that will further enhance their tree nursery and give incentive to creating a medicinal plant nursery, building financial management capacities, visiting other nurseries to strengthen technical skills, and collaborating with the local men’s association. Sustainable agricultural development is a long-term commitment, and Rachida and Mark seek more F2F assignments with Takhrkhourt and other women’s and youth cooperatives in Morocco.
A New Nursery is Coming to Life
COVID-19 impeded the Farmer-to-Farmer Program (F2F) due to travel restrictions preventing U.S. volunteers from traveling overseas. As a solution, USAID encouraged its implementing partners to create paired assignments, linking volunteer experts from the United States with those in host-countries - and in HAF’s case, in Morocco. Together, paired volunteers analyze and solve the challenges faced by cooperatives and educational centers. HAF seized this opportunity, and uses its network of local experts to connect with U.S. experts.
The first assignment in the Oujda region, while under unexpected circumstances, proved to be a success. Laura is a U.S.-based farmer who has previously served with Morocco’s F2F Program in early 2020 with two Host Organizations (HOs) in the Oujda region. She was paired with Hicham, who grew up seeing his father manage one of the first nurseries in Morocco. He then studied to become an agricultural technician and now manages his own nurseries.
Volunteers Laura and Hicham (top) during their first online meeting
Hicham and Laura identified the goal to assist three cooperatives in their planning of new fruit tree and medicinal plant nurseries. After agreeing with Laura on how to proceed, Hicham visited the HOs in three different provinces, met farmers, and delivered workshops to people to improve their knowledge on how they can refine their capabilities in nursery design and promoting healthy growth.
Local volunteer Hicham (green shirt) in the field
As a result, Hicham and Laura developed estimated budgets for the prospective nurseries that help the HOs understand all the financial details, the needed materials, and the quality of seeds and soil. The social enterprise in Germany, Ecosia, a HAF partner, accepted to contribute to starting one of the three nurseries in Guercif province. This new nursery will see the light during the first half of 2021.
With his 15-year plus experience, HAF could not let Hicham go after he finished this assignment in the Oujda region and asked him to conduct other assignments in Beni Mellal and Ouarzazate, to share his knowledge with people who requested his technical and managerial insights.
Laura and Hicham got along really well and Hicham expressed his interest in visiting Laura’s farm in the U.S. when time and conditions permit. Laura wants to participate in another remote assignment with Hicham to support more farmers and their cooperatives. Laura and Hicham are an excellent example of the potential that these collaborations offer. This experience highlights the efficiency of remote partnerships and the benefits that result.
In April 2020, Purdue University’s International Programs in Agriculture (IPIA) and Purdue Cooperative Extension announced the USAID John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer- to-Farmer (F2F) program to be implemented by Purdue University in Trinidad and Tobago over the next three years. A United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded program, F2F provides technical assistance from U.S. volunteers to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries.
Due to COVID-19 pandemic travel limitations, the Purdue F2F program has implemented a virtual volunteer assistance strategy to support host groups in Trinidad and Tobago. The virtual assignments will provide both real-time and pre-recorded trainings for the host groups. These assignments are not bound by the traditional 2-3-week timeframe, but rather have a deliverable-based program with a longer timeline. According to Gerald Shively, Associate Dean and Director of International Programs in the College of Agriculture, two assignments have already started working virtually.
“Temporarily switching to virtual assignments allows us to continue working with our host groups to help address their immediate needs. Virtual assignments have never been done in the F2F program, so we’re excited to engage with Trinbagonians using this new approach,” said Amanda Dickson, International Extension Specialist and Farmer-to-Farmer Trinidad & Tobago Program Director.
Zoom meeting with Purdue Extension volunteer, Crystal Van Pelt, and the members of the Network of Rural Women Producers Trinidad and Tobago (NRWPTT)
The first virtual volunteer assignment was conducted in August and provided the Network of Rural Women Producers Trinidad and Tobago (NRWPTT) with training in online event hosting and social media marketing. The NRWPTT, comprises of 60 members and 7 groups, is a national group formed in 1995 to help promote rural women issues and empower women to enhance their economic and social well-being through agriculture and agro-processing. The members of the NRWPTT have been severely affected by the pandemic. With the onset of the pandemic, Trinidad and Tobago agricultural stakeholders have experienced low profitability due to the closure of face-to-face markets to curb the spread of the disease. A major impact of the pandemic was also the curtailment of one of the NRWPTT primary fundraising events, The Mango Festival as an in-person event. The need arose for the Mango Festival to become a virtual event however many of the members did not possess the skills needed to host and/or promote a virtual event. Through the Farmer-to-Farmer virtual assignment, the women learned how to set up a virtual market and launch their first virtual event with technical trainings provided by Crystal Van Pelt, Purdue Extension Educator and F2F volunteer from Indiana.
“This assignment helped the women transition the annual Mango Festival to a virtual or hybrid format. All of our sessions occurred over Zoom, so the participants had access to the recordings to reference as they implemented some of the digital tools. I was able to use the curriculum from Purdue Extension’s Digital Ready Business program and was grateful to get the chance to help the women learn skills to help acclimate their businesses to a more digital world,” said Van Pelt.