The global USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program and community celebrate the resiliency and unwavering dedication of our volunteers every day. Without them, our program impacts would not be possible. This became increasingly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when program activities abruptly came to a halt, prompting the adaptation of implementation of volunteer assignments through the pairing of local and remote U.S. volunteer experts. Although the past year of program implementation has been challenging at times, it has also highlighted the hard work, determination, and commitment that our volunteers possess. For this year’s annual F2F Volunteer of the Year awards, the community celebrated by presenting awards to one volunteer pair from each implementing partner organization to show our gratitude for their outstanding work. Over the course of two weeks leading up to International Volunteer Day on December 5th, we announced the winners from each implementing organization on the F2F Facebook page. You can read more about each pair and their volunteer assignments below. Thank you to all of the F2F volunteers across the globe, and congratulations again to all of this year’s winners!
Local volunteer Dr. Melkamu Alemayehu, an Associate Professor at Bahir Dar University, and U.S. volunteer John Bliss, an organic farmer with almost two decades of experience specializing in organic vegetables and small-scale organic farming, provided technical assistance to Bahir Dar Catholic Secretariat (BCS) in the Bahir Dar, Amhara region of Ethiopia. In collaboration with the CRS Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team, the pair provided a training on vegetable production techniques to BCS to improve both productivity and nutrition outcomes. During a busy farming season, Dr. Melkamu Alemayehu and John Bliss went above and beyond to train and educate 28 health center staff members and to model proper vegetable production techniques and nutritional benefits for farmers so the health center gardens can serve as a demonstration space to create awareness for both patients and local communities. Following the assignment, Dr. Melkamu also dedicated an additional ten days to continue providing support to two health centers until planting was completed. With the support from this pair, individuals linked to BCS are now better equipped with the skills to improve their agricultural productivity and an awareness of the nutritional value of vegetables. John’s experience was captured in a Facebook post here, which was shared by his company Broadturn Farm.
Local volunteer Liana Tadevosyan, an event management and marketing specialist, and U.S. volunteer Marilyn Phillips, a marketing strategist and management specialist, collaborated to assist members of the Ashnak agricultural community in Romania. The pair addressed sales challenges by developing and implementing a nine-module training on brand design and labeling and marketing for Ashnak youth. As an immediate result of Marilyn and Liana’s assignment, the youth formed the Ashnak Youth Group, started a Facebook account, began working with community farmers, developed a logo, and generated $250 of income from the sales of their newly branded Ashnak Agricultural Products, which they used as a starting fund for future activities. Additionally, the group was introduced to the Rural Life Festival held each September in Yerevan. The Ashnak Youth Group reserved a booth and sold local farmers’ produce and cheese while raising awareness of their brand. After the festival, they received the Best Youth Group Award and were invited to a second festival in Armenia’s Tavuh region. Thanks to Marilyn and Liana’s assignment, young Ashnak farmers now have more opportunities to sell their products, increase incomes, and expand their businesses.
U.S. volunteer veteran Ed Levi teamed up with local volunteer Mbolatiana Razanakolona to tackle the challenges facing beekeepers in the Vatovavy region of southeastern Madagascar. Together, they trained members of two beekeeping cooperatives, Tantely Ala Maitso (TAM), meaning “Honey Green Forest” in Kelilalina, and Aina, meaning “life” in Antsenavolo. While TAM required training to improve honey production, including support to control the invasive Varroa mite, Aina requested guidance on business management. Razanakolona’s recommendations were tailored and focused, and she never hesitated to meet beekeepers at the location of their hives, however remote. Despite the eight-hour time difference, Levi facilitated virtual training sessions while providing research-based solutions to the beekeepers. Their support helped both cooperatives to receive equipment grants for new hives and to improve Varroa mite management, resulting in greater production and more resilient hives. Aina’s sales have grown by 40% since the assignment. The excellent rapport built between Levi and Razanakolona has encouraged further collaboration on beekeeping research, and they are both working with Dr. James Ellis of the University of Florida to research Madagascar’s endemic bee species.
U.S. volunteer Arturo Restrepo and local volunteer Daniela Salas partnered to assist Fundación El Alcaraván (FA), a private nonprofit organization that works to improve quality of life for communities in Arauca, Colombia. FA needed support with their digital transformation process to expand their client’s access to financial services. As a UI/UX expert, Daniela interviewed the users of the website, including farmers and agri-enterpreneurs, to understand their needs and created prototypes for the front-end software. Using Daniela’s inputs, Arturo, a web programmer, worked on front-end and back-end software development to deploy a web application for the organization. The volunteers worked tirelessly and diligently on this assignment for eight months, which was a testament to their commitment and dedication. Following the finalization of the website, Arturo and Daniela went above and beyond by conducting three additional educational sessions with FA to ensure it had the autonomy to manage and modify the website into the future. With support from this volunteer pair, FA has not only launched its improved website, but can now expand and improve access to financial services for current and new clients.
U.S. volunteer Jay Ahuja, a finance consultant and retired public arbitrator, teamed up with local volunteer Mark Lagamia, an advocate for volunteerism and a former Grameen Foundation finance employee, to support GreenLife Coconut Products Philippines, Inc. to improve their financial management capabilities. In just four months, the pair spent 110 hours evaluating GreenLife’s current practices, developing a more efficient financial management system, creating a manual on standards and procedures, and mentoring key personnel on corporate management. They strengthened GreenLife’s accounting and inventory system and improved record keeping and reporting accuracy. Because of their support, GreenLife is now able to quickly identify discrepancies and resolve issues with their financial records and inventory system. In the long term, Jay Ahuja and Mark Lagamia’s outstanding contributions will allow for better financial accountability and greater support to local farmers in Quezon province and the surrounding areas. You can read more about their assignment here.
U.S. volunteer Dr. Ricky Bates, a professor of Horticulture at Pennsylvania State University, and local volunteer Ms. Channaty Ngang, an agricultural technician, teamed up to support the National University of Battambang’s recently launched extension program to strengthen the delivery of services and support vegetable production in the region. The volunteer pair delivered training on tomato grafting to 34 smallholder farmers in two districts. While vegetable grafting can be a difficult technique to master, the farmers have had high success rates. Their continued use of this technique will help steward this knowledge in their cooperatives. With the support of Ms. Ngang and Dr. Bates, the smallholder farmers are better equipped to boost productivity and to secure better prices for their crops, extending even into the rainy season. Their collaborative work as F2F Cambodia’s first volunteer pair helped the program establish a model for remote collaboration and extension moving forward.
U.S. volunteer Elysia Rodgers and local volunteer Adanna Piggott worked together to provide training on financial and inventory management and farm record keeping to members of the agricultural arm of the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) - Tobago. The paired volunteers were successful and efficient in their delivery of training modules, use of participatory teaching styles, and development of course material. This dynamic team also went above and beyond to ensure that participants understood the material being taught using examples, hands-on exercises, photos, videos, PowerPoint presentations, dialogue, and virtual demonstrations. Despite the assignment being virtual, both volunteers created a lively, interactive classroom for participants to ensure they understood the material and teachings throughout the sessions. Through their great teamwork and creative thinking, some members of the URP – Tobago have already demonstrated the adoption of better business management practices and an increase in the capital available to them.
U.S. volunteer Jim Corven and local volunteer Mahiler Gonzales provided technical expertise and training on biofertilizer and compost to the Cooperative Agroindustrial Cordillera Azul Nuevo Progreso as the organization was contemplating whether they should produce compost or biofertilizers for their members. Farmers were previously engaged in fertilizer preparation but were not seeing an increase in yields or reduced instances of pests or diseases. The volunteer pair trained technical staff and members on collection of soil samples for lab analyses and improvement of compost production and offered suggestions to start production of biofertilizers. They also provided numerous examples of locally available, low-cost supplies that could be used in their compost and biofertilizers. Following the assignment, the cooperative started implementing ten demonstration plots, established a centralized production of biofertilizers, and obtained $7,500 from Fair Trade Alliance to invest in the production of biofertilizers as a result of their commitment to improving soil health. With support from Jim Corven and Mahiler Gonzales, Cordillera Azul has strengthened its knowledge and expertise in compost and biofertilizers and is now equipped to better support its members.
Local volunteer Dr. Adejumoke Ale and U.S. volunteer Dr. Laurie Murrah-Hanson created a training module on rural agricultural extension services for host Youth and Women Empowerment in Agriculture Initiative of Africa (YWEAIA) in Nigeria. The aim of their assignment was to support YWEAIA to improve the extension skills of staff and farmer leaders to increase the participation of youth and women in agriculture as a business and to encourage farmers to adopt better practices. Together, the volunteers developed five modules ranging from extension basics to implementing behavior change and catering to diverse audiences. Dr. Murrah-Hanson dedicated more than 25 hours over the course of four months collecting research to create a video presentation that YWEAIA could put on their e-learning platform, Agrolearn. Both volunteers then co-taught each module to a group comprised mostly of youth and women. Together, they worked through a power outage and erratic connectivity to provide the participants with a robust, comprehensive, and interactive training. YWEAIA is now offering this as a self-paced online course and sharing it at youth forums to spark interest in agricultural opportunities. Private and youth extension agents are now able to leverage localized information online to enhance their skills and delivery of extension services and, ultimately, improve the lives of the farmers they work with. You can read more about their assignment here.
U.S. volunteer Paul Zeltzer, a Land O’Lakes, Inc. employee, and local volunteer Chiara Lynne Abou Elias worked together to provide training on proper food safety requirements, including Good Manufacturing and Hygiene Practices (GMP/GHP), and prerequisite programs, to Fertiake, a food company looking to grow their business and export outside of Lebanon. Chiara worked with Fertiake to identify food safety gaps and meet the needs of the facility, which included providing recommendations for the ideal times and temperatures for cooking milk. Paul then showed great dedication and prompt follow up by conducting structured training to the host on basic and intermediate food safety. This training helped Fertiake address and improve any practices that do not conform with food safety standards. Paul also utilized his connection with Land O’Lakes, Inc., a premier agribusiness and member-owned agricultural cooperative based in Minnesota, to provide technical knowledge and resource documentation to assist with the training. Together, the expertise and dedication of the two volunteers provided great assistance to the host organization, getting Fertaike one step closer to exporting their goods abroad.
U.S. volunteer Katherine Cassidy and local volunteer Ernest Jerome worked together to support Jumuiya ya Changamoto, a microfinance institution (MFI) in Zanzibar that fosters the social and economic development of its members and clients by providing them with credit and financing to help establish and sustain their farming businesses. The pair supported the MFI to conduct a needs assessment of members and clients to develop a staff development plan. Then the pair provided tailored trainings in response to the assessment on loan monitoring and recovery strategies and best practices for providing financial services to small business owners. The pair went above and beyond by attending host staff meetings every morning, despite the time difference for Katherine. Ernest devoted his weekends to the project and translated their needs assessment survey to Swahili to successfully reach 300 of the MFI’s members. Katherine also personally donated to the MFI to support their survey outreach. With this support, the MFI revised its loan application process to include key borrower information and a loan repayment mechanism, and developed a loan recovery strategy, including setting new collection targets and shorter loan periods. As a result of the technical assistance provided by Katherine and Ernest, Jumuiya ya Changamoto has issued 14 new, insured loans valued at approximately $12,000 USD after a two-year pause on loan issuance. You can read more about their assignment here.
From all the F2F implementers and our global community, we would like to again congratulate the winners of this year’s Volunteer of the Year awards. The commitment and outstanding contributions of these local and U.S. volunteers over the past year has ensured that F2F continues to promote agricultural development and improve the businesses and lives of those who engage in agriculture around the world, while also developing meaningful connections between U.S. volunteers, local volunteers, and program participants, during a global pandemic. However, the awardees celebrated only represent a snapshot of the incredible work being done by F2F volunteers globally so we would also like to thank all F2F volunteers – past, present, and future – for your service, unwavering dedication, and exceptional contributions!