What I Did On My Summer Vacation

By Chris Laughton
September 15, 2015

The USAID John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program

Chris Laughton, Director of Knowledge Exchange at Farm Credit East

The Farmer-to-Farmer program (F2F) is a volunteer-driven program that provides technical assistance from U.S. farmers and agricultural experts to farmers, students, and agri-businesses in developing countries. The goal is to promote sustainable improvements in food security, agricultural production, and farm income in some of the world’s poorest nations.

Volunteers supply their time and expertise, and the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) pays travel expenses through a network of contractors. Since the program’s beginning in 1985, nearly 16,000 volunteer assignments have been completed in more than 110 countries. I began participating in F2F in 2011, and have since completed 4 assignments, travelling to Tajikistan (between Afghanistan and China), Guinea (in West Africa), South Africa, and Haiti. I recently received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for my work on these assignments.

Chris Laughton with agricultural students from the Universite de Caribe, on the right is Dr. Kamal Hyder of Florida A&M University who accompanied me on my training.

 

My assignments have varied, but mostly I have applied to general farm management and marketing projects. In Tajikistan I worked with area farmers to train them on management, budgeting, recordkeeping, and marketing. When they found out I had a background in the greenhouse business, we put together an additional training session on high tunnel (hoop house) cultivation of herbs and vegetables. In South Africa, I worked with rural children on developing school gardens and agricultural vocational training. In Guinea, I worked with the Union of Cashew Producers on budgeting, negotiation, and business and cooperative development. In Haiti, I conducted training for three different groups; area farmers, college agricultural students, and grade school youth, on marketing and management (obviously at different levels of complexity).

Accommodations are usually modest, sometimes without electricity, it’s often hot, and the food may be exotic, so you need to be a relatively resilient traveler, but they provide the kind of cultural experience you won’t get any other way.

Of course, there’s only so much a single person can do in a short-term assignment to effect real change. I don’t think my assignments have “changed the world”, but I do think I’ve helped improve the lives and farm businesses of the people I have worked with. It’s been a way to use my degrees in horticulture and business management to help others, and I believe it has helped in my professional development at Farm Credit as well.

One thing I have learned in my trips is how significant the Farm Credit System really is for American agriculture. Most developing nations have nothing like it. Bank loans (or banking services in general) are typically out of reach for the average farmer, and credit, if it is available at all, is generally quite limited and at a very high interest rate. In most cases farmers needing capital for their businesses must use their own savings or draw on friends and family to pay cash for things.

I know there are others in the Farm Credit System who have done F2F trips, so I’m not alone. I’d like to thank them, as well as Farm Credit East for supporting me by allowing me the time to do these assignments. My goal is to keep doing one per year, as my schedule permits.

Basically, the way it works, is there is a website potential volunteers can go to for more information or to see what projects are currently seeking volunteers: http://vegaalliance.org/our-programs/farmer-to-farmer-program/. The assignments currently open range from quite specific (sweet cherry rootstock production specialist sought for an assignment in Moldova), to the more general (farm management specialist needed for an assignment in Ghana). At any given time, there are usually dozens of open projects seeking volunteers with varying fields of expertise. Assignments are generally 2 to 3 weeks in length, and the USAID contractor pays all expenses and provides in-country support, including interpreters, if needed. If you are interested in volunteering, feel free to contact me as well, at chris.laughton@farmcrediteast.com

 


About Gary Matteson
Gary Matteson knows agriculture first hand. Until recently he was a small farmer operating a greenhouse business in Epsom, New Hampshire. Matteson now works at the Farm Credit Council, the trade association for the nationwide Farm Credit System. He is an advocate for young, beginning, small, and minority farmer outreach programs. Matteson is responsible for spreading best practices for beginning farmer lending and training among Farm Credit Associations, generating new program ideas to benefit them. In addition to working directly with farm groups, Matteson is active in policy related to new entrants to farming. He now serves on the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers.