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Farmer-to-Farmer: Teaching Financial Literacy

We recently interviewed Heather Weeks, loan officer in AgChoice’s Chambersburg office, has volunteered with the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program with USAID.  Heather discussed the program and shared about her experiences. Listen to the full podcast episode with Heather here.

 

First, tell us about the Farmer-to-Farmer program, including what it is and how and why you got involved. 

The Farmer-to-Farmer program provides technical assistance from U.S. volunteers to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries with the goal of promoting sustainable improvements in food security, agricultural processing, production and marketing.

I got involved after hearing another volunteer share his experiences with the program. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador and this program seemed like a natural way to extend my service with a more manageable time commitment while also holding a full-time job with AgChoice.

Farmer-to-Farmer works with host agencies to identify training needs and develops Scopes of Work that include a training plan on a certain subject. Then they find an expert in that area to deliver that training to the proper audience. My background is in ag business which is cool because I can work with any type of production system – vegetables, livestock, any kind of producer, really.

Sometimes the assignments require the volunteer to have language skills, like I did for my first assignment in Colombia. My prior work in Ecuador taught me Spanish so I was able to complete the assignment without a translator. Other assignments will pair the volunteer with a translator or more recently with a fellow expert volunteer locally who is fluent in both English and the local language.

Since 2020 I have worked remotely on four assignments with local partner volunteers in the field in each country to provide assistance and deliver trainings during COVID.

I’m sure our listeners are interested in hearing more about your Farmer-to-Farmer assignments. Who was the audience? What did you teach? What did you learn during the experience?

The audience has varied with each assignment. My first assignment was with ag business university students in Colombia. I got to visit one of their satellite campuses and learn about a program where they train students to become extension agents in their local communities. While I was there my host learned that I had an interest in dairy production and I was also able to work with a women’s dairy cooperative.

My second assignment was with a large co-op of vegetable farmers in a village in Tanzania, near the Kilimanjaro mountain. The co-op was formed as a joint effort to provide training and marketing for the produce and also to construct and manage a series of irrigation canals from the local river.

In Guyana, the only country in South America that claims English as it’s official language, I worked with groups of agro-processors and the Guyana Marketing Cooperative.

What I love about teaching financial literacy is that it can apply to any ag commodity group.

Over the last year, I’ve had the chance to work on different projects remotely: creating a financial literacy curriculum for a youth program, working one-on-one with a farmer in Malawi to help him start financial record keeping, and working with women’s groups in Tajikistan on the importance of keeping a budget.

Generally, I teach many of the same concepts we teach in our AgBiz Masters course at AgChoice Farm Credit – record keeping, building a balance sheet, partial budgeting, calculating cost of production. These are concepts that farmers and small businesses need to learn to be able to analyze and grow their businesses to provide for their families.

For me, I get to learn about new production systems and ag commodities in different parts of the world and see how the farmers and processors approach their businesses. It’s very rewarding.

What has made you want to volunteer, year after year? For you, what have been the most rewarding parts of your volunteer experiences with Farmer-to-Farmer?

Each assignment is different, but every small agricultural business faces similar challenges – how to market their products, how to manage risks. We can share in these same discussions because they’re ones I have every day with the farmers in PA as well.

Each assignment is like a little puzzle – what do the farmers want to learn, and how can I create trainings that will benefit them and stick with them after I’m gone. I don’t create my trainings before my assignments – I meet with the farmers first to learn what they need and design the program from there. Sometimes our discussions take us in all sorts of directions we weren’t planning on, but are just as valuable to their businesses.

I also love to travel, and Farmer-to-Farmer offers an opportunity to visit new places that are not on the typical tourist itinerary, including visiting different regions within countries.

As we wrap up, could you share with our listeners about how they can learn more about Farmer-to-Farmer, if they are interested. Plus, feel free to share any other information you think it is important to know.

Farmer-to-Farmer is funded by USAID and administered by several partner agencies in various regions throughout the world. Their mission includes agricultural training in all areas, not just financial literacy.

So if you have any involvement in agriculture, you probably have a skill that is matched to a need for training, whether it is artificial insemination, animal nutrition, integrated pest management or beekeeping.

You can Google USAID Farmer-to-Farmer to find the main website and the list of partner agencies and the regions they work and start from there.

Time commitments are typically around two to three weeks. Right now most of the trainings, I believe all of the trainings, are remote volunteer opportunities where you are paired with a local field expert to deliver the information there in the host country. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to get back to doing actual volunteer assignments in the country we are serving.


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