Farmer-Teacher-Volunteer: Supporting knowledge sharing through the Farmer-to-Farmer program
This post was written by Bruce Williams, president and owner of Agronomy and Horticulture Services L.L.C and a volunteer for the CNFA-managed USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program.
Whoever made up the old saying that "those who cannot do, teach" probably never met a farmer. That's because if there is one thing that almost all farmers do, its share and hand down the skills they have learned from others and from hands-on experience.
In my own case, I have been both a teacher and farmer, each in the most formal sense. For 10 years, I was a member of the extension faculty of North Carolina State University. I have also served as the chair of Agriculture and Horticulture Business Technology at Fayetteville Technical Community College, and held a number of other academic positions. Some in the Carolinas may also know me from my "Grow Your Own with Dr. Bruce" TV show and other educational gardening media projects I've been involved in over the years. At the same time, I also bring my skills to bear as the owner and operator of a farming and timber business in Virginia and North Carolina. By working right where the rubber meets the road, I am a member of that community of people who know the day-to-day challenges and responsibilities of being a farmer.
Between those two poles—teaching and farming—I also have done a lot of agricultural and horticultural consulting in the Carolina region, and served in various roles lending expertise to community conservation efforts.
Donating time and expertise to community efforts can bring a lot of satisfaction, as anyone who has done it can tell you. In my own case, those efforts have provided me with some of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Many of those experiences have not been in my own community at all, or even in the Carolinas—but rather on the other side of the world. In places like Kenya, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Angola.
Beginning with a stint in Nicaragua in 1995, I have volunteered with USAID's Farmer-to-Farmer program through CNFA, a nonprofit group that seeks to improve the lives of people in rural regions of the developing world by working with the private sector. Through the program, I have been able to use my expertise to help the survival of small farmers in Bolivia by encouraging them to try new vegetables, move away from single-crop farming, diversify to several cash crops, and spread their harvest over a longer growing season. In Kenya, I had the opportunity to ensure that smallholders who were developing a greenhouse-grown tomato business learned the proper production practices to help mediate negative environmental factors that threatened their yields and incomes. The list goes on. As member of the Farmer-to-Farmer program, I've helped bring modern methods of vegetable production to other farmers in places like Nepal, Kosovo, and Kyrgyzstan.
I and others in the program have had the opportunity to change lives—not simply by lending a hand, but by sharing our knowledge of agricultural and horticultural techniques to provide other farmers with the skills and information they need to move forward and attain economic stability and food security. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that these engagements over the years were only short commitments of time—a matter of three weeks each. But by volunteering a short slot of time in these developing regions, I have helped other farmers improve their ability to meet the challenges of a changing world and take a big step toward ensuring the economic health of their communities.
The Farmer-to-Farmer program is an invaluable resource for farmers in the developing world. Through volunteer consultants, the program transfers much-needed expertise at no cost to farmers, cooperatives and small businesses in these regions, helping them to grow production, maintain and manage scarce resources, maximize potential, and attain food security. And then there is the matter of personal enrichment. Through the program I have met people and experienced cultures in countries I never would have gotten to know otherwise. And I have learned that in the end, farming—and the food it produces—ties us all together, no matter if we live in North Carolina or Angola. As I look forward to my next engagement, I would encourage others to join me. When it comes to agriculture, you'll realize what a small world it is, and that we all speak the same language. I hope you will join me on this journey.