College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

AGNR Alum’s Three Weeks in Tanzania

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Farmer to Farmer (F2F) Volunteer
Anna stands with members of the local Farmers Club

Anna Glenn, a 2012 UMD College of AGNR alumna, currently works as a Horticulture Faculty Extension Assistant for University of Maryland Extension in Baltimore County.

January 23rd 2016, the day I was set to fly out for Tanzania, was the same day Winter Storm Jonas was set to slam the East Coast with 30+ inches of snow. Temperatures below freezing, snow whipping around my face, and cracking fireplaces in Maryland weren’t exactly the best ways to prepare for the sticky scorching heat, equatorial sunshine, and buzzing mosquitos that were to come when I arrived in Africa. Despite the 2-day delay in getting out of DC, I feel that my work as a horticulture educator with the Farmer-to-Farmer was still a life-changing experience and an overall success.

The Farmer-to-Farmer (or F2F) program is run through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a governmental organization that is primarily responsible for administering foreign aid and disaster relief in developing countries. This program recruits US volunteers from farms, universities, cooperatives, private agribusiness and nonprofit farm organizations to go serve as educators in developing or transitioning countries. I first heard about the Farmer-to-Farmer program while completing my Masters studies at Texas A&M University. While studying agricultural education and international development at Texas A&M, I completed my first Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Haiti where I worked with small-scale rabbit producers to improve rabbit handling techniques, sanitation, nutrition, reproductive care, and disease management practices.

In fall 2015, when a F2F recruiter contacted me via LinkedIn to see if I would be interested in serving as a horticulture educator in Tanzania, I was ecstatic and eagerly agreed to volunteer again. The overall assignment objective, though focusing on horticulture rather than rabbits, was still inherently the same: promote sustainable improvements in food security and agricultural processing, production, and marketing and work toward the goal of reducing hunger and increasing the standard of living for those in developing countries.

Anna and town members holding hands while Anna holds her new chickenThe farmers’ club that served as the host organization for my F2F assignment was located in the rural village of Chome (population 7,500) which is in the northern Pare Mountains bordering Kenya. The 2 hour trip from the bottom of the mountains up to the village (located 5,000ft above sea level) was treacherous at times due to the fact that the road had been eroded out in some spots and there were no guardrails in sight, but it was also breathtakingly beautiful with every shade of green and brown imaginable brightening up the view. Once in the village, I settled in with my host family immediately and was later welcomed into the village by a ceremony in which I held hands with members of the family, was prayed over, and also presented with the gift of a live rooster. It was a beautiful example of how loving and welcoming the people of Tanzania truly are, the fact that they would bestow something as valuable as a live rooster (estimated to be worth about a week’s pay) onto a guest speaks volumes about their value system.

Anna Stands before several postersAfter being welcomed into the village, I spent my first few days visiting with farmers and interviewing them about the systems/practices that they used in growing various horticultural crops. I asked them about what they planted, how often they watered, what types of fertilizers they used, diseases they had experienced and how they had treated for them, crop yields/losses, profit, and other sustainable agricultural practices. Through these interviews, I was able to see first-hand the types of difficulties and hurdles that they must deal with on a day-to-day basis. Things like trying to read pesticide/fertilizer labels that aren’t written in their native language or read labels that are translated, but not translated properly. Things like being abandoned by the government-assigned agricultural extension worker who left to take a second job in the city, leaving the village for 3 years without a teacher, all while still earning his government salary. Things like not having access to high quality seeds or planting instructions, accurate weather reports, proper pesticides/fertilizers, training on how to keep records, or a competitive market at which to sell their products.

10 Tanzanias sit in a circle as Anna teachesThe situation felt overwhelming at times and I had a hard time figuring out where to start as I began planning for the trainings. It felt like there was so much to cover and not enough time. But, it soon became clear to that the place to start was right at the very beginning with the basics. Before getting into the nitty gritty of some of the diseases and pesticide safety, I started out by going over the concept of sustainable agriculture. Talking about this concept of growing enough food to feed a family while still keeping in mind the environmental impacts, set the tone and served as a framework for the rest of the trainings. During the trainings, I discussed integrated pest management and had participants practice reading pesticide labels and draw out maps of their farms in order to better understand the concept of crop rotation and the importance of record keeping. They also analyzed soil samples, made sample fertilizing plans, demonstrated how to make, test, and use compost, identified insects and diseases, and talked about the benefits of seed saving. 

A farmer stands before her cropsBy the end of the 3 weeks of training, many of the farmers had agreed to start rotating crops in their fields, start keeping records, read the fertilizer/pesticide labels and follow proper safety protocol, and share their new knowledge with other members of the community. In a few months, another F2F volunteer will return to the village and work with the farmers club to see how they have progressed and help to address any other needs they may have as they get. This type of ongoing assistance will continue for 5 years and will hopefully eventually progress to the point where instead of sending agricultural educator volunteers, F2F will begin sending agricultural economics, marketing, and business volunteers to help the farmers market their excess crops and value-added crops on a larger market, therefore increasing household income, setting the families up for success. I look forward to hearing updates as the farmers’ club progresses and hope to volunteer with the F2F organization again sometime in the future!

To learn more about the Farmer-to-Farmer program, visit https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/agriculture-and-food-security/supporting-agricultural-capacity-development/john-ogonowski

 

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