For seven years, I’ve served as the program manager for the USAID-supported Farmer-to-Farmer Program. Like many agricultural development programs, Farmer-to-Farmer strives to help smallholder farmers improve productivity, access new markets, develop local organizations, and conserve environmental and natural resources.
To reach these results, our program employs a unique approach.
We rely on the expertise of U.S. farmers, agribusinesses, cooperatives and universities to provide voluntary technical assistance to rural farmers, producer groups, businesses and service providers in more than two dozen countries around the world. These volunteers spend an average of two to three weeks working hand in hand with their assigned hosts.
Assignments range from developing a strategic business plan and building the capacity of the host organization’s workforce to providing training in new technologies.
Since the program’s inception in 1985, we have recorded and reported on measurable activities, such as the increase in beneficiary incomes, the number of people trained, or the area of land under improved environmental and natural resource management. This is the data. And we can measure it empirically.
But I want to talk about the immeasurable: the incredible relationships fostered between our volunteers and their hosts. These relationships are the lifeline of Farmer-to-Farmer. It’s what makes it special and different from other agricultural development programs.
Scott and Ngila's Story
The story of Scott Stovall and Ngila Kimotho highlights the deep bonds that can develop between a volunteer and beneficiary. Scott, a native of New Mexico, started volunteering with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program 13 years ago. Over those years, he visited countries in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, but it was an assignment in Kenya that turned a business consultation into a friendship.
In 2011, Ngila, the owner of Dryland Seed Limited, requested a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer to help devise a business plan for his small company. At the time, Dryland produced 100 tons of seed and hoped to apply for funding to procure processing equipment. Farmer-to-Farmer sent Scott to help Ngila develop the skills to achieve these goals.
Scott worked with Ngila to write a business plan that enabled Dryland to successfully apply for funding from the African Seed Investment Fund. With the new processing equipment purchased through the investment grant it received, Dryland’s business grew.
A year later, Ngila requested that Scott come back to help his company apply for another grant. Scott returned to Kenya in 2012 and helped Ngila write a second business plan that placed Dryland in the top 30 businesses selected to receive funding from the African Enterprise Challenge Fund.
What I described in the previous paragraph is a factual account of how a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer helped a small agribusiness access financial support. It does not, however, tell the whole story. It doesn’t include all of the email exchanges between Scott and Ngila throughout the year where they shared business tips.
It doesn’t mention that Ngila invited Scott to stay with his family. It doesn’t record Ngila telling us that he and Scott have developed a close relationship and that he’s come to trust Scott with all information, not only about Dryland, but also about his family. It doesn’t and can’t measure the value of the friendship formed.
Participation in Farmer-to-Farmer programs provides some beneficiaries with the most interaction they will ever have with a U.S. citizen. Overall, volunteers have donated millions of dollars’ worth of time to complete nearly 16,000 assignments in more than 110 countries all around the world. These volunteers have helped generate higher incomes, improve crop production and expand economic growth for smallholder farmers.
But to me, the real impact and success of the Farmer-to-Farmer Program is what we can’t measure: the long-lasting friendships developed between hosts and volunteers.
About the Author: Gary Alex serves as the Farmer-to-Farmer Program Managers at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Editor's Note: This entry also appears on the USAID Impact Blog.