Farmers take practical knowledge to Africa

WASHINGTON — National Farmers Union representatives recently returned from Senegal and Zambia after participating in National Cooperative Business Association’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program.

Alaska Farmers Union President and farmer Bob Shumaker traveled to Zambia to work with local farmers on horticultural techniques, while Wisconsin Farmers Union member, farmer and NFU Beginning Farmer Institute participant Erin Schneider and NFU Director of Communications Melisa Augusto traveled to Senegal to complete a training project on horticultural techniques and organizational development.

Farmer to farmer

The goal of the Farmer-to-Farmer project is to aid farmers in developing countries learn to make the most of their resources by tapping the knowledge of American farmers.

Shumaker brought his expertise in growing practices to Zambia, sharing information on plant health, water conservation and water capturing with the growers.

“As a farmer from Alaska, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with fellow farmers halfway across the globe,” said Shumaker. “Being able to get down in the dirt and demonstrate real world techniques that I use in my growing operation is far more valuable than any classroom or more formal method of training they will ever receive.

“At the end of my time, I could tell I was making a difference in the future of their farming operations.”

Working together

Schneider and Augusto worked with the group Kedougou Surrounding and Guidance for Human Development (KEOH), which provides its members with training in developing their capacity as farmers whether it’s with seeds, leadership, savings, or accessing credit.

“Visiting the farms and soaking in the eggplants, peppers, okra, and legumes outlined by living fences of fruit trees, I knew I was right at home. Many of the farms we visited were in the beginning stages of production, and the soils lacked organic manner, were more sandy and gravely due to the mountainous terrain and parent material, and were not always near a reliable water source,” said Schneider.

“While we did not have a lot of time with each group we met with, the lessons we were able to share were well-received and I believe made a difference.”

The members of KEOH are organized into groups, based on their geographic location. They have a board of directors who act as leaders and decision-makers. In many cases, the groups have been organized for several years, but they looked to the Farmer-to-Farmer program for guidance in organizational development and cooperative techniques.

“The opportunity to work with farmers on their own soil made the lessons meaningful to them, as well as furthered my appreciation for the small world we live in,” said Augusto. “Farmers, no matter their geographic location and other circumstances, are all facing very similar struggles.”

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