During my first year as a Master’s Degree Student in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis, I decided to focus my studies and thesis on agricultural development in Latin America. Interning at Partners of the Americas was an excellent opportunity to build on my experience working with coffee farmers as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic and to gain experience at a programmatic level. Now, as I enter my final week here at Partners, I can say that interning with Farmer to Farmer has been a fantastic experience. I have deepened my knowledge of agricultural development in Latin America and gained some surprising insights as well. Below are what I believe to be the three most important lessons I learned this summer:
1. The Power of Connections
|FtF Intern Claire Clugston in the Dominican Republic|
In literature about agriculture, an often repeated lesson is that agricultural projects tend to spread more quickly than other development activities. While working with Farmer to Farmer, I learned just how smoothly agricultural knowledge can be disseminated once the right connections are made. Rather than focusing merely on quantity, Farmer to Farmer seeks agricultural experts who can provide targeted recommendations for issues that have been identified by the farmers themselves. One example is the Farmer to Farmer volunteers who have helped farmers to identify pests and mites. This information may only take minutes to convey, but can significantly improve yields for farmers who have been losing crops. Although experts can change farmers’ lives in hours or even sometimes minutes, it often takes a long time to make the right connections. My most frustrating moments as an intern were the ones in which it seemed as though there was no one in all of the US who could fill a specific assignment.
2. Honey is a Miraculous Substance
Working as a Farmer to Farmer intern allowed me to learn about specific crops and agricultural projects that have been successful in Latin America. Early on in my internship, one of my tasks involved reading a report written by a volunteer who was working with honey producers in Haiti. Through this report, I learned that honey not only can be sold as an income generating activity, but has great nutritional benefits and can be used to sanitize and cleanse as well. I had never really thought of promoting honey projects before interning with FTF, but now I believe that this activity holds great potential for small scale farmers in Latin America. I also gained hands-on honey processing experience in what was perhaps my funniest moment as an FTF intern. This was an afternoon which we spent straining bees’ legs out of honey to be sold as a fundraiser. Although I have gotten my hands dirty in the field before, I never expected to be standing in an office in Washington, DC with my arms dripping in honey.
3. Agriculture Includes So Much More than Growing Crops
After interning at Farmer to Farmer and seeing the wide range of experts who volunteer with the program, I have realized that my understanding of what falls under the umbrella of farming has been extremely narrow. Many Farmer to Farmer volunteers are not specialists in agriculture, but rather in marketing, labeling, website design, video production, etc. These skills can be as useful to those involved in the agricultural production chain as knowledge about irrigation or pesticide use. Before this summer, I’m sure I would have deemed workshops directly related to farming more important for agriculture than graphic design classes. Now I see that both have a great deal of value.