Building Strategic Partnerships Through Digital Collaboration

The world is facing unprecedented challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to restrict travel and put pressure on global food and health systems. According to the World Bank, labor shortages resulting from movement restrictions have also impacted the incomes and food security of producers, processors, traders and transporters, further disrupting food supply chains.[1]

For 27 years, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) has supported the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to facilitate in-person volunteer assignments that promote broad-based economic growth, food security, and people-to-people diplomacy through the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program.

Volunteer, Usha Palaniswamy on assignment in Zimbabwe

While in-person volunteer support is invaluable, to ensure that we continue to support those that are most vulnerable, the CNFA F2F program developed alternative ways for volunteers to collaborate even amid the pandemic.

F2F launched a new virtual outreach program which brings together farmers, F2F staff and partners from universities, other agricultural institutions, and agribusinesses to train, network, and learn about agriculture best practices. These relationships — which are facilitated through webinars, virtual trainings, and other forms of digital marketing — support farming communities and advance F2F’s goal of providing volunteer technical assistance, while adhering to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.

F2F first piloted this activity in collaboration with the University of Florida through a six-week webinar series that highlighted key linkages between agriculture, climate, and gender. The series, designed to link F2F field staff and partners with graduate students in agriculture and international development, attracted approximately 20–25 student participants each and featured the following webinars: The Gendered Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture in Zambia, Smallholder Agricultural Systems in Zimbabwe, Transition to Large-Scale Smallholder Collaboration in Agriculture in Malawi, Recent Developments in the Agrodealer Sector in Mozambique, Farming Systems in the Vatovavy-Fitovinany Region of Southeastern Madagascar, and Organic Agriculture in Moldova

Students who participated in the webinars took particular interest in the sessions from Zimbabwe and Moldova which also featured partner speakers from CNFA’s USAID Amalima program in Zimbabwe and the Moldova Organic Value Chain Alliance. In the question and answer part of the webinars, students capitalized on the opportunity to engage with the field-based implementers by asking questions about agricultural practices in developing and emerging economies.

F2F panelists also received support and advice from students working in U.S. agricultural institutions and non-profits, such as in the session on Organic Agriculture in Moldova. During this webinar, Nadejda Mocanu and Ana-Marie Luchian of CNFA’s F2F team in Moldova and Natalia Papuc from the Moldova Organic Value Chain Alliance elaborated on a recent virtual F2F assignment to train Moldovan farmers to utilize cover crops on fields, a new concept in the country. In response, students offered support to help farmers adopt cover crops and no-till agriculture by sharing marketing materials and web-based resources on the benefits of these practices. Moving forward, F2F hopes to share this information with farmers and producers in Moldova.

Screenshot of Natalia Papuc, from the Moldova Organic Value Chain Alliance, during “

After a successful pilot, F2F is extending partnerships to other institutions to host similar webinars that promote F2F goals and voluntary recruitment opportunities to experts in the U.S. agriculture sector.

Two of these new partnerships were with the Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana — USAID’s only comprehensive program dedicated to soybean research for development — and The American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS). AOCS is an organization that advances the science and technology of oils, fats, proteins, surfactants and related materials.[2][3]

Together, the group is planning an educational webinar on the F2F program to recruit volunteers from the oil-seed sector, particularly those working with soybean, who are partners or members of these organizations. SIL and AOCS will also provide volunteer technical assistance to oilseed processors in Sub-Saharan Africa, stimulating markets, improving incomes for local farmers, and eventually providing greater opportunities for employment in the agriculture sector.

Through its enduring collaboration with agriculture sector stakeholders, CNFA’s F2F program continues to seek unique ways to advance its mission to facilitate people-to-people diplomacy, grow the F2F program, and improve food security in Southern Africa and around the world.

For more information or to find out how you can volunteer, visit the Farmer-to-Farmer Southern Africa Volunteer page

[1] https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/brief/food-security-and-covid-19

[2] http://soybeaninnovationlab.illinois.edu/about-us

[3] https://www.aocs.org/info/about-aocs-x2029?SSO=True

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