Buried deep in the trade title of every farm bill since 1985 is an authorization for one of the most hands-on and effective instruments of U.S. foreign policy. I’m referring to the John Ogonowski-Doug Bereuter Farmer to Farmer program (FtF), which enables farmers and others in the U.S. agricultural community to provide short-term (generally two to four weeks) on-the-ground technical assistance to their agriculture counterparts in developing countries around the world.
By all indications, FtF works exceedingly well and demonstrates that in agriculture, the best players (i.e. farmers) are often the best coaches as well. Operated through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), it’s estimated that during a recent five-year period the FtF volunteers helped the local organizations that hosted them in these countries expand their annual sales by $442 million and annual income by $132 million.
The original program was offered as an amendment to the 1985 farm bill by then-Congressman Doug Bereuter, R–Neb., for whom the program was later named. In the fiscal year 2002 Agricultural Appropriations bill, Congress added the name of John Ogonowski, a part-time farmer and agricultural activist from Massachusetts. He was also the pilot of one of the U.S. planes hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. At the time of his death, Ogonowski had been trying to help Cambodian immigrants get established as farmers in New England.
Funding for the program comes from allocating a small share of funds appropriated for the Title II Food for Peace food aid program to cover travel costs of the volunteers and overhead expenses associated with operating the program. In the initial authorization, in Section 1107 of the Food Security Act of 1985, that share was established at “not less than one-tenth of one percent” of Title II funds. The statutory share was increased in the 2002, 2008, and 2014 farm bills to its current level of “not less than the greater of $15 million or 0.6% of Title II funding in fiscal years 2014 through 2018,” which can be found in section 3014 of the Agricultural Act of 2014.
Every five years, USAID awards responsibility for managing FtF activities in various parts of the world to specific organizations (including non-profits, universities and private sector contractors) that have experience and expertise in these areas. The current five-year cycle started in fiscal year 2014 and will end in fiscal year 2018. It divides up the developing regions of the world into geographic regions assigned to seven implementing entities, and then two additional awards are presented to entities to cover agricultural education and training, and a special program support project.
During the program’s 30 year history, USAID estimates FtF volunteers have undertaken more than 16,700 assignments in 112 countries around the world. That assistance has helped at least 1.3 million smallholder farm households improve their livelihoods. Many individuals have found their experiences so rewarding they have sought out multiple assignments across several countries. One dairy farmer from Wisconsin has taken on 82 separate assignments during the past few decades and has helped the government of Poland write its laws governing agricultural cooperatives along the way.
Since 2010, USAID has tried to coordinate FtF activities with the larger U.S. Feed the Future agricultural development initiative. They want to make sure the 19 countries where the Feed the Future program is already active can be well served by both programs.