Farmers Helping Farmers--the Best of Citizen Diplomacy
Feb 03, 2016
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 in existence. I am referring to the John Ogonowski-Doug Bereuter Farmer to Farmer program (FtF), which enables American 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 counterparts in developing countries. By all indications, it 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 is estimated that over a recent five-year period, the FtF volunteers helped the local organizations which hosted them in these countries to 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, NE), 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 who was the pilot of one of the U.S. planes hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists and crashed into the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. At the time of his death, Mr. Ogonowski had been active in 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 involved and the 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 percent of Title II funding in fiscal years 2014 through 2018’ (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/or expertise in these areas. The current cycle started in fiscal year 2014 and ends in fiscal year 2018, and divides up the developing regions of the world into geographic regions assigned to seven implementing entities, and then two additional awards to entities to cover agricultural education and training and a special program support project.
Over the program’s 30 year history, USAID estimates that 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 smallholder farm households improve their livelihoods. Many individuals have found their experiences to be so rewarding they have sought out multiple assignments across several countries. One dairy farmer from Wisconsin has undertaken 82 separate assignments over the last few decades, helping the government of Poland write its laws governing agricultural cooperatives along the way.
The organizations currently involved in operating the FtF program in developing countries held an observance of its 30th anniversary back in December 2015 in Washington, DC. Congressman Bereuter and his wife Louise attended the event, as well as a number of current and past FtT volunteers, some of whom spoke about their experiences. Many of the volunteers felt as though they gained as much as did the people they taught during their assignments. As part of the celebration, CNFA, one of the long-time implementing partners for the program, prepared a five-minute video describing the program, interviewing some of the volunteers after their trips. That video is available on YouTube, with the link below:
Since 2010, USAID has tried to coordinate FtF activities with the larger U.S. Feed the Future agricultural development initiative by making sure that some of them occur in some of the 19 countries where the Feed the Future program is already active.
If you want to find more information about this program, you should click on the URL below: