Peace Corps Recruits Small Farmers

For farmers ready to take their agriculture skills to the next level, the U.S. Peace Corps offers the opportunity to teach farming in developing countries.

by Dani Yokhna
African farmers and Peace Corps volunteer
Courtesy Peace Corps
A Peace Corps agriculture volunteer in Malawi, Africa, helps the local farmers build an irrigation system for their soy crops.

Grow a Better World
As farmers, you know you have a significant impact on your local environment and community. But did you know you can use your growing skills to help farmers in developing countries and make a real contribution to world peace? 

Peace Corps Mission
In 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve and promote peace by working in developing countries. The seed was planted and later grew into the Peace Corps, an agency of the United States government focused on world peace and friendship. To date, the Peace Corps has sent nearly 200,000 volunteers to 139 host countries.

The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:

  1. Help people of interested countries meet their need for trained men and women.
  2. Promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Currently, the Peace Corps is growing rapidly with plans to increase the number of people in the field by 1,000 every year through 2012.

Why Farmers?
The world is experiencing a serious strain on the food supply:

  • Russia, the third-largest wheat supplier, has had 25 percent of its wheat crop destroyed by fire and drought this year, causing an embargo on exports.
  • Twenty percent of Pakistan’s cropland has been destroyed by floods.
  • The winter-grain sowing in the Ukraine, the world’s largest barley exporter, is threatened because of drought.

All of these things, combined with the subsequent increase in grain prices, make it hard for developing countries to feed their people. Frank Higdon, the agriculture and environment recruitment specialist for the Peace Corps, says that although the need for people with farming experience is increasing, the number of farmers is shrinking.

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“U.S. industrial farming is not transferable to the developing world. There is a mismatch of skills. Urban and small farmers have those skills,” Higdon says.

Farming Skills to Share
Peace Corps volunteers serve for 27 months overseas and work closely with local farmers to accomplish projects across the entire spectrum of farming. Some of the projects may include:

  • Introducing effective cropping and soil-conservation techniques
  • Promoting agro-forestry techniques, such as integrating timber and fruit trees on the farm
  • Conducting field trials to increase crop production
  • Teaching intensive gardening techniques
  • Promoting small-animal husbandry
  • Developing small business projects to increase market opportunities

Farm Lessons Abroad
Maggie Donovan was a manager of a community-supported-agriculture operation in Mauritania, West Africa, from 2003 to 2005. She came back to her home in New Hampshire inspired to continue farming with an understanding of the struggles of farmers around the globe. 

“One of the most valuable lessons I brought home was a much deeper appreciation for the daily struggle of farmers in Africa,” she says. “I learned first-hand how interconnected the world is and how U.S. foreign policies and the Farm Bill really impact people at the village level in Africa. A lot needs to happen to make agriculture more sustainable both in Africa and in the U.S.”

Maggie is now the owner of her own CSA and thinks back to her experiences in Africa when things get tough on the farm.

“Despite the many challenges of making a living as a small farmer here, my challenges are insignificant compared to what Africans face.”

Joining the Peace Corps
Higdon stresses that there is no upper age limit to being involved in the Peace Corps. People with life and work experience—with or without a college education—are often the most successful. He cautions that the Peace Corps is not a “boutique-style” volunteer experience, so don’t expect to be able to select where you want to serve. But that’s just part of the intrigue: travelling to a place that you never thought of, or even knew existed, to make a lasting impact in the lives of other small-scale farmers.

To join the Peace Corps, you must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen. Noncitizens who are seeking citizenship can apply, but they must be naturalized citizens to be nominated for the program. The application process requires six to nine months to obtain the necessary medical and security clearances.

For more information and to complete an application, visit the Peace Corps website.


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