Written April 2012
Region: East Africa
IFDC is utilizing both on-the-ground and online volunteer networks managed by the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) to develop and strengthen agricultural value chains in East Africa.
“IFDC value chain projects utilize public-private partnerships [PPPs] to develop the agribusiness and trade necessary for sustainable food security,” said Dr. Richard Jones, agribusiness program leader for IFDC’s East and Southern Africa Division. “Incorporating NPCA programs with the PPP approach makes the projects particularly innovative.”
Using PPPs and its Competitive Agricultural Systems and Enterprises (CASE) solution, IFDC is identifying market opportunities for food crops and then catalyzing the development of agribusiness clusters to bring together the various partners needed to develop viable value chains.
Volunteers are selected from NPCA’s Encore Service Corps International to help support agribusiness clusters. Encore volunteers are typically former Peace Corps volunteers or other experienced professionals who have lived or worked in developing countries. They are communicating their progress on the Africa Rural Connect (ARC) website, another NPCA initiative. ARC (www.AfricaRuralConnect.org) is an innovative online incubator of ideas through which volunteers and others can share information and respond to the needs of African farmers.
IFDC staff members and Encore volunteers are working to develop value chains for commodities that have demonstrated market demand and strengthening agricultural support services and institutions that support farmers working small- and medium-sized farms.
Encore volunteer Doug Meyer is an information technology (IT) specialist assisting IFDC in selecting and setting up a platform for mobile data collection in the new country of South Sudan.
“Since a goal of the Seeds for Development program is to support, guide, coach and nurture rural agro-dealers in South Sudan to a point where they can stand on their own, we are doing monthly surveys to monitor their sales turnover, volumes, profitability and related indicators,” Meyer said. The project represents a departure from the traditional paper questionnaire forms. Instead, it relies on smart phones that automatically download surveys from the ‘cloud.’ Likewise, every response is instantly uploaded to the cloud.
“Using this technology, the administering officer has instant access to all the data at collection time,” Meyer said. “The service we have selected provides complete support at a very low cost and low capital input, without the need for IFDC to supply programmers or maintain expensive servers. We hope and expect that this new way of monitoring and evaluation can be expanded across a broad scope of projects.” Meyer is also involved in software selection for IFDC’s Cassava+ project.
In regard to serving as an Encore volunteer, Meyer said, “I only wish it were longer! Three months is such a short time when scoping and rolling out complex IT projects. There is so much need here for the common, everyday IT skills that I’ve acquired during my career.”
In 2011, Larry Badger served as an Encore volunteer with IFDC to facilitate new communications projects. With a background in film production, Badger wrote and produced videos demonstrating IFDC’s impact in East Africa. “I love to work with people who use their hands and brains to produce something, whether it’s maize or rice, film or video,” said Badger. “IFDC and East Africa definitely left a mark on me.” Two of Badger’s videos can be found on the IFDC website – “The Land of a Thousand Hills” and “Mozambique and IFDC – Working Together to Improve Agriculture and Lives” (www.ifdc.org/Media_Info/Video_Gallery).
“It’s wonderful to be working with IFDC in East Africa,” said Anne Baker, NPCA vice president and Encore managing director. “Both Larry and Doug highlight the particular strength of the Encore model: connecting individuals with both the professional expertise and the cross-cultural sensitivity of former Peace Corps volunteers with short-term, capacity-building projects. And by building on NPCA’s Africa Rural Connect platform, we greatly extend the reach of their work. So, it’s a win-win-win situation.”
Those wishing to serve as an Encore volunteer and also work with IFDC can apply at www.encoreservicecorps.org. To learn about NPCA and its programs, visit www.peacecorpsconnect.org.