SBC Facilitates International Research Experiences for Students, Staff and Faculty

SBC BRITTA

In the high elevations of Guatemala’s Western Highlands, farmers and University of Minnesota faculty and staff gathered in a coffee distribution center to discuss the cooperatives organizational structure, new business relationships, and plant health challenges. USDA/FAS funded a Food For Progress project that ended in 2016, which supported these and other growers to improve production, access loans, and connect to local and international markets. It is the beginning of 2019 and for many farmers this is the first time they have been asked to share their progress and challenges since the agriculture extension and organizational capacity development activities supported by the project ended. Back in Minnesota two other teams including Plant Pathology Department Head James Bradeen, were digging into reports and data from similar projects implemented in Sri Lanka and Benin.

Food for Progress, a program led by the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA, helps developing countries strengthen their agricultural sectors by improving agricultural productivity and expanding trade of agricultural products. These 5-year projects report their end line results back to USDA/FAS; how many farmers trained, facilities built, business started and other indicators that reflect the status towards meeting the projects objectives. However, it can be difficult to determine if the activities started by these projects continue after the core program ended.

In September of 2017 the SBC started a two-year project to determine the sustainability of three completed Food for Progress projects. In these assessments, three teams made up of faculty and graduate students from; Plant Pathology, Extension, Horticulture, Agronomy, Nutrition and the Humphrey School, researched if, and to what extent, Food for Progress development activities and recommended practices have continued since the project's ended, and what practices growers have or plan to continue. 

While Jim and Britta were unable to travel to Sri Lanka to collected data after the horrific attacks on Easter of 2019, our excellent team at Eco Lanka traveled the country meeting with 85 farmers, processing facilities, government and implementing partners to discuss what activities, production, networks and challenges remain after the project ended in 2009. Participating growers were trained in business planning, marketing, annual and perennial production, animal husbandry, soil management and plant health. These trainings were buoyed by the provision of fruit and timber tree seedings, home garden crops like eggplant and melon, dairy cattle and irrigation systems. Once farmer said that: “Training in soil care and conservation has led to a change and improvement of the quality of our plants and harvest, which saves time and contributes immensely to our financial security.  The existence of lakes, rain water harvesting and water management knowhow means year-long farming without the fear of losing our crops to drought conditions, which is a huge psychological relief and yet another factor that gives us financial security.”

Most farmers who participated in data collection are continuing to grow the long and medium term trees and they describe impacts since 2009 being improved on farm diversity and increased income. The provision and continued use of irrigation and water storage systems as resulted in better production, more income and more time to devote to other activities. 

In Benin farmers had been trained in vegetable production, postharvest processing and handling, input application, and had the opportunity to apply for loan packages to support on farm investments through the GREEN project. Our research determined that farmers are continuing to apply better production activities, the safe use and handling of chemical inputs and accessing improved market linkages. While applying better business planning and accessing financial services were less successful. The long-term impacts experienced by participants include greater individual and community pride, crop diversity and more money. One project participant shared with our team that “The GREEN techniques improved the way of doing things like planting crops, treating crops, and preparing seeds. This helped us to earn more money and limit the pest attacks that we had before.”

Back in the highlands of Guatemala beneficiaries of the Food For Progress project shared that most production related activities are continuing, growers are connecting to a better trained extension system, and have the opportunity to access financial products that didn’t exist prior. Overall participants of our data collection are experiencing more money and greater individual and community pride and improved relationships with their own and other organizations. One participant shared that “We learned to communicate more and better. We would show our neighbors [what we did], ‘come look at how this is going’, and we tell each other what we are doing and learn from each other; we exchange, seeds, coffee and knowledge...”

Our findings from on the ground data collection, and our teams review of project reports, literature and primary data collected highlight 6 specific findings that when present in a Food for Progress project increase the likelihood of project sustainability. 

  1. Supports existing assets

  2. Designed around the local environmental assets and constraints

  3. Has logical sequencing of activities

  4. Supports existing systems

  5. Improves local and international value chains

  6. Is community-informed 

First, projects that support existing community assets such as knowledge and natural resources have been more likely to be sustainable, and projects that address existing environmental and resources constraints will be more valued and sustainable in target communities.  Second, the intentional and logical sequencing of project activities and inputs has led to more sustained practices by beneficiaries. Third, by strengthening existing systems and organizations projects are more likely to have long term impact and beneficiaries are more likely to be able to access these systems into the future. Forth, projects that understood demand and were able to parlay that into improving supply and facilitating market linkages were more likely to have sustainable results and be valued by beneficiaries. Finally, projects that secured community and stakeholder buy-in via community informed planning showed some increased likelihood for increased sustainability, however this finding was not as strong across the board as others. 

The Department of Plant Pathology and the Stakman Bourlaug Center for Sustainable Plant Health would like to thanks our funders at USDA/FAS, our evaluation consultants at The Improve Group, our many in-country partners and consultants and the CFANS and Humphrey School faculty and students who conducted this research; James Bradeen, Kota Minegishi, Dean Current, Didier Bolanos, Julie Grossman, Paul Porter, George Annor, Marie Schaedel, John Vreyens, Dean Malvik, David Wilsey and Megan Butler.