Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Farmers Training Centers


A quick Google search of this acronym might bring the following results:

-In the business world: Federal Trade Commission – an agency responsible for consumer protection and promoting competitive business markets.
-In the legal world: Failure to Comply –  the inability to follow the letter of a court order.
-In the engineering world: Fault-Tolerance Control – the ability to design systems of continuity and recovery given the inevitable (something breaks or stops working properly).

These F.T.C.’s are all very important in their own right. However, there’s another very important F.T.C. that’s less well-known but is extremely important to fighting global hunger.

In the agricultural world: Farmers Training Centers – a place of education and community where farmers can learn how to make their lands more productive and ultimately, serve themselves, their families, and their communities better through increased and sustainable food production.

These Farmers Training Centers are one component of overall agricultural extension services in many countries all over the world. Take, for example, the country of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has invested heavily in ag extension services that have established nearly 18,000 F.T.C.’s all over the country. These F.T.C.’s are used as local-level focal points for farmers to receive the latest information, equipment training, demonstration, and classroom and hands-on field education. It boils down to farmers teaching farmers and building community leaders in agriculture.

Want proof of those community leaders? Look no further than Ethopia's very own Female Food Hero Birtukan Dagnachew Tegegn! When her husband passed away in 2000, Birtukan convinced neighbors to help plow her plot of land, a job considered too difficult for a woman to do alone. She sought out agricultural training through extension and learned how to plant crops that would conserve water in her drought-prone region. Her training and education empowered her to make bold decisions, leading to great success. Furthermore, by participating in ag extension, Birtukan can learn new skills and pass along her existing knowledge to other farmers – continuing the cycle of empowerment.

Female Food Hero Birtukan and Oxfam Action Corps Organizer Amy
pose for a picture at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market.

Recently, Birtukan and an Oxfam delegation of farmers from Ethopia and Ghana came to Des Moines, Iowa for the World Food Prize 2014 Borlaug Dialogue. During this time, she and the others spoke on panels and further discussed the importance of investing in small-scale women farmers. Birtukan shared the importance of investing in farmers before a crisis occurs (like a drought or famine). It happens to be a more efficient use of funds but, and perhaps most importantly, it's empowering to the farmers and communities who wish to take care of themselves rather than relying on external partners to provide constant support, especially if that support comes after a crisis has already occurred.

Realizing the impact these F.T.C.’s have on communities, organizations such as Oxfam and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have stepped up to supplement the cost of running these centers as well as further building capacity for the centers to have longevity, adequate facilities, and training for extension workers. Their research continues to show that ag extension is a powerful force for fighting global hunger yet, donor support for this common-sense solution of ag extension has historically been low.

By showing support for U.S. government programs such as Feed the Future and legislation such as the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 which improves our U.S. food aid system, you too can add your voice for common-sense solutions that can help reduce global poverty for years to come. Click here to send your support to Congress: fully fund these investment strategies that empower small-scale farmers and end inefficient and wasteful food aid practices!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Active Citizenry

Guest blogger Aaron Schlumbohm wrote a wonderful piece (below) for our blog about his recent experience lobbying at U.S. Senator Grassley's office in Des Moines.

Bio: Aaron Schlumbohm lives in Des Moines and has been an active volunteer with the IA Oxfam Action Corps since fall 2012, even serving as a co-organizer for Des Moines in 2013/2014. He is a University of Iowa grad and USMC veteran currently employed in the Insurance industry. 

On September 5, I had the pleasure of accompanying two other Iowa Oxfam Action Corps members, Amy & Stephen, on a lobby visit to United States Senator Chuck Grassley’s office here in Des Moines. Lobbying typically calls to mind a fair amount of negative associations with special interests, money, and influence – but there we were, three grassroots volunteers, about to speak to a legislative assistant for a United States Senator. The idea that regular citizenry can access that high-level representation is exciting and knowing that this not the case in many other countries I was filled with enthusiasm for this opportunity! How could anyone fail to see the rightness of our cause?

Aaron (left) and Stephen (right) speak with Grassley's office
 about issues important to Oxfam and Iowa supporters.

We spoke to Kurt Kovarik, a Grassley legislative assistant in Washington D.C., via teleconference, which the Des Moines office was kind enough to set up for us. On the table were issues that Oxfam had been working on for, in some cases, years:

A. Poverty focused development assistance
B. Effective foreign aid/co-sponsoring the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act
C. Food aid reform/co-sponsoring the Food for Peace Reform Act
***click hyperlinks for more info***

Mr. Kovarik listened politely and asked relevant questions about the issues we presented. He was very direct and his answers and comments gave us great insight to the landscape of legislative committees, foreign relations, and U.S. interests. At the end of the discussion he thanked us for our time and for the information we left to be forwarded on to the D.C. office, promising to read it thoroughly to present the information it contained to the Senator. We walked out of the office with no commitments. We had not, in-fact, changed the world with our one visit to the local office of a U.S. Senator, and we understood that the bills we advocated for were unlikely to move forward in this legislative session. We would see them stall again, as we have in years past, while we wait for the political will to mobilize around the reforms needed to help people in need of effective, efficient aid. But every year these issues come up and the bills advance a little further, a little closer to passing, because active citizens around the country are walking into elected representatives’ offices to let them know that these things are important.

And we’ll do it again next year.