2015 NFU Women’s Conference Recap: “Oceans of Opportunities”

Posted on | January 23, 2015 | No Comments

By Chamonix Mejia

The 2015 NFU Women’s Conference kicked off on Saturday, Jan. 17 at the Holiday Inn Conference Center in Clearwater, Florida. The evening reception was an intimate gathering of the 40 participants, women eager to dive into the “Oceans of Opportunities” they would explore over the next few days.

Sunday, Jan. 18 started off with an optional morning workout. Twelve women were brave enough to take on the fun boot camp held by Wisconsin Farmers Union member Kristine Marion. After breakfast, conference attendees were welcomed and introduced to the event sponsors and one another. Each attendee gave a brief speech, with some very inspiring stories being told. The next session involved attendees figuring out their own “True Colors,” or personality styles.

During a networking lunch, Brenda Velde spoke about U.S. history and how women have changed our future. Then, there were breakout sessions that dealt with learning about financial planning for a farm. Van McCall, Gary Matteson, and Madeline Schultz did a wonderful job giving insight to the attendees. The women got a chance to tour the local beach by participating in a scavenger hunt. The winning team even got some special prizes! The groups had to be creative with the scavenger hunt, and some funny pictures can be seen using #NFUWomen15 on Facebook and Twitter.

When the ladies returned from the scavenger hunt, they were spoken to by AgrAbility and then Althea Raiford, one of the three women starring in the “Terra Firma” film. Terra Firma tells the story of three women who served in the military and found comfort in farming after coming back to civilian life. During Althea’s speech, she told attendees about how she did not come back the same way after serving our country. She fought personal battles trying to overcome the things she experienced. She spoke about her relationship with her brother and said “without farming, we would not be where we are.” She took over some family land, about 50 acres, and has helped farmed it with her brother. The attendees also received a special presentation of “Terra Firma,” a truly inspiring film that is best described by one of the stars: “I can’t fight wars anymore, but I can fight hunger.”

Monday, Jan. 19, consisted of more sessions and panels for attendees. The highlight was the evening speaker, Lilia McFarland, coordinator of the USDA New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program. She encouraged attendees to take leadership roles and to make their voices count. On Tuesday, January 20th, the conference moved throughout the state of Florida to tour several farms in the area. They visited Williamson Berry Farms, Castillo Farms, and Keel and Curley Winery. Williamson Berry Farms gave insight into running a strawberry farm and showed the participants the research side of the strawberry industry. At Castillo Farms, participants were shown how a first generation family farm is operating after moving their business from Mexico. Finally, at Keel and Curley Winery, attendees learned about making other products from produce. In the evening, the attendees were free to explore, with many going on a Pirate Cruise throughout the Gulf.

The final day, January 21st, consisted of a panel and a session on social media marketing by Roshanda Pratt. Roshanda gave great tips on how to create and build a brand.

Overall, the women seemed to truly enjoy their time during the conference. They left knowing about the “Oceans of Opportunities” that are out there for them and with the skills and tools that will help them. We hope you can join us at the next NFU Women’s Conference!


Growing Onions and Organizations: Tips and Successes from the Jubo Grower Association of Senegal

Posted on | January 5, 2015 | No Comments

By Erin Schneider

Farmer, Educator, Hilltop Community Farm, La Valle, WI www.hilltopcommunityfarm.org

With heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals: Yaguemar Diop, NCBA-CLUSA Program Director in Senegal, who provided interview translation from Wolof & French to English, to Athanase, Caritas Field Program Director in Senegal for helping arrange the interview and field visits during my F2F assignment; and to Fatou Dianka for taking the time out of your very busy day to pause to let me interview her and share her success stories.

F2F Volunteer and NFU member Erin Schneider with Fatou Dianka, organic farmer and founding member of the Jubo Growers Association, Batamar, Senegal pausing for a smile after the interview. Photo by Yaguemar Diop, NCBA-CLUSA F2F Program Director

Past the cashew groves and groundnut fields, pausing to wave at the workers and to let roving donkey carts and goat herds pass, I stepped out of the truck, exchanged greetings and settled in under the canopy of neem, acknowledging warmly the curious smiles and stares of villagers. “What’s it like to farm here?” I asked Fatou Dianka, an organic farmer and founding member of the Jubo Farm Association, in Batamar, Senegal.

Gazing toward an open space where melons carpeted the ground and climbed the stray papaya tree, Fatou extended her hand, “There,” she pointed. “We needed a place to grow food and make a living during the dry season.” Her eyes lit up as she relaxed into memory and I listened attentively, scribbling notes as she told me about how she started to cultivate space, turning over the Earth and singing as seed beds were tucked—planting more than seeds that day.

The local priest saw the women working, noticed their commitment and need for space to earn extra income and sought a way to help. Soon after, Fatou found herself in Kaolack, with 20,000 CFA (just under $40) pooled together from interested farm friends in the village. She sought support from Caritas, a non-governmental organization working on agriculture and food security initiatives in and around Batamar and the Fatik region of Senegal.

Planting the seeds of the as yet to be imagined – a leap of faith from across the pond…

Back at my farm in La Valle, Wisconsin, after the last quince was harvested from our orchards and potato dug from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) fields, I hopped across the pond, to discover what growing a farm and farm business entailed in other parts of the world. I hoped to lend a hand where I could in supporting organic vegetable production with women farmer networks as part of  National Cooperative Business Association’s Farmer to Farmer Program in Senegal. This was my fifth trip to Africa – third adventure in Senegal with the Farmer to Farmer Program. With each experience new life is danced and breathed into me.  What I love about the farmer to farmer program is its ground-up, peer to peer approach. Your work is based on the needs, skills and interests of the farmers—and not surprisingly, these needs, skills and interests are characteristic of farmers in Wisconsin, the U.S., the world over.

I hung up my tools and traded glacial till for mangrove mud, bur oaks for baobabs, and breathed in the scents of ocean, fish and Sahale heat. Next to Wisconsin, Senegal is a place I feel most at home. I ventured inland to where my assignment would begin near the village of Sokone along Sine Saloum delta just southeast of Kaolack. Much of my work with farmers and agriculture extension staff with Caritas in the region entailed discussions, demonstrations and swapping techniques such as composting and biological control of pests and diseases. We also designed a few crop rotation plans and schemed ideas for earthworks such as berms, swales and raised beds for improved water management. I think all farmers struggle with finding the balance between production, pricing, scale, and finding capital and markets to meet our farm’s and community’s needs. We are constantly tweaking, sourcing, seed saving, and experimenting as entreprenuers. How to best manage for the short term needs while at the same time balancing production systems and balance sheets for the long term is a dance that every farmer faces regardless of where you live in the world or sit on the agricultural value chain.

This search for finding balance with farming and right livelihood wove into the rhythm and cadence of song, dance, and compost that greeted me in the fields and faces of Batamar, Pakala Samthie, Toube Mouride, and Keur Momath Mbayang.

About a week into my work, I was able to pause from planting, let the compost tea discussions steep and spend a few hours in Batamar to interview Fatou. With translation, logistical help, and encouragement of Yaguemar Diop, NCBA-CLUSA program director in Senegal, I learned more about the stories of how the women farmers organize and find ways to make a living when they are up against so many challenges.

How you grow it is what you get—whether it’s onions or organizations.

I discovered that more than onion seeds were planted that day Fatou traveled to Kaolack to meet with Caritas and ask for support to build a fence for her vegetable beds.

As Fatou shared her experiences, I was reminded that to grow food, you not only need sound science and technique, but also strong relationships and inspiration from a variety of sources. A little hard work, timing and luck never hurt too! Luck and timing were on Fatou’s side and her hard work paid off.  In Kaolack, she found herself face to face with Dominique, a French nun, whose relationship would help catalyze the formation of Fatou’s farm and that of 48 other women farmers in her village.

Jubo Grower member demonstrating composting techniques as part of a farmer to farmer training in Batamar, Senegal. Photo by Erin Schneider

After initial support with fencing, Dominique encouraged and helped Fatou and others to apply for assistance from Caritas for building a well and accessing land. Both were granted and the women had funds remaining. Dominique’s advice was heeded: keep these funds in a separate account when sharing plots of land and ask every farmer to pay 1,000 CFA  (~$2.00) for membership. With strength in numbers, invested interest from farm women, and 2 hectares (~4.9 acres) of arable land granted from the village Chief, the Jubo Grower Association was born. Jubo—which means ‘people who are together’ in Serer—pooled together resources and ideas and sought formal recognition from the government to be recognized as a group. This was granted and with it the opportunity to open a bank account, access credit, as well as gain recognition from local ‘agriculture extension like groups’ from which they could receive additional technical training and business development support.

This all started by planting a seed in an open space, opening the hearts and minds of others around Fatou. It is the hope of Fatou and the Jubo farm women that every child is fed. It is their dream that their children will be strong enough to finish school and financially stand on their own two feet—propping up their own lives and those of their families.

Just how far will hopes, dreams, 1,000 CFA, and a few onion and tomato seeds stretch?

Most farm women with the Jubo Grower’s Association grow tomatoes, onions, greens, okra, eggplant, peppers, beans, mints, bissop (hibiscus) and cabbage along with other vegetables and herbs, rotated on about twenty square meters of space. Along with a steady water supply from wells, a few strategically planted papaya, mango and cashew trees and cassava, the women can earn their own money and invest it with other growers in the group. In turn, income earned is invested in their families, their children’s education and in their community.

Currently, the women are working toward financing a millet grinder through a variety of means including investment of membership dues. Member dues work in a few ways in addition to funding a piece of equipment. At the individual level, every ten days, the women get together and choose a member of the group who will receive 40,000 CFA to use. This is done through discussion and voting. This works like a no interest revolving loan fund, as members will pay back the funds over a few months time. At the end of the cyle, all members will have received support and motivation to innovate parts of their farm business. One thousand CFA, in general, will provide enough food for a day for a family of 8 in the villages. With 40,000 CFA a woman can start a business or buy a needed piece of equipment, and still support the food needs of her household.

“Gardening can and does change women’s lives,” Fatou relayed. Her eyes met mine and with a smile and intensity matched by the mid-day sun, she relayed, “Tell the world that we are willing to work hard, we know how to manage our funds and make our own decisions. We know how to work together as a group and resolve conflict through consensus. Tell your farm friends in Wisconsin and in the world, that as farmers you are stronger when you work together. Tell them that we have skills to share, such as improved composting techniques and which plants grow well together. Tell them that we want to continue to grow our farm business, learn about new techniques as well as new products, and find ways to work with others toward shared goals.”

Learning from Fatou about how she and others got started and how different women-grower groups organize in the region, I observed how much the women here – and throughout the world – could benefit simply from learning what their sister networks nearby are up to, including tool design, composting, crop rotation, seed collecting and making value added products such as bissop juice. As a farmer, I have witnessed well-intentioned experts and scientists deliver ‘best practices and technologies’ to our farm and farmer networks without an understanding of culture or practical applications to field or farm systems. The result is ‘best practicitis’ or thinking that farming, poverty, and agricultural development are entwined technical problems that we can fix through technology alone.

Farming is also a social act and we forget how much we rely each other to grow food. On our farm we look to other farmers and eaters for perspectives and advice as well as engaging expert knowledge.  You have to create space for others’ stories, ideas and questions to emerge. I have been fortunate to both participate and facilitate gatherings at our farm and around the world.

Checking insect traps with Jubo Grower members in Batamar, Senegal. Photo by Yaguemar Diop

So by meeting together, face to face, we can engage in dialogue, share stories and techniques, and question assumptions and practices that seem to make our lives easier as farmers but actually work against our long-term interests.  As a result we can find common threads to focus on wherever we might sit on the agricultural value chain.

The neem tree’s shadow stretched to make room for waning daylight, and I was reminded that it was time to stir the compost tea as I didn’t want to keep the growers of Keur Momayh Mbayang village waiting nearby. Fatou and I bid farewell with a shared understanding that our lives and stories as farmers were entwined.

So, with a spring to my step, gratitude in my heart, stories in my head, and techniques to share, I lept back across the pond to stir the pot of possibilities toward growing healthy food and building community, one guild at a time.

Erin Schneider is an organic farmer, educator and fruit lover! She co-owns Hilltop Community Farm in La Valle, Wisconsin and is a proud member of Wisconsin Farmers Union and current member representing National Farmers Union with the World Farmer Organization’s Women’s Committee. She, along with her husband Rob McClure, have supported farmer to farmer trainings and delegations at their farm, around the U.S., in Nicaragua, Senegal, Argentina, Zambia, and Ethiopia.

For U.S. Farmers interested in upcoming opportunities to engage in NCBA – CLUSA’s Farmer to Farmer program contact Jane Podolsky at jpodolsky@ncba.coop or 202-383-5451.

Have a case study or farm practice to share with the world? Please send an email to info@wfo-omg.org for opportunities to write/contribute to the World Farmer Organization’s website, newsletter. More at http://www.wfo-oma.com/


United to Promote Family Farming

Posted on | December 11, 2014 | No Comments

Eric Hoese was a 2012/13 Beginning Farmers Institute participant

On Sept. 4, Minnesota Farmers Union member Eric Hoese attended the International Summit of Young Farmers in Bordeaux, France. This event brought together young farmers from 47 different countries to discuss growing the population of young farmers worldwide. Together the farmers drafted a manifesto, To make family farming a solution for the future, which encouraged the continued support and creation of new programs to support the installation of young farmers.

The manifesto consisted of three parts, each corresponding to a roundtable discussion featuring young farmers. Hoese participated in a panel that focused on the different ways young and beginning farmers can enter into farming, whether they do not have a farming background or come from a family farm. Drawing on what he learned from other farmers in NFU’s Beginning Farmer Institute, as well as his own personal experience transitioning onto his family farm, Hoese was able to explain the different options and challenges associated with entering into farming.









Farmers from Brazil, Senegal, France and Peru also participated in the panel. Together, they stressed the importance of leaving a legacy, transferring responsibility and ownership to the next generation and helping young farmers through government programs.

While attending the summit, Hoese also learned about the different approaches other nations use to promote and protect family agriculture. For example, France can stop the sale of any piece of agricultural land. This oversight and power is used to prevent corporate acquisition of land. While the various countries and governments approach farming very differently, the summit focused on solidarity. Hoese characterized the experience as a unifying one, stating, “We are all in the same boat no matter how we farm,” and “we all need to unite…and keep young farmers in farming.”

Click here to view a copy of the International Summit of Young Farmers manifesto.


Commodity policy choice: Treat the symptoms or address the cause of low crop prices

Posted on | December 3, 2014 | No Comments

by Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.

Read the original post at agpolicy.org

When it comes to developing policy prescriptions to deal with the dynamic of long periods of low prices interrupted by much shorter periods of high prices, two approaches are possible: one approach provides symptomatic relief and the other treats the cause of low crop prices. One must choose one approach or the other.

If policy analysts develop and policymakers adopt public policies that treat the proximate cause of low prices—the presence of a supply that exceeds demand—there is no need for symptomatic relief. On the other hand, providing symptomatic relief (to short term price disturbances when prices are high and little relief when prices are low) ultimately becomes very expensive and risks losing public support for agricultural programs when farmers need them the most.

For many years, agricultural economists understood that agriculture was different from many other sectors of the economy in that an oversupply of grain and oilseeds and the ensuing low prices did not bring about a timely self-correction in agricultural markets. Low crop prices did not cure low crop prices within a reasonable time frame.

In other sectors of the economy, low prices cause suppliers to reduce their production of the item in excess supply and consumers to increase their purchases. The result is that supply and demand come back into balance at a profitable price level quite quickly. This timely self-correction does not occur in agricultural commodity markets.

Because they understood the dynamics of the market, policy analysts worked to develop policies that would isolate a portion of the supply from the marketplace, bringing about a balance between supply and demand and the return of prices that kept producers in business. To keep from accumulating ever-larger isolated stocks, policies were also developed to reduce production to allow demand to catch up with production.

Understandably, farmers were often frustrated with these policies. And from the perspective of an individual farm operation this made sense. If they had been allowed to produce more they could have earned more, they reasoned. And that is true for an individual farm. But when all farms seek to increase production, the result is an oversupply that drives prices downward for everyone, and the size of the decline in prices is greater than the increase in production.

In recent years, policy makers and many agricultural economists have simply chosen to ignore these dynamics and instead argue against policies that manage supply. In place of traditional supply management policies, they have advocated for policies that use crop insurance to protect farmers against variations in prices—symptomatic relief.

The problem is that these policies only work well when prices are at or above the cost of production. If prices remain low for an extended period of time, farmers end up paying premiums for policies that do not even cover the cost of production.

We understand that farmers do not want to hear this kind of analysis; they would rather hear about booming export demand, a growing ethanol demand, and a new “price floor.” When we are invited to speak to farm groups, producers come up afterwards and emphatically say, “I don’t like what you are telling me!” and then they continue, “But I needed to hear that.” When prices were high, many economists were telling farmers that there was a new price floor undergirded by increased input costs.

During this period, we continued to tell farmers about the low prices that would come when the yearly increases in ethanol demand began to stagnate and supply continued to increase. We cautioned farmers to put some of the increased profits in the bank instead of buying lots of new machinery and driving up the price of land. Today, some of those who talked only about high prices and a new plateau are saying to farmers, “I hope you put some money away during the good times.” Good advice, but a couple years late.

The trend in recent decades is toward policies that tend to provide producers with little income support when prices are low for an extended period of time. As a result, the associated costs of maintaining a vibrant agriculture can actually be more costly to U.S. taxpayers through emergency programs/payments. Failing that the results could be devastating to a large swath of farmers. For farmers in less developed countries, lower prices have severe consequences. When price are low in countries where agriculture is a large portion of the economy, the impact on the economy is severe.

The challenge of policy analysis is not to design public policies that make the good times even better; rather it is to have policies in place to help protect farmers during the long periods of low prices. Over the last century, the periods of low prices have been much longer than the boom times.


Family Farms in Africa

Posted on | November 10, 2014 | No Comments

By Marshall Matz and Peter Matz

Kudos to National Farmers Union for recognizing the link between family faming and meeting the challenge of global food security. Family farms are indeed the key to ending world hunger.

First, for purposes of this blog, let’s define a smallholder farmer as anyone tilling less than two hectors, or 5 acres. In most of the world, family farming means smallholder farming, usually by women.

Africa is an important case in point. Let’s look at some numbers—

  • Half of all the underutilized and unused agriculture land in the world is in Africa;
  • 65% of all Africans are involved in farming and food production;
  • 70% of disposable income is spent on food;
  • Most of the smallholder farmers are women using a hoe; and
  • Yields for maize are 20 bushels per acre, or one ton per hector.

These numbers paint the picture of a significant challenge, but they also demonstrate a major opportunity. African farming is on the cusp of great change and its own unique green revolution. African farmers can double production in the next five years and triple production in the next ten.

The technology is coming on line. Seeds are being created for Africa’s climate and soil. Markets are developing and iPhones are being used for extension services (Africa is very advanced in communication technology).  Soil health is a priority. And the Africa Union, with the support of the G-7 and G-20, has made agriculture a priority for all African nations. Several African nations are very close to being self sufficient in food production.










In the U.S., technology is a modern tractor with GPS and an air-conditioned cab, which is connected to the Chicago Board of Trade. In Africa, “technology” is a rope that shows farmers how far to space out rows and seeds, and how far from the seeds to put the fertilizer. The biggest challenge in Africa is getting the new technology to smallholder farmers and teaching them what to do with it.

That is where the “agro-dealer” has stepped in. Agro-dealers are private sector businesses located in rural villages that sell hybrid seeds, fertilizers and other inputs to smallholder farmers. They also conduct classes for the farmers…the African extension service. There are now some 20,000 agro-dealers in the key countries that comprise Africa’s two major bread baskets. We need 200,000 agro-dealers.

Much of the progress in Africa is being coordinated by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA was started less than ten years ago by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, and was originally chaired by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan is now the Chair Emeritus and the current chairman is Strive Masiyiwa. Mr. Masiyiwa is also chairman of the telecommunications giant Econet, but is the first to say that agriculture is the key to Africa’s economic development.

And that brings us to the last point: Increasing production for smallholder farmers is the way to eliminate hunger, but it is also the way for Africa to grow itself out of poverty. Six of the ten fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa. Africa holds the key to the future on many levels. It is important for the U.S. to recognize this and continue establishing/improving economic and political relations with Africa’s 54 countries—which comprise 25% of all the votes in the United Nations. African farmers are on the rise, and so is Africa.

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About NFU

National Farmers Union was founded in 1902 in Point, Texas, to help the family farmer address profitability issues and monopolistic practices. NFU works to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.
Learn more at nfu.org

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