Icon (Close Menu)


UA Pesticide Expert Asks Congress to Continue Funding Farmer-to-Farmer Program

5 min read

Last week, a pesticide expert at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service and three other volunteers involved in Winrock International’s Farmer-to-Farmer program testified before the U.S. House and Senate Foreign Agriculture Committees on why funding for it should continue.

Winrock is one of six organizations implementing an F2F program. Its John Ogonowski & Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program provides voluntary technical assistance to farmers, farm groups and agribusinesses in developing countries to promote sustainable capacity building.

F2F was initially authorized by Congress in the 1985 Farm Bill and is funded through Title V of Public Law 480.

Winrock volunteers have completed 5,135 assignments in 58 countries, according to the organization’s website, and the time they spent volunteering is valued at $48.8 million.

Most of the volunteers Winrock recruits have domestic careers, farms and agribusinesses, or are retired and want to participate in development effort. They are asked to complete two- to six-week assignments in a developing country.

The local pesticide expert, Ples Spradley, has completed two assignments. For his first, the UA professor spent a month traveling all over Senegal to compile a 40-page assessment of the country’s pesticide use.

Spradley returned this year to train local pesticide experts, who will in turn train the country’s farmers about pesticide use.

“Everybody ought to go to an underdeveloped or a developing country and see what the world is like for those who are less fortunate,” Spradley said. “You need to do that. It really puts things in perspective and you realize you could do with a lot less … Happiness is something else aside from material things.”

Spradley said Winrock asked him to volunteer because it hoped he could recruit others to do the same. He said he’s encouraged three or four others to sign up for assignments.

Here’s more of what Spradley told Arkansas Business about his experience and why he testified in favor of continuing the program’s funding:

AB: Who does the Farmer-to-Farmer Program help?

Spradley: It’s designed to help farmers, of course … I went out there at the request of the host country, Senegal, and they needed a pesticide assessment on the constraints to safe pesticide use in Senegal. Whatever pesticides get involved, I think this is one of the things the host country has to have, an assessment of their whole program, whether it’s importation, regulation, sales, use, just everything involved in pesticides. So that was my first assignment to go out there. 

I spent a month traveling around the country, just questioning and observing, taking lots of notes and lots of interviews. The second time, I went out there to train what are the equivalent of extension agents or extension specialists for Senegal on pesticide safety for farmers and to protect the environment, and to project just the general population. So the goal, my main goal, is to protect farmers and their families and the environment.”

AB: Tell us about the people you met in Senegal.

Spradley: Some of the nicest people I’ve ever run into. When I headed over for the month-long assessment, my first trip over there, I was going to be on the road for a month with two guys [a driver and a translator] I’d never met in my life that were from Senegal. I wasn’t worried. I have four children, and they’ve all spent time in Africa. Two of my daughters were Peace Corps volunteers … I just can’t say enough about the way I was treated. Once I got over there, and the way they helped me prepare, and they got everything ready for me, made all the contacts, invited me over for religious holidays, showed me good and great foods. They were the most hospitable people I’ve ever run into.

AB: Why is the program’s funding being threatened?

Spradley: Oh, you know, the budget’s tight and there’s some debate about whether we’re giving too much foreign aid. And, if the budget is tight, that may be one of the things they look at. 

It’s such a small portion of the farm bill that goes to this program; I mean it’s $15 million and it’s spread out over seven agencies … You never know with politics. I was pleased that they were able to put this meeting together, the agencies that do Farmer-to-Farmer and that we did have participation from both the House of Representatives staffers and the Senate staffers … That’s such well spent money.

AB: Why do you feel Farmer-to-Farmer should continue and be funded?

Spradley: I don’t see how anybody could be against funding this program. Reaching out with farmers and establishing that connection, to me, it’s just the best kind of connection there is. Farmers are farmers no matter where you go, and it just does so much good, not only on the Senegalese end. 

When I came back, I’ve included Senegal in nearly every talk I do — pesticide safety, whatever. It’s not just showing vacation pictures, and that’s what I told them up in Washington. It’s showing the struggles they face, what they’re trying to do, what hospitable people they are. I talk about the fact they’re 94 percent Muslim in that country, and I felt like I was a treasured friend wherever I went. 

You just cannot judge people based on what you hear … It shows people who are against regulation, and I have that all the time in my talks, then you show them here’s what happens when you don’t have regulations or they’re not enforced at all and how dangerous chemicals are openly sold on the street. They’re even sold in baggies with no directions at all … There is a reason we have the stuff we had. Not that we can’t go overboard with it … 

You can’t go wrong making sure people are well fed. Food security is linked to national security, unbelievably. If you don’t have food security, everything starts falling apart.

AB: What impact did your volunteering have?

Spradley: I talked to a lot of farmers on my first assignment. We’d go out to the field. When you’re trying to translate concepts and safety practices, you really have to get it basic and think about the audience. These guys don’t have any money; what’s the best thing I can tell them? They can’t get rubber gloves, boots and these Tidex suits. They can’t get that. I mean, it’s available over there and it’s expensive for everybody, but especially for them … 

How can I get their attention? Talk about exposure to their kids, long-term exposure, maybe just soap and water when they come out of the fields, the basics. So I come back and look at my crowd here in the U.S. and I’m thinking the same thing. Am I going to get up there and say here’s what to wear, here’s what the label says? Or start talking about why. What kind of exposures are the most problematic? How can you avoid those? Even if you’re wearing protective gear, if you’re being sloppy with it or not cleaning it or not wearing it properly, it’s not going to do any good.

Send this to a friend