Agriculture Extension Volunteer

Before You Apply

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Project Description

Volunteers in the Sustainable Agriculture Systems (SAS) project will work with low-income rural farmers to improve the food security and resiliency of their families by supporting farmers to increase overall farm productivity and increase the profitability of their farming operations. Volunteers will accomplish this by promoting best practices and new techniques for farming and for agribusiness within their communities.

Agriculture Volunteers will work with farmers to assess their current farming and agribusiness practices, identify opportunities to test and implement new or improved farming practices, develop demonstration and experimental plots, conduct workshops (called farmer field schools) on a range of agricultural and agribusiness topics, measure results, and analyze lessons learned.

Volunteers will conduct workshops to improve farmers’ business management skills to increase the potential for small-scale agribusiness. Also, Volunteers will conduct workshops to improve post-harvest management skills to increase quantity and quality of product for sales.

The Volunteer will conduct workshops for farmers on a variety of agricultural topics as well as a variety of agribusiness topics. Agriculture topics may include: soil conservation, composting, green manures, soil improvement techniques, crop rotation and organic agriculture, adequate use of agrochemicals, specific crop information, integrated pest management, seed selection and, testing of new seed varieties. Agribusiness topics may include: basic business management, strategic planning, marketing, money management, farm planning, legal status for farmers organizations, post-harvest management methods, preservation of harvested products, value added products and product quality among others. Volunteers commonly support any number of the following crops with their farmers: rice, corn, beans, yucca, plantains, bananas, coffee, and cocoa among others.

Some Volunteers may also work with forestry or with fish and rice tanks. Volunteers will work mostly with individual farmers, though in some areas they will facilitate the organization of farmer associations or co-ops in their communities. The communities where Volunteers will be working often, but not always have some support from local technicians from host country agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the Volunteer might have the opportunity to collaborate with these partners.

Required Skills

Qualified candidates will have an expressed interest in working in agriculture and one or more of the following criteria:
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any field
• 5 years' professional work experience

Desired Skills

Required Language Skills

Candidates must meet one or more of the language requirements below in order to be considered for this position. A. Completed 4 years of high school Spanish coursework within the past 8 years B. Completed minimum 2 semesters of Spanish college‐level coursework within the past 6 years C. Native/fluent speaker of Spanish Candidates who do not meet the language proficiency levels above can take the language placement exams to demonstrate their level of proficiency. Competitive applicants typically attain a score of 50 on the Spanish College Level Examination Program CLEP exam or a score of Novice‐High on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL OPI).

Additional Language Information

Volunteers need to demonstrate an Intermediate level of oral and written proficiency in Spanish for site placement by the end of Pre-Service training.

Living Conditions

SAS communities are generally remote, rustic, and a truly rural living experience. The communities are approximately 50% Latino (Spanish speaking) and 50% indigenous. Indigenous communities can be more challenging in many ways and Volunteers need to respect and adapt to strict cultural practices and to be willing to learn both Spanish and the indigenous language.

Services Access
SAS communities will likely be remote, and as a result, the Volunteer will have limited and infrequent access to resources, such as medical facilities. In addition, these communities have limited cell service and will not have internet. Volunteers can expect to have internet access one to two times a month when they travel out of their community.

Community Access
Living in these communities will frequently require the Volunteer to hike long distances in a hot and humid climate. Communities are at least one hour from a paved road, often through very muddy, mountainous terrain with steep hills where walking is the only option. Volunteers should expect frequent strenuous hikes, long boat rides, and/or long bumpy car rides on unpaved roads to get in and out of their communities.

Volunteers may live in a rural Panamanian-style home made of concrete block and cement floors or in a wood structure with palm-thatched roof and dirt floors. Volunteers in indigenous areas may live in a wood hut with a dirt floor or in a bamboo, thatch-roofed hut raised on stilts close to a river. Services such as electricity, running or potable water and sanitation systems may be rudimentary or non-existent.

Peace Corps/Panama examines each community before selection to ensure that basic health and safety criteria are met. Volunteers will be required to live with a host-family during their first three months of service in their community. After these three months, they may opt to live on their own in pre-approved local housing that meets Peace Corps/Panama’s housing criteria.

Food and Diet
The Panamanian diet varies according to the region and the ethnic makeup of the population. Most often the diet consists of rice, beans, bananas or plantains, yucca (cassava), and corn. Rice and beans (kidney beans, lentils, and black-eyed peas) is the staple dish. Corn is served in many ways but is usually ground, boiled, or fried. Sancocho is a traditional dish (somewhere between a soup and a stew) prepared with a variety of vegetables and chicken. Most rural areas have an array of fruits available, including mangoes, papayas, pineapples, avocados, oranges, and guanabanas (soursops). The availability of garden vegetables, such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers, varies according to the region and the season. The most common meats are chicken and beef, which are often deep-fried or stewed. Fish is available sporadically in coastal regions and riverside communities. Semi urban sites near large towns and cities have at least one restaurant that will be familiar, such as McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, or Dairy Queen.

Some Volunteers are vegetarians, but very few Panamanians follow these diets. Many volunteers start a garden at their sites, and buy food in a provincial capital. Most have supermarkets where you can buy a wide variety of foods and imported goods.

Computer, Internet, and Email Access
Internet access in Panama is spreading. All provincial capitals and other large towns have internet cafes. Connection speeds tend to be slow, but the service is reasonably priced and otherwise reliable. Internet access for Volunteers is available at the Peace Corps/Panama office.

Some communities will not have electricity but solar panels can be purchased in Panama or from a community member or the local store may offer them at an affordable price.

Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Panama: Get detailed information on culture, communications, housing, and safety — including crime statistics [PDF] — in order to make a well-informed decision about serving.

Medical Considerations in Panama

  • Panama may not be able to support Volunteers with the following medical conditions: ongoing counseling.
  • The following medication(s) are not permitted for legal or cultural reasons: none identified. 
  • Volunteers who should avoid the following food(s) may not be able to serve: none identified.
  • After arrival in Panama, Peace Corps provides and applicants are required to have an annual flu shot, to take daily or weekly medication to prevent malaria, and to receive mandatory immunizations.

Before you apply, please also review Medical Information for Applicants to learn about the clearance process and other health conditions that are difficult to accommodate in Peace Corps service.

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