Business Advising Agriculture 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, resiliency and sustainability of their livelihoods. Volunteers will accomplish this by promoting best practices and new techniques for farming, agriculture based income generation activities, organizational development, and nutrition within their communities.

Business Advising Volunteers will work with farmers to assess their current agriculture production practices, basic business skills, organizational capacity, and dietary diversity. Volunteers will train farmers one on one, in groups, will coach/follow up on farmers trained, and will report on farmers applying best practices.

Business Advising Volunteers more specifically will work in training and coaching farmers, men, women, and youth in agriculture-based basic business skills. These are those contained in the following two areas:
Bookkeeping Skills: ledgers, financial registries, profit calculating, business costs, budgeting, comparison cost, receipts, savings practices, keeping funds separate practices and payment management, etc.
Marketing Skills: market planning, studying of markets, middle men negotiating, marketing of value-added products, identifying buyers, market analysis, quality control, customer service, determining demand based on external factors (season, etc.), contracts, legal compromises.

Volunteers will train organization members to assess their own organizational capacity. They will co-facilitate the creation of an action plan based on the assessment and will train and coach on the topics needed to increase the organizational capacity and will report the results. Organizational topics include:
Strategic Planning: including mission & vision statements, organizational goals and objectives and strategies to achieve them, identifying target populations, agents of change and beneficiaries, project planning, project evaluation, fundraising planning.
Organizational Structure: including bylaws, outlining governing structure, role and responsibility description, committee description and member responsibilities, obtaining legal status, types of organizations (cooperatives, etc.).
Organizational Communication: including communication channels, actions for key messaging, identifying communication audience, working with agencies, professional relations, professional letter writing.
Leadership: including leadership training, conflict resolution, public speaking skills, values identification, personal agency development, meeting management.

In addition, Business Advising Volunteers will be trained as agriculture extensionists, in order to conduct training/farmer field schools for community members on a variety of topics. Agriculture topics may include: soil and water conservation; composting, green manures, and soil improvement techniques; crop rotation and organic agriculture; appropriate use of agrochemicals; specific crop information; integrated pest management; seed selection and testing of new seed varieties; post-harvest management methods and preservation of harvested products; and value-added products and product quality, among others. Volunteers commonly support any number of the following crops with their farmers: rice, corn, beans, yucca (cassava), plantains, bananas, vegetables, coffee, and cacao.

Volunteers will train one-on-one or in groups key household decision-makers on a diverse diet that include nutrient-based food and how to cook recipes that incorporate a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods, and will report on increased knowledge and demonstration of preparation of new recipes.

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 interest in agriculture and one or more of the following criteria:

• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any business discipline,
• 5 years professional experience in business management

Desired Skills

Competitive candidates will demonstrate the following skills:

• Willingness to live in an indigenous area (cultural adaptation can be more challenging) or a site that requires boat travel to access
•Ability and willingness to hike long distances on a regular basis
•Experience in leadership, facilitation of empowering and motivating others
•Experience teaching adults and children formally and informally
• Conversational Spanish Language Skills
• Public speaking and presentation skills
• High level of self-initiative and self-direction, mixed with a good sense of humor

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).

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 be willing to learn both Spanish and the indigenous language.

Service Access
SAS communities will likely be remote, and as a result, Volunteers 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. 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.

Community Access
Living in these communities will frequently require Volunteers to hike long distances in a hot and humid climate. Communities are at least one hour from a 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, or red beans) 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), but only in certain seasons. 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.

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

Internet 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.

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.

Couples Information

Panama is able to accommodate cross-sector couples, as well as same-sector couples. We will identify communities with sufficient work opportunities for both volunteers. Therefore, your partner can apply and must qualify for:

Sustainable Agriculture Volunteer, or
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Education Volunteer

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 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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