Sustainable Agricultural Systems Volunteer

Project Description

Benin is a country where natural resources are available and abundant. Seasonal rainfall and a subtropical climate throughout the country makes it possible to grow a variety of foods. The country, however, still suffers from a high percentage of malnutrition among the most vulnerable populations: women, children, rural villages, and small communities. This can be attributed to a lack of food availability and diversity in nutrient rich foods, and overall poverty. A majority of those living in the rural areas have great challenges accessing nutrient rich food on a daily basis. Lack of access to markets and quality seeds, in addition to the impacts of climate change, keep communities at a subsistence level.

Peace Corps Benin’s Sustainable Agricultural System (SAS) project is turning these food security related challenges into opportunities for transformative change at the grassroots level. Peace Corps Benin SAS Volunteers and communities will increase food production at the household level, improve food access and utilization at both household and community level, and augment household income. Promoting and supporting agricultural-based income generating activities will strengthen household economic security and resilience. As a result, household production will increase and diversify, causing a break in the generational cycle of malnutrition. From these activities, children will receive proper nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life impacting their future success at school. Increased access to nutrient rich foods and greater economic stability will enable families to lead healthy lives.

This will be achieved by the working toward four objectives:

1. Increase productivity and diversity of household food production.
2. Increase households’ consumption of nutrient-rich foods.
3. Increase households’ income through agriculture-based income generating activities (IGAs).
4. Increase households’ capacity for personal money management.

You will work with a combination of local partners: local associations and producers, women’s groups, secondary schools, and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). You will be assigned a local counterpart and supervisor, who may also serve as a director of a local NGO or be a leader from the community. Your cultural sensitivity and resilience will be key to your success!

To achieve project goals, SAS Volunteers and their counterparts work with their communities in the following activities:

• Promoting best agricultural practices and improved garden production techniques.
• Encouraging diverse food transformation techniques to increase the value to and income earned from harvested crops.
• Coaching women’s groups on entrepreneurship and creating youth clubs.
• Working with individuals and community groups to conduct feasibility studies, business plans, project design and management, savings and credit schemes (VSLAs), and yearly budgets.
• Organizing cooking demonstrations for women of reproductive age to improve infant nutrition and the merits of a diversified diet.
• Installing community and school gardens.

Peace Corps Benin also promotes gender awareness and girls’ education and empowerment. You will have the opportunity to implement gender-related activities that are contextually appropriate, which may include programs and activities such as clubs and sports teams.

We will provide you with a 12-week in-country Pre-Service Training to prepare you to work effectively in your community. You will learn how to translate your existing skills to work effectively in the agriculture sector in Benin. You will receive training in both basic business management skills and agricultural extension to empower you to be an effective change agent, no matter your background. This work will require personal motivation, dedication, and resiliency to meet the needs of your community and accomplish your project’s goals.

COVID-19 Volunteer Activities

In the past year, the world has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Volunteer, you will be trained in how to best protect yourself from COVID-19 exposure and understand the impact of and steps to reduce stigma related to COVID-19. You may also have the opportunity to engage with your community on implementing or enhancing COVID-19 mitigation activities, such as COVID-19 prevention and risk reduction strategies including social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, addressing myths and misconceptions related to these practices, and vaccine hesitancy. Activities will be tailored to address the COVID-19 circumstances in the communities where you will serve.

Required Skills

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

Desired Skills

Competitive candidates will have one or more of the following:
• An expressed interest in working with youth, women’s groups, and grass roots level organizations that focus on agricultural projects to increase food security.
• Basic skills and/or interest in business management, entrepreneurship, marketing and accounting.
• Experience and/or interest in vegetable gardening, plant nursery work/management, tree planting, small animal husbandry.
• Experience in program management and leadership.
• Experience working with youth.
• Demonstrated flexibility and resilience to address community needs in structured and unstructured settings.

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 coursework within the past 8 years in a Romance language
B. Completed a minimum of 2 semesters of college level coursework (or equivalent classes at Alliance Française, etc.) within the past 6 years in a Romance language
C. Native/Fluent Romance language speaker

Candidates who do not meet the language proficiency levels above can take a language placement exam to demonstrate their level of proficiency. Competitive applicants typically attain a score of 50 on the French College Level Examination Program CLEP exam or a score of Novice‐High on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL OPI).

French language skills are not required pre-arrival, but are highly recommended to facilitate language training and cultural integration in Benin. Candidates with no or low-level French language skills are strongly encouraged to take a French course or make a commitment to self‐study prior to departure in order to prepare for living and working in Benin. There are numerous free online French language resources available. Upon arrival, Trainees are tested in spoken French for language class placement. Experienced French speakers who test at a higher level from the beginning of training will begin learning a local language. Trainees are expected to achieve an intermediate-high level in French by the conclusion of Pre-Service Training.

French is the official language in the Beninese educational and governmental system. There are also many local languages, including Fon, Mina, Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, and Dendi, to name a few.

Benin has dedicated Language and Cross Culture Facilitators to teach French and local languages during Pre-Service Training (PST). In addition, you will be supported throughout your service by a full-time Language & Culture Coordinator who monitors each Volunteer’s progress in French and local language.
Peace Corps Benin will provide you with resources for your continued language learning during your first year of service, including identifying and training a language tutor at your site. Having an interest in a deeper study of local language, which most often will occur at site in the form of self-study, will help you connect more directly with community members, particularly with women, who may not have finished school and therefore may not speak French.

Living Conditions

Volunteers in Benin live in villages, rural towns, and semi-urban centers. Housing is provided by the host organization and may vary in size and amenities. Volunteers live in their own private houses, which are often located in a compound shared with families. A typical Volunteer house has one main room, a bedroom, a kitchen area, and a private bathing area and latrine. In more rural areas, you may not have running water or electricity.

Access to Western foods may be limited and Volunteers have to adapt their diet to local foods such as rice and corn "pâte," with various leaf and peanut sauces, local vegetables like okra, eggplant, and tomatoes, and various kinds of meat. Other protein sources are local cheese, beans, and soy products. Peanuts and tree nuts are part of the staple diet. Couscous, pasta, and bread are available in towns. Access to fruits, vegetables, and proteins varies by region and season.

Car taxis or motorcycle taxis used as the main transportation for many people. You will be advised about the recommended travel options during training and throughout your service. Many Volunteers use a bicycle for local transportation, which requires a certain level of fitness and ability to ride in hot weather.

Internet is generally through pre-paid phone data, and connection quality varies in rural areas. Data is more expensive than in the US. Most Volunteers bring an unlocked cell phone, and communicate via WhatsApp and other apps. Bringing a laptop or tablet will facilitate submitting work reports. Smart phones can also be used, but may be challenging for long reports. There are regional workstations with computers and Wi-Fi access for Volunteers, but they may be several hours travel from a site.

Your dress and behavior will be judged according to Benin’s conservative cultural norms. Long pants, short or long sleeve shirts, skirts and dresses (below the knee), and nice sandals or shoes are appropriate for work. Dressing inappropriately (shorts, halter tops, short skirts, tight or low-cut blouses, spaghetti straps, dirty or torn clothing), will make it difficult to be accepted in your community, while appropriate dress will earn you respect, facilitate integration, increase professional effectiveness, and decrease unwanted attention.

In Benin, beards, braids (corn row type), locs, and long hair on men are unusual. All men are encouraged to adjust to the local hairstyle (low cut/short). Many male Volunteers have chosen to shave their facial hair or cut their hair to facilitate integration. Many female Volunteers wear their hair back in a ponytail or bun, short, or in braids or locs. Regardless of gender, Volunteers should keep their hair clean, neat and well groomed.

Religious tolerance is respected in Benin. There are three main religions in Benin: Islam is primarily in the north, Christianity is primarily in the south, and the religious and cultural practice of Animism (Voodoo) traditional religion is common throughout the country. Many Beninese maintain a strong belief in both Voodoo and another major religion. Real Voodoo in Benin is very different from how it is represented by Hollywood.

While people in Benin may be generally tolerant, values and norms concerning sexual orientation and gender identity may be different from those in some parts of the U.S. There are laws in Benin that target certain acts with individuals of the same sex. People in the LGBTQI+ community in Benin continue to face widespread persecution and are rarely open about their sexuality. Volunteers will need to be mindful of cultural norms and laws, and use their judgment to determine the best way to approach sexual orientation and gender identity in their communities. Staff and current Volunteers will address this topic during pre-service training, and identify support mechanisms for Volunteers.

Serving in Benin

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

Couples Information

Benin is happy to accommodate couples serving in different sectors. Your partner must qualify and apply for one of the following positions:

-Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Teacher
-Rural Community Health Volunteer.

During the 12-week Pre-Service Training, couples will live and train in separate villages along with their program cohort. Couples will see each other once a week during core curriculum days when trainees from all three sectors will participate in full group training sessions. We recognize that this may be a challenge, but it will allow each person to learn the technical skills needed for their work, and it will facilitate language learning. After training, each couples will live in the same house and will work in the same community.

Going through the Peace Corps experience as a couple poses unique opportunities and challenges, and success will require trust, confidence, and communication. There will be times when you will both need each other’s support. Understand that you will need to put in an extra effort to be an ally to your partner. Although you will not be able to eliminate all of the challenges for each other, they can be coped with and overcome with time, patience, and most importantly a good sense of humor.

Medical Considerations

Before you apply, please review Medical Information for Applicants to learn about the medical clearance process.

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