Sustainable Agricultural Systems Extension Agent

Before You Apply

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Project Description

Benin has a high percentage of malnutrition among the most vulnerable populations: women, children, rural villages, and small communities. While most people have a garden, the soil quality, land and water availability are problems in many communities and contributes to overall poor nutrition.

The Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) project seeks to increase food security in Beninese communities, whereby households have enough nutrient-rich foods to eat throughout the year, sufficient income to access available food, and the economic stability and resilience to achieve long-term food security. This will be achieved by the following four goals:

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

Peace Corps Benin’s 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 to strengthen household economic security and resilience. As a result, household production will increase and diversify, causing a break in the cycle of malnutrition. Children will receive proper nutrition during the first 1000 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.

Volunteers operate between the two pillars of Food Security - Availability (production) and Access (income generation). They may be working with community associations, producers’ organizations, women’s groups, secondary schools, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on various aspects of food security. Volunteer supervisors may be a local government official, the director of a local NGO or association, or a leader from the community. Peace Corps discusses the scope of work with host organizations, and once at site, Volunteers, their supervisors, and counterparts work together to develop a plan of action for their work. It is important to know that at the rural level, organizations do not always have a well-established structure. Volunteers work with their organizations to improve their management.

Volunteers are expected to conduct certain activities throughout their two years of service. While host agencies support Volunteers in the completion of these activities, this work requires personal motivation, dedication, and resiliency to accomplish. Following are some of the expected activities:
• Promoting best agricultural practices and improved production techniques;
• Encouraging food transformation techniques to increase the value added to harvested crops;
• Training and coaching students in secondary schools and women’s groups on entrepreneurship and creating clubs at the school level related to food security;
• Providing training to food security related individuals and groups on business planning, marketing, added value, product, and service quality, basic financial management;
• Helping individuals and community groups to conduct feasibility studies, business plans, project design and management, development of action plans, saving schemes, and yearly budgets;
• Promoting community and school gardens for food security and potentially income generation.

Volunteers receive training on gender challenges in Benin and have the opportunity to implement gender-related activities that are contextually appropriate. During service, Volunteers will look for ways to work with community members to promote gender-equitable norms and increase girls’ sense of agency. As part of the initiative, Volunteers also report on these efforts and their impact.

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

• Experience in vegetable gardening, nursery work/management, tree planting, rice cultivation, small animal husbandry.
• Basic skills in marketing and accounting on a small scale.
• Experience working with youth is an asset.

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 French coursework within the past 8 years
B. Completed 2 semesters of French college‐level coursework within the past 6 years
C. Native/fluent speaker of French

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 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).

Additional Language Information

You will receive French instruction during the pre-service training; the required level is Intermediate High. If you are an experienced French speaker and test at a higher level from the beginning of PST, you will begin learning Fon, a local language widely spoken in Benin. At your assignment site, you are strongly encouraged to learn the local language spoken (this may or not be Fon). Peace Corps will provide you with resources (suggesting a local language tutor and and fee reimbursement) for your continued language learning.

Living Conditions

Housing Conditions:
Volunteers serving in Benin are assigned to sites throughout the country, in a variety of settings: semi-urban centers, rural towns or villages. Housing can vary between different communities. Houses are constructed of either cement or mud brick with separate bathing and pit latrine structures. Roofs will likely be either tin or thatch (straw). There may or may not be running water and electricity. Water may be drawn from an open well or pump, and will require boiling and filtering. A kerosene lantern will provide lighting where there is no electricity. Volunteers must be prepared to accept the living conditions to which they are assigned as they will be living under the same conditions as the people with and for whom they work.

Dress Code:
Dressing in neat, clean and in a culturally appropriate manner is a sign of respect and pride. Long pants, blouses/shirts, skirts (below the knee) and dresses are appropriate attire for work. Particularly in the north where there is a sizable Muslim population, dress is very conservative. If dress is inappropriate (shorts, halters, short skirts, form fitting blouses or low cut blouses, spaghetti straps, dirty or torn clothing), it can be difficult to find acceptance in the community. For women, inappropriate dress and behavior will attract unwanted attention. Men should maintain neat haircuts and trimmed beards. Clothes should be kept clean, at least when leaving the house!

Cultural Attitudes:
While Benin is generally tolerant, values and morals concerning sexual orientation and gender identity may be different from those in the U.S. Volunteers will need to be mindful of cultural norms, and use their judgment to determine the best way to approach sexual orientation and gender identity in their communities and host countries. This topic will be addressed during pre-service training, and identify support mechanisms for incoming trainees.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Volunteers can be “out” and will be welcomed within the Peace Corps Volunteer and staff community, and will find an open and inclusive support network within this community. LGBTQ Volunteers have served successfully in Benin, however, sexual orientation and nonconforming gender identities might not be discussed openly and the LGBTQ community may be stigmatized. Please know that whatever the challenges of ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, etc., all trainees and Volunteers will have the support of Peace Corps Staff and the Volunteer Support Network (PSN).

All Volunteers have to make many cross-cultural adjustments during their service in Benin. Volunteers, who are older, of different religions, of different sexual orientations, or of an American minority ethnic group, may find that they have more freedom to "be themselves" than they do in the United States.

The most successful Volunteers are those who are well-integrated into their communities and make a commitment to stay in their communities. They eat the local food, speak the local languages, and attend important village ceremonies.

Travel can be challenging and many of the roads and means of public transportation are in poor condition. Rural travel is mostly by local taxi or motorbikes used as taxis. Peace Corps provides training about how to safely ride a motorbike as a passenger. Peace Corps also provides Volunteers with a mountain bike, which may be the principal means of transportation around their work zone.

There are regional workstations with computers and Wi-Fi access. Volunteers are strongly encouraged to bring a laptop which not only in increases options for internet access, but also enables Volunteers to complete required assignments off-line and upload them at a later date. Please note that tablets and smart phones are not an effective alternative.

Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Benin: 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 Benin

  • Benin may not be able to support Volunteers with the following medical conditions: asthma, including mild or childhood; dermatology; gastroenterology; some types of gynecologic support; insulin-dependent diabetes; mammography; requiring a psychiatrist for psychotropic medications support; seizure disorder; 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:  gluten, peanuts, and shellfish. 
  • After arrival in Benin, 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 Important Medical Information for Applicants [PDF] to learn about other health conditions typically not supported in Peace Corps service.

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