Sustainable Agricultural Systems Extension Agent

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Project Description

The Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) program 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.

Benin has a high percentage of malnutrition among the most vulnerable populations: women, children, and small rural communities. While most people have a garden, soil quality, production techniques, market access, land and water availability are problems in many communities and contributes to overall poor nutrition. In 2017, Peace Corps Benin redesigned its business development and environmental programs to better meet these pressing needs. The result is a single program with a holistic approach to improving household food security.

This will be achieved by the following 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.

Peace Corps Benin’s SAS Volunteers operate on the four pillars of Food Security - Availability (production), Utilization (nutrition), Stability (resilience), and Access (income generation). These needs call for a cross-sectoral approach where improved production, income generation, consumption patterns, and financial management are all seen as means to improved food security. Volunteers may be working with 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 an 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.. It is important to know that at the rural level, organizations do not always have a well-established structure. Volunteers will also work with their organizations to improve their management.

Volunteers are expected to conduct certain activities throughout their two years of service, regardless of their background in either business or agriculture. This work requires personal motivation, dedication, and resiliency to accomplish. Volunteers will be trained in both business and agricultural advising to make them effective change agents no matter their background. The following are some of the expected activities:

• Promoting best agricultural practices and improved garden production techniques;
• Encouraging food transformation techniques to increase the value to and income earned from harvested crops;
• Coaching students in schools and women’s groups on entrepreneurship and creating clubs at the related to food security;
• Providing training to food security related individuals and groups on business planning, marketing, product, service quality, and basic financial management;
• Helping individuals and community groups to conduct feasibility studies, business plans, project design and management, savings and credit schemes (VSLAs), and yearly budgets;
• Training women of reproductive age on infant nutrition and the merits of a diversified diet;
• Promoting community and school gardens for food security and income generation.

Peace Corps Benin promotes gender awareness and girls’ education and empowerment. You will receive training on gender challenges in Benin and you will have the opportunity to implement gender-related activities that are contextually appropriate. During your service, you will look for ways to work with community members to promote gender-equitable norms and increase girls’ sense of agency. You will also report on these efforts and their impact.

Required Skills

Qualified candidates will have one or more of the following criteria:
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any business discipline
OR
• 5 years professional experience in business management

Desired Skills

Competitive candidates will have one or more of the following:
• Experience and/or interest in vegetable gardening, nursery work/management, tree planting, rice cultivation, small animal husbandry.
• Basic skills and/or interest in business management, entrepreneurship, marketing and accounting.
• Experience in program management and leadership.
• Experience working with youth is an asset.

Required Language Skills

Romance Language - 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 within the past 6 years in a Romance language
C. Native/Fluent Romance language speaker
Candidates with rudimentary romance language skills should have either a willingness to take a French course or commitment to self‐study pre-departure.

It is expected that SAS Volunteers learn a local language (in addition to French) that is widely used in host communities. French is used as the official language in the Beninese governmental system, and your successful integration and work in your host community will depend on learning the local language.

Upon arrival, you will be tested on your French ability for language class placement. At the completion of Pre-Service Training you will be required to reach a proficiency level of 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 fee reimbursement) for your continued language learning.

Living Conditions

Volunteers serving in Benin are assigned to sites throughout the country, in a variety of settings: semi-urban centers, rural towns and villages. Housing is provided by the host organization; Peace Corps staff visit and assess all housing prior to trainees arrival. Volunteers’ houses may vary in size and amenities, but all comply with Peace Corps standards for Safety and Security. Houses are normally located in a compound with other families. A typical house for a Volunteer will have one main room, a bedroom, kitchen area, and a private shower and latrine. In more rural areas, you will most likely not have running water or electricity. Access to fruits, vegetables, and proteins will also vary by region and season.

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 you with training 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 your work zone. Since this may require considerable physical exertion on the part of the Volunteer, you should be in reasonably good shape or at least willing to improve your physical fitness to meet this work demand.

Benin has some restrictive laws that target certain sexual acts. Volunteers will need to be mindful of cultural norms and country-specific laws, and use their best judgment to determine how to approach topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity in their communities and host countries. Staff and currently serving Volunteers will address this topic during pre-service training, and identify support mechanisms for incoming trainees.

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.

Couples Information

Benin is eager to accept couples whenever possible. Your partner must qualify and apply for:

Health Extension Volunteer (RCH)
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Agent (SAS)

Couples of the same sector will live with the same homestay family during PST. Couples of different sectors will train in separate locations and live with separate homestays. Couples will see each other once a week during CORE days (joint-sector training days) where all trainees will receive full group sessions.

Once in-service at permanent site, couples live in the same accommodation.

Going through the Peace Corps experience as a couple allows for ample growth in 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 completely eradicate many of these challenges, they can be coped with and overcome with time, patience, and a most importantly a good sense of humor.

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 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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