Sustainable Agricultural Systems Volunteer

The Peace Corps continues to monitor and assess the COVID-19 pandemic domestically and internationally. The locations and timing of returning Volunteers to service will be determined on a country-by-country basis. The positions and projected departure dates listed below are subject to change.

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 amongst 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 uncertain climatic patterns, 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 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.

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

We will provide you an 11-week Pre-Service Training to prepare you to work effectively in your community and will show you how to translate your existing skills to be an effective Volunteer in Benin. This work requires personal motivation, dedication, and resiliency to meet the needs of your community and accomplish your project’s goals. You will receive training in both basic business management skills and agricultural extension to make you an effective change agent, no matter your background.

To achieve project goals, SAS Volunteers 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.

Gender Activities
Peace Corps Benin promotes gender awareness and girls’ education and empowerment, by providing training, throughout your service, on gender challenges in Benin. 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.

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. Satisfactorily completed 4 years of high school coursework within the past 8 years in a Romance language
B. Satisfactorily completed a minimum of 2 semesters of college level coursework (or equivalent classes at Alliance Française, etc.) in a Romance language within the past 6 years
C. Native/Fluent Romance language speaker

The official language of Benin is French, and many local languages are also spoken, including Fon, Mina, Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, Dendi, etc. As a Volunteer, it will be important that you reach a certain level of proficiency in French and also in a local language. Language training will be a focus of your Pre-Service Training (PST) program, and you will receive support for your study of French and a local language during PST and during your service.

Although much of Volunteers’ work will be conducted in the local language of their community, the official language of Benin is French, and having a certain level of French will be necessary for success. Volunteer proficiency in French prior to arrival in country is strongly preferred. Candidates with no or low-level French language skills are strongly encouraged to participate in an intensive French course or make a commitment to intensive self‐study prior to departure. Please note that there are numerous free on-line French language resources available, and that many organizations offer French online. Volunteers are expected to learn French and achieve an intermediate-mid level by the end of Pre-Service Training before they can begin studying the local language, and to reach a higher level after a year of service. If you arrive in Benin with a high level of French, you will be able to begin studying a local language immediately.

Local language:
You will work directly with many community members, particularly women, who may not have finished school and therefore may not speak French. Speaking the local language will make your work more effective and your daily life easier. You will begin your study of the local language during PST, then you will be expected to improve your skills by continuing to study the local language spoken in your community throughout your service, and achieve at least an intermediate-high level by the end of your first year of service. Local language learning will require self-motivation, as it will mostly occur at your site in the form of self-study with support by a language tutor who has been trained by Peace Corps.

Living Conditions

Volunteers in Benin live in semi-urban centers, rural towns, and villages. Housing is provided by the host organization and may vary in size and amenities. Houses are normally located in a compound with other families. A typical house for a Volunteer 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 will have to adapt their diet to local foods such as rice and "pâte", with various leaf and peanut sauces, local vegetables such as okra, eggplant, 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 readily available. Access to fruits, vegetables, and proteins will also vary by region and season.

Many of Benin’s roads and means of public transportation are in poor condition, with car taxis or motorcycle taxis used as the main transportation for many people. Approved in-country transportation options for Volunteers may be limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and you will be advised on the safest options during training and throughout service.

Many Volunteers use a bicycle as their principal means of local transportation. If you need a bicycle, Peace Corps will provide one or the means to purchase one, and you will need to be in decent shape or be willing to improve your physical fitness.

In Benin your dress reflects your respect for the people you interact with, so it is hard to overdress. Long pants, short/long sleeve shirts, skirts and dresses (below the knee) and nice sandals/shoes are appropriate for work. Dressing inappropriately (dirty/torn clothing, shorts, halter top, short skirt, tight/low-cut blouse, spaghetti straps) 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.

Volunteers with visible body piercings or tattoos may need to conceal them, as they may be seen as unprofessional and make community integration difficult.

Religious tolerance is respected in Benin. Benin has three main religions: 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. Voodoo in Benin is very different from how it is represented by Hollywood.

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, as long as each person is in a different sector program. Your partner must qualify and apply for either:

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

During the 11-week Pre-Service Training, couples will live and train in separate villages. Couples will see each other once a week during core curriculum days (joint sector training days) where all trainees will participate in full group training sessions. Once at their permanent site, 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 many of these 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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