Sustainable Agricultural Systems Volunteer

Project Description

As a Sustainable Agricultural System (SAS) Volunteer in Benin, you and your community counterparts will work with people in your rural community to strengthen household economic security and resilience by increasing capacity to generate agriculture-based income and building skills in managing income and expenses. You will also work with families to increase and diversify their household food production and consumption. The ability of families to break the generational cycle of malnutrition will allow their children to receive proper nutrition during their critical first 1,000 days, which will lay the foundation for their future ability to grow, learn, and succeed.

Benin’s economy is dependent on agriculture, with women as well as men farming and gardening to produce food for their families and for sale. Seasonal rainfall and a subtropical climate make it possible to grow a variety of foods, yet Benin’s most vulnerable populations face challenges accessing nutrient-rich foods on a daily basis. A number of factors contribute to these challenges, including climate change, recent declines in income levels combined with rising food prices, food producers lacking access to markets and quality seeds, and limited options of nutrient-rich foods in local markets.

To address these challenges you will work with a combination of partners in your community, such as local agricultural associations, women’s groups, schools, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). You will have a local supervisor, who may be the leader of a local organization, and you will do your daily work in collaboration with assigned local counterparts. You and your counterparts will use a participatory approach to assess local knowledge, resources, and needs, and to collaboratively choose the most appropriate activities to address local food security challenges. These activities may include:
• Promoting improved garden techniques
• Co-teaching food transformation and preservation techniques to increase the income earned from harvested crops
• Coaching women’s groups and youth clubs on entrepreneurship.
• Working with individuals and community groups on feasibility studies, business plans, budgets, and savings and credit programs
• Organizing cooking demonstrations and trainings on nutrition and diversified diets to improve infant and child health
• Installing community and school gardens.

Peace Corps is committed to fighting the impact of climate change, and you will support the Benin Government’s promotion of Climate Smart Agriculture as part of their efforts to achieve of national food security, focusing on agriculture methods that sustainably increase productivity and resilience to climate change and reduce greenhouse gases.

In addition to your primary work, you may also work on secondary projects that meet community needs, including gender equity programs with youth and malaria prevention activities.

You don't need to be a farmer, gardener, or a food security expert to be successful in this role. You will start with a 12-week Pre-Service Training program in Benin to help you build the language skills and competencies you’ll need to work effectively in your community. This will include technical training in basic business management skills as well as agricultural extension skills to help you prepare for success, no matter your background. Your desire to learn, intercultural competence, flexibility, humility, interest in languages, and collaborative spirit will be key to working successfully with your community to meet their needs and accomplish your project’s goals.

Climate Change Activities

As the impacts of climate change become ever more evident, the social, economic, and environmental context within which smallholder farmers seek to maintain and improve their livelihood and support their families will continue to change. This will add significantly to the challenges of smallholder farming, particularly for the most disadvantaged communities. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will be trained to use a participatory approach and tools to identify locally determined priorities and conditions, including those related to the impacts of climate change. As an Agriculture Volunteer, you will be trained to use this local knowledge in engaging smallholder farmers in a climate-smart approach that:

• Promotes the adoption of improved, appropriate, and adaptive agricultural practices and technologies that sustainably increase productivity
• Builds and strengthens household resilience by integrating and diversifying existing and new agriculture-related income-generating opportunities
• Reduces greenhouse gas emissions attributable to ineffective and carbon intensive farming practices and encourages adoption of agricultural practices and activities that sequester carbon.

COVID-19 Volunteer Activities

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 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
OR
• 5 years' professional work experience

Desired Skills

The most 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.
• Experience and/or interest in vegetable gardening, plant nursery work/management, tree planting, 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.
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture Economics or a degree combining agriculture and management, including agribusiness, agricultural management, farm management.

Required Language Skills

There are no pre-requisite language requirements for this position.

Benin is a fascinating country for language lovers. You will leave Benin with proficiency in French as well as skills in one of Benin’s local languages.

French is the official language of the Beninese educational and governmental system, and most Beninese people who speak French also speak one or more of Benin’s 50+ local languages, such as Fon, Mina, Adja, Bariba, Yoruba, Idaatcha, Tchabe, Fulani, Mahi, Nago, and Dendi. This linguistic diversity means that speaking French will be essential, and you will likely also need to reach a certain proficiency level in a local language, as local languages are used more than French in many rural communities where not everyone speaks French. Local language skills will help you connect more directly with community members, particularly with women, who may not have finished school and may not speak French, which will help you work successfully and culturally integrate in your rural community.

If you have no French or low-level French language skills, you are strongly encouraged to take a French course or make a commitment to self‐study prior to arrival in Benin in order to prepare for living and working there.

During your 12-week Pre-Service Training (PST) program in Benin, you will be supported by dedicated Language and Cross-Culture Facilitators in your French and local language studies, and you will likely also live with a host family during PST, an experience which will immerse you in an authentic language and culture learning environment. After PST, you will be supported throughout your service by a full-time Language & Culture Coordinator who will support your progress in French and local language by providing you with resources for continued language learning, including identifying and training a language tutor in the community where you will live and work.

Living Conditions

Housing
Volunteers in Benin live in villages, semi-urban centers, and rural towns. 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.

Diet
Access to Western foods may be limited and Volunteers adapt their diet to local foods such as rice and corn "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 vary by region and season.

Transport
Public buses, car taxis or motorcycle taxis are used as the main transportation for many people in Benin including Peace Corps Volunteers. Many roads in the country are dirt, and their condition varies with the seasons, and even paved roads are of varying condition. Many Volunteers ride a bicycle for transportation within and near their communities. If you want a bicycle, Peace Corps will provide one or the means to purchase one. To bike in Benin you will need to be in decent physical shape.

Connectivity
If you have a laptop you are encouraged to bring it to complete required reports and assignments. Many Volunteers also bring unlocked smartphones. Both will be made available if you do not bring one. At site, Internet is generally through a cellphone (or phone hotspot to computer), and connection quality varies in rural areas. There are two regional workstations with computers and Wi-Fi access for Volunteers.

Dress
Your behavior and dress will be judged according to Benin’s conservative cultural norms. Long pants, blouses/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.

Hair
In Benin, long hair, braids (including cornrows), locs, and long beards on men are unusual. All men are encouraged to adjust to the local style for hair and facial hair (low cut/short/well-trimmed). Many male Volunteers have chosen to shave or trim their facial hair and 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.

Religion
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 (Vodoun) is common throughout the country. Many Beninese maintain a strong belief in both Vodoun and another major religion. Vodoun in Benin is very different from how “voodoo” is represented by Hollywood.

LGBTQIA+
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 LGBTQIA+ 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 will 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

The Peace Corps works to foster safe and productive assignments for same-sex couples, and same-sex couples are not placed in countries where homosexual acts are criminalized, or where laws are ambiguous, as in Benin. Because of this, same-sex couples’ placements are more limited than heterosexual couple placements. During the application process, Recruiters and Placement Officers work closely with same-sex couple applicants to understand current placement opportunities. For more information please visit: https://www.peacecorps.gov/faqs/lgbtq/.

Benin is able to accommodate heterosexual 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 12-week Pre-Service Training, couples will live and train in separate villages, living with separate host families. 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, and will be able to visit each other at their host family homes on weekends. 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.


Does this sound like the position for you?
Get started on your journey.

Apply Now

What Happens Next?

View Volunteer FAQs
The types of work Volunteers do are ultimately determined by the needs of host countries and the potential of a Volunteer to contribute to these needs and to the Peace Corps’ mission.
Learn about the application process
The most significant accomplishment will be the contribution you make to improve the lives of others. There are also tangible benefits, during and after service of joining in the Peace Corps.
More benefits from service
Our recruiters are here to help you! Whether you have a question about your application, requirements, or anything else, our recruiters have the answer. Chat live with them now!
Find a recruiter