Sustainable Agriculture Extension Promoter
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.
Panama, regularly voted as one of the happiest countries in the world, is nevertheless a land of mixed realities. While renowned for its canal and seen as a “crossroads of the world” in industries like banking and shipping; many rural communities are still comprised of subsistence-based farming families. Producing high quality, nutritious food for the family, along with a sustainable income is a challenge in these tight-knit communities, where land degradation, limited access, high production costs and low yields are common.
In order to address these issues, Volunteers in the Sustainable Agriculture Systems (SAS) project work side-by-side with low-income rural farmers—men, woman, youth, and children—to improve the food security, resiliency, and sustainability of their livelihoods. A typical day might involve a two hour hike through the jungle to visit a farm and observe a new bicho (bug) that is eating the crops, mixing up a compost pile at the local school out of chopped banana plants and cow manure, trying out a new recipe with a woman’s group over a three-stone fire, or adding up farm costs with a family in a 75 cent notebook as everyone tells stories at the end of the day.
Volunteers enter their communities as learners, using tools they have been taught during pre-service training to help facilitate integration into the community and collaborate with community members in identifying local needs and making plans for how they would like to address them. Part of this process involves identifying work partners; including model farmers, local host country ministry technicians, and community leaders. Interaction might be one-on-one, as when working alongside a farmer in her kitchen garden, or in a group setting, as when co-leading with a model farmer about better fertilization practices to the local coffee producers association. Most communities also have a limited amount of support from the national agricultural ministry or non-governmental organizations.
Almost all SAS Volunteers, working alongside their identified work partners, address some agriculture production issues such as soil conservation, integrated pest management, or post-harvest management. Additionally, many communities include farmers that are starting to move beyond the subsistence level, and looking to explore new income-generating activities. Typical endeavors include growing cash crops such as vegetables or coffee, or producing artisanal goods from local materials. Volunteers, in conjunction with their community counterparts, develop business topics such as budgeting or marketing at a very basic level to support these endeavors.
Furthermore, most SAS Volunteers work in areas complementary to agriculture production; strengthening community organizations and addressing nutritional issues. Volunteers work alongside group members to assess their own organizational capacity and create action plans. They then train and coach members on the decided topics in areas such as strategic planning, communication, and leadership. To address nutrition issues, Volunteers work alongside key household members to improve understanding of the importance a diverse diet. This is done by teaching recipes from a nutritional standpoint and promoting healthy foods, particularly lesser-known agricultural or traditional crops.
Although Volunteers are rigorously trained and offered continued support by PC Staff in sustainable agriculture techniques, basic business skills, nutritional information, and group organization, they are expected to take charge of their own learning as they enter service. This involves experimenting, researching, and adapting techniques to fit the local context through the support of local farmers. Though the work might be tough, Volunteers will be in it together with some of the most welcoming and caring people that Panama has to offer.
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.
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
Competitive candidates will demonstrate the following skills:
• Bachelor of Science degree or Associate degree in Agronomy, Horticulture, or other related fields
• Familiarity/experience with agriculture and/or farm work
• Experience in leading through collaboration
• Experience teaching adults and children formally and informally
• Ability and willingness to hike long distances on a regular basis
• Willingness to live in an indigenous area (cultural/language adaptation can be more challenging)
• Active interest in learning a foreign language through immersion
• Public speaking and presentation skills
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 Spanish coursework within the past 8 years
B. Completed minimum 2 semesters of Spanish college‐level coursework within the past 6 years
C. Native/fluent speaker of Spanish
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 Spanish College Level Examination Program CLEP exam or a score of Novice‐High on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL OPI).
All Volunteers need to demonstrate an Intermediate level of oral and written proficiency in Spanish for site placement by the end of Pre-Service Training.
Additionally, about half of SAS sites are in indigenous communities. Although Spanish is widely spoken and understood, many community members prefer to use the indigenous language. Volunteers placed within the indigenous communities will take several introductory classes in the language prior to service, and are expected to build upon these language skills throughout service in order to facilitate integration into the community.
Community & Housing
SAS communities are generally a truly rural living experience. Volunteers will be placed in Latin and/or indigenous communities, of between 100-4,000 people. To arrive, Volunteers should expect strenuous hikes, long boat rides, and/or long bumpy car rides on unpaved and often winding roads. Volunteers will frequently hike long distances in a hot and humid climate, often in muddy or mountainous terrain to get around their communities.
Volunteer homes may be simple structures made of concrete block, wood or clay, with cement or dirt floors, and a roof of tin or palm-thatch. Some homes, particularly in indigenous areas, are often raised on stilts. Pit latrines are common, and most houses have some type of porch or balcony to place a hammock.
Peace Corps examines each community to ensure that basic health and safety criteria are met. Volunteers will be required to live with a host family during their first three months of service who have been approved following COVID guidelines. After these three months, they may opt to live in pre-approved local housing that meets Peace Corps' housing criteria.
Food & Diet
The Panamanian diet varies according to the region and the ethnic makeup of the population. Most often the diet consists of rice, beans, bananas or plantains, root crops, and corn. Canned meat such as tuna or spam, along with chicken, beef, or pork, are often commonly eaten. Fish is available sporadically in coastal regions and riverside communities. Many foods are deep-fried or stewed. The availability of garden vegetables, such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers, varies according to the region and season. Many rural areas have an array of fruit trees; so mangoes, papayas, pineapples, avocados, and oranges might be available at certain times of the year.
Some Volunteers are vegetarians, but very few Panamanians follow these diets. Many Volunteers start a garden in their community, and many buy staple foods in a small store in their village. Volunteers can generally buy a wide variety of foods and imported goods in supermarkets in the provincial capitals once or twice a month.
Services such as electricity, close medical facilities, running or potable water and sanitation systems may be rudimentary or non-existent. Solar panels can be purchased at affordable prices. Cell phone service/data can be very limited but will be available in some form. Internet access in Panama is spreading; large towns have internet cafes, and internet access is often available in larger schools. Connection speeds tend to be slow, but the service is reasonably priced and otherwise reliable. Peace Corps/Panama does not provide volunteers with a cell phone or data but Panama offers many cheap data plans. Many Volunteers bring an unlocked cellular phone from the US or buy one in country. Laptops are not required, but are highly recommended for work purposes. Should you choose to bring electronics, it is your responsibility to maintain and insure them.
Diversity & Inclusion
In Panama, it is a cultural norm to identify people based on their physical appearance in a generally non-threatening manner regardless if the individual identifies with that race or ethnicity. Respectful exchanges regarding race and ethnicity can make for rewarding Volunteer experiences that can help to balance some of the more trying moments Volunteers may experience when it comes to managing misconceptions about American culture and diversity.
While Panama is generally tolerant, Volunteers will likely find that values and norms concerning sexual orientation and gender identity are different from those in the U.S. Additionally, Volunteers with belief systems outside of Catholic and Christian traditions will find community members unfamiliar or curious about their religious beliefs and practices. Volunteers will need to be mindful of cultural norms and use their judgment to determine the best way to approach these topics.
Serving in Panama
Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Panama: 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.
Before you apply, please review Medical Information for Applicants to learn about the medical clearance process.
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