Sustainable Agriculture Extension Promoter
Panama is commonly referred to as “puente del mundo, corazón del universo” (bridge of the world, heart of the universe). It is also a land of mixed realities. Its strategic geographic location influenced the construction of the canal, which accelerated immigration and contributed to Panama’s diverse population. Panama is known as an international logistics, banking, and tourism hub. For this and other reasons, the isthmus holds distinct social and economic realities which impact structural inequalities.
Some communities in Panama are comprised of subsistence-based farming families. Land degradation, limited access to resources, high production costs and low yields effect the production of high quality, nutritious food as well as a sustainable income. To mitigate these agricultural challenges, Volunteers in the Sustainable Agriculture Systems (SAS) program collaborate with small-holder rural farmers—men, women, youth, and children—to improve their food security and the resiliency and sustainability of their livelihoods.
A typical day might involve hiking 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 notebook as everyone tells stories at the end of the day.
Volunteers integrate into the community, applying the skills and competencies practiced during Pre-Service Training. Volunteers and work partners collaborate to identify and prioritize local needs, as well as co-plan strategies 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-teaching with a model farmer about better fertilization practices to the local coffee producer’s association.
Volunteers support their work partners in addressing agriculture production issues such as soil conservation, integrated pest management, or post-harvest management. For farmers exploring new income-generating activities, Volunteers may support them in growing cash crops such as vegetables or coffee or producing artisanal goods from local materials. Volunteers, in collaboration with work partners, address business topics such as budgeting or marketing to support these endeavors. Volunteers also support community-based groups to assess their own organizational capacity and co-create plans for improvement, coaching members on topics including strategic planning, communication, and leadership. Volunteers work alongside key household members to improve understanding of the importance of a diverse diet. This is done by introducing recipes from a nutritional standpoint and promoting healthy foods, particularly lesser-known agricultural or traditional crops.
During service, Peace Corps Panama will provide learning experiences to strengthen Volunteers’ general and technical competencies, such as sustainable agriculture techniques, basic business skills, nutritional information, and organizational management. Volunteers will be expected to self-assess and self-evaluate their development of these competencies. This will positively impact the Volunteer’s experience and service to the community.
The most important resource Volunteers will need to be successful is the ability to communicate ideas clearly and to develop strong interpersonal relationships. Creativity in using locally available resources will also be important. Volunteers must be prepared to be proactive, self-driven and to motivate others.
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; and
• 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.
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
• Bachelor of Science degree or Associate degree in Agronomy, Horticulture, or other related fields
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any business discipline
• At least 3 years full-time farm experience
• Familiarity/experience with agriculture, gardens, and/or farm work
• Experience in leading through collaboration
• Experience teaching adults and children formally and informally
• Experience with public speaking or facilitating classes/workshops/presentations
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).
Volunteers must demonstrate an Intermediate-mid level of oral and written proficiency in Spanish for community placement by the end of the 10-week Pre-Service Training. Intermediate-mid level speakers are expected to be able to: start, sustain, and close simple conversations at the sentence level and connect them. Ask and answer simple questions.
Volunteers placed in the Ngӓbe-Bugle Region will receive formal training on basic Ngäbere and will need to continue to learn the language on their own in their community. Having an interest in a deeper study of local language in the form of continuous self-study and in-community conversations is a way for you to work more directly with community members. Ngäbere is a spoken language with limited written materials.
Volunteers are placed in indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Houses in Panama vary among communities and may include simple concrete block walls and cement floors; stilted wood houses; adobe structures with mud floors; and/or furnished apartments. Communities generally have basic utilities and infrastructure, including cell phone signal, treatable water, and sometimes electricity. The reliability of these services varies community to community; and may be impacted by seasonal changes. All Volunteers receive training on how to treat their drinking water should they need to. Solar panels and other means to charge or run electronics can be acquired in Panama. Peace Corps Panama assesses each community before selection to ensure that basic health and safety criteria are met. Volunteers are required to live with a host family during their first three months of service. After three months, Volunteers may opt to live in pre-approved local housing that meets Peace Corps /Panama’s housing criteria.
Food and 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, yucca (cassava), and corn. Rice and beans (kidney beans, lentils, and black-eyed peas) is a staple dish. Corn is served in many stews but is usually ground, boiled, or fried. Sancocho is a traditional soup prepared with root vegetables and chicken. Most rural areas have many fruits available, including mangos, papayas, pineapples, avocados, oranges, and guanábanas (soursops). The availability of garden vegetables, such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers, varies according to the region and the season. The most common meats are chicken, pork, and beef, which are often deep-fried or stewed. Fish is available sporadically in coastal regions and riverside communities.
Panamanians frequently follow diets based on their region, culture, and seasonally available produce. Depending on the Volunteer’s diet, they may be inclined to start a garden, plan for trips to larger cities to acquire products at supermarkets or adjust to locally available options. Larger towns and cities have at least one chain restaurant that will be familiar.
Computer, Phone, and Internet Access
All host communities must have reliable cell phone signal, though it might be a 10-minute walk to reach. The availability of internet access (Wi-Fi) will vary in speed and reliability depending on the geographic location of the community. Volunteers may access Wi-Fi through the local public school, visit a community internet center, or visit a private internet cafe in a larger town. In Panama City, Volunteers have access to Wi-Fi, desktop computers and printers at the Peace Corps Panama office. Peace Corps Panama does not provide Volunteers with a cell phone or data plan, but many cheap data plans are available in Panama. Many Volunteers bring an unlocked cell phone from the United States or buy one in country. Should you choose to bring electronics, it is your responsibility to maintain and insure them.
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.
Peace Corps Panama cannot accommodate cross-sector couples. Therefore, your partner must apply and qualify for the following positions: Sustainable Agriculture Extension Promoter
During Pre-Service Training, couples live in the same home and are requested to speak Spanish with each other and the host family to improve language learning. During their service, they will live together first with a host family and then on their own. Couples will be placed in medium to large communities, to ensure sufficient work is available for both Volunteers.
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. Because of this, same-sex couple 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/.
Before you apply, please review Medical Information for Applicants to learn about the medical clearance process.
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