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Peace Corps Volunteer

Sustainable Agricultural Systems Volunteer

Project description

What words will describe your Peace Corps service as a Sustainable Agricultural Systems Volunteer in Benin? Collaboration. Food Security. Learning. Community. Growth. Adaptation. Leadership. Belonging.

Imagine watching the sunrise as you bike to your community garden, greeting the people you meet in the local Nagot language. After watering your garden, you and the midwife from your community health center meet a group of young mothers under a mango tree to co-facilitate a training on nutrition. You go to your friend’s house for lunch, arriving in time to help her make your favorite cassava and fish dish. In the afternoon, you and your counterpart meet to plan for your next entrepreneurship club meeting with students at the local school. It is market day in the village, so you bike home along the winding path that leads to the market, buy a pineapple, and pick up your new outfit from the tailor, just in time for a colleague’s upcoming wedding. After dinner, you sit out under the stars with the kids from next door, eating pineapple together, send messages to family, translating the conversation between English, French, and Nagot .

You and your community counterparts will work with people in your rural community to increase food security by increasing their capacity to generate agriculture-based income and building skills in managing income and expenses, which will strengthen household economic security and resilience. 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, and women as well as men farm and garden 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, 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 community partners including local agricultural associations, women’s groups, secondary schools, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). You will have a local supervisor, who may be the head of a technical school, NGO, or president of local woman’s co-op and 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 identify the most appropriate activities to address local food security challenges. These activities may include:

• Co-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 national food security, focusing on agriculture methods that sustainably increase productivity, resilience to climate change, and reduce greenhouse gases.

Gender & Malaria Activities

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.

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.

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
• 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 grassroots level organizations that focus on agricultural projects to increase food security.

• Experience and/or interest in vegetable gardening, plant nursery work/management, tree planting, and small animal husbandry.

• Associate’s degree in agricultural studies.

• Basic skills and/or interest in business management, entrepreneurship, marketing, and accounting.

• Experience in program management and leadership.

•Experience working with youth.

Required language skills

There is no language requirement except a strong commitment to learning spoken French and a local language. However, the strongest candidates will have some proficiency in French or a Romance language, as described below:

• Satisfactorily completed 4 years of high school coursework within the past 8 years in French (preferred) or another Romance language.
• Satisfactorily completed a minimum of 2 semesters of college level coursework (or equivalent classes at Alliance Française or other language school) in French (preferred) or another Romance language within the past 6 years
• Native/Fluent French (preferred) or Romance language speaker
• A score of 50 on the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam or a score of Novice‐High on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL OPI) in French (preferred) or another Romance language. 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, Nagot, or Dendi.

Learning French is essential for successful Volunteer service in this linguistically diverse country. 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. You will use French to communicate with your colleagues and with school groups, but learning a local language will help you connect more directly with other community members, particularly with women, who may not have finished school and may not speak French.
If you have little or no background in French, 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.

You will need to start using French for basic communications within days of arriving in Benin, so the more you know in advance, the better. You will live with a host family for most of your initial twelve weeks of training in Benin, an experience which will immerse you in an authentic language and culture learning environment, however it is important to recognize that most families in Benin mainly speak a local language within their family, and French is not likely to be their first language. Peace Corps Benin has dedicated Language and Cross-Culture Facilitators (LCFs) who will teach you French and start introducing you to local languages during your training program. In addition, you will be supported throughout your service by a full-time Language & Culture Coordinator who will support your progress in French and local language. Peace Corps Benin will provide you with resources for your continued language learning throughout your first year of service, including identifying and training a language tutor in the community where you will live and work during your service.

Living conditions

You don't need to be a farmer, gardener, or a food security expert to be successful in this role. Your intercultural competence, desire to learn, flexibility, humility, interest in languages, and collaborative spirit will be key to working successfully with your community. You will do all your work with Beninese counterparts, and you will have three months of intensive Pre-Service Training in Benin to help you build the language skills and competencies needed to work effectively in your community. During training you will live with a Beninese host family in a rural community. Training will focus on gardening, food security, basic business management, agricultural extension skills, facilitation skills, French and a local language, navigating the cultures of Benin, taking care of your physical and mental health, and maintaining your safety and security. You will spend a week visiting the community where you will live and work for the next two years. The second half of training will focus on practicing co-facilitating trainings in French. After successfully meeting the requirements, you will be sworn in as a Volunteer, and will move to your new community to start working.

Living Conditions
Please see the Benin Living Conditions section of the website for information about:
• Communications
• Languages
• Housing and Site Location
• Food and Diet
• Transportation
• Social Activities
• Professionalism, Dress, Behavior

Dress & Appearance

Beninese people love fashionable clothes, in conservative styles that cover shoulders, knees, cleavage, and everything between. As a community member, your appearance and behavior will be judged by Benin’s cultural norms, and you will be expected to follow them. Many Volunteers love buying fabric in the market and having clothes made in local styles. It is hard to overdress or be overly neat in Benin, as your appearance reflects your respect for the people around you. Long hair, braids, 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 female Volunteers wear their hair short, pulled back, 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. Please refer to Living Conditions and Packing Guidance online for more details.

Diversity & Inclusion
The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the US and bring diverse perspectives and solutions to development issues. Training sessions will address diversity and inclusion and how you can transcend differences, find common ground, and serve as an ally for your peers. Your social identities will play a role in the way you are perceived and how you experience life and work in Benin. For example, people in Benin’s LGBTQI+ community continue to face persecution and are rarely open about their sexuality. Volunteers will need to be mindful of cultural norms and laws, and use their judgment about the best way to approach sexual orientation and gender identity in Benin. Staff and current Volunteers will address this topic during training and will identify support mechanisms for Volunteers.
Additional information is available in the diversity and inclusion section of our website about serving in Benin as a:
• Volunteer of color
• LGBTQI+ Volunteer
• Volunteer with a disability
• Couple
• Volunteer with different religious beliefs than their community
• 50+ year old
• Volunteer seeking to be an ally

Curious about Benin?
The documentary High on the Hog features beautiful footage of Benin and discusses links between Beninese and African-American food and history in episode 1. The Woman King is a fictional depiction of the historic female Agodie warriors of the Dahomey Kingdom, which is part of present-day Benin.

Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Benin: Get detailed information on culture, communications, housing, and health/crime statistics in order to make a well-informed decision about serving.

Medical considerations

Before you apply, please review medical clearance and legal clearance to learn about the process.

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 the laws are ambiguous, like 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:

Benin is happy to accommodate heterosexual couples, as long as each person is in a different sector program. If you are applying as a couple, your partner must qualify and apply for either:

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

During the 12-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 a most importantly a good sense of humor.

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