AMES, Iowa---Mark Licht, Iowa State University Extension field agronomist, recently returned from a volunteer assignment to Ukraine where he advised farmers on how to improve their practices in growing and harvesting corn and soybeans. Licht’s trip was part of a project with CNFA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people and enterprises in the developing world.
In Ukraine, Licht’s work was closely related to his job as an extension agronomist, where his objective is to help farmers in Iowa improve their corn and soybean production. This assignment was his first volunteer trip abroad; he has always enjoyed travelling and has always attempted to visit farms throughout his travels to “experience the real culture and observe how farmers do things in a different manner than farmers in Iowa.” He enjoyed this assignment despite its hectic schedule, as it gave him the opportunity to visit eight different farms and form a clear picture of the challenges and opportunities prevalent in the corn and soybean sector in Ukraine.
Licht’s assignment also was rewarding because of the reception he received from his hosts. The farmers and producers he worked with were “very inquisitive and asked a lot of good questions.” They were eager to learn about agricultural practices in the Midwest, despite the different climactic conditions, as dryness is a greater issue in Ukraine. Nonetheless, Licht’s Ukrainian hosts reasoned how they could adapt some of the production approaches popular in the United States to improve their own yields, such as effective decision making processes with respect to seed selection.
Licht contends that this trip was a learning experience for him too. Because of the lack of good agricultural equipment in Ukraine, many producers import older, used equipment from Germany, the United States or Brazil. Some of the issues these farmers face reminded Licht of “some of the problems I used to hear my grandfather complain about when he was farming years ago in Iowa.”
Licht was surprised by the farm structure in Ukraine, where farms are commercialized structures owned by a number of investors, unlike the family-owned farms prevalent across the Midwest. The disjuncture between farming and ownership in Ukraine reflects several issues, such as quality control, as Licht observed that establishing quality control seemed difficult. Nonetheless, despite cultural, structural and technological differences, Mark noted many similarities between farmers in Iowa and in Ukraine.
He believes that farming in Ukraine holds a lot of promise. Despite the heavy snow, Licht managed to study the terrain and the soil where he observed “quality soil that is highly organic and holds water well.” This led him to predict that agriculture in Ukraine “has the potential to be very productive” if management practices keep up with the pace of agricultural progress.
Mark Licht traveled to Ukraine under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program, which provides voluntary technical assistance to farmers, farm groups and agribusinesses in developing and transitional countries to promote sustainable improvements in food processing, production and marketing. Founded in 1985, CNFA is dedicated to strengthening agricultural markets and empowering entrepreneurs in the developing world. CNFA is now recruiting for many similar volunteer assignments. Visit www.cnfa.org/farmertofarmer for a list of available opportunities and to find out how to become a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer.