Originally published on April 26, 2019.
It’s no secret – we are big fans of the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program
(F2F). It’s been one of our organization’s pillar projects for over 30 years, and it’s a textbook example of how our nonprofit’s affiliation with Land O’Lakes, Inc. makes our international development work better. Since 1987, we’ve sent more than 1,400 volunteers – including 165+ Land O’Lakes, Inc. employees and member-owners – on F2F assignments in 27 countries.
In partnership with farmers and agribusinesses, these assignments improve productivity to create economic growth, all while building cross-cultural understanding and diplomacy between hosts and volunteers.
And, today, as we ramp up our newest F2F project in Egypt, Lebanon and Bangladesh, we get a chance to look behind the scenes and meet an important set of people – the local project Country Directors, who support local implementation and connect host organizations with volunteer experts: Hossam Habeeb (Egypt), Maksud Rahman (Bangladesh) and Charbel Abou Haidar (Lebanon).
What is your background and why have you dedicated your career to agriculture?
I received my master’s in development studies from Southeast University, MBA from Northern University Bangladesh and bachelor’s in agricultural engineering. I have worked mostly in the field of agribusiness, technology promotion, value chain and market system development for international organizations and donor-funded projects — mostly USAID — for almost 25 years. I want to use my academic training and work experiences to help small businesses and farmers boost their incomes.
Charbel: I’ve been working for development programs for 11 years and have my degree in agriculture from the University of Beirut. Part of that time was working with the previous Land O’Lakes F2F project in Lebanon. I grew up in the Bakaa region of Lebanon – known as the food basket of the Middle East. My childhood was immersed in food and farming, so I’ve always had an appreciation for the industry.
Hossam: I grew up as a farmer in Egypt. My father, now 70 years old, still runs the farm. I understand how farmers here struggle to get the technical support they need. After getting my degree in agricultural sciences from Cairo University, I worked in a dairy processing plant. And since 2006, I’ve been a part of the development industry – with a focus on food safety and quality. This work makes me feel connected to the village I grew up in.
What are F2F’s objectives in your country and what needs are the project addressing?
Hossam: Food safety is an important priority for the Egyptian government because they want to improve food for domestic and export markets. They recently established the Egypt National Food Safety Authority (NFSA). It’s like the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. We are working closely with NFSA and the USDA-funded Land O’Lakes International Development to build up Egypt’s capacity to meet global food quality and safety standards.
Maksud: Bangladesh is a high-potential grain economy with talented farmers and institutions, but our food systems lack technical resources to grow and improve productivity and profitability. With technical know-how from F2F volunteers, we can invest in our future and improve economic growth.
Charbel: Extension services are limited in Lebanon. Farmers and processors don’t know who they can go to for help. F2F is an independent party that offers them customized, practical technical assistance to help them take their businesses to the next level.
Why is Land O’Lakes International Development well-suited to implement this project?
Hossam: We have access to a talented and experienced network of food quality and safety experts through Land O’Lakes, Inc., a U.S. agribusiness with nearly 100 years of experience operating as a food company. This affiliation is unique. We’ve seen from past projects that volunteers are excited to help and share what they know – all while learning about what makes each country’s food system and culture different.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Egypt is a great country. We are spending a lot of effort to ensure that our food system is producing safe, quality foods for the world market. The government has made it clear that now more than ever it is a priority for our country. I’m excited to be a part of it.
Maksud: Bangladesh has high potential to improve our fruit industry to benefit our people and worldwide consumers. We have mangos, lychees, jackfruits, guava and more – but only for a couple months of the year because we lack value-addition processes. This work we are focused on has the potential to make these products available year-round to more people.
Interested in learning more about volunteering for a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment? Contact Volunteer Recruiter Gretchen Hanson at GHanson@landolakes.org.
Charbel: I hope this project will help U.S. volunteers get a better understanding about Lebanon beyond what is portrayed in the media. Lebanese people are known for remarkable hospitality. At the same time, I know from working on the last F2F project that F2F volunteers are enhancing the way Lebanese people see Americans. Our hosts in country are so grateful that these volunteers come here to help.