Originally published on November 20, 2018.
Mark Mitchell has been with us a year and has been in the ag development industry for over two decades. We sat down with him to discuss his passion for the agriculture industry, trends in livestock development, and the important private sector connections at Land O’Lakes International Development.
What does a Livestock Program Manager do here at Land O’Lakes International Development?
: My focus has been mostly on supporting our dairy and livestock projects to promote economic growth, connect people to markets, and to build up nutrition and resilience in communities.
Land O’Lakes International Development has a multifaceted approach to livestock and dairy, because the industry is so complex. There’s many different intervention points from the farm to the market. We’ve started putting more emphasis on the feed supply and the animal genetics to support more efficient production. We’re also emphasizing the nutrition of animal source foods– eggs, milk, meat –these foods are high in protein, iron and vitamin B12.
In short, my job is to listen and learn about people’s economic and contextual constraints, then work with them to find ways to get the most out of their animals.
How did growing up influence you to pursue a career in agriculture development?
: My father owned a 150-acre dairy farm in Virginia, and then I worked at a corporate 10,000-acre farm which broadened my mind to how production works in both small- and large-scale agriculture.
These experiences growing up prompted me to get an animal science degree at Virginia Tech University. It was during that time I realized there was more to farming than mud up to my ankles. When I started to study animal source foods and their global development applications, I could see the opportunities were limitless in this industry.
So, then it was Peace Corps in Ecuador… what happened after that?
: My wife and I worked with a group of young farmers in a small town south of Moscow to start a cow-calf operation. It was clear in the former Soviet Union, and it’s clear where I work now, that well-connected businesses in the private sector are the most important outputs of projects. If we can support an agribusiness to succeed, it’ll ensure the results last.
What brought you to Land O’Lakes International Development?
: I was and still am excited about our nonprofit’s affiliation with Land O’Lakes, Inc., a U.S. Fortune 200 cooperative, which has diversified agribusinesses in dairy foods, crop inputs, animal nutrition and sustainability. Last month, I had the chance to visit the Purina Animal Nutrition Center outside of St. Louis, as Purina Mills is a subsidiary of Land O’Lakes, Inc.
The intense research there is all done in a farm environment by some of the best animal scientists in this country. When Purina asks tough questions, it gets answers that are usable by the farmer. I’m looking forward to collaborating with them in the future to create customize solutions for our international development projects.
What have been some memorable moments for you in this role?
: Recently, in Nairobi, myself and our new business team met with private sector partners. Discussions varied from livestock vaccine challenges across Africa, to climate and economic problems with corn and sorghum. Development isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, we must work to figure out what the context is and where we can intervene for the most impact.
We also discussed how trade of sunflower seedcake has developed in northern Uganda to supply our affiliate Land O’Lakes, Inc.’s joint venture, Bidco Land O’Lakes, in Kenya. Our connection points to private sector are endless here.
What does success look like in this industry?
: We like looking at impressive project indicators – like the number of businesses started and gallons of milk produced – but at the end of the day it comes back to the people.
It means everything when a farmer you’ve trained stops to say: “Thank you, Mark, because I’ve been better able to manage my farm’s inventory, I had money left over to send my youngest daughter to school for the first time.”