Monthly Archives:: March 2015

CNFA Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer Returns from Mozambique

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AGRIPEL represents 32 smallholder farmers near the town of Nhamatanda, Mozambique, focusing on helping its members produce and market vegetables.  In an effort to improve its services, AGRIPEL turned to USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program which relies on the expertise of American volunteers to provide short-term voluntary technical assistance.  As the partner for managing the program in Mozambique, CNFA responded to AGRIPEL’s request by sending Dr. Loren Parks, an agricultural economist who has worked in the field of agricultural economics since the mid-1970s.

After an initial assessment of the association, Dr. Parks started to encourage association members to reflect on their current cropping practices.  Because its members lack irrigation, the selection of planting and harvesting times is critical to optimal product availability during the peak market for vegetables.  Through subsequent training sessions, Dr. Parks taught tools for better financial record keeping, illustrating how the group could make more informed decisions about their cropping calendar and about market cycles moving forward.

CNFA will build off the momentum of Dr. Parks’ assignment by sending additional volunteers to continue strengthening the association’s capacity.  Harnessing the expertise of American volunteers has positively impacted more than one million farmer families since the program’s inception in 1985.

Learn more about the experiences of our volunteers and the F2F’s impact on YouTube.

Our program welcomes new enthusiastic volunteers.  If you are or know experienced farmers and agricultural professionals interested in serving in an assignment, keep a look out on our page for interesting assignments. (

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Reflections on Cuba

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Opinion by CNFA Board Member Mike Espy (originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger)

Mike_Espy_CNFAIn 1974, as a college student majoring in political science, I received a special student visa that allowed me to study for a month in Havana, Cuba.

Last week, some 40 years later, I returned to the island to find a different, dynamic Cuba transformed in many ways in spite of the 1950s automobiles that travel its roads.

This time I arrived in Havana as a member of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba — the first American group to visit Cuba since President Obama’s declaration that the United States and Cuba would seek to end the trade embargo, in place since 1960.

The members of our 90-member delegation included agricultural professionals, economists, producers; commodity merchants, trade and marketing representatives, and officials from land grant colleges and Midwestern states.

We met with Cuban officials and fanned across the countryside to listen and learn, explore opportunities for U.S. agriculture and mutual trade, and gather information to use in our organization’s effort to persuade Congress to lift the embargo.

What I saw during our travels was a new, resilient Cuba — one with an informed leadership that realizes the importance of pursuing fundamental structural changes to accommodate its future position within the world’s economy.

What I saw was a Cuba which has survived embargoes, economic downturns and the loss of its primary economic patrons — and now casts its eyes towards a more prosperous future through mutual trade and normal relations with the United States.

And unlike 1974, today’s Cuba now encourages private ownership of land in fee simple; and the private ownership of homes and apartments is commonplace. All of these changes help signal that the time has finally come for normalized trade with the United States.

While Cuba currently trades with 155 other countries, its central planning agencies today realize that — as a country that grows no domestic wheat and imports 300,000 tons of rice annually from Vietnam — it is far better to buy wheat and rice from Mississippi, Louisiana or Arkansas, than to have it shipped from 4,000 miles away.

Simply put, normalization of trade with the United States—and agricultural trade, in particular—will return Cuba to a partnership with the world’s most technological advanced and efficient producer of food and feed commodities.

The United States, which annually produces two-thirds more crop harvests than our domestic markets could ever consume, is obliged to discover new export markets on a consistent basis. And there is no longer a reason to ignore an important market of 11 million educated people a mere 90 miles off our mainland.

From what I saw during our brief four-day tour, Cuba has sufficient water and plenty of farm workers, but needs new tractors, farm implements, storage facilities, and access to training and digital-based technology.

With access to grants, credits, and financing through sponsorship programs offered through U.S. nonprofit groups and other entities, the reciprocal benefits of agricultural trade would be remarkable.

Cuba is changing fast, and the diplomatic, cultural and trade barriers of the last 50 years are coming down. And that’s good news for both our countries.

And with Havana only a 45-minute plane ride from Miami, I predict that in the not too distant future, Mississippians will travel there for spring break just as often as they drive to Destin.

Mike Espy served as agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton and is a former 2nd District congressman. He currently works as a private sector attorney, counselor and agricultural adviser, and is a board member of CNFA: Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture.

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International Women’s Day

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In honor of International Women’s Day, we are highlighting some of the incredible women that we work with across the world.

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Thaw in Cuba Relations a Farming Opportunity

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Opinion by CNFA Board Member John Block (appeared originally in PoliticoPro)

President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States plans to establish diplomatic relations and expand trade and travel with Cuba is a positive step for both nations.

By ending more than a half century of trade restrictions, the move will provide America with new market opportunities less than 100 miles offshore. But just as importantly, normal relations will be an important first step toward a better life for the Cuban people.

And the timing could not be better. Cuban citizens have welcomed the news, and they indicate a clear eagerness to participate in a new economic era.

In some respects, they are well equipped for this new challenge, possessing an enterprising nature sharpened by decades of making do with the resources at hand. The 1950s-era automobiles that famously cruise the streets of Havana 60 or more years after their manufacture provide clear evidence of the personal resourcefulness and tenacity of the Cuban people.

But further afield, out in the countryside, such ingenuity has its limits when it comes to agricultural productivity. While a renewed relationship between the United States and Cuba enlivens the imagination on a wide range of fronts, perhaps none is as exciting as the opportunity to work with a new generation of Cuban farmers to invigorate their nation’s agricultural sector and improve rural livelihoods.

Agriculture, in fact, plays an outsize role on the island. About one-third of the land in Cuba is arable — and 20 percent of the labor force is employed in agriculture — a rate 10 times that of the United States. As such, the Cuban agricultural sector is an outstanding place for bringing Cuba further into the world economic community, and for driving improvements that will generate real benefits for its citizens in terms of nutrition, income and a more stable and prosperous nation.

Partnerships and relationships will be key to creating the sustainable agricultural solutions that will be critical to long-term growth on the island. Fortunately, there are a number of U.S. organizations and firms that can cultivate and encourage these partnerships by establishing the connections between governments, farmers and businesses that will open the flow of the technology and expertise necessary to improve Cuban agricultural production.

Integrating the connections, these U.S. entities can create a collaborative environment in which farmers, smallholders, cooperatives and other enterprises can obtain the technical assistance, financing, management guidance, equipment and input supplies they need to boost production and income, increase operating efficiency and develop new markets.

And the benefit is far from one-sided. By helping to expand the potential of Cuban agriculture through public-private partnerships, these organizations also will be helping to develop a vibrant commercial environment between Cuba and the U.S.

During the time I had the honor to serve as our nation’s secretary of agriculture under President Ronald Reagan — and in my work in the years since— as a former farmer, I have been firm in my belief that establishing agricultural ties with other countries provides one of the best avenues for reaching out to the people of other nations to prove our friendship, and to further our mutual economic cooperation.

Now that time has come for the United States and Cuba to establish these ties, governments, farmers, and U.S. firms and organizations should seize the opportunity to work together for the good of both nations.

John Block served as secretary of the Agriculture Department from 1977 to 1981 under President Ronald Reagan. He currently serves as senior policy advisor at Olsson Frank Weeda and is a board member of Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture.

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