Kat Riddler, Managing Editor

In a world where 80 percent of food is produced by farmers working on small farms or fisheries, the movement to share proven farming and business skills can improve the quality and quantity of the world’s food supply. For communities in the developing world who often struggle to produce enough food, this can improve access to a reliable source of food and better nutrition.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has a program called Farmer-to-Farmer that promotes economic growth, enhanced nutrition through access to healthy food, and agricultural development in East Africa. Volunteers travel to East Africa anywhere from one to six weeks.

Doctor Maurice Dawson, assistant professor of information systems at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, traveled to Ethiopia for about two weeks to share his technical skills and expertise to farmers. Most of his time was spent in Addis Ababa working with Buusaa Gonofaa MFI.

“It is essential that agriculture microfinancing organizations consider how the databases are developed and the methods in which they use to secure personal information. As one of the major microfinancing institutions, it is key that personal identifiable information is key confidential and that there is the integrity of the data that is transmitted from one branch to the next,” said Dawson.

Farmer-to-Farmer matches the technical expertise of U.S. farmers and professionals in agri-businesses, farming cooperatives, and universities with farmers in developing countries to assist them in improving agricultural productivity, accessing new markets, and increasing their incomes. Farmer-to-Farmer is funded by the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID).

Dawson’s assignment was to develop an architectural design to include providing viable options for the database. He was also to provide information regarding what cryptographic mechanisms should be used to ensure confidentiality and how integrity is maintained. He worked directly with the IT manager to create a five-year strategic plan.

This is the third volunteer assignment for Dawson with Farmer-to-Farmer. The program has been running for nearly 30 years and has had nearly 500 assignments that focus on improving approaches to local agriculture practices, expanding production of quality food crops and nutrition. The assignments have been in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

CRS is partnering with five U.S. institutions of the U.S. agriculture community: the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Foods Resource Bank, National Association of Agricultural Educators, American Agri-Women, and the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

“We are certain that this program will be beneficial not just to the farmers in East Africa but also to the volunteers from America,” said Bruce White, CRS’ director for the program. “It’s going to make the world a little bit smaller and a whole lot better for everyone involved.”