ACDI/VOCA’s connection with Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) goes back to 1985, the days when the latter was just a concept.

In the early 1980s then-Nebraska Congressman Doug Bereuter was actively seeking ways to address the plight of small farmers throughout the developing world. Visits to small family farms in Central America convinced him that American volunteer farmers could effectively deliver much-needed technical assistance to improve all facets of crop and livestock production and and post-harvest handling and processing.

After determining that he could not gain Senate support for his initiative with the Foreign Assistance Act, Congressman Bereuter turned his attention to securing Congressional passage through the next Farm Bill. In the meantime, a representative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had approached the leadership of Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (the VOCA half of what’s today ACDI/VOCA, two nonprofits that merged in 1997) to discuss getting a pilot volunteer program up and running.

Initially, the pilot was designed to cover Central America and the island nations of the Caribbean Basin, through 66 volunteer assignments. In consultations with Congressman Bereuter, VOCA advised that given challenges with host organizational capabilities and the absorptive capacity needed for assignments, the pilot should include South America.

As pilot implementer, VOCA successfully managed the first 30 assignments in the fall and winter of 1985. An evaluation of the pilot conducted in the spring of 1986 provided VOCA with an edge toward winning the first round of permanent funding ($1.75 million) for the Farmer-to-Farmer program on September 30, 1986, as authorized under the Farm Bill signed by President Reagan on December 23, 1985.

USAID instructed VOCA to encourage other U.S.-based nonprofit development organizations to participate in the Farmer-to-Farmer program as sub-grantees in 1986. These organizations included: the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, University of Arizona; International Development Operations/Land O' Lakes; the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas (FAVACA); and World Christian Relief Fund (WCRF).

Since those early days, tens of thousands of Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers have helped realize Congressman Bereuter's vision for addressing the plight of smallholder farmers in the developing world. ACDI/VOCA is honored to have played a pivotal role in the continued growth and success of the Farmer-to-Farmer program.