The small town of Aravan, tucked into Kyrgyzstan's remote Fergana Valley, rarely sees visitors. Its 27,000 residents face bleak economic opportunities and high rates of poverty.

With local partners in the region, ACDI/VOCA implemented the USAID-funded Women’s Leadership in Small and Medium Enterprises (WLSME) project, which supported female entrepreneurship to drive economic growth. Entrepreneur Cholpan Amatova participated in WLSME and its business plan competition. She started a business that produces talkan, a local cornflake substitute made of wheat and corn, in 2013.

Though her business is new, Cholpan believes that her product could capitalize on the increasing local demand for “porridge for breakfast.” She produces two products: one marketed to adults and the other for children; however, she wants to refine both products to improve shelf life and flavor.

Due to Kyrgyzstan’s recent decision to join the Eurasian Customs Union, small agroprocessing enterprises seek training in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HAACP), an important international standard. With ambitious goals for her business, Cholpan recognized the importance of implementing a HACCP plan to increase productivity and market value.

Cholpan was eager to receive volunteer technical assistance offered through Farmer-to-Farmer. Citizen diplomacy, connecting U.S. volunteers to people around the world, is an important aspect of F2F. Volunteer Cliff Wener—a 25-year veteran of the food-service and food-processing industries—made the trip to Aravan.

When Cholpan learned that the U.S. volunteer coming to assist her was a professor, she assumed that he would show up sporting a wool tweed jacket with elbow patches, wearing glasses, and carrying a briefcase like the American professors she had seen in movies. When she met Cliff, she was surprised by how down-to-earth he was. Cliff was friendly and talked openly with her and the women who work with her. He joked with them, ate with them, cleaned up after a meal, went on a trip with her family to the mountains, and played with her children.

During a follow-up conversation with F2F field staff, Cholpan expressed her appreciation for Cliff’s technical assistance, which has resulted in the creation of some new products. By his assignment’s end, Cliff had supported Cholpan in developing a HAACP plan, a recipe for a new product, and marketing and advertising information.