26 Jun International Agriculture Education
Anna Glenn with Hope in the Harvest continues her extension services internationally.
Growing up in Baltimore County, Anna Glenn was involved in her local 4-H club and fair showing dairy goats, rabbits and chickens on her small family farm. It was during this time that her passion for agriculture grew and she knew that this was the industry that she wanted to be involved in. Despite her original thoughts that she’d be a veterinarian, Anna’s time at the University of Maryland opened her horizons to all the aspects of agriculture that are available. She graduated with degrees in Animal Science and Agricultural Sciences & Technology, a passion for agricultural education, and an interest in traveling abroad.
Liberia is a colony of freed United States slaves, established in the 1800’s, that were brought back to West Africa. There is a lot of debate over whether that was a good or bad thing, but those citizens that were moved to Liberia became the ruling class over the indigenous people. Tension was built and, in the 1980’s, a civil war that lasted the better part of two decades broke out. Nearly half a million people died in that war and people that Anna works with closely today still have vivid memories of that war and what it was like.
The war hit the agricultural economy of Liberia hard. While Liberia had been moving up in economic wealth, the civil war shredded a lot of the infrastructure and anything that was growing. Right when they began to get their feet under them, the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016 closed down schools and the economy. And, if struggling to return from civil war and an epidemic wasn’t enough, they are currently facing the many rigors in a magnified way of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Hope in the Harvest
Hope in the Harvest is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to generate Christ centered economic growth. Their mission is to “seek to cultivate Christ’s hope in underdeveloped and impoverished areas of the world through agricultural and personal transformation. Building on borrowed talent, [they] seek to impact attitudes and practices that will promote the economic and social well-being of individuals, from a conviction that a changed life results from a Christ-changed heart.”
Anna and her husband joined as “package-deal” after one year spent with AgriCorps in Liberia. The pair felt that just one year of international work wasn’t enough time to learn enough to be able to leave a lasting impact on the country. Prior to moving to Liberia, Anna had worked as a county extension agent and her husband as an agriculture teacher. Stepping into Hope in the Harvest was similar to their careers in the U.S., just with an international twist.
Liberian International Christian College
As the acting head for the Liberian International Christian College, Anna’s work revolves around helping farmers grow their local foods with minimal inputs. Liberians don’t have access to mainstream fertilizers or resources, instead they work on ways to manage compost piles, prevent soil erosion, and the benefits of crop rotation. There is also a lot of value placed on management of resources, time, and records for calculated and informed decisions on what to plant when for profitability.
Anna doesn’t go out to the farms like many of her colleagues at the college do, she spends her time working at the college where they have 150 students – half of them at a time. Students have to make great sacrifices to attend the university and often have to take off every other semester in order to make money for their family to live on and to pay for school. The students range in age from 20’s to 60’s, mostly due to the impacts of the civil war which disturbed their education. With families and kids depending on them, the level of dedication and seriousness of the students is much higher than what Anna has seen in the states.
Many of the students are studying agriculture to help create further success for their family farms. In the U.S., 1% of people are involved directly in agriculture but, in Liberia, it is 70%. Everyone has a small farm or a garden for their meals and soups to provide for their families and to sell the access.
There aren’t a lot of office jobs in agriculture in Liberia so office work for agriculture is not a feasible expectation for students. The school focuses on business development and how to maximize their profits and production on their farms.
“We try to get them thinking of creative ways and products that they can be selling,” says Anna. “Everything that we do in our classes is hands-on and practical. We plan, we take records, and we look at profitability. Even though they aren’t surfing agribusiness, we want to prepare them for that future.”
Encouraging agribusiness is a bonus to the Glenn’s position with Hope in the Harvest and mentor students branching out into entrepreneurship. This includes value-adding farm products and the only non-imported chicken feed business that works and is affordable for farmers. They also oversee the only chocolate business in the country!
“A lot of our students, because we live in a cocoa valley, have known cocoa their whole life but have never tasted it,” Anna explains. “There’s a lot of imported chocolate in the capitol.”
It all started with education in the college, where they made chocolate in their food processing course and, as one can imagine, students were ecstatic and said, “We have to sell this!”
“They’ve provided a lot of the motivation and push,” says Anna who admits that, “personally, I would have quit a long time ago because the challenges are so much.”
Donors helped make this dream a reality, donating Amazon-grade chocolatier equipment. The students and teachers have faced many obstacles to have their chocolate carried in stores in the capitol. Poor infrastructure from the cocoa fields to the campus, maintaining 24/7 electricity to run the 24 hour bean grinders, as well as corrupt systems to obtain a business registry, and then keeping the final product cool for hours of travel in 90 degree Fahrenheit weather.
Marketing, Outreach & Education
Radio is a huge part of Liberian culture. Without television, service for cell phones, and other modern forms of entertainment and connection, many families rely on the radio for entertainment. Especially now, with the stay-home, stay-safe orders in place due to COVID-19, many families are home for longer periods of time than before with nothing more to do than to listen to then a crank-radio. Many of the students had to return home to assist their families during these times and it is a way for them to stay connected and to continue learning.
Anna orchestrates a radio program show, hosted by her students for the people of LIberia, to provide education about the school, agriculture, and food processing. Constantly staying flexible and on her feet, Anna had to change their original content outline from being centered around coursework to being focused on small, home gardens. Topics have included “How to grind snail shells for your chickens,” “controlling aphids,” and “cabbage nursery insights.”
A further extension of these programs is their Facebook video courses that students can access from their phones. While those in remote areas may not have access to cellular service, it’s a great start and opportunity for those in a 30 minute area of their city of Ghana.
Getting Involved Internationally
“I would really encourage the person [interested in following this path] and let them know that it is going to be challenging and, a lot of time, you’ll question what you got yourself into,” says Anna. “There’s a lot of days where I feel like I’m not making a difference at all.”
Before heading to West Africa, Anna admits that she was a Type A personality who liked her schedules and getting her work done a certain way and admits that Liberia has “broke her” of that habit. Her advice is that when “working with a different culture, you have to be able to adapt and be flexible with whatever comes each day” and to place more importance on relationships and connecting with people over how many things you check off your to-do list.
“I have a four year degree in agriculture but it was pretty broad and I didn’t go into a lot of subjects very deep,” says Anna. Agriculture professionals who are willing to lend their advice to those abroad are really important. Not necessarily someone who is going to travel to them and tell them exactly what to do, but someone who is knowledgeable and can talk you through the issues that you face in soil science, crop production, efficiency, etc.
Purchasing a product or funding a building is a huge investment that is easy to see your donation in the form of a physical product. The funding of salaries for the staff on the research side is very important to the sustainability of these international programs. By paying the salary of these jobs, it allows individuals the ability to continue the work when the American staff leaves. Invest not just in the infrastructure, but in the people abroad so they can have a job and something to be proud to take home to their families.
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