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February 08, 2010

Gary Bullen conducts market research in Malawi

Gary Bullen in Malawi
Gary Bullen, left, of N.C. State University, talks with a farm store manager in Malawi. The farm stores would also buy peanuts to resell as seed peanuts. (Photos courtesy of Gary Bullen)

Gary Bullen, Extension associate in Agricultural and Resource Economics at N.C. State University, recently returned from a volunteer assignment in Malawi where he conducted a market assessment of peanuts. His assignment was part of a project with CNFA, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering people and enterprises in the developing world.

Bullen jokingly claims that residents of rural areas around the world share certain commonalities, “having grown up on a vegetable and livestock farm in a Berea, Kentucky, I’ve always felt comfortable approaching rural people in villages across Africa." In fact, he has gone on volunteer trips to Africa every year for the past ten years so that he now finds himself at ease with the culture, “I know how to word my questions the right way to get the real answers."

Bullen pursued undergraduate studies in agribusiness at Eastern Kentucky University, and earned graduate degrees in agricultural economics and extension education from the University of Tennessee. On his recent trip, he shared his knowledge and practical expertise with CNFA’s local staff in Malawi to help them identify bottlenecks for future volunteer projects in the groundnut sector. They went from interviewing farmers in rural areas to visiting processors and market outlets to meeting with government officials.

Bullen noted that most groundnut farmers were living "just at the edge, some were eating the crops before they mature," an indication of poor food security. He suggested several projects that would increase low yields, such as improving soil fertility and introducing certified seeds and basic disease control practices. While some farmers had heard of these techniques, they complained that they lacked funding to initiate them. Yet, Bullen believes that peanuts are good agricultural crops because they can feed farmers' families and the surplus can be sold in various forms.

Indeed, poverty could be the reason why the farmers Bullen met seemed to expect him to bring them something. “Everyone was gracious, but the question of 'what are you going to give us,' rather than 'what can we learn from you,' has been brought into the culture." He emphasized to CNFA’s staff that the results of his studies should be relayed to the government officials who received him and took time to provide him with vital information.

woman selling in market
A woman sells peanuts, rice and dried beans in open air market in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi.

This desire stems from the sense of commitment that Bullen developed by completing of this project. He promised to send processors sample peanut products, such as roasted peanuts. He is currently engaged with a group that seeks to start a project to support Malawi’s peanut industry at N.C. State University.

Gary Bullen traveled to Malawi under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program, which provides voluntary technical assistance to farmers, farm groups and agribusinesses in developing and transitional countries to promote sustainable improvements in food processing, production and marketing.

Founded in 1985, CNFA is dedicated to strengthening agricultural markets and empowering entrepreneurs in the developing world. CNFA is now recruiting for many similar volunteer assignments. Visit www.cnfa.org/farmertofarmer for a list of available opportunities and to learn how you can become a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer.

Posted by Natalie at February 8, 2010 03:25 PM