College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

John Casazza Returns from a Volunteer Assignment in the Republic of Georgia

May 26, 2010

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John Casazza, an agribusiness management consultant from San Francisco, CA as well as the Alumni Association Board President at the College of Natural Resources, recently returned from a volunteer assignment in the Republic of Georgia where he advised a farm on how to improve their asparagus growing techniques. Casazza’s trip was part of a project with CNFA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people and enterprises in the developing world. Casazza, who owns and manages his own agribusiness consulting company, contributed his expertise in agribusiness management and sustainable agriculture to his host’s farm in the Village of Koda. His host, the owner of the large, multi-crop farm, was eager to begin growing asparagus to increase his profits. Even though Casazza found that the soil and climactic conditions in Georgia make it difficult to grow asparagus, he discovered that the native wild varieties that his host was using were adapted to these conditions.

Upon arriving at the farm, Casazza was surprised to find that the available equipment was of a lower standard than he had expected. However, both volunteer and host were eager to achieve their objectives. In fact, the host had even done his own research and proposed a few ideas that he needed Casazza’s help to realize. Casazza recalls that throughout his former experiences in developing countries, he has found himself in similar situations where resources are scarce or unavailable; he proposes that “you just have to be creative, fortunately my host in Georgia was like that too.” Casazza made suggestions that would not require sophisticated equipment and his host eagerly adapted his techniques, a sign of a “good farmer” according to the volunteer. Casazza describes himself as “adaptable to local cultures”, as a result of having lived and worked with farming communities in many different countries. He finds that he can “relate to rural farm life and how it works, especially how rural farmers think.” For instance, a former assignment in Tanzania where farmers are mostly engaged in low-level subsistence agriculture opened Casazza’s eyes to the situation of agriculture in developing countries. He realized that where people lack resources, “they become very resourceful and bank on the experiences and teachings
of past generations.”

In Georgia, Casazza stayed in the capital, Tiblisi, which he describes as a “picturesque” city. Hewas received warmly by his hosts who took great care to introduce him to Georgia’s delicacies and to show him some of its historic sites. He noticed that the Georgian people are “very proud” of their country and its rich culture.

Casazza chooses to travel on volunteer consultancy assignments because he derives satisfaction from the reception he receives from farmers in developing countries, “I like to go to new places in the world and meet farmers because they are always very respective and helpful.” Additionally, he finds that he oftentimes learns from his assignments too through sharing ideas with his hosts, because “the way we have learned to do things in the US is not necessarily the right way; it has to be tested in different circumstances.”

John Casazza travelled to Georgia 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. Please visit www.cnfa.org/farmertofarmer for a list of available opportunities and to find out how you can become a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer.

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