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Stephen F. Austin State ag professor helps Angolan farmers cater to new middle class

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Stephen F. Austin State University
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With the threat of Ebola looming over Western Africa, volunteerism is still robust in other parts of the continent. Leon Young is a soil fertility specialist and Regents professor of agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. He was in Angola ahead of the fall semester consulting in the Farmer to Farmer program through the nongovernmental organization CNFA.

“I was working with subsistence farmers who were trying to grow vegetables in the dry season to market to an emerging middle class in Angola,” Young said.

It was Young’s second trip to Africa through CNFA. During the latest three-week consulting trip, he helped farmers improve their yield even though they have little access to the right fertilizer and nothing more than a hoe to work the land.

Scott Clark, director of the Farmer to Farmer program for CNFA, says he keeps a deep database of a wide range of agriculture experts who can mentor and lend a hand. About 300 consultants will be involved in a typical five-year grant cycle, according to Clark.

“In some cases our volunteers may have international experience, but in many cases they do not. We can still make use of their solid skills in agronomy, agribusiness management, banking and finance. We might work with university professors in Africa helping them develop curriculum for agriculture,” Clark said.

CNFA is making a contingency plan if Ebola emerges in Southern Africa, according to Clark. But he finds the threat of Ebola is already having economic consequences where CNFA operates.

“In some ways, you see the fear of Ebola actually having a more of a negative effect than the disease itself in so far as disrupting trade,” Clark said. “Farmers need fertilizer and seed. When borders are blocked that seed and fertilizer may not reach them, which sets off economic issues within a country and food scarcity issues.”

Young doesn’t know when he will return to Africa, but he’s ready to serve again if the timing is right.

“They know what I can do. If they have a project that meshes with my skills, they would probably call me up and ask me, can you do this? If I could get away, I’d do it in a New York-minute,” Young said.

The CNFA Farmer to Farmer program will train about 3,000 farmers in the current grant cycle, Clark said. The program is administered through USAID.

Young returns to the SFA classroom – where he’s been for nearly 40 years -- with dozens of slides to show students what farming is like in Africa.