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Emeritus professor helps farmers in Malawi

Hugh Price may be an emeritus professor, but that doesn't mean he is no longer sharing his expertise to make the world a little bit better. Price, Cornell professor emeritus of horticultural sciences at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, just returned from a three-week assignment in Malawi as part of the Farmer-to-Farmer Program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In Malawi he assessed the horticulture industry as part of a project with CNFA (originally named the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs), a nonprofit focused on empowering people and enterprises in the developing world.

Despite its lush climate and rich soils, Price found that farmers in Malawi face many challenges in producing and marketing crops, including inadequate irrigation equipment, storage facilities and transportation options. The African nation also needs improved varieties of crops.

Price met with various parts of Malawi's horticulture industry, ranging from smallholder farmers who formed the Kobi Horticulture Association to improve their marketing efforts to corporate exporters and processing entrepreneurs, all of whom were very appreciative of his interest, he said.

"Although I was not there to conduct a school or provide specific training, it was just the fact that I made the effort to go there and visit them," he said. "But the thing that struck me the most was their closing comment: 'Please do not forget us.'"

Price's objective was to identify gaps in the production and marketing of horticultural crops, including tree fruit, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals, and to make recommendations on what kind of volunteers the farmers would most benefit from in the near future.

"They know there is technology that they're not taking advantage of, varieties of fruit and vegetables that they don't have access to, and basically they're saying, 'Help us,'" Price said. "But you can't just take U.S. production technology and transplant that into a developing country like Malawi. You must be there, observe and use your ingenuity and background and training to make suggestions on how to do it better."

He added that the success of his assignment in Malawi will depend on the follow-up by CNFA to recruit volunteers with the expertise and commitment to address the most pressing limiting factors that he described in his report. "The CNFA hosts in Malawi are dedicated to the mission and are anxious and willing to provide assistance to future volunteers," he said.

The Farmer-to-Farmer Program 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.

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Blaine Friedlander