As the National Agribusiness Coordinator, I'm frequently invited to facilitate business seminars throughout Panama, and a few weeks ago I was especially excited to facilitate an agribusiness education seminar for recipients of micro-finance grants from MIDA (the Panamanian Ministry of Agriculture.)
Ecstatic to be doing very official-sounding work, my Agribusiness co-coordinator Elena and I made the trip to Santiago, Veraguas to meet with representatives from MIDA and the 30 or so seminar participants.
Each attendee was representing a small farmer's group from his or her rural town that had recently received a business development grant from MIDA, and would be implementing agricultural projects to produce products such as organic meats, eggs, vegetables and/or fruits.
A few years ago, the agribusiness coordinators developed a seminar series that we've continued to improve each year. The series is a complete set of lessons and workbook activities for themes like accounting, marketing, product (line) improvement, personal and group finance, farm inventories and costs of production. Since almost all of the preparation and practice was done ahead of time (Elena and I have both given the charlas throughout Panama during our first year as volunteers), we were free to take things easy and focus on getting to know the producers and what specific business themes we could help them with.
Even though the training was a mandatory stipulation to receiving their grants, I was really impressed with the positive attitudes and participation we received from both men and women. They brought up really great topics like how to manage group finances and pay dividends and how they could overcome logistical issues through marketing and vendor relationships.
Throughout the week, we received tons of positive feedback, and by the end of our seminar many of the attendees were asking how they could get their own Peace Corps volunteers! It was great to see Peace Corps in action in a different setting than usual, and reminded me how excited and proud I am to continue to work with such a great organization!