Stereotypically Peace Corps?
For anyone who knows what Peace Corps is, and has seen advertisements or stories about Peace Corps work, it’s generally assumed that Peace Corps Volunteers go to tiny podunk villages in an African country, working with barefoot little brown children who spend all day playing soccer. If that’s not the case, then said PCV is probably in a tiny podunk village in an African country working with farmers or the community to build a well or a latrine or somesuch project. Peace Corps advertises this way and it seems to be fairly effective. I, however, put my work in at a bank in Azerbaijan. Not exactly what the majority thinks of when they think of Peace Corps service.
So, with that in mind, I feel like I finally got to do something that was a stereotypically Peace Corps activity! While there weren’t any brown children involved, I did get a chance to go out on a short tour of farms and milk collection centers around Lənkəran. I’ve started helping out a local organization, the Azerbaijan Agribusiness Center (AAC), with a project they’ve been working on with USAID. It turns out that Azerbaijan has a burgeoning dairy and meat production sector. Demand for dairy products is fairly high, and consumption of beef is going up. That means more farmers want to get in on the cattle production. It also means that these farmers need to know how to care for cows and fresh milk.
The story of this project is essentially that people here don’t know how to do those things. Digging through the history, it turns out that the Soviets decided that, despite Azerbaijan’s history of being semi-nomadic shepherds, people in these parts were going to grow cotton and grapes, focusing on clothes and wine production. Turns out that the cotton just got sent away to another country for production; and with those grapes, anyone who has tasted Azeri wine knows that the Soviet plan for developing the wine industry didn’t work out too well.
Instead, now farmers don’t have the technical skills or even basic understanding needed to properly care for cattle and the milk they produce. The AAC has taken up the challenge of educating and training farmers, training milk collectors and workers at the milk collection centers, and, overall, developing all the linkages in the dairy sector in southern Azerbaijan. Mobil, the director of the AAC, has already developed all of these materials and trainings, delivered them to farmers and collectors, and the results are already in: milk collectors have monitored production that has more than doubled in less than one year. Going from a few tons of milk per day to 7-10 tons and reaching out to over 5000 farmers is a result that nobody can complain about.
So with all of this done already, what am I doing? I can’t really provide the technical farming expertise; that time has passed. Instead, it’s time to write the story of how Mobil and the AAC, along with the local dairy product company, PalSud, have transformed the dairy sector in southern Azerbaijan into a top-class operation, smoothly ramping up milk production and milk quality, and allowing PalSud to get enough milk to start their newest venture, PalDad. After touring the farms and collection centers last weekend, I’m going to be submitting my draft to the AAC and USAID as soon as next week.