Special to Civitas Media
June 19, 2014
Peace Corps volunteer Michael Underwood of Pineville is helping cashew farmers in his Ghana community use mobile technology to boost production and improve their business.
Underwood graduated from Kenyon College in 2010 and spent two years in Seattle before deciding it was time to try something different and see new places —a feat he has accomplished by joining the Peace Corps.
Underwood is one of a number of volunteers working on what is known as the Peace Corps Ghana Cashew Initiative. He is also one of more than 1,265 Peace Corps volunteers bringing important food security messages and practices to the grassroots level through the Feed the Future program.
In his community in Ghana, Underwood walks with farmers along the perimeter of their land with a GPS device to calculate its acreage and develop a satellite image of the farm.
“Knowing the acreage is extremely important, as it is how farmers calculate how much pesticide and other chemicals they use,” Underwood said. “Most farmers I’ve worked with either don’t know or guess how many acres they own, which causes over-spraying of harmful chemicals.”
Underwood has also collaborated with a German software company to develop and pilot mobile software that tracks the origin, quality and prices of cashews from various communities — benefiting both the farmers and cashew buyers. With greater transparency across the industry, farmers can charge more for higher-quality cashews, and buyers can have greater confidence in the value of their purchase. Underwood’s work has included programing cell phones and training buyers to use them, as well as providing technical information about the cashew industry and testing the application.
To reduce food waste across the cashew industry, Underwood’s fellow Peace Corps volunteers are encouraging local community members to process the cashew apple from the cashew tree, which was previously discarded. Volunteers have formed women’s groups that are producing juice and jam from the apples and generating extra income for their families.
“By finding ways to use the cashew fruit, volunteers are cutting down on food waste and introducing an easily accessible and nutritious food,” Underwood said. “In addition, the increased income from the sale of the fruit products, the premiums from selling higher-quality cashew nuts, and money saved by working in farmer groups has aided in creating greater food security and allowing more people access to foods with higher nutrient values.”
In May, he was chosen as one of three volunteers worldwide to represent Peace Corps at the first Feed the Future Global Forum in Washington D.C. While in D.C. He gave a 15-minute presentation at Peace Corps Headquarters highlighting my work in Ghana and experiences from the Forum.
“Nearing the end of my service, I feel my experience has been both rewarding and illuminating,” he said. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to live in a culture so different from my own, but what has been perhaps the most enlightening was finding the similarities between our cultures. This has aided me in gaining a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of our diverse world — something for which I will be forever grateful.”