Mike Sturdivant is a soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a department of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Chatham County, North Carolina. He works with farmers to incorporate best management practices and trains new USDA employees across the U.S.
Mike volunteered on an USAID-funded project to train 40 agriculture extension agents in Myanmar on best management practices, food security, climate change and gender analysis. Climate change, Mike found, is widely acknowledged in Myanmar, where everyone from the children to the elders is aware of the rising temperatures and sea levels and more severe storms. In advance of his trip, Mike worked closely, almost full time for two months, with the Winrock Program Manager to begin to develop a presentation, review reports on previous trainings and learn about farming conditions in Myanmar. His wife Margaret, a nurse, joined him (at their own expense) on the trip and prepared a presentation on nutrition and health. Once on the ground, Mike and two interpreters, one with specialized agricultural knowledge and the other who could speak local dialects, spent two and a half weeks visiting farms, where Margaret took detailed notes and pictures. Mike was struck by how comfortable he felt talking with farmers because their experiences resonated with issues experienced by farmers he’s been advising his whole career. The four-day training Mike led was well received by the Myanmar extension agents, who had a hunger to learn new practices. Mike provided recommendations, using the photos and examples he’d gathered on the farm visits, about laying out farms, animal waste, reforestation, and, perhaps most critical, a metric conversion system and best practices for spraying herbicides and insecticides.
Mike had been extremely busy with work and exhausted before he left for Myanmar, but he now has a different appreciation for work. What Mike learned from the Myanmar farmers, and has passed on to his clients in North Carolina, is to make do as best you can with the resources and equipment you have, rather than always buying the latest technology. At the request of organizations in and around their home community, Mike and Margaret have already shared their experiences with about 200 people.
We found happiness in homes without indoor plumbing! They faced so many barriers, but were so grateful for what they did have. We took conservation coloring books and gave these to the children – the kids had never seen a crayon. [The gifts] brought big smiles to the children. The generosity of the Myanmar people often brought us to tears.
– Mike Sturdivant, volunteer