written by Duane Voy, St Paul Regional Office Director, USDA Risk Management Agency
Visiting different places is a great way to expand thinking beyond the silos we normally work in. It can spur new ideas but also show how much people have in common, such as a need for food and food security. USDA provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management. USDA also has a vision to provide economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and to preserve our Nation’s natural resources through conservation, restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.
May 11-25, 2019, St Paul Regional Office Director Duane Voy, had the opportunity through the U.S. State Department Professional Fellows Program (PFP) to travel to Azerbaijan to listen, learn, and interact with farmers, processors, educators, government officials, insurance companies, and banks to discuss agriculture development.
Azerbaijan’s agricultural producers do not have adequate capital to invest in newer technologies to make their farming operations more efficient and productive. Bankers and lending institutions are cautious about lending large sums of money to agricultural producers because of the frequency and severity of losses due to uncontrollable events such as weather.
One initiative is to bring technology to farmers through a display Expo called Caspian Agro. U.S. Ambassador Lee Litzenberger is pictured with Director Voy at the U.S. Pavilion of Caspian Agro, where seven U.S. agricultural companies were displaying their products and technology. Director Voy also attended the USAID and US Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce MOU signing ceremony at the home of William Gill, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy. Mr. Voy also met with the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Inam Karimov who visited Illinois in April and is planning to visit Oklahoma in September.
Director Voy spoke at the elite Academy of Public Administration and met with the Assistant to the President for Agrarian Policy Issues, Dr. Azer Amiraslanov and Mirza Aliyev, Chairman of the Agency for Agro Credit and Development (AKIA) about agricultural issues, agro credit, crop insurance, agricultural data, and agrarian initiatives of the President.
Near the town of Ismaylli, is a Russian community and farm called Ivanovka. The farm grows grapes, produces wine, grows wheat, forage, and other crops organically. Ivanovka has its own brand label which is recognized as organic and good quality. The farm would like to invest in milking machines but has not been able to access the agricultural credit for many needed upgrades. Banks see agricultural investment as very risky and charge interest rates of 16% or more. Azerbaijan was very interested in the USDA low interest loan programs that help agricultural producers obtain access to affordable low interest loans.
After traveling back to Baku, Director Voy met with the major insurance companies (ASA) and lenders interested in the crop insurance program being established in Azerbaijan, followed by a television interview (ARB) on the purpose of the visit.
The U.S. Embassy, Azerbaijan government, and the Universities all invited Director Voy to return and not wait 5 years to do so. Azerbaijan is a developing country with wonderful people, history, and culture.