Helping Others To Help Themselves
Dave Bernheisel
Dave Bernheisel
and his crew piloted a 1980 Mainship 34-I (powerboat, slow, single diesel) named Going There (as opposed to all those folks who have "been there") around the Great American Loop in 2002-2003. To join them on their trip, CLICK HERE.

In The Ukraine


Foreign Aid with a high return at a low price

Last May, shortly after completing my Great American Loop cruise, Don Phillips, Program Coordinator with Citizens Network for Foreign affairs (CNFA), contacted me about an assignment in Ukraine. The project was part of the Farmer-to Farmer program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

My part did not require farm credentials; I was to help Dovira, a dairy cooperative in the beginning stages of start-up, establish an administrative framework. I have had a fair amount of administrative experience including an assignment with CNFA in Ukraine in 1994. How could I say no?

Dovira, located near Gadich 170 miles east of Kyiv, is trying to attract small dairy producers (most have 1-5 cows) as members. The initial intent is to give the member/producers more power in selling their milk to the dairy plants. Then, as membership grows and capital becomes available, Dovira intends to offer its members additional services such as the purchase of animal feed.

The first years will be tough as Dovira has limited capital and is up against some entrenched bureaucracies. However, Grygory Shulga, Dovira's founder, started the Nadiya Credit Union with similar obstacles five years ago, and today the credit union is thriving with 1300 happy members. Grygory, at 65, is one of those rare souls who gain strength and enthusiasm with age.

Recognizing the difficulties of starting a new cooperative, Dovira requested volunteer assistance from CNFA. CNFA defined a four-phase project to be staffed by four different volunteers, each in-country for three weeks, on a sequential basis as follows:

Organizational and Budget Development
Business Planning
Milk Collection and Marketing
Milk Production.

I came first with such tasks as developing bylaws, goals & objectives, organization chart, work plan, preliminary budget and job descriptions. Each subsequent phase is to use the work done in the previous phase(s) to refine the cooperative and make it more viable. The project is now in its third phase and is still on track.

Ukraine has some of the best agricultural land in the world with rich, black soil and a climate similar to our own Midwest. (In WWII Ukraine was occupied by the Germans who, among other things, sent many train loads of Ukrainian soil back to Germany.)

Most of the farms are huge (e.g., 25,000 acres). In the pre-Soviet times these were held by the big land owners and later they evolved into the collective farms. Since the Soviet era ended, some small plot (up to fifteen acres) owners are emerging and these are the potential Dovira members.

Even on the big collective farms, individuals farm small private plots for their own use and small-scale marketing. Generally, the large farms give a poor appearance, suffering from a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the workers.

The small plots, on the other hand, despite their inefficiency due to size, look very productive. These people do know how to grow stuff when given incentives. The distribution systems between the producers and consumers are sadly lacking with great injustices in compensation due to limited alternatives for the producers. Dovira is a small step in improving this situation and that is CNFA's rationale for supporting the project.

This was an exciting and rewarding assignment for several reasons.

First, the project has the potential of making a significant impact in the lives of a large number of industrious people that are at the lower end of Ukraine's economic strata and, for me, to have any involvement in that outcome is gratifying.

Second, in an environment where corruption is common among people with power, it was refreshing to work with Grygory Shulga, a scrupulously honest and principled person.

Third, the chance to work with rural Ukrainians and get to know them and their lives gave me a better appreciation of my own life.

Finally, Ukraine is a travel adventure; Kyiv is a beautiful city with 900 years of history and culture. If you can't get there personally, check out Nikolai Syadristy's work at He creates full chess sets on the head of a pin and puts desert sculpture in the eye of a needle, as well as creating a broad array of other fascinating art objects in miniature.

Have I tickled any of LCC's readers fancy? Are there any potential CNFA volunteers out there? CNFA has a variety of projects in Eastern Europe and Africa requiring agribusiness professionals who are U.S. citizens. If you are interested, e-mail Don at, call him at 1-888-872-2632, or send a resume to:

CNFA, Attn: Don Phillips
1111 19th ST NW, Suite 900
Washington, DC 20036

If you have any questions for me, my e-mail address is Bernheisel@Juno.Com.

So, will Dovira survive and grow? With limited capital and a difficult environment, it is not a sure thing. But, with CNFA's support and his determination, I'm betting that Grygory will find one more rabbit in the hat.