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UF-IFAS Extension Faculty Member Elected President of GFRAS Board

Dr. Norma Samuel is an Extension Agent IV, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ and Urban Horticulture Agent in Sumter County. In October 2019, she was elected President of the Board of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) following the 10th annual GFRAS meeting held in Negril, Jamaica.

About Dr. Samuel

Dr. Samuel hails from the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. She received an associate degree in General Agriculture from the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry in Trinidad (1990). Dr. Samuel went on to obtain her bachelor’s (1997) and master’s (1999) degrees in Plant Protection and Pest Management from the University of Georgia. She holds a PhD in Agricultural Education and Communication with an emphasis on International Extension and a minor in Nonprofit Organizations from the University of Florida (2014).

Before migrating to the U.S., Dr. Samuel worked with the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Agriculture on a research station and with the Plant Protection and Quarantine Unit. She has over 17 years of experience as an Extension agent. Dr. Samuel has worked on residential and commercial horticulture, Master Gardener as the Coordinator, and 4-H youth development. Further, she has expertise in the areas of pest management, volunteer development, risk management, human and organizational capacity building, and the US and the Caribbean extension systems.

Getting involved in GFRAS

Though relocated to the U.S., Dr. Samuel remains engaged in Caribbean agriculture. In addition to being the GFRAS Board President, she is an organizing member and the current Chair of the Caribbean Agricultural Extension Providers’ Network (CAEPNet). CAEPNet; the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF); and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) hosted the GFRAS 10th annual meeting.

About GFRAS

GFRAS conducts activities through working groups, consisting of primarily extensionists and related professionals from regional and sub-regional networks and national-level platforms. The working groups are organized based on identified needs. Within that framework, the GFRAS Board helps set direction for the coming years and develop a viable business model. The President and vice-president are instrumental in leading the process with the other board members.

 “GFRAS’ vision is for rural advisory services to effectively contribute to agricultural innovation systems for sustainable development. The mission is to provide advocacy and leadership on pluralistic and demand-driven rural advisory services for sustainable development. The GFRAS structure reaches smallholder farmers via 18 regional rural advisory services networks, which are made up of national-level platforms.”

Dr. Samuel’s vision of leadership

When asked to address her colleagues and make a pitch for their votes, Dr. Samuel talked about her educational background, professional experience, areas of expertise, and her strengths. Her strengths are:

  • Program development and evaluation. Samuel has expertise in showing the social, economical, and environmental (SEE) impact of her work. Since GFRAS’ work on the ground is through the networks, being able to capture the SEE impacts of network activities is of paramount importance to show global impact.
  • Volunteer development. Volunteers do the bulk of the organization’s work at the network and country level. Yet in the six years of her involvement with GFRAS, there has been no mention of volunteer development and how to capture the value of their contributions to the network and GFRAS. This is critical in-kind contribution to GFRAS activities. She indicated GFRAS needs to have a strong volunteer development strategy.
  • Ability to build effective teams. She highlighted her experience building effective teams to execute projects and delegating and empowering team members. She emphasized that she will use this skill to engage all team members to conduct the work of the board.

It has been Dr. Samuel’s dream to see a North American Extension network (with the US, Canada and possibly Mexico) added to the GFRAS map. Mexico is already part of the Latin American Network. Official talks started this year through the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) and continued at the GFRAS Meeting in Jamaica. Colorado State University will host the North American Extension network (the official name has not yet been decided). As GFRAS Board President, Dr. Samuel is looking forward to providing guidance to this group in her capacity.

Benefit to IFAS

One of the 10 values cherished within UF-IFAS Extension is Global Reach. Dr. Samuel believes there are many benefits to engaging internationally:

  • Increase the visibility of University of Florida as an institution that addresses the needs of stakeholders locally and globally.
  • Economics. As we help to build the capacity of others to deliver extension services, they work to improve the livelihood of the rural poor around the world. As their economies grow, they become potential trading partners for us in the US.
  • Networking and other opportunities. Networking presents opportunities for collaboration on extension and research projects. Other countries have come up with innovative ways to address challenges faced by farmers and communities. Learning what others are doing and bringing back those innovations to use benefits the local community.
  • Improved intercultural communication and delivery of culturally appropriate programs. Extension faculty can be more effective in their delivery of services locally if they have immersed themselves in another culture.

As a frontline Extension agent, her position puts her in touch with the needs of the extension practitioners, a critical stakeholder group for GFRAS to accomplish its vision and mission.

Dr. Samuel expresses her gratitude to UF-IFAS Extension administration, her fellow extension faculty and staff members, her CAEPNet and other GFRAS colleagues for the support and encouragement they have provided her over the years.

The IFAS International Support Team would like to thank Dr. Samuel for her article and global engagement efforts.