August 21, 2019 Community news from the prairie to the lakes  
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  West Central Area FFA students tour South Africa ag facilities
  Shane Wrolson, Bret Duncan, Austin Mattson, Ireland Winter, Brooke Anderson, Emma Swenson, Emma Saulsbury, and Shelby Krusemark at the Cape of Good Hope.

Eight West Central Area FFA students and two adults flew to South Africa, the last two weeks of July to immerse themselves in the country’s culture, history, and learn about their agricultural practices. The group traveled with eight FFA students from Dassel-Cokato.

Each WCA student raised money for over a year to make the trip, and were supplemented with donations from around 20 local organizations. It cost each student $5,000.

WCA FFA coordinator Eric Sawatske coordinated the trip, as he has three times before. Sawatske himself did not go this time, as he has twice before, because he and his wife Erica had their first baby a couple of weeks ago. Others on the trip included students Bret Duncan, Shane Wrolson, Austin Mattson, Brooke Anderson, Emma Swenson, Emma Saulsbury, Shelby Krusemark, and Ireland Winter. Adults were FFA instructor Ben Johnson and Rich Duncan.

The trip was organized by Abbysinnia Mushunje, an Ag Economics Professor who teaches at Fort Hare University in Alice, South Africa.

“Once the students got to South Africa, their expenses were pretty much paid for by our hosts,” said Sawatske. “The South Africans are very happy to see American students who are interested in agriculture, because that country is really putting an emphasis on developing into a major agriculture producer.”

The nation’s farmers grow corn, soybeans, and wheat, and are the world’s second largest producer of wool. While there are huge 10,000 to 20,000 acre farms in the east, the WCA students visited the central region of South Africa, which features smaller farms and poorer people. One of the reasons they are trying to develop agriculture is to help the very high unemployment rate there. While farms have modern equipment, they hire as many people as they can to plant, maintain, and harvest their crops.

For instance, while modern dairy operations exist, the most common cattle are free range Nguni cattle, a breed specific to South Africa. These cattle are used for both dairy and meat production.

The West Central Area students, many used to modern dairy operations, were impressed with the rotating milking parlors they saw, but surprised at the lack of cooling and handling practices, meaning the milk had bacteria counts that were unacceptable in the United States.

The students were also surprised to find that almost every meal consisted of at least three meats: often beef, chicken, and pork. Also there are a lot of carbs in their meals, little in vegetables but lots of fruit. In fact, South Africa raises a lot of citrus and also pineapple.

There were also McDonalds all over the place!

The nation’s agricultural educators are trying to increase vegetable production by using a two step program, where vegetables are started in greenhouses run by women’s co-ops, then sold to farmer co-ops for transplanting. They do this for everything from carrots and onions, to spinach and broccoli. The vegetables are often dehydrated and sold in packaged meals to the poor for about ten cents.

The WCA students were also surprised at the weather of South Africa. Being on the southern-most tip of Africa with coasts on the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, the temperatures ranged from in the 20s to the 70s. The Cape of Good Hope, on the southern coast, is home to colonies of penguins!

They took a memorable trip to the Phandulwazi Agricultural School in the city of Alice. This boarding school owns a 600 acre farm that is run by its students. The Minnesota students were treated to a musical program with dancing. Since the entire country is undergoing a terrible drought, water had to be brought in for the occasion, but it was found to be tainted, which didn’t really make any difference because the Americans drank bottled water everywhere they went.

The student recalled a two and one-half hour Christian church service they went to, which was about 90 percent singing and dancing.

“It was very expressive,” said Shelby Krusemark, WCA junior.

The FFAers also visited a big cat rehabilitation center, where they saw lions, cheetah and other big cats that had been found and brought in. While these animals could not be returned to the wild, they became almost tame and tolerated humans coming close to them

They visited Addo Elephant Park, one of 20 National Parks that is a big tourist attraction.

They also visited the island prison where national hero Nelson Mandala was held for 18 years, a shantytown where entire families lived in metal shacks that are crowded together, and an orphanage where they played soccer with the kids staying there.

While South Africa is a modern country with the second highest standard of living in Africa, unemployment is very high and the average income from those who have a job is between $5,000 and $7,000 per year.

The students stayed in the city of Alice most of the time, but also stayed at nearby Hogsback in the Amathole Mountains, a pretty tourist village, but the students were most impressed with the seaside city of Port Elizabeth, which reminded many of Duluth.

While there are 11 languages spoken in South Africa, most speak Afrikaan, a language derived from the Dutch, who colonized the county, and Xhosa, the official South African language. Most also speak English and language was not a barrier to understanding each other. The Minnesotans were very impressed at how happy and smiling everyone they met was, and how well they were treated. The South African are proud of their country and proud that the Americans chose to visit them.

“We were like celebrities,” said Emma Saulsbury. “It was an eye-opening trip. Not what you would think when you think of Africa”.

Most of the WCA students said they would love to return to South Africa someday, one student, who asked many knowledgeable questions about the dairy operation they visited, was even offered a job.

West Central Area FFA program hopes to return to South Africa in two years. Meanwhile, catch their Power Point presentation at a meeting near you this fall.

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August 20, 2019