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Sunday, 22 August 2010 14:26

Agribusiness Leaders Network With Counterparts in U.S.

By Charles W. Corey

WASHINGTON, August 22, 2010 (AmericaDotGov) - Nine African agribusiness leaders included the AGOA Forum in their schedule as they traveled across the United States on a tour of U.S. agricultural sites and equipment manufacturers.

 

The group is looking for ways to improve agricultural irrigation, productivity and storage, as well as add value to agricultural commodities, by using state-of-the-art equipment, technologies and other inputs.

 

Their stop in Kansas City for the AGOA Forum -- also known as the U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum -- enabled them to network with U.S. private sector companies. Their tour also took them to Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and North Dakota as part of a reverse trade mission to the United States sponsored by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

 

Four members of the delegation talked with America.gov August 5 at the forum after touring farms in Idaho. While at AGOA, the delegation also met with U.S. government agency representatives to learn about U.S. government-sponsored financing programs for agribusiness development.

 

Anthony Poorter of Emvest, South Africa, said his company, which does agricultural management, currently operates in Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa and Botswana. "We believe there is a shortage of good agricultural land in the world and that Africa is the last untapped resource of good land. We believe that the cost of land globally is going to increase," he said.

 

"Southern Africa has very close geographic conditions to South America, and consequently we can replicate the South American large grain-producing plains in southern Africa."

Of his experience at the AGOA Forum and in Idaho, Poorter said the trade mission was a "fantastically positive initiative. From my perspective, I have met a number of people that will develop into relationships not only in the U.S. but in Africa. ... Our challenge out there in Africa is that we are to a large extent not directly exposed to the ultra-modern techniques that are deployed in the U.S. -- but it is something that we are striving to do. We in our organization are consciously always looking at new technologies, and this has been a very good platform to try to address that."

 

Poorter said he wants to establish markets for macadamia nuts and chilies, and wants to explore growing and exporting garlic. "Where the synergies come in, we are on opposite sides of the equator and hence can explore the seasonal differential." What is also important to his company, he said, is establishing infrastructure in Africa. "Projects that we identify become unviable if the infrastructure is not there." To illustrate his point, he said his company has 4,000 hectares of land in Africa on which it wants to grow bananas for export, but a dam would have to be built to make the project viable.

 

Another member of the delegation, Wilma E. Aguele of Wilbahi Investments Ltd. in Nigeria, said her company produces cashews, pineapples, palm oil, maize and cassava and also does property development. She said a highlight of her visit has been visiting the fields to see planting and harvesting and seeing the importance of value-addition. She called value-addition "extremely important in Nigeria because ... only 2 percent of all crops harvested and shipped out of Nigeria are value-added."

 

"Because of that [the lack of value-addition]," she explained, "the farmers do not have a living wage. They do not have an income. So we have been exposed to the fact that we can do vertical integration from primary production, value-addition, even the logistics of moving the commodities."

 

With regard to pineapples, Aguele said her company wants to extract the juice and then sell concentrate in bulk to companies that are making juice packs. Additionally, she said, she was in Idaho with the rest of the delegation, prior to attending AGOA, to learn about potatoes. Her company, she said, is soon will be growing 1,000 hectares of Idaho potatoes in Nigeria and wants to earn value-added income by turning those raw potatoes into potato chips, flakes or powder form for retail sale.

 

It is very important, she said, that farmers have proper warehouse space to store their products and protect those crops from spoilage. Aguele said her company is currently farming 800 hectares of oil palm and 100 hectares of cashews. Ultimately, the company has access to 14,000 hectares, she added.

 

INTRA-AFRICA TRADE

Wainaina Kung'u of Export Trading Company Ltd. in Kenya said that while it is important to learn about trading with the United States, intra-African trade is important as well. "There is so much that we can do between us, but we have not done it. So I have found it very beneficial, meeting the other delegates in this mission." Second, he said, it can be "extremely exhilarating" to contemplate agriculture's potential in Africa because it provides a goal to work toward.

 

"We spent three exciting days in Idaho. We watched potatoes grow ... visited dealerships in irrigation equipment. In that process, when you look at the kind of support that the manufacturers in the United States give to their customers, it is exemplary," Kung'u said.

 

"When you have got that kind of support, he added, you have no choice but to be successful. What would be your excuse? If you are going to fail and you have that kind of support, you have no business being in agriculture."

 

Kung'u said his company trades in dry commodities and buys from small-scale farmers who often sell two bags of maize each and who join together in collectives to sell en masse. Kung'u said those crops then need to be graded, cleaned and warehoused -- so he is interested in looking in those areas for partners. Africa is a net importer of food, he said, so "it is going to be a long while" before Africa can hope to export maize to the United States.

 

Nasir Giwa, chairman of Giwa Farms Ltd. of Nigeria, called the trade mission and trip to the AGOA Forum an "eye-opener. We have been farming, but I have just realized that we have not really been participants in agricultural science. The trip so far has actually opened my eyes to the difference between farming in Nigeria and agriculture in the United States."

 

Giwa said that with what he has seen in the United States so far, with the right equipment, "we can actually do a lot" to improve agricultural yields in Africa. "A lot of people in my country go into farming and within a short period of time they abandon it because" of poor yields. American farmers are using precision planters, he said, while in Nigeria the planters often destroy the seeds before they are planted or discharge the wrong quantity.

 

"We have also seen combine-harvesters in action" that have been quite successful, he added.

 

Currently, there are 150 million people in Nigeria and that is expected to double in the next 30 years, "so you can imagine that agriculture in our country is very critical if we are going to be able to feed this large population," he said.

 

Giwa said his company is farming vegetables, rice, plantains, bananas and cassava. His favorite part of the trade mission has been the visit to the AGOA Forum.

 

"This meeting has given me the assurance that we can do it. We have seen a lot of technology and a lot of things being put into use, but we need collaboration with experienced companies and that is what this meeting has provided. I can tell you I have met with a good number of companies here and ... we already have a timeline on how we are going to follow up our discussions," especially on farm equipment purchases.

 

Giwa said his company now is farming only 2,500 of its 27,000 acres (10,927 hectares) of farmland, so, as he said, "we have great potential" to be a large-scale farming and food production company in West Africa, which is hungry for all the food they can produce.

 

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