by A.J. Sabine
Traveling East to Africa
When I was told that I was headed to South Africa to explore agriculture with the LSU AgCenter’s Ag Leadership Class XIV I couldn’t have been more excited! Having traveled to Central America with my mentor Mike Danna nearly four years ago as a member of LSU Ag Leadership Class XVIII, the chance to document the trip as he had for me nearly four years ago rung just a little hollow. Mike LOVED these trips, and he covered them well. Particularly, I recall how we partnered in Nicaragua to produce a tobacco story in the Esteli region. Despite his illness and mounting fatigue, Mike was all over the place. As my classmates and I learned how to roll a cigar, Mike enthusiastically shot video, got interviews, got classmate reactions to what we’d seen. Then on top of all that, he would blog about it after editing photos of that day’s stops.
Now, here I am faced with the same incredible opportunity. As Mike would often say at the beginning of the these trips, “If you’re waiting on me, you’re backing up.” Just as Mike wouldn’t shrink away from a challenge, particularly during his valiant fight with his illness, I think he would be very excited to know that I’m here, in South Africa memorializing this once-in-a-lifetime trip for Class XIV. Additionally, I’d like to think he’d be proud that I was here.
He’d be proud that we had the opportunity to share his last trip in three very interesting countries: Panama, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. That Central American experience helped me to understand the rhythm of the planes, trains and automobiles that would eventually transport me to the mysterious and transformative nation of South Africa.
However, South Africa is no Central America. This beautiful country and this class both have their own story to tell. Part of that story is the class itself. For example, I learned that Class XIV is at least seven years younger than I was when I made my international trip. Moreover, during a lengthy layover at Hartsfield-Atlanta, I learned that this particular class is fond of nicknames. From Tripp, to Jer-Bear and others, I learned that Class XIV doesn’t take itself too seriously. While this class is younger and certainly a lot of fun, all of Louisiana’s respective commodities are represented here in South Africa.
A Humid Day One…
Class member Zachary Hankins from Bastrop revealed that he “didn’t know what to expect” before he traveled to South Africa, as we visited just after a Foreign Ag Service briefing. “It’s a lot nicer than I thought it would be.” I couldn’t agree more. We are in a major city, and there are more than four million people who live in the Pretoria, Johannesburg area.
Let’s face it, if you’ve never been on one of these agricultural tours, you just don’t know what to expect. Zachary explained, “I’m grateful for what we have at home.” Zachary works for ConAgra Foods as a liaison between sweet potato growers and the ConAgra processing facility located in Delhi. After another briefing on the current agricultural situation of South Africa, Zachary told me why he decided to join this class of ag leaders. “I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and get a holistic view of agriculture. It’s been a very interesting journey,” he explained.
Indeed, it is. That’s what this trip is really all about in my opinion. Foreign Ag Services South Africa liaison Justina Torry painted a vivid picture of the countries ag statistics to an attentive class. She explained that South Africa has export markets in an 11 country region. Curiously, South Africa imports much of it’s rice. Torry noted also, that South Africa agriculture is highly diversified with interests in sugar, citrus, wine and vegetable exports. Through this backdrop, you learn how all agriculture is connected in the modern world market. You understand the implications of white corn versus yellow corn exports. Still, as you listen to the presenters you continue your journey through agriculture. Each one of us discovers something about South Africa that we didn’t expect. Moreover, you begin to understand how what you have come to learn takes you someplace you didn’t expect. Perhaps you transport your knowledge from a place of ignorance to a destination of greater understanding of agriculture. It’s that craving for understanding that makes all of us on this trip crave that long days journey. So I invite you to broaden your understanding. There is more to come. Believe me, it’s worth the wait.
A.J. Sabine is a Video Specialist for the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation and an alumnus of the LSU Ag Leadership Program.