by Dr. Bobby Soileau
After a long but successful flight we arrived in Johannesburg on Wednesday evening. After a wonderful dinner it was time to get some rest. At least that was the wishful thinking of some in our group.
For some of our people it is their first experience with jet lag. We are eight hours ahead of everyone back home, and sometimes you wake up much earlier than you anticipated. That said, everyone was ready as we began our first full day in South Africa.
We spent much of our morning listening to information about South African agriculture. Representatives from the U.S. Embassy talked about trade issues and some general background about the country and its agriculture.
From an economic perspective the country is struggling with a 26% unemployment rate and 15% rate of inflation on their food. They are also going through a severe drought and it is heavily impacting corn production in the country. White corn is an integral part of the South African diet. The drought is so severe that according to one of our speakers, Deon Scheepers of the University of Pretoria, it is impacting many of the staple food products in their country.
After our briefings we headed toward the township of Soweta. It is the largest township in South Africa and was developed in the 1950’s for exclusive black occupation during apartheid.
Afterward, we went to the Apartheid Museum to end our first day. The museum was a sobering reminder of the abuse of power. An abuse that will have an effect on this country for decades to come.
As we were driving back to our hotel some of us shared our thoughts about the museum. We agreed that it is amazing their society is as peaceful as it is today. I personally believe it was the leadership of Nelson Mandela. His ability to forgive and lead an entire nation has made a difference.
We begin our first farm visits tomorrow and we look forward to meeting the many great people of agriculture in South Africa.
Dr. Bobby Soileau is the director of the LSU Ag Leadership program.