Members of Kiwanis Club of Wahpeton-Breckenridge were treated to an educational presentation by farmer and businessman Wallie Hardie Wednesday afternoon.
Hardie and his son, Josh, recently returned from a three-week trip to Mozambique and Tanzania at the invitation of Aslan Group Global, an agricultural company that helped create sustainable farming in Ukraine. The company needed farming expertise for its large Rei de Agro farm it was creating in South Africa.
Hardie’s relationship with Africa actually began five years ago when his daughter spent a year in Mozambique as a missionary nurse.
“She loved it there, and my family visited her there, and we loved it too,” he said. “We loved the people — such caring and warm people.”
Unfortunately, unemployment is the reality in that area. Eighty percent of the people who live in Mozambique and Tanzania live on less than $2 a day, Hardie said.
“This is a tragedy of the human spirit. You drive the roads and you see them sitting there, doing nothing — no jobs, no prospects,” he said. “That’s the heartbreaking thing when you visit Africa. Everybody is the same, the desperate poverty is homogenous, it’s everywhere.”
Mozambique gave a 50-year concession of 35,000 tree-covered acres to Aslan to clear the land and plant soybeans, corn and other crops. Soybeans are needed to develop the chicken industry, Hardie explained.
“Chickens can be raised by families, and there are places you can get chicks, but the problem is the high price of feed,” Hardie said. “Soybeans have to be imported from Argentina at about $22 per bushel.”
“The government wants to develop these areas but they have no money, no infrastructure,” he said. “The first thing they need is to make roads, because the roads are unbelievably bad.”
In February, Hardie will fly a twin-engine prop plane to Africa, to help get him between farms faster. A container is currently being loaded to ship out at the beginning of December so the first crops can be planted soon after in the Mozambique farm. Hardie expects to get about 5,000 acres planted.
The large undertaking is “planting three seeds — hope, vision, and know how. If we can do those three things, good things can happen,” he said.
Several projects, part of a “hub-outgrower model,” will create sustainability for the locals in Mozambique and Tanzania.
“We want to have a very profitable farm, starting out, to be as good as it can be,” he said. “In Africa, one thing we can do, that we can’t do here, is we can grow three crops in one year, and that’s our plan.”
The hub-outgrower model involves a large farm at the center that has its own production systems and also provides infrastructure for local, small farmers to access the knowledge base, technology, machinery and most importantly, the transparent market to thrive in its own right, Hardie said.
The wet season in South Africa lasts four months — December through March — and averages about 40 inches of rainfall, Hardie said. The rest of the year nothing will grow without irrigation. The company’s plan is to dam up some of the small tributary rivers and create large reservoirs which will give a steady supply of fresh water to the villagers and allow the farms to be watered through sub-surface drip irrigation. Hardie explained they will use a no-till system, because the ground there becomes very hard once it’s tilled.
“There’s no reason we can’t grow three crops with this system,” Hardie said.
Soybeans will be planted first and harvested, and then barley or wheat will be planted into the soybean stubble, and once the grains are harvested, corn will be planted.
“The problem with Africa as a whole, is there is no economy,” he said. “The reason there’s no economy is that 20 years ago most of these countries were occupied by Communists, so they really don’t understand the profit model. They really don’t understand about capitalism.”
The company will build schools to educate the villagers and allow the opportunity for training in various vocations, and will build medical clinics to help with their healthcare needs.
A small-scale ethanol production facility will be created on the farm, to make its own fuel, as a first step to sustainability. The feedstock will be cassava, a root plant that’s essentially starch with little nutrients and can be grown in poor soil. Hundreds of farmers will have a market for the crop. The energy source would most likely be wood chips, Hardie said. With the thousands of acres of trees to be cleared for the farms, it’s a “ubiquitous energy resource” that will create jobs.
The company has an extension agent who will work on the farm and help villagers create their own small farms, as well.
Demand for all the crops to be planted is huge, Hardie said, and includes soybean processors, barley malt producers, bakeries and chicken producers.
“We want to show these folks how to farm on the two-, three-, four-, and five-thousand acre level, and then expand from there,” he said. “If things go right we’ll have 35,000 acres in cultivation at the Mozambique farm and 65,000 acres in Tanzania, and via airplane we can travel back and forth in about five hours.”