The United States of America is the world leader in agriculture. We have invested in domestic agricultural education, infrastructure and distribution, and reaped the rewards. Other countries look to us for new technologies and new systems. It is time to teach them more efficient farming methods.
We are a gifted nation, blessed with a unique, benevolent geography. The resources in our great arable expanses are nearly unparalleled in the rest of the world. We make tremendous use of our good fortune, growing enough food for our own people as well as for much of the world. The U.S agricultural sector generates well over $110 billion each year, and that money helps support federal and state governments, shippers, processors, wholesalers and producers alike. The overall impact of agriculture on our economy is tremendous.
A large percentage of the profits comes from the sale of agricultural surplus to countries across the globe. Step into a small store in bustling Accra, the capital of Ghana, and you’ll find food produced in America. Walk through a market in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the same is true. Dine in a fine restaurant in London and chances are you’ll find American ingredients on the menu. Not only does the U.S. earn significant profits from the sales of our products, we also give away large amounts of food to relief agencies, governments and non-governmental groups.
Smarter farming feeds more people
Global populations are expanding at staggering rates, and current agricultural practices cannot keep up. In too many places, food production is not efficient. There are diverse reasons for this, from staid traditions to corruption to the insidious notion that farming is a lowly profession undertaken only by those incapable of doing anything else.
In the Western world, many of our wealthiest citizens began and/or have large holdings in agriculture. U.S. farmers are well respected and becoming even more so. Sadly, in other countries, hard-working farmers are often at the bottom of the economic strata, taken advantage of by layers of intermediaries, suppliers and corrupt regulators.
The United States is helping to change that. Academically, we are teaching people from developed and developing nations how to institute the latest growing technologies. We have agricultural outreach programs and cultural exchanges sponsored by the federal government and by non-governmental entities. While not entirely corruption-free, we can serve as a model for removing some of the graft and dishonesty that imperils agricultural success in nations on the rise.
Elevating the farming profession
The old paradigm of a small land-holder producing enough for the family and then selling the surplus is dangerously outdated, but still prevalent. Food production worldwide has to become more efficient to feed exponentially larger populations, and the U.S. can lead the charge by sharing knowledge with farmers in other countries about how to become more specialized and more organized in their purchasing and wholesaling practices. We can help them develop an espirit de corps to establish respect in their communities and a sense of pride in what they do. The modern farmer must take advantage of new opportunities, from improved organic systems to chemical-free farming methods to using smartphones to receive market reports and orders.
The farmers’ exchange programs are the greatest tools we can offer. These allow young or mid-career agriculturalists to come to the U.S. and live and work alongside American farmers and learn the work ethics, technologies, organization and honesty practiced in that community. Participants can earn money to invest in their agri-businesses at home while taking back a bank of knowledge and respect.
Sharing knowledge helps all
Teaching others our methods and practices will increase our benefits. A young person who learns how to operate an American-made tractor in the U.S. is more likely to buy one when he or she gets home. The same holds true for myriad other agricultural and consumer products that exchange-farmers experience while they’re here.
Agricultural exchanges foster connections and shared information that benefit all the participants. I have spoken to so many people from different parts of the world who have told me how their lives and the lives of their families and colleagues have greatly improved through the programs. One participant from Kenya recently told me that he was given more significantly more credence and looked to for guidance on his return. The impact on the U.S. economy should not be underestimated.
We must increase the numbers of farmers exchange programs. We will reap the rewards from our largesse, and we owe it to those from whom we have profited.
This week’s Zester Daily Soapbox contributor Christopher Barden is the vice president of Worldwide Farmers Exchange, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit independent of government funding. Readers who would like to donate, be a host or get their company involved in the exchange program can email Barden or the WFE.
Photo: Christopher Barden. Credit: Maureen Ladley