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DC teacher explores the world of agriculture in South Africa
SEPT. 2, 2013

Sawatzke to work with local students on possible solutions

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – Eric Sawatzke, Dassel-Cokato High School agriculture teacher, recently spent nine days touring South Africa, where he learned the challenges facing the country’s agricultural industry and how the schools there are working to turn those challenges around.

The trip was through the Minnesota Council on Economic Development (MCED), but was made possible through grants Sawatzke received from the CHS Inc., an agricultural co-op; the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council, and the DC FFA alumni, which gave $1,000.

While Sawatzke was there, he toured two colleges of agriculture and two high schools that emphasize agricultural education.

One of the universities Sawatzke visited was the University of Fort Hare, the alma mater of Nelson Mandella, the country’s first black president following a 20-year apartheid.

Sawatzke explained that one of the challenges post-apartheid is that blacks were previously trained only in basic labor skills and not in advanced, high-skilled careers.

The challenge has been that the progression towards educating the black community for high-skilled jobs is lagging because, as a whole, it has not seen the value in a higher education, even though it is affordable and right in their backyard with the University of Fort Hare, Sawatzke explained.

Therefore, the farmers are still using primitive agricultural equipment, rather than the more advanced systems that would allow them to earn profits with increased yields through better land and animal management.

Because they aren’t taking advantage of this education, the majority of the country’s farmers are still dependent on subsistence farming in which they only produce enough crops for the family.

One of the hopes through this tour is to get educators from the states exposed to the culture and see the similarities in agricultural education in an effort to provide future change.

Sawatzke explained that one of the major differences between most Minnesota agriculture programs and South African agricultural education is that the schools all had working farms with as many as six barns and 3,500 acres of crop land per school.

This type of hands-on learning lab is much more common in southern and western U.S. high schools, he noted.

For Sawatzke, he will start by sharing his experience with his students.

For example, he is planning to build case studies around some of the visits, such as the Fort Hare Dairy Trust, a commercial dairy farm used to give students considering dairy as a career firsthand experience in the field.

Through the case study, students at DC will evaluate the farm and provide ideas on how to improve it.

What surprised him most about the trip was seeing the level of understanding that everyone in the country had about the need for highly skilled agriculturalists.

“No matter where we were, the people talked to us about the need to support education of farmers, agribusiness, and agricultural researchers,” Sawatzke said. “They understood that without quality agriculture, there really is no way that their people could survive.” Sawatzke noted that the amount of support across the country was even higher than it is here in America.

“As an agriculture teacher, this trip gave me a lot of excitement about our ability to feed our ever-growing population,” Sawatzke said. “So often, it feels like America is holding the burden of food production for the world because many other countries do not have the education available to teach their farmers how to make their land and animals productive.”

That is not the case, however, in South Africa.

“South Africa has developed a strong link between public education and agricultural education, which is exactly the model that has made America so successful,” Sawatzke said.

To read more about Sawatzke’s trip, visit www.agricultureteacher.blogspot.com.

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