By Mark Gleason
Iowa State University Extension
Unless you avoid all media all the time, you have heard that our country has gone global in recent years. It seems that we are more tightly connected to events in other countries than ever before. It’s not hard to see both benefits and disadvantages to this new reality.
Of course, we’d like to increase the benefits and tone down the other stuff. Ramping up our knowledge of ideas and innovations in other countries could help us get the most out of international interactions, whether they are cooperative or competitive or both.
Agriculture, the predominant economic activity in Iowa, needs a clearer picture of global markets and opportunities if we are to compete successfully. For many years, groups of farmers and researchers from all over the globe have trekked to Iowa to gather new ideas and learn new techniques, then applied them successfully back home.
Iowa growers have made scores of fact-finding trips abroad, too. Some critics may see these as fun-and-sun junkets, but the reality is usually quite different. The benefits of these trips can last for years, not just from finding new marketing ideas and growing techniques, but also in developing personal relationships that can flower into new business enterprises.
With these benefits in mind, a team of Iowa State University faculty recently launched a three-year program to broaden agriculture-related exchanges between Iowans and Costa Ricans. Funded by USDA, the program will help to bring about 45 Iowa growers, extension specialists, faculty and students to Costa Rica for periods of 10 days to 6 months. Over the same time period, about 15 Costa Rican growers, educators and students will spend time in Iowa.
Why Costa Rica? This Central American democracy is small in area (about a third the size of Iowa) and population (about 4 million). But its strong agrarian tradition and longtime involvement in world trade has fostered many innovations in production and marketing.
Costa Rica’s grower cooperatives - in coffee production, dairying and meat processing among others – are often held up as models for other countries, and could be a source of new ideas for Iowa’s numerous grower cooperatives. Costa Rica is also a world leader in newer agricultural technologies, such as in composting of agricultural wastes and biological control of insect pests, which have potential for adapting to Iowa farms.
No seminar, Web site, panel discussion, television show or booklet can make the realities of Costa Rican agriculture come alive for Iowans like being there. Seeing the challenges Costa Rican growers face in producing such diverse crops as coffee, bananas, pineapples, mangoes, cut flowers and sugar cane, and talking with the growers themselves (sometimes through translators), will bring alive the similarities and differences with Iowa.
To get the new exchange program off the ground, 18 Iowa growers and four ISU Extension educators will tour Costa Rican agriculture for 10 days in late February of 2006. The tour will be hosted by professors and students at the University of Costa Rica, the country’s premier agricultural research and education institution. The Iowa growers represent a wide range of agribusinesses from row crops and livestock to diversified fruit and vegetable farms, herb growers, specialty soybean producers and Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) enterprises.
Once back in Iowa, the growers will share their impressions of the visit on a Web site. Later visits to Costa Rica will match Iowa growers, educators and students with internship or study opportunities. The Costa Ricans visiting Iowa will likewise spend time on Iowa farms, talk to growers, and present seminars about their experiences in Costa Rican agriculture.
The phrase “win-win” may be a bit hackneyed, but it applies well to this exchange. Iowans and Costa Ricans are likely to come away with new ideas for their own agribusinesses and a fresh perspective on another culture.
For more information on this program, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.