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Published June 11, 2013, 03:29 PM

South African group visits Minn. agricultural businesses

Nine individuals from South Africa are touring ag businesses and farms in southwest Minnesota this week as part of an ongoing exchange of ideas with members of the Shetek Conference of the Southwest Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

By: Julie Buntjer, Forum News Service

JACKSON, Minn. — Nine individuals from South Africa are touring ag businesses and farms in southwest Minnesota this week as part of an ongoing exchange of ideas with members of the Shetek Conference of the Southwest Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

The South Africans, members of the Ondini Circuit, first visited southwest Minnesota in 2009, and since then, there has been an ongoing exchange of people and ideas between the two groups.

The exchange resulted from a request of the Ondini Circuit’s general secretary during a visit to the Southwest Minnesota Synod in 2008.

“He told people here that we’ve got land … but we do not have skills,” said David Xaba, dean of the Ondini Circuit in South Africa. “He asked farmers on this side how to do proper farming, and the people of Shetek were invited to join the people of South Africa.”

Xaba was among a contingent of South Africans to visit southwest Minnesota in 2009. On this visit, the group is not only expanding its knowledge in production agriculture, but in synod work as well.

Over the weekend, the group attended the synod assembly in St. Peter and met with host families in the area on Sunday.

On Monday afternoon, the South Africans and their hosts toured AGCO Corp. and Fort Belmont, both in Jackson, with plans today to tour the Jeffers Petroglyphs and the Westbrook Health Care Center. Later in the week, they will visit individual farms to learn more about crop and livestock production.

“They’re very interested in the agricultural practices we have,” said Barb Pohlman, one of the hosts and a synod member who has traveled to South Africa three times to share her expertise in gardening and crop production. Mark Yackel-Juleen, dean of the Shetek Conference of the Southwest Minnesota Synod, chose individuals from the synod with varying jobs and interests to pair with the South Africans.

“They teach us how to do processing,” added Xaba. “What is the most important thing here is how to improve.”

Pohlman said their first visit to South Africa was spent showing the people there how to create a garden and produce food for their people.

“We’ve plowed up ground, and each time we go back, they’ve expanded,” she said.

In another visit, the group resurrected a tractor, fondly called Lazarus, and helped improve the water supply by installing dams or water pumps.

While the South Africans have benefited greatly from the agricultural knowledge of the southwest Minnesota people, area residents say they, too, are reaping the rewards of the partnership.

“We’ve just developed some lasting friendships,” Pohlman said.

“They have their faith and religious practices, and they can teach us a lot about taking care of each other,” added Dale Holmes, chairman of the Shetek Conference of the Southwest Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. “It’s a very deep connection from both sides - it’s a life-changing experience.

“The South Africans are huggers to the max,” he added.

In an era of expanding social networks, Holmes said the southwest Minnesotans are able to continue to share with their South African friends even when they are separated by geography. Facebook, email and cellphones allow the two groups to remain in communication throughout the year.

Those connections can only make this bond stronger and, in the hope of Xaba, keep the ideas flowing.

“We have a lot of problems we need to improve - especially in farming,” he said, adding that there are two types of farms in South Africa - commercial and subsistence.

Nana Xaba, an agricultural expert traveling with the group, said many South Africans are dependent upon the commercial growers. Maize is one of the country’s main crops.

“I’m so excited about agriculture, and I want to visit farmers producing organic foods,” she said.

The South Africans will remain in southwest Minnesota through next Tuesday. Already, a contingent from the Shetek Conference is planning a trip to South Africa in 2014.

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