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Published August 11 2010

Agriculture representatives from Africa visit Fargo

Wilma Aguele, a large-scale agriculture producer from Nigeria, wants to help the “infant” farming industry in her country grow up. She wants the nation, currently a major food importer, to grow enough crops to feed itself. And she wants to take her operation from about 2,000 acres to nearly 5,000.

To get it all done, she dropped by the Fargo area for a little shopping.

“We’re here looking for tractors and earth movers,” said Aguele, perusing rows of massive commercial agriculture equipment at Titan Machinery’s dealership in Glyndon, Minn. “You’re not going to go very far if you’re using chainsaws and machetes.”

Aguele is part of an African agricultural delegation visiting the U.S. on a tour of farming sites. The group includes nine members from six nations – Angola, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa and Zambia. Eight of the delegation members are business representatives; one is from the Angolan Ministry of Agriculture.

The trip is sponsored by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Nathan Gazzetta, country manager for West Africa for the agency, said the visit is meant to spur economic development in Africa and promote U.S. exports by introducing equipment buyers to suppliers.

The trip cost about $150,000, Gazzetta said. He said his agency typically hopes to see between $8 million and $10 million in exports result from such trips. The delegates were selected because they represent groups with substantial purchasing power and upcoming equipment needs, he said.

The group visited Kansas City, Idaho and Nebraska before coming to Fargo, and will travel to Iowa before returning home.

Heather Ranck, an international trade specialist with the U.S. Commercial service, helped coordinate the three-day Fargo portion of the visit. She said the area fit into the trip because it’s a “one-stop shop” for agricultural machinery.

Karima Ola of Nigeria, the head of African business for Chayton Atlas Agricultural Company, said the trip has given her the opportunity to see equipment manufacturers like Titan that don’t have a presence in Africa.

In addition to upgrading her company’s machinery – much of which is about 30 years old – she said she’s looking for ways to get better access to parts and support for her equipment. An American-made machine that breaks down during harvest time doesn’t do much good if the nearest technician is thousands of miles away, she said.

“There’s a big shortage in terms of getting parts and the sort of after-sales service that you need on time,” she said. To develop those skills locally, she said her company would consider sending African workers to the U.S. to enroll in extended training programs like the two-year technician program Titan uses through Moorhead Technical College.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502