By Andrea Gurney, USGC International Intern, Panama City, Panama.
Dirt roads, corn fields, and pastures full of cows will always be home to me; but, that does not mean a small town girl can’t travel the world.
|week #8 in Panama|
Today marks the beginning of my eighth week here in Panama; which means my time is now limited. Fortunately, this last month presented me with numerous learning/growing opportunities, both professionally and personally.
During the month of June, we (the Panama U.S. Grains Council Team) and the Mexico USGC Team traveled to El Valle de Anton (a town approximately two hours from Panama City in the province of Coclé) for a database training. Not only did I have the opportunity to participate in the training; however, I was also able to interact with the Mexico team and learn about their promotional efforts within their region to increase the imports of U.S. Grains. One of their current projects is known as the “Southern Mexico Project.” Cattle are predominately located in Southern Mexico; as a result, the USGC is working diligently to promote the buying of U.S. DDGS in this area. However, one of the challenges is the small size of the producers, which constrains their buying capacity. The average size of a cattle operation in Mexico is only 50-100 head. While discussing this promotional effort with the Mexico team, what I appreciated most was their passion and eagerness to make a global difference. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the week with such a remarkable team in a beautiful location in Panama.
|Mexico & Panama USGC Team in El Valle|
In El Valle we were able to take a break from our training and enjoy the scenic outdoors. We took ATV’s up the mountains and into the rainforest. During this excursion we swam under a waterfall and had the opportunity to visit an organic farm.
Following our tip to El Valle I accompanied Marri Carrow (Western Hemisphere Regional Director) to Peru for a two-day Sorghum and DDG’s promotional conference that was in partnership with USDA’s Lima FAS (Foreign Agricultural Service). I was not only able to attend, but also assist with the conference. The first conference took place in Lima, Peru while the second conference was located in Trujillo, Peru. The purpose of the conference in Lima was to target buyers and nutritionists in the area. However, in Trujillo the conference was primarily focused on providing information regarding the nutrition of Sorghum and DDGS. Overall, the trip served as an opportunity to further understand the operations and potential of local producers.
Lactea Dairy Farm Owner Ing. Ivan Mesia Lizaraso
Throughout the course of the trip I was able to travel with, and learn from a variety of speakers. They included: Carlos Lopez Coello, a Consultant from Mexico; Phillip Smith with Tyson Foods; Alvaro Garcia from South Dakota State University; Tom Russell from The Russell Marine Group; Wayne Cleveland from the Texas Grain Sorghum Association; and Mike Shawver with Commodity & IngredientHedging (CIH). Traveling with and learning from this group was quite the experience! Together we visited the largest dairy operation in Peru, known as Lactea. They have approximately over 5,000 head of dairy cows. The primary breed utilized is Holstein; however, they also raise and milk fleckviehs (this is a dual purpose breed that originated in Europe). Aside from their dairy operation, Lactea is considering starting a feedlot as well; their intentions are to primarily feed angus bulls. Getting to visit and interact with this Peruvian producer was quite the experience, and an opportunity I will appreciate for a lifetime.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Aside from interacting with Peruvian producers at our conference I was able to take even more advantage of my time spent in Peru. I explored the city of Lima and enjoyed the delicious Peruvian food. In addition, as a group we visited the ruins of Chan Chan outside of Trujillo. Chan Chan is the largest Pre-Colombian city in South America. After our conferences I took a leap of faith and extended my stay in Peru for the weekend. I booked a flight to Cusco, Peru and began my first journey truly traveling alone. Upon my arrival to Cusco I caught the first bus to Ollantaytambo, which happened to be a two-hour ride. From there I took a two-hour train ride (first time on a train might I add) to Aguas Calientes. Finally, from Aguas Calientes I took a thirty-minute bus ride up to Machu Picchu. For those not familiar with Machu Picchu, it is the ruins of an Inca Empire located in the Andes Mountains. Words cannot begin to describe the majesty of this historical place. I was baffled by the breathtaking view and the remarkable architecture. There is a reason that Machu Picchu is on the “New 7 Wonders of the World” list.
Downtown Cusco, Peru Holding
Pablo Picasso the Llama!
After spending some time exploring the ruins I made the four-and-a-half-hour trek back down to Cusco. That night I stayed in a hostel, which was an experience in itself! The next day I was able to take part in the traditional Cusco festivities. During the month of June there are parades and dances for a number of days in celebration of the Winter Solstice. On June 24th, the city celebrates Inta Raymi to honor the sun god. Although I was not there on the 24th, I did get to experience a couple days leading up to the big celebration!
Overall, the trip was well worth it. If I am being honest, I was at first nervous and scared traveling alone; however, it was an experience I will never forget. I met people from all over the world: Portugal, Puerto Rico, the U.S. I even met a girl my age who happened to live only two and a half hours away from my hometown in Wyoming. To say the world is small is an understatement. If you are presented with the opportunity to travel, I highly recommend you do. I promise you will learn more about yourself and the world than you would have ever imagined. Although I enjoyed my stay in Peru, I of course had to return to Panama.
Panama Canal Expansion Inauguration Ceremony
One of my main duties in the office is assisting with day to day USGC activities. This includes assisting with the logistics of our programs. i.e. organizing trips for our trade teams to attend programs in various countries. In addition, I am currently working on creating an Importer/Exporter Manual. In recent years the USGC has witnessed significant gaps in corn prices between central Michigan and Ontario. In an effort to create more buyer/seller relations on both sides of the border, we are creating this manual for U.S. corn suppliers out of Michigan and Canadian importers/end-users.
Aside from traveling to Peru and spending my days in the office, I continue to immerse myself in the Panamanian culture. On June 26 I had the opportunity to meet with USGC President/CEO Thomas Sleight, and Chairman Alan Tiemann. They had traveled to Panama for the Canal Expansion Ceremony. Along with them, I joined thousands of Panamanians as we welcomed the first neopanamax cargo ship through the new Panama Canal Cocoli Locks. The inauguration ceremony included speeches from Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela and Panama Canal Administrator/CEO, Jorge L. Quijano. The sense of pride displayed on every Panamanian for their country was admirable, and I felt more than blessed to be a part of this special day with them. June 26, 2016 was the day that has now forever changed global trade. It was the day where thousands of Panamanians and I had the opportunity to become a part of history.
Panama USGC Team Meets with CEO Thomas Sleight and Chairman Alan Tiemann
It’s evident that my time here in Panama has been far from uninteresting. Unfortunately, I am nearing the end of my internship. With less than two and half weeks to go I am still working diligently to take full advantage of the time that remains. The 4th of July weekend I received a visit from my mother and her good friend. Together we ventured to the beautiful islands of San Blas in the Caribbean. The day was spent visiting a variety of islands, snorkeling, and learning about the culture and customs of the local indigenous people. The white sand and clear blue water of the Caribbean will never cease to amaze me.
It’s hard to fathom that I have lived in a foreign country for almost eight weeks now. While it was intimidating at first, it has served as a remarkable growing and learning experience. My view and appreciation of the agricultural industry has enhanced, as well as my respect for other cultures. More often than not we put too much emphasis on the media and allow it to increase our fears of traveling on our own. However, we must not let fear keep us from experiencing the world. As Dr. Seuss once said,
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go…”