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Virtual Ag Seminar in SW Missouri with Bolivia University
Missouri Ag Connection - 07/30/2020

In June, Maria Rodriguez-Alcala, a University of Missouri Extension community economic development specialist was invited to participate in a virtual seminar with Dr. Roberto Chavez, Dean of the College of Agriculture for the Universidad Evangelica Boliviana (UEB) [Bolivian Evangelic University], to discuss opportunities and challenges faced by the agricultural sector in Missouri and Bolivia. University of Missouri recently signed a collaborative agreement with the UEB, facilitated by Partners of the Americas (http://www.partners.net/), an organization formed in 1964 to pair American states with Latin American countries. Rosario Keele, current President of Partners of the Americas Missouri Chapter and a council member for MU Extension in Barry County, played a key role in the signing of this agreement on January 31, 2019. More recently, Rosario connected Rodriguez-Alcala with the UEB as a means to begin establishing relationships that could potentially enable collaborations between the two universities.

"Many of you may not be aware of the geographic and agricultural resemblances that exist between Bolivia and Missouri," said Rodriguez-Alcala. "Although Bolivia is about six times larger than Missouri in size and almost double in population, both are centrally located in the mainland and agriculture plays a big role in their economies. The Santa Cruz department, in the eastern region where the UEB is located, borders with Brazil and Paraguay. These central plains in South America concentrate a significant portion of the agricultural production in the world. Eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are all part of what is known as the southern cone of South America. The southern cone has experienced the largest global agricultural growth in recent decades, in both productivity and area. When it comes to large-scale production, this region also concentrates some of the best environmentally sustainable methods. This is because the period in which these countries experienced exponential agricultural growth, accompanied by increased exports, coincided with the world market starting to demand better environmental practices from producers."

Because of the geographic and agricultural similarities, Rodriguez-Alcala envisions innumerous potential collaborative opportunities between MU Extension and the UEB in the future. The UEB now has the strongest agriculture college in Bolivia and recently started expanding its extension branch that was previously absent. University of Missouri is worldly renowned for its expertise in agriculture, which makes the two complementary. In conversations, the UEB has expressed strong interest in learning from the extension model of Missouri. Rodriguez-Alcala adds that any time the MU Extension model is discussed abroad, people are eager to learn more and admire what MU has built in the 100-plus years of existence. Most extension models in Latin America stem from the national governments, but more recently, universities are starting to play a bigger role and are looking at the United States for guidance. Rosario Keele states, "Through Partners of the Americas we could potentially fund exchange programs to learn from each other."

In fact, the Missouri Chapter has already facilitated funding five exchange programs with Bolivia since 2018 and would like to expand this type of collaboration.

Rodriguez-Alcala stresses that this collaboration is intended to be a two-way-street, meaning there are also things MU Extension specialists could learn from the field in Bolivia.

As stated earlier, this region holds large-scale production models that are not as common in Missouri when it comes to environmentally sustainable practices. This is primarily because the agricultural growth in the Midwest happened prior to the global market starting to demand these practices, a trend that is expected to strengthen. In the end, ironically, these pressures helped South American producers to become very competitive when it comes to producing at large-scale and simultaneously adjusting to environmental demands. In the U.S., producers have also been adjusting their practices. Rodriguez-Alcala said, "These transitions can be very costly to producers, but there are sometimes simple observations that can be learned from others that can help Missouri producers think outside the box. For instance, producers in South America face strong legal deforestation limitations in their own private property, something unthinkable with respect to private property in the U.S. Many of these producers have actually used such restrictions to their advantage, as forested areas can be used to sell carbon credits in global markets today; they also help protect livestock from extreme weather conditions, something seen more and more through silvopasture in Missouri and; forests also help protect from erosion along water ways. South American beef livestock producers are also a favorite of pasture and grass-fed beef consumers around the world. Ideas could easily be borrowed and adapted to further help Missouri producers improve practices and enter new markets."

"In my virtual conversation with Dr. Chavez, we were able to recognize that as the pandemic is putting pressure on many producers in our areas, it has further strengthened some of the global and local trends we are seeing in agriculture," said Rodriguez-Alcala. "These trends expose similarities among the two regions, but also differences. In Missouri for instance, I expect the support for local food systems will continue to strengthen, something that has not yet reached Bolivia. So we may also have a lot to share about this with our Bolivian partners. I hope the new door that has opened will not just expand our horizons in how both sides see agriculture, but would also expose both sides to learn and value our different cultures. I myself am looking forward to sharing some recipes with our future Bolivian partners!"

The virtual seminar was recorded and can be accessed on Facebook on the UEB's page. Note: this seminar was in Spanish.

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