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Applying Sustainable Resource Management

TCU is “showing up on the radar” in some unlikely places — Brazil, Mozambique, Mexico, Colombia, Swaziland and Ghana.

It is all about sustaining natural resources. Environmentally and economically sustainable resource management practices are a signature of TCU’s Ranch Management Program. A hunger for that expertise is leading foreign countries to the Institute of Ranch Management, which meets continuing education needs that extend beyond the scope of the Ranch Management Program (RM).

“What we’re doing is taking the fundamentals that we teach and putting them in an applied sense — and in this case we’re focusing on foreign entities,” said Jeffrey C. Geider ’81 (MLA ’99), the William Watt Matthews Director of the Institute of Ranch Management.

“Food production is very, very important,” he said. “The population just rolled over 7 billion on its way to 9 billion, and there is less and less food production in the world and more and more people that are needing to eat. That’s the reason people are contacting us. We’ve gotten on the radar because people realize food security is an issue. There are lots of hungry people in the world.”

Applied research

Each year the Institute of Ranch Management (IRM) hosts workshops, seminars, short courses and symposiums to Ranch Management alumni as well as a variety of other groups. The past year and a half saw an uptick in the number of inquiries from foreign entities — primarily governments and other universities.

“Seven or eight different countries have contacted us recently, and basically they all want the same thing: They want what we do here. They want us to help facilitate an education and technological transfer of information and help them develop sustainable agriculture development,” Geider said.

Last spring Geider formed a six-member advisory board that includes Chris Farley, assistant director of the Ranch Management Program, along with a handful of other RM graduates. Next, they drew up a strategic plan for global outreach, which outlined 10 practical steps for a comprehensive response when opportunities for strategic alliances with foreign entities arise.

“So now we can respond to these inquiries with a very systematic approach,” Geider said. “Even though they are all different, it gives us a framework on how to approach them.”

From Fort Worth to West Africa

Much of the interest in the Institute stems from word-of-mouth.

“We’ve had the very, very good fortune of working with organizations like the World Affairs Council, the U.S. State Department and Sister Cities here in Fort Worth,” Geider said. “So when these people visit or make an inquiry because they have a specific interest in a certain area, they tend to contact TCU. This particular initiative with Ghana started when the ambassador of Ghana was in Fort Worth and visited TCU, and he expressed an interest.”

After his visit, the ambassador contacted Ghana’s minister of agriculture, who made a formal invitation for a TCU group to visit the sub-Saharan country in West Africa, review their situation and present his cabinet with a proposal. Geider and his advisory group spent a week in Ghana in September.

Of course the TCU team was equipped with plenty of purple — purple Ranch Management hats and Horned Frog lapel pins.

“Once we explained what the Horned Frog was, they loved it,” Geider said.

After touring the country, the TCU group met with the minister of agriculture and his cabinet in the capital of Accra and outlined a proposal of what they thought they could accomplish. Geider also strongly recommended that Ghana send a delegation to TCU so he and his team could show them different production systems to give them a vision for what is possible.

“It’s one thing to say this is what we can do; it’s another thing to actually see it because it’s so different from what they have,” he said.

He made a formal invitation in November and is awaiting a response.

Resource rich, protein poor

Though rife with natural resources, Ghana lacks the technology and education to harvest them. It struggles with a deficiency in meat protein for its own population. Most everything consumed is imported.

“They are about 70-percent deficient just in their own domestic consumption,” Geider said. “Their president has made a very strong initiative to try to increase the level of production of livestock in meat protein. You would think they would contact a land-grant university that has an agricultural school, but what we’ve found is that once people start doing some research, what they want is exactly what we provide and that is less traditional research — it’s applied. We actually go there and show them.”

It’s the proverbial teach a man to fish concept.

“We can be on the ground and physically give them management plans with specific interaction educationally and technologically to teach them how to increase their own production, rather than the traditional academic approach,” he explained.

Geider is quick to note that none of these opportunities would be possible without the Ranch Management Program, which has been offering a one-year certificate program for students since 1955 and a bachelor’s degree or minor since 2004. The Institute was founded in 1998 to provide practical help to the industry and involves both faculty and professionals in the field.

“Obviously the technology has changed a lot of what we teach, but we haven’t changed how we teach it. That is the fundamental reason why people come here. It’s because of the program. The program attracts the interest, and the Institute can deliver the product,” he said.

The Ghana outreach is potentially a three- to five-year project that could include developing a demonstration farm/ranch in Ghana, working with a school there and creating a professor and student exchange for professional development and research.

“One of our goals is to try to get TCU students involved so we can take them to these places to let them do research, applied research on the ground,” he said. “And we hope to bring students from those countries back here to TCU to enjoy the TCU experience.”

Daunting Challenges

Many Ghanaians speak English, and the country is enjoying economic growth.

“It’s the fastest growing country on the continent, and it’s a very stable political climate right now,” Geider noted. “They are very U.S. friendly. They want us there. They want our education. They want our investment. They are very proactive.”

But even under the best circumstances, working with foreign countries presents a host of unique challenges.

“There is a cultural process you have to go through,” Geider said. “You don’t just pick up like you’re going to Albuquerque. You’re going to a completely different culture.”

Of course funding is always a challenge. The Institute is exploring several options, including global corporations, private donors and the governments seeking help.

“We are very focused on making sure whoever we work with has an equal investment in it with us. They need to. That’s what makes these things work,” he said.

Ghana is saddled with a long list of other challenges: No cattle trucks. No loading chutes. No refrigerated trucks. Limited electricity.

Geider believes trying to transplant the advanced technology and infrastructure of the U.S. agricultural industry would be disastrous. It needs to start on a small scale.

“The challenge is that we have to be able to show over a long period of time an incremental growth in the entire supply chain of food production. We are talking about starting from roads to storage facilities to transportation — the things that we take totally for granted, they don’t have. They have no refrigeration. They don’t have electricity in all these places where they grow food. They are nomadic cattle ranchers.”

It’s a whole different world.

“Everything they consume, they have to buy that day. There is no storage. In the capital city, there is a certain level of affluence, but the vast majority of Ghana is not that way,” he said.

However, Ghana production deficiencies means there are some technical things the Institute can share that could bolster production capability dramatically and quickly, such as breeding programs and rotation-grazing systems.

“There are a few things we could change for the better very, very quickly. But it all gets back to that relationship. They have to trust us and they have to look at us as a partner,” he said. “We are very different in that when we go to these places, our intent is to work ourselves out of a job. If we are successful, then they won’t need us. There is a phrase we used when we were in Africa, and it’s ‘explore not exploit.’ ”

The Ghana government sees this as part of a larger initiative to improve health and provide jobs. “We are just one small part of it in terms of livestock production,” Geider said.

“The challenges are huge. But the natural resources are incredible, and the spirit of the people we met with is equally incredible,” he said. “They are extremely entrepreneurial. They know what they want.”

TCU seems perfectly positioned to help.

“It fits in with the mission to be global, and it certainly fits in with what we do here in the Ranch Management Program,” Geider said.