By Edward Silva, 2012 participant
My time spent in Southeast Asia with the 2012 International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership Program was purely an invaluable experience. I participated after my fourth year at the University of California, Davis, where I graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in international agricultural development. For five years I have pursued interests in components of agricultural diplomacy, or the collaboration and connection of international players of food and agriculture. So I was extremely grateful to be an I-CAL participant. I had no doubt that a program in Southeast Asia, developed and coordinated by the National FFA Organization and the Grains Foundation, was going to assist my personal, professional and agricultural development.
When we first landed in Vietnam, we were immediately immersed in the Vietnamese culture. For four days we visited feed mills, aquaculture farms, feed companies, “wet” farmers markets, historical sites, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service officers, and even an egg processing plant. My respect for Vietnamese tactfulness, their ability to develop a booming economy with such a distraught history, and their agricultural system made our visit a key part of this trip.
We then flew to Malaysia, where we dove into the agriculture and trade outlook of this more-developed country. During our time in Malaysia, we visited a poultry processing plant, a flour/feed mill, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, a container port, and the U.S. Grains Council’s office of Southeast Asia. Malaysia was not only a great opportunity to see a different perspective of agriculture—where religious diets, vast coastlines, and an increasingly wealthier population seem to manage the agriculture and trade of the country—it was also a large step toward grasping the agricultural, cultural and economic viewpoint of this important part of the world.
Singapore was our final stop and challenged a lot of the country-specific agricultural systems most of us students were familiar with. This challenge made for a great learning opportunity by showcasing a global side of agriculture. We visited the Singapore offices of the CME Group, followed by a visit to the media and data conglomerate Bloomberg News, where we met with their agriculture and trade specialist. Both of these visits, plus being in such a modern city that is vital for Southeast Asian trade, served as a great capstone into better understanding international agriculture, the opportunities that it contains, and the potential it has to grow.
Thanks to my I-CAL experience, my motivation to work in international agriculture grew much stronger than I had before, and I immediately utilized it upon graduating. I started working with a California-based produce company and applied a lot of my I-CAL experience to better understanding their operations. I then traveled to Zambia, where I developed programming and training sessions for entrepreneurs, using much of the same style and approach that I-CAL presented. I am currently interning in Brasilia, Brazil, with the U.S. Embassy’s Department of the Environment, Science, Technology and Health. My I-CAL experience has been vital in the success of my current role, because I can apply so much of what I saw in Asia with what is going on in Brazil. It has given me a competitive edge in the workplace, a stronger clarity in understanding international issues, and a motivation that will carry me to new career avenues.
This year I-CAL will take place in South America. For more information, go to www.FFA.org/Collegiate.