Recently I covered a story on East African veterinary officers who toured two Jordan Valley ranches to learn more about how animal identification systems are used to track the movement of livestock.
The tour specifically came to Jordan Valley because the area shares similarities to the landscape of East Africa. I have always looked at life and at the world in terms of what we share as people and communities rather than at the dissimilarities. This tour was not only educational, but also deeply moving for me, as well as for the majority of those involved.
I felt the visitors from East Africa had a very deep insight into our Western culture and made excellent observations.
Joseph Macharia, the Central Veterinary Laboratory director from Kenya, loved listening to ranchers Bob Skinner and Mike Hanley of Jordan Valley and their view of the cattle industry from a hands-on perspective. He appreciated the interaction and learning what has and hasn’t worked in practical terms in ranch operations. But his most telling observation was what makes him most fearful for our ranching culture.
“I think that it is very sad that Americans don’t appreciate where they get their food and see the ranchers the way we see them,” he said. “It is also troubling that we see the history of these old ranches that have been in their families for many generations and the younger children are finding it harder to stay.”
John Ogoto Kanisio Okeleng Lefuf is the chief veterinary officer from South Sudan and he was struck by the democratic process we have in the U.S. I have to admit it made me laugh a little as I hear so many Americans, yes, myself included, criticize our government. He noted that our openness should not be taken for granted because it is much more difficult to work with the government in his country.
“One of the surprises I had was how democracy works in action especially with ranchers and the way people in your country can influence government policy, and there is at least a willingness of your government to listen,” he said. “The government is in the driver’s seat in South Sudan, and there is an assumption that the people don’t know anything.”
He also said he was impressed because the American livestock industry is organized into many different working groups, which gives people more power and knowledge. Lefuf said the biggest lesson he will take back to his country is to “organize, organize, organize.”
Although I spoke to almost everyone on the tour, I spent most of my time with Noelina Nantima, the epidemiologist for Uganda. Within a very short time of our meeting, she put her arm around mine and we walked through the ranches talking about our different cultures and our hopes for the future.
My biggest hope is that we as Americans can all pull together and see that we have more in common than what sets us apart.