Saturday, February 20, 2010

2010 Feb 11

We have received a lot of rain the past few days and we had plans to rent a Cessna Caravan to fly down to the farm at Beltu. The landing strip was freshly made there and it was a concern that it would be too muddy to land and we would have to cancel. Alyssa was very disappointed because it was her and Wes’ anniversary and wanted badly to be with him. The clouds cleared and things dried out enough that the pilot, Solomon, decided it was a go. Paul, Joe, Heidi, Alyssa (Everet), and I took off from Bole international with me as copilot.

The Caravan is a nice 12 seat plane able to take a lot of cargo. Being a private pilot myself I cherished the opportunity. I got to experience some nice avionics that I have not been around before. I pretended to push buttons and turn knobs to get a laugh out of our pilot Solomon but I don’t think he thought I as funny as I thought I was.

It was little over an hour flight to the area of the farm and things looked a little desolate. Solomon had never flown to this remote are before so we had to scour the now dry brown area looking for a dirt runway.
As we came in for a touch and go to test the strip you could see people running from all directions towards the strip. There was clearly a large group gathering to watch. We came around a second time for a final landing and Solomon made it look easy.

The crowd was amazing as we taxied back with hundreds and hundreds of people waving and chanting most of which had never seen a plane before. How could there be so many people out to greet us in the middle of nowhere?

There was a nice reunion between Wes and Alyssa, and Mark and Heidi who have been apart for some time.

We could see the progress of the ground being cleared and houses going up. The ground clearing has gone so much faster with the local people than the two dozers ever could have. All they have are simple axes and machetes with no chainsaws, and they have chopped down nearly two thousand acres of brush in less than a month. Many came from distant villages to work. They had constructed a small tented area for a few but most had no shelter and lived outside 24/7. That is common among the people here I guess. It is so hard to imagine after living under shelter my whole life.
The brick houses were coming along well with the one with trusses going to be Shelley’s and mine.

The foundation seen here is going to be Wes and Alyssa’s with Mark and Heidi’s next door. The “guesthouse” is behind ours. We toured the houses trying to imagine living in them.

They will be fixed up nice with ceramic tile, kitchen facilities, indoor plumbing, etc.

The crowd of people was overwhelming as they would encircle me as I attempted to communicate with them. They would crowd in so tight I could hardly move as they stared at me saying any word they could think of in English; “ what is your name”, “how old are you”, “were do you live” to name a few.

We explored the area looking at stumps to be removed and piles of brush to be burned. The soil profile looks excellent and I feel confident that the land can raise good crops.

This day was very memorable moment for me but I expect that it will more common place as time goes on. I would have greatly regretted missing opportunities like this had I passed up working for this organization. I look forward to working with and helping these people.

2010 Feb 9

Coming back to Ethiopia

My trip back was a long 35 hour process but glad to be here. It was good to see again the good MAI staff of Ethiopia. I arrived at 7:30 a.m. and went straight to recently rented guesthouse not too far from the main house. There I rested for a time then went to work on things. I got to know our CFO, Marty, who is from Utah who is also staying at the guest house as well.

I quickly became at ease with the surroundings and the culture this time. It is still overwhelming of the population here. It helps to motivate me to take on my responsibilities of this project.

It was good to see Alyssa, whose husband Wes is at Beltu on the farm, and Joe. Paul is in the country and to arrive in the next few days. Paul’s daughter and son in law Mark are in the country too.

2009 Nov 19

Paul heads back to the US

Woke up in the Addis house and made some breakfast for who ever dared eat. Those currently in the house include Paul, Wes and Alyssa, Joe, and Miesa, and the maids, Harik and Wasun and her daughter Radit. The maids made their own breakfast and it looked a little more appetizing than mine.

We had early guests of two officials from Beltu which is just a few kilometers from the Alyssa farm. The came to sure up some paperwork needed for us to secure the farm and location of boundaries. Soon after they left Paul said his goodbyes because today he heads back to the US. He told me to expect a meeting the first part of December with most everyone in Logan. We did the traditional Ethiopian handshake then the right shoulder to right shoulder move and said goodbye till next time.

Wes and I put together a list of equipment needed to order for Mr. Chombe for later that afternoon. I needed to get soil the soil samples to the soil testing center here in Addis so I had Wes take me. He though he knew where it might be but got a lengthy tour of the capital instead. Oh well we got to know the place a little better.

We learned that the African Cessna airplane representative was coincidently in town and thought it a good idea to get together with him later in the evening.

Chombe showed up and we briefly went over equipment again then he took Wes and I to look a metal fabrication business to see about fuel tanks. We were impressed and got bids for two 15,000 tanks as well as two portable tanks on wheels. The price was about $.50/ gallon which we both thought very reasonable here. We told Chombe that we were planning to visit with the Cessna rep for dinner and he asked if he could come because he thought some day to buy a plane of his own.

Joe, Wes, Miesa, Chombe, Wally, and I met up with Bob Prentice and a “Bush Pilot” from the area at the Harmony restaurant. They gave us brochures on the Cessna Grand Caravan model which is the type of plane Paul was most interested in buying. It has over a 2,000 lb. payload capacity and can takeoff and land in remote areas with relatively short landing distances. We had a good discussion on what we would be looking at for cost and upkeep for this type of plane. My first thoughts were that the cost is so far out of my comprehension but for Morrell Agro it seemed to be a necessity for efficient operations and most importantly for safety reasons in case of emergency to quickly get to Addis Ababa in a little over an hour rather than the 14 hr. trip it would take over the roughest roads. Wally took control of the conversation having been a seasoned pilot in the armed forces earlier in life. We concurred that we would propose to Paul to seriously consider the plane and to put landing strips at Sheneka and Alyssa farms. Mr. Prentice thought that this plane would be a cinch to learn to fly compared to the Mooney M20F that I currently fly. It also has a full glass instrument panel with the Garmin 1000 system. I suspect that tonight I will have dreams of flying.


Today we needed to get cash flow reports to Paul of Sheneka and Alyssa farms. Much of the day was in front of computers. Miesa surprised me and showed up from his assignment from the Beltu area of assessing the situation of the tribes along with government paperwork. It was good to see him. I have grown to enjoy his friendship though it may be difficult to communicate fully. Danny the newlywed showed up briefly in the office for a teasing of the crowd.

In the afternoon we held to our promise to the Manager of the Nazereth Tractor Co. to tour their Belarus Tractor assembly plant. She is an interesting lady manager. Her name is Fatuma something and she is a well kept Muslim lady. You would not think of her as a manager but we have learned that this plant is government owned and politics may play a role in her position. Because it is owned by the government Paul feels it necessary to buy some equipment from them to make for good relations. We all had preconceived ideas that a Belarus tractor is far inferior to its competition and after the tour and test drive those ideas proved to be correct.

I so badly wanted to like something about this tractor but found very little. It looked cheaply made, the cab was primitive and the shifting was very confusing and there is no draw bar in the back. They said no need for that just hook up to the three point arms. Paul still thinks we should buy a few for pulling trailers, running augers etc. They did however have some trailers that they make there that may be good for tanks and a people movers.

2009 Nov 17


A meeting with President Abadula

The morning was busy visiting with dealers such as CLAAS, a German made line of equipment, and again with Mr. Chombe with John Deere. A German technician came with the salesman to go over the details of the Lexion model of CLAAS.
It seems to be a good alternative to the John Deere since it is made closer. Mr. Chombe had more precise prices and we made alterations to options available and he will be in touch in a couple of days.

The highlight of the day came first thing in the afternoon when Paul invited Evan and me to join Wally and him to go meet with President Abadula who presides over the Oromiya region of Ethiopia, similar to a governorship in the US.

The Oromiya region is the largest region in Ethiopia and where all the land Morrell Agro expects to farm.
We came to the first gate and had to exit the Land Cruiser to get patted down by the security officer for any weapons or cameras. We then proceeded through a metal detector at the government building where his office is. We first went to the Minister of agriculture’s office where we visited until Pres. Abadula was ready to see us. I had to sit back and come to the realization of actually getting to meet people of this level in Ethiopia. I wondered how Paul had made his acquaintance after only coming to Ethiopia 18 months ago. He and Wally had met with President Abadula before on occasion and seemed very cordial as we entered his office. We all shook hands and Paul introduced Evan and me. I realized his large stature as Evan and I were introduced. After we sat down I had to look around and I found his office to be rather simple. He and Paul kidded each other and talked progress of the farms and Paul told the Pres. of concerns of paperwork to be done to secure ground and property lines on the Sheneka and Alyssa farms. We talked about results of wheat and barley varieties that Evan brought over and about test plots and their concern of Ethiopia’s lack of rain fall the past year. Paul wanted to grow out more Jefferson wheat and plant as much as 700 acres on the Bale Sate farm. They thought it would be too dry to take the chance but Paul said he would assume the risk. The minister of agriculture said fine if we assume the risk. Paul has a lot of faith in this wheat and feels that it will survive the dry season coming up. Paul asked the President if he was concerned about the upcoming election in May and he said not as concerned as he was of people potentially starving in Ethiopia.

We were again offered some famous Ethiopian coffee and had to decline. I felt bad because it would be like people coming to Idaho and saying “no thanks” to potatoes. They gave us some bottled water instead. We finished our conversation and left.

2009 Nov – 2010 Jan

2009 Nov – 2010 Jan

My time back in the States

My trip back home was long awaited. There is nothing like being away from home, wife and family for a long period that makes you appreciate what you have, especially when visiting a third world country. I appreciate my wife and family in their support of my decision of going over there for the relatively short term and now making the two year commitment to join in helping this group in achieving what I would consider to be a benefit to Ethiopia at a grand level.

Soon after coming home I enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with my wife’s family and after losing a few pounds in Ethiopia I had little reservation in partaking of the plentiful food available. Christmas was a little more special this time as well.

I had many ask of my experiences, and at times was invited to share them at large. I came to the realization of the good community of which I live and their care and interest of my family and me.

My time home was full of balancing my responsibilities between my family, family farm, Ethiopian farm, church and community. I sometimes felt I fell short in all of them.

I was given the responsibility of ordering farm equipment to be used on the Ethiopian farm. The decision was made to have mostly John Deere equipment sent over. To start we would have two new JD 8320R tractors, disks, 1895 44’ no till air drills, 9770 STS combines, etc. Ordering all this was like a dream for a farmer such as me, life will be good in Ethiopia.

Paul requested that while at home that we also acquire several U.S. made pickups and up fit them to ship to Ethiopia. He recognized the overwhelming task of everything and encouraged that I find someone to help me in this and to keep in mind that this person would travel to Ethiopia short term to help as well. I quickly had some guys in mind who are brothers that I have worked side by side with for many years and know them to be capable and experienced in much of the equipment we were to use. Paul was willing to only hire one. Bracken was the most flexible and most eager so he soon became my helper.

I would have to say it was fun shopping for five new pickups, thinking of all the things we could fit them with to endure the back roads of Ethiopia. We settled for Dodge Ram quad cab Cummins diesels. They were much cheaper and thought that the suspensions, though rougher riding than Chevy, would hold up better. Bracken seemed to be in his element. We got the big brush guards, fuel tanks, overhead racks, off road tires, fifth wheel hitches to pull trailers and tore off all the emission control stuff to handle the high sulfur diesel of Ethiopia. We consequently had to “chip” the motors to ignore the lack of the emissions and which also gives us more horsepower and fuel economy. They look and sound a little more macho now. Bracken has been invaluable in getting much of this done while I spend my time in planning and transitioning my life to go to Ethiopia.

I got disappointing news that the John Deere equipment would not be shipped before the middle of February. This meant that it would not arrive in ET until the end of March, first of April. This was quite a blow because our goal was to get our first crop planted by the end of March.

I got word from Wes who is in charge of clearing farm ground in Ethiopia that he got tire of waiting for Caterpillars to arrive and hire some 3,000 local workers to start clearing ground by hand. That was hard for me to comprehend but Wes said that we should have 2,000 hectares cleared by the first of March. If we were to stay on course of Paul’s desire to plant a crop by the end of March we would have to resort to hiring small local equipment to do the job. Consequently Paul requested that I quickly return to Ethiopia to help line this up and leaving Bracken at home to oversee the shipments of Pickups, trailers and supplies.

I made reservations for the 7th of February for my return with my wife to follow a month later.

This is a major transition in our lives to leave most of our old responsibilities and to take on new.