Understanding the culture and agriculture of two emerging U.S. trade partners brought the 10th class of the South Dakota Agricultural and Rural Leadership Foundation (SDARL) to Vietnam and Cambodia during a two-week International Study Seminar in February and March 2020.

While in Vietnam the class explored the wide variety of agricultural products, some of which are quite unique and different from those produced in the U.S. The class traveled to a silk plant, where raw materials from silk worms are gathered, processed and spun into fiber. Other visits included a “weasel coffee” producer, rice noodle farm, chocolate and cacao production facilities, and green houses that use hydroponic technology to grow vegetables.

Class members were briefed on trade, politics, and social issues at the U.S. Consulate by Consul General Marie Damour, following a welcome by Senior Attache for Agricultural Affairs Benjamin Petlock. The class traveled to the Mai Am Thein Than orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City and gave gifts to the children, in addition to reading, playing ball, and helping with coloring books. The orphanage cares for children from newborns to age 10.

The class took in the sights, sounds, and smells of a Vietnamese supermarket, where class members saw many products from the U.S. on sale, including apples from Washington State and USDA-labeled meat. The group compared prices and products before visiting a traditional outdoor Vietnam fruit and vegetable market.


The class also visited the Tan Tien Cooperative, where fruits and vegetables are grown in green houses nestled into the hillside.

One morning was spent at Can Tho University with Associate Professor Pham Dang Tri, College of Environmental and Natural Resources. Professor Tri focuses on agriculture development in the context of climate change, sea level rise, and water shortage, and told the class of trade along the Mekong River and challenges of competition among neighboring countries. The class visited the river in the days preceding the discussion to give perspective to his comments.

In Cambodia, class members learned of the years of war that affected the country and shaped its future. Eighty percent of the 16 million residents of Cambodia are farmers. Only 46% of the population is literate, and average income for families living outside of cities is $400 per month. The class toured religious sites, such as the Banteay Srey Temple, Bayon Temple, and Angkor Wat, and visited a traditional family rice farm, cashew farm, and rubber plantation. Class members also met with young artisans learning trades such as wood and sandstone carving and ceramics.

The study tour ended in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penn, where Class X members visited a Kubota tractor dealer. The equipment is imported from Thailand and includes tractors, combines, and backhoes. Equipment is similar to that available in the U.S. but is much smaller to fit with the crops grown in the country.

Class X completes its 18-month leadership development experience with graduation in April 2020. Applications are currently being accepted for Class XI of the SDARL program.

The SDARL flagship program is a series of seminars over 18 months in which competitively-selected class members learn the skills, knowledge, and character of leaders for agriculture and rural communities in South Dakota. SDARL also offers leadership training to partner organizations through a “Leadership 2.0” series, and to graduates through SDARL “Graduate Experience” seminars. The SDARL Foundation, a 501 –c-3 corporation, is the management and funding organization for the program and other leadership development efforts. Learn more at www.sdagleadership.com.


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