Paraguay is the world’s fourth largest soybean exporter. Familiar names such as Archer Daniels Midland dot the landscape. Farms along the road that follows the Parana River offer what Mike Doherty calls a modern “Midwestern feel.”
But the Illinois Farm Bureau economist found a different Paraguay off the main drag -- a country of rutted roads and tin-roofed homes, farmers scrabbling for subsistence, and a farm feel closer to that of the U.S. in the 1940s or 1950s.
Doherty hopes to help unify the two Paraguays through crop diversification and “institutional strengthening.” Tapping into IFB’s nearly century-old cooperative origins, he attempted to show Paraguayan farmers how, collectively, they might grow sustainable markets in oranges or tea.
IFB economist Mike Doherty (right) enjoys a yerba mate tea break with local Paraguayan agribusinessmen.
“Paraguay’s the fastest-growing soybean exporting country, but that’s not what I was there to work on,” he said. “Paraguay has a need to support the other tier of farmers who aren’t part of soybean production.
“They have some background in specialty crop production, but they need strengthening. They need to get together and form cooperatives so they can do a better job of marketing and earning income from specialty crops.”
Doherty, a former Peace Corps educator who once worked with Dominican sugar producers through USDA, focused on potential local and export markets for Paraguayan citrus, Yerba mate tea, or passion fruit juice. He met with farmers as a volunteer with the Washington-based Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance.
Doherty noted Paraguay is “pretty heavily weighted” toward soybean and beef exports -- Brazilian-style farming methods were introduced in the 1960s. Illinois farmers can benefit from their Paraguayan counterparts developing “markets outside the typical commodity markets,” he said.
Market development and income improvement someday could translate to increased U.S. ag exports to Paraguay. However, Doherty sees agricultural good will as the most immediate U.S. benefit of building Paraguay’s productive profitability.
The Paraguayan government “has a long history of being very open to outside investment,” he noted. U.S. engagement with Brazil has led to joint ventures with and investment opportunities for Midwest growers, and over the past decade, Paraguay has seen rapid economic growth, Doherty said.
“What little U.S. presence there is in the rural areas is either from Peace Corps volunteers, who generally don’t have a strong ag background, or big ag companies,” he stressed. “Their impression of America is well-intentioned young college-educated Americans who may not know much about production agriculture or ADM building a big soybean plant.
“They don’t get an opportunity to gain any impression of what the typical American farmer has to offer in the area of cooperative marketing.”