Friday, August 24, 2012

Letters from Africa #3...  

I'm studying the maps now.

Opportunities and Threats....
We arrived in the major port city of Dar Es Salaam Tanzania on Sunday.  The Indian ocean is incredibly beautiful here.  We count 20 ships just stuck offshore for up to three weeks waiting to unload the cargo onboard due to inadequate, poorly run facilities. We drove out to the city near our Tanzania farm yesterday, Morogoro.  The traffic we encountered leaving Dar Es Salaam was ridiculous.  Over 90 minutes just to get to the outskirts of the city. Our investor group is buying 80% of a 100,000 acre cattle ranch that a medical doctor & his brother, a commercial airline pilot bought many years ago to be the pilot's vocation after retirement.  Unfortunately, the pilot died and the heirs have struggled to figure out what to do with the land.  Our group proposed they retain 20% of it and work with
us in developing profitable crop & livestock enterprises here.  A nephew is accompanying us.  He informs us we could start a game farm business quite cheaply and get a quota of impala, cape buffalo, wildebeast, élan, etc.  He is an accomplished artist that paints wildlife art as a specialty

I am getting briefed on the rainfall patterns here, closer to the equator than Mozambique.  It seems there are two rainy seasons, one in August-September, a second in February through May.  As an old barley grower, I want to explore the idea of sneaking in a crop of barley during that first season.  There is a big demand by maltsters for good malting barley here.  The groundwater supplies in this part of the world will allow for irrigation with good quality & quantity at about 270 feet.  If, however, we can double crop without irrigation our numbers improve substantially.

To get a sense of the vastness of this area consider this.  The entire US corn crop covers 84 million acres this year.  The arable land in Tanzania and Mozambique alone is at least 125 million acres.  So you could plant 1.5 times the US corn crop in these two countries that look like a tiny slice of east Africa on a map.

Walking around on the property this morning I suppose I'm feeling a little like my great-grandfather felt when he first walked the land he obtained in North Dakota as compensaton for six months of back wages earned taking care of horses at a livery stable in Northfield Minnesota.  How does it "lay"?  It seems to lay quite well.  Almost flat with no rocks.  The trees are much smaller than in Mozambique, 8-12 feet tall, 2-4 inch diameter.  They should be relatively easy to clear with the D-7' s.  The soils near the ranch headquarters (which isn't much) are much more red in color than Mozy but based on the soil tests we have performed they are just as fertile as the darker soil near the river.

Unlike North Dakota, there is variety in the terrain.  Two hills covering about 10,000 acres that reach up to about 500 feet emerge out of the flat plain.  They are wooded but are within two miles of the major highway that splits the farm almost exactly in half.  We speculate about locating housing on the gentle slopes of these hills.

Two of the biggest nuts to crack to make this venture work are logistics and human resources.  Getting all kinds of stuff here in a timely and cost effective do we do it?  Containers, the internet, & aircraft are the key systems we will employ.  Forty foot containers loaded on large vessels are capable of moving large machinery great distances.  We have already sent four Versatile 875's over, one from my hometown of Wahpeton ND.  The top of the cab gets a haircut to fit, but is easily rewelded here.  Gearing up to load containers quickly and effectively is son Josh's task but we have access to lots of expertise to get us up the learning curve.

The internet....the ability to send a PICTURE of anything we have questions about to someone in the US who has insight into the answer is a powerful tool.  We tested the time and cost of sending a 10 pound critical parts package last week.  It cost $300 and took four days to get to the Mozambique farm through the UPS channel.  We will find ways to collapse this supply system considerably. a 45 year pilot I am almost giddy about the flying conditions here.  Eight months of the year there  is essentially no severe weather, fog, ice, etc.   During the rainy season the systems don't get organized until noon so you get at least four hours of beautiful flying weather every day of the year!  The latest satellite--GPS systems will allow me to fly twin engine aircraft, now selling at very cheap prices over and create a highly effective shuttle system that links our two farms, 800 miles apart, within 5 hours of each other.
The aircraft we will start off with, the Piper Seneca, has already been approved to burn an ethanol-based fuel known as aviation grade E85.  Making ethanol at our farms will reduce the operating cost of our aircraft operations by 60%.

All for now, I will comment on human resources later.  Wallie

 It's not like I will be hauling in grain during February...


Steve said...

Enjoying this series of posts. I wonder how he managed to find a hundred thousand acres. Purchased from the government?

John Phipps said...


He says in there somewhere he bought it from two brothers.