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SCU in Myanmar
Two years ago, Americans could not visit Myanmar, the beautiful Southeast Asian country that is transitioning—with occasional setbacks and bouts of violence—from a military-ruled country to a democracy.
But in early September, a group of 11 Santa Clara University students responded to an invitation from the business school’s Food and Agribusiness Institute (FAI), and joined a trip to Myanmar as a way of learning up close about that country’s traditional and varied farming methods for everything from tea, rice, sugar, peanuts to grapes; its challenges to develop its agricultural industry without damaging the environment; and the threats of global warming to the country’s industrious inhabitants.
“We had hoped the students would be pushed out of their comfort zone to experience both the challenges and richness of life in a developing country,” said Naumes Family Professor Greg Baker, the director of FAI who also accompanied the students on the two-week trip. “When I hear students describe their experiences as transformative or life-changing, I know that we’ve been successful.”
FAI Assistant Director Erika French-Arnold, who planned and co-chaperoned the trip, believes SCU may be the first university to take students on an immersion trip to Myanmar.
Several students recently shared their experience with fyi: Garrett Jensen, a senior accounting major; Lisa McMonagle, a junior majoring in political science and environmental studies; and Nicole Orban, a junior finance major. They each marveled at the country’s beauty and how vastly different it is from America—from its pagoda-dotted landscape to its extravagantly friendly residents (some of whom had never seen an outsider before).
“Myanmar has very little western influence,” said McMonagle. “If you visit in the future, it probably won’t be the same. We all felt we came at a very unique time.”
Among the highlights for students was a trip to a Yangong village, which required a four-hour bus ride and a two-hour boat ride on a branch of the Irrawaddy River. They were heading to a village that had never been visited by foreigners, so some of the children had never seen people with white faces. When the SCU students arrived, the entire village welcomed the group, escorting them to a monastery, feeding them nonstop, offering them extra bedding and setting up mosquito nets.
“We were really struck by their generosity, and we did not feel that we deserved that necessarily,” said McMonagle. “One of my friends said it made her really aware of how other people treat strangers in other parts of the world.”
The students also visited the city of Bagan, home to thousands of pagodas and temples, and villages along the Inle Lake region, where villagers farm on unique lake gardens, floating incubators for crops like tomatoes, supported with bamboo and beds of weeds.
The visit included many stays in monasteries; meditation with Buddhist monks; lessons in microfinance; an audience with a midwife who shared tales of NGO contraceptive workshops that didn’t quite take (think men taking birth control pills and putting condoms on fruit, as they had been shown in demonstrations); and an attempt at foot-steering a fishing boat that almost landed some students in the drink.
The level of poverty in the area was a shock to some students. “The poverty I experienced in Burma was unlike anything I was expecting to see,” said Orban. “Before the trip, I imagined that I would come into contact with begging, homelessness, and people suffering from a lack of the necessities of life. I found the most significant poverty was a poverty of options.”
Orban noted that many of the younger girls were excited to find husbands—and will never have the opportunity to travel or learn in a classroom. “They don't have the luxury of choosing a career path,” said Orban. “They will marry young, live life on a farm, and raise their daughters to do the same.”
Also during their stay, the students couldn’t avoid politics and the fact that the country (called Burma by countries like America that didn’t recognize the right of the military to change the name in 1989) is still heavily influenced by the military, which gave up power in 2011.
“All of the people we talked to were extremely honest,” said Jensen. “But they were hesitant to be honest if they were government employees.”
The students are now taking two classes to reflect on the experience, and have become Facebook friends with an author on Burmese culture and food whom they met during a class session before the trip.
“I think that our students gained an appreciation of how privileged they are,” said Baker. “They learned the importance of a functioning democracy, infrastructure, education, working markets, access to health care—all of the things that we take for granted.”
Both students recalled fondly using their free time to climb to the top of a pagoda in Bagan at sunrise and sunset, where they surveyed the landscape of the entire region, with its verdant waterways, crops, and temples and pagodas “popping out everywhere,” said McMonagle.
“We were seeing this ancient, ancient place,” she said. “It was just beautiful.”
You are cordially invited to attend The Food and Agribusiness Institute
40th Anniversary Celebration!
Join your classmates, industry leaders, faculty, current students and staff to celebrate 40 great years of teaching, researching and promoting agribusiness. Celebrate Institute activities, past and present, explore our vision for the future and share your favorite memories of the Institute!
November 16th, 2013
Santa Clara University
6 PM Reception
7 PM Dinner
$75 per person
; $600 per table for 9
Purchase tickets at celebrate40.eventbrite.com
Taking the Local, Global
On the 6th of September, a group of eleven undergraduate students and their FAI leaders embarked on a trip to a country that has only recently opened its doors to the rest of the world. We were on our way to Burma.
Our first stop was Burma’s former capital, Yangon. Burma is now called Myanmar, and Yangon was formerly Rangoon, but Americans still refer to the country primarily as Burma. Once there, we took a walking tour of the town, which included visits to numerous pagodas with lessons in Burmese history. We had the opportunity to visit Shwedagon Pagoda, which, according to ancient legend, is one of the oldest pagodas in the world. As a towering stupa covered in gold leaf, the 344-foot tall pagoda was awe-inspiring for all of us.
The second day in Burma, however, was vastly different. We woke early in the morning to leave Yangon for our first village stay. Our journey included a four-hour bus ride, with a stop to visit the District Authority and meet local and district officials and a visit to the local Catholic school. After a two hour open-top boat ride in drenching rain which Aaron Griffith ’14 compared to Apocalypse Now, we finally arrived. The villagers were ecstatic, as they had never before received foreign visitors. We were welcomed with song, dance, and more food than could ever be eaten by a group of fourteen people. Colleen Fisher ‘14, said, “The hospitality we received both at the village and throughout the whole country was amazing, and makes you step back and look at how our society treats each other, as well as outsiders.”
The elder monk of the village welcomed us to his home and shared thoughts on the village and Buddhism. Everyone, both visitors and locals, took a walk to a rice paddy just as the sun was setting, and then headed back to the village for dinner before turning in for the night. The next day, we woke early to offer breakfast to the elder monk and he led us in meditation. Our group visited schools and a rice mill before leaving the village on the boat (luckily in the sun this time!) and headed back to Yangon where we all went to bed early and prepped for the early morning flight to our next destination.
The second stop in Burma was Bagan, the country’s plain of ancient pagodas. The first day was filled with pagodas: brick pagodas, gold pagodas, pagodas you could walk inside, and more! We were even able to climb to the top of a pagoda and gain our first real glimpse of Bagan. The panoramas were unbelievable and there were pagodas as far as the eye could see. The day ended with a sunset boat ride along the Irrawaddy River and dinner as a group. The following day began with a visit to the top of a pagoda just as the sun was rising. This was followed by a stop to a local palm sugar factory and peanut farm where we saw the traditional Burmese way for making peanut oil and extracting palm sugar. We then travelled to Mt. Popa and climbed 800 steps surrounded by monkeys to Taung Kalat, a hilltop shrine with breathtaking views. That night, we were given free time so five of us decided to take a taxi to go to a pagoda and watch the sunset. We climbed up to the top of the pagoda about half an hour before the sun set and immediately knew we made the right choice. The sunset was absolutely beautiful and lit up the entire sky. There was a lightning storm in the distance as well, which made it even more beautiful. The other students and I were having such a good time that we didn’t realize it had gotten dark and the temple officials needed to ask us to leave. It was one of those life moments that I know none of us will ever forget.
The last day in Bagan was a beautiful one as well, in a much different way. We visited PACT, a micro-finance organization that has bettered the lives of many women and their families in Burma. It exists all over the country but we visited the Dry Zone branch. We were invited to meet with more than 200 women who have received loans from this organization. It was a humbling experience for all of us because they were all so welcoming and happy that we were there. We were divided into small groups and, with the help of numerous translators, were able to hear individual stories of women whose lives were changed by the money they have received through micro-finance. We also visited the shops of multiple women who had received loans from PACT and saw firsthand how the program is making a difference. It was truly amazing to see the change that this micro-finance organization was making. We first talked to those who ran the organization and they presented an overview of the project, but meeting the women who were empowered by the loans and hearing about their lives, both before and after they received the loans, was completely different.
The third stop in Burma was the Inle Lake region. We started with a hike in Pindaya, a local town consisting of multiple villages. In order to get to the monastery where we would be staying for the night, we first had to hike up and down slippery slopes in intermittent rains for more than four hours. While this made for a long day, it was easily one of the most memorable experiences for all of us. We were able to see a whole new side of Burma as we walked by homes and farms in the mountains and observed everyday life for the people who lived there, which was different than in other places we visited because of the village's remote location. The hike finished at the monastery where we talked with the village leader, the head monk, the village midwife, and other local people about their lives in Burma. Jamie Monk ’16 said “It was really interesting seeing how their micro-economy is managed and seeing the different systems used compared to the United States, especially with regards to local government.“
For the next two days, we took to the water and headed out onto Inle Lake. These days were filled with activities including visits to a local home built on stilts over the lake, a Burmese Cat Village, a local pagoda, lotus weaving shop, multiple local food shops, and more. We also learned a lot about fishing and farming on the lake. We stopped by the boats of some local fishermen and watched how they row and fish. Some of us, myself included, even tried it out for ourselves and found that it was much harder than it looked. We were even told to wear life jackets as we tried it, since they figured that we would fall in! Luckily, none of us did.
In addition to fishing on the lake, there is a lot of farming as well. We stopped at a floating garden, which is a piece of land basically floating on the edges of the lake, and in the late tributaries where people grow all of their vegetables. We were able to step onto the island and see what farming would be like if we were to farm there. The farmers gather up lake-bottom weeds from the deeper parts of the lake, bring them back in boats and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, anchored by bamboo poles.
The trip was one of the most memorable and lasting experiences that the group and I have ever had. We made so many memories and learned about such a vastly different way of life, and our timing was impeccable. Lynsey Palmer ‘14, another member of our group expressed the feeling of the trip well, saying “As Myanmar becomes more and more developed, I realize that many of the experiences we had will never happen again,” and she’s probably right. We are all so grateful to be able to share this experience with each other and are thankful to FAI for the opportunity.
~ Written by Lisa McMonagle, an FAI employee and FHPE Pathway student
Seven students and alumni from the Food and Agribusiness Institute visited Ingomar Packing Company on August 9th to learn about the tomato processing industry from FAI alumnus and board member, and Ingomar CEO, Greg Pruett. Greg started by giving us a history of the company and some information about their current acreage and production. He also answered questions ranging from issues the company is facing, such as water shortages in the Central Valley, to sustainability and distribution. After donning hardhats and ear plugs, Greg led the group on a tour that began with ripe tomatoes and concluded with tomato paste and canned tomatoes.
FAI specialization student Satpaul Bains said, "The tour shows how many processes there are to create a product from a raw material, and it allowed students to learn the difficulties in competing with other competitors offering commodities. This trip also gave us the opportunity to actually see the process that creates value for the producer and the technology that is utilized to create a consistent product while trying to gain economies of scale."
Ingomar produces three types of tomato products: hot break tomato paste, which includes concentrated crushed tomato paste, cold break tomato paste, and aseptic diced tomatoes in juice. Greg gave students an extensive tour of his production facility and explained how tomatoes are selected for each product, the grade necessary for each product and the machinery used for each part of the process. Students watched as tomatoes were sorted, both by machine and by hand, the heating process to strip the tomatoes of their skins and seeds and the process of packaging and canning the tomatoes or paste to be distributed to companies around the country. Mahbod Parvar, a recent alumnus of FAI, said "Living in a city, we often lose sight of where our foods come from and how they get made. Visiting the Ingomar factory in Los Banos provided a new perspective on how tomato paste is made, packaged, and shipped."
FAI Network President Ray Shady, who arranged the tour for the students, remarked: "In addition to being an enormous operation, Ingomar's attention to quality, emphasis on efficiency and process control were also very impressive. Greg was a welcoming host and generously took additional time out of his day to take us through parts of the plant not on a traditional tour."
Greg demonstrated how a chemist in a lab tests samples regularly to ensure the quality of the product and all of the students were able to try the still-warm sample of tomato paste.
Zach Wise, an FAI specialization student and member of the winning IFAMA case study competition team said: “The tour of the Ingomar Packing tomato plant was an eye opening experience. The sheer size and incredible efficiency of the plant was very impressive. For someone interested in the food and agribusiness industry, it’s always interesting to see how the products behind the well-known brands are really produced. Greg was a wonderful host, and was very generous with his time and knowledge of the industry. Overall, it was a great experience."