A mission to feed hungry
Joel Thorsrud wants to feed the world's hungry children, and he thinks soybeans can make it happen. The Hillsboro, N.D., soybean grower spent late August and early September in South Africa and Mozambique, where he said soybean meal and soybean m...
Joel Thorsrud wants to feed the world's hungry children, and he thinks soybeans can make it happen.
The Hillsboro, N.D., soybean grower spent late August and early September in South Africa and Mozambique, where he said soybean meal and soybean milk can prevent malnutrition.
"There's a lot of really hungry people over in Africa" who need protein, Thorsrud said.
"We'd like to see those hungry people fed," the 61-year-old farmer said. "We'd like to see those children get the opportunity to get diets not deficient in protein."
Thorsrud attended two conferences on soybean issues in Cape Town, South Africa. He is one of the directors of United Soybean Growers and was traveling with the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health program.
The program was founded by soybean farmers in 2000, and works in 23 countries to improve diets and encourage growth of food industries.
In Mozambique, Thorsrud said rioting due to price hikes for water, bread and electricity shut down the city, and delegates stuck to their hotel.
"We did get the message that there's a lot of hungry people," he said. "If you increase their prices or disrupt the food that they're going to get, you've got a serious problem."
He also visited philanthropist and farmer Howard Buffett, the son of billionaire Warren Buffett. He has a farm north of Johannesburg, Thorsrud said. Buffett, who also farms in Illinois, is trying to increase productivity of African farms.
"Pretty tough climate, very sandy soil, not a lot of nutrients. It's not easy to grow things. It takes a lot of irrigation to keep a crop growing," Thorsrud said.
The conferences discussed food science technologies and marketing soybeans on the continent, he said.
Africa has the potential to be a much bigger market, Thorsrud said. After all, 20 years ago, "we never dreamt that China could be a huge buyer of soybeans, and here they are, they're buying most of the soybeans in North Dakota and in other states as well."
China imported 25 percent of the soybeans grown in the U.S. last year, he said.
Thorsrud farms 1,200 acres - about half planted with soybeans, and half to wheat and corn. He's been farming for 41 years.
He's also traveled to Thailand and Honduras on soybean issues or for the World Initiative for Soy.
"When I got home (from Africa), it was close to time to harvest for soybeans. Waiting in line at the elevator, I thought, 'We've got so many soybeans, we can barely move through the line,' " Thorsrud said.
It was a stark contrast to the need he had seen in Africa.
"When I travel abroad seeing hungry children getting their diets improved by eating soybean products, nothing can make me feel better than that," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583