Editor's note: This article has been edited to correct student Josh Irvin's name.
BROOKINGS – Sometimes older is better.
It is when it comes to providing tractors to Ghana via an affiliated chapter of Tractors for Africa, made up of 10 “Catholic Jacks” students working out of the Pius XII Newman Center on the campus of South Dakota State University.
Norman Statz, a junior from St. Cloud, Minnesota, majoring in civil engineering, and Brad Wittrock, a sophomore from Sioux Falls majoring in mechanical engineering, got together a group of about eight fellow students to form the chapter: freshmen to seniors majoring in disciplines that include ag engineering, ag education, civil engineering, chemical engineering, economics and English.
“Brad and I kind of got together and we found this in the alumni magazine that they issue quarterly,” Statz said of the genesis of the SDSU TFA chapter. The umbrella organization – “Tractors for Africa,” a nonprofit organization – was founded by Mark York (SDSU 2012), who designed the model for how the program would work. He sent the first tractor to Burkina Faso in 2016. However, the focus has now shifted to Ghana.
Statz said he and his group are looking to send tractors to Ghana because of economic instability over fuel prices – “civil war or something going on” – in Burkina Faso.
Their focus is on the 3020 John Deere diesel model. “They like them because they’re all mechanical,” he explained. “They’re easier to fix and run.”
Part of a bigger picture
Statz said a long-range goal for the overall TFA organization is “to get 50 tractors to Ghana and then farmers’ cooperative organizations would rent the tractors to smaller groups of farmers … with the idea that once they have 50 over there they would build up revenue and could start purchasing their own tractors and be self-sustaining.”
The cost for buying and shipping a tractor is $25,000. The SDSU chapter members now have two tractors, John Deere 3020 deisels, they’re restoring and readying for shipment. One was purchased in Worthington, Minnesota, via Craigslist and the other from a used equipment dealer in Pipestone, Minnesota. Their goal is to have them ready for shipment by February 2019. It takes two to three months for shipment, so they’ll get there in time for planting season.
“We do as many as we can,” Statz said. “This year our goal is two.” With successful fundraising they’d like to do two more next year, with an overall future goal of providing six or seven of the total number of 50 tractors.
The Catholic Jacks group has been holding its organizational and administrative meetings at the Newman Center on the SDSU campus. Future chapter efforts, however, are looking to be more non-denominational.
“We’re trying right now to expand,” Statz said. “We have a few people from the African Students Association who might be helping us out. They’re not all Catholics. Some of them are Lutherans.”
Not just looking for money
To help cover the cost of buying and shipping the tractors, members have been reaching out to the community. During October and November, they talked to congregations attending Mass at the Pius XII Newman Center on campus; during the first weekend in December, they talked to the congregation following Masses at St. Thomas More Catholic Parish. They were not just seeking donations.
“It’s not just money that we take,” Statz said. “We take tractor donations, parts donations, plows, whatever.”
They had handouts available that in a nutshell told what Tractors for Africa is all about.
The handout explained that TFA “is a nonprofit organization that empowers African communities to rise above poverty with the help of used tractors that are operated by farmer cooperatives in Western Africa. The lack of tractors inhibits the ability to produce larger quantities of goods.
“It is our goal to raise $25,000, and any donations will be matched (by an anonymous donor), which would allow us to fix and send two tractors and any spare parts to Africa. By donating today, you can become a part of a solution for Africa’s chronic food shortage.”
While all the Catholic Jacks are pitching in for the repair work, the go-to guys with the hands-on, mechanical fix-it skills are Hank Neyens, a second-year senior majoring in agricultural engineering, from a farm near Minneota, Minnesota, and Josh Irvin, a junior from Austin, Minnesota, also majoring in ag engineering.
This past week found Statz and his crew at the rural Brookings acreage of retired chiropractor Dr. David Eggers, who is helping them with their project by providing storage and workspace for their two tractors.
Neyens explained that one of the two John Deere 3020 diesels needed minor repairs; the other “was a much bigger job than the other one,” in effect “needing a complete engine overhaul and a frame overhaul.”
For Neyens, TFA will continue in Ghana, which incidentally has a John Deere dealership. He will go there in March 2019 for a couple of weeks to show the people how to use the tractors and how to do minor repairs.
Asked about how and why they became involved with TFA, the group members’ universal answer was that it provided an opportunity to help other communities; it’s a good service project; and it provided good experience about how to form and run an organization.
Additional information about the SDSU Tractors for Africa chapter can be found via Facebook:@SDSUTFAS or e-mail: [email protected]
Donations can be made at: gofundme.com/TFAStudents.
Contact John Kubal at [email protected]