Africa Native Experiences South Dakota Agriculture through Agtegra Internship and SDSU

Jun 24, 2022

For Zeca da Silva, an internship with Agtegra is providing him with much more than a work experience – he’s gaining skills and knowledge to bring back to his farm in Africa.

A native of Guinea-Bissau, a country on the west coast of Africa, Zeca came to the United States to learn more about agricultural practices and strengthen his English-speaking skills. Having graduated from a mechanics program at a vocational school in Africa 32 years ago, Zeca had always dreamed of pursuing higher education, a goal he was able to achieve after enrolling at South Dakota State University in 2019.

Deciding to study in the U.S. was both a long-term goal and a distinctive point in time for Zeca. He remembers attending a training in a neighboring country where people were speaking English, French and his country’s official language, Portuguese. Since he knew more English than most, he translated the training for other attendees. Knowing there was more to learn about the language, he decided he needed to go to a country where English is spoken while also learning more about agriculture. After an internet search for agricultural universities in the U.S., he decided to apply to SDSU.

As part of the requirements to graduate with his degree in Agricultural Systems Technology, Zeca must complete an internship, which is how his program coordinator connected him with Agtegra.

“Each intern’s ‘why’ is so different from one another, which is why it is important that we take the time to listen and understand each intern’s background, interests and goals to guide us in placing them in a position at our organization that gives them room to learn, grow personally and professionally and develop their own passion for the agriculture industry,” said McKenzie DuFresne, Agtegra Talent Management Lead.

During his internship at the Willow Lake location, Zeca has had the opportunity to learn more about agronomy and grain operations, including learning more about how seeds are prepared for planting and how fields are sprayed.

Through SDSU’s Agricultural Systems Technology program, Zeca has been able to take classes such as farm and ranch management and soil and water mechanics. Topics taught in his classes have been very valuable to Zeca as he analyzes how he can take what he has learned in labs and classrooms and apply them to his farm.

Back home, Zeca farms crops including rice, cashews and corn. Unlike many traditional farms in South Dakota, farms in Zeca’s country are mainly used to produce food for the families who raise it, and the crops they do not need are taken to market.

“Here in America, intensive farming and huge machinery produce a lot with little land,” Zeca said. “Back home, we produce for self-consumption and use human power.”

His experiences with South Dakota agriculture have inspired him to create goals of applying similar practices on his farm. For example, he hopes to build a small-scale version of a tractor for use in some of his rice fields.

“My goal is to learn something here about agriculture and apply it back home to help people improve their systems,” said Zeca.

Zeca ultimately hopes to impact agriculture in his country by getting involved with his local government and influencing policy to improve agricultural systems.

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