Savannah Greens owner bets the farm on Mozambique

Opportunity knocks in a nation that imports much of its food and is friendly to business.

A rural area in Mozambique similar to the location where Drew Rogers will establish his farm.

A rural area in Mozambique similar to the location where Drew Rogers will establish his farm. Courtesy photo

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WALLA WALLA — Drew Rogers is putting the “far” in “farming.”

Rogers, owner of Savannah Greens, is preparing to travel to Mozambique, Africa, to establish a farming business.

Rogers took his first trip to Mozambique in 2009, living there for two years. “I ended up going to work for a mission organized by the Adventist church,” Rogers said. The trip was organized through Maranatha Volunteers, a group involved in building churches, schools and wells for water.

Mozambique has a large number of unemployed people and food shortages, along with great land and natural resources. That combination looked to Rogers like a business opportunity, and the farming operation Savannah Greens was born.

“It’s a great opportunity to do something valuable and use my business degree,” Rogers said. He earned his bachelor of science in general business administration from Walla Walla University in 2007,

Rogers’ time in Mozambique was spent helping and learning.

“I saw this huge need that’s everywhere. What stood out for me was that there’s an opportunity here,” he said. “They are importing everything; they are not producing for themselves. Eight months after being there when I wasn’t working, I’d visit the tribal leaders and try to find land.”

After much searching and negotiation, Rogers eventually settled on a suitable spot for the farm.

“Leasing the land took a long time. I found an ideal land situation, good land, it has its own water, close to the city of two million people. Near the capital city, Maputo,” Rogers said.

“A problem with farming now is the huge foreign-owned farms that export all of it, not doing much for the local economy. It’s not that they haven’t thought of it. The local people know there’s this need but they don’t have the background in commercial opportunities. The principle of this mission is business, but it’s a great opportunity for many things.”

It’s a long-term project for him and the people he will employ. “I’m hoping for it to become my career. But I’m not going to give up my life here. The first year I’ll be there all the time, doing whatever it’ll take. Then a month on and a month off,” he said.

The departure date keeps changing, but Rogers currently expects to leave Sept. 1. The voyage from here to Mozambique takes 36 hours — three days of travel. The planning and preparation are intense, and everything has to be thought of in advance.

“I have this 40-foot shipping container — basically I will create a farm in a box. I have one tractor for land preparations, one cultivating tractor and all the implements for it. It will be a small-scale truck farm. The same principles, I’m just borrowing from our past. Irrigation is drip and ditch — the climate is hot, tropical.”

Rogers compares his enterprise to living in the Wild West. “I’ve gone west. For me it’s the chance to go out and pioneer,” he said.

He will rent a small, two-room house in a town 10 miles away since there are no structures on the farm, which will be completely off the grid. There’s no electricity available at the site, so Rogers is building a diesel pump with parts he’s scrounged from various sources.

“I’m trying to think of everything. I’m scavenging Craigslist, auctions and yard sales. I’m meeting really neat people. A large number of row crop farmers consult or help. I’ve been calling with questions,” he said.

Innovation is part of the projected day-to-day operation. “If you want something you have to make it yourself. I will get a vehicle from Japan — they drive on the opposite side of the road than in the U.S. — a sort of refrigerated delivery van,” he said.

Although he has a background in a farming family and he loves growing things, Rogers never thought he’d end up doing this. “It’s very rewarding work,” he said.

Rogers chose Mozambique for its receptiveness to entrepreneurialism.

“That country has a lot better attitude than a lot of African countries,” Rogers said. “They haven’t seen a lot of dependence on foreign handouts. They went through a revolution and then with the new government found their own people treated them worse. They accept foreigners and work together, all have different skills, which is perfect for working together.”

“A number of friends who work for me are nationals. They worked for me at that time, several years ago. They were treated well and will come back to work for me,” Rogers said. He has a church network of friends and associates as well.

Savannah Greens will sell produce to several new Western-style grocery stores rather than the open market on the street. Because of the growing middle class, more grocery stores and restaurants have opened.

“Grocery stores are importing everything. They are begging me to supply them,” he said.

Unlike the many regulations and restrictions on American farmers, Mozambique has virtually no restraints on what can be done. “It’s truly a free market,” Rogers said.

“I started three years ago, drafted a budget and adjusted it. Things keep changing for the better as I learn more and more, but it’s taken time,” Rogers said.

“God is pushing me to do this, so many things have come at the right place and right time. I’ve never done anything else like this.”

Karlene Ponti can be reached at karleneponti@wwub.com or 509-526-8324.

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