LOMA PLATA, Paraguay — Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez and other political leaders visited Mennonite farms and attended the inauguration of a health post, a school expansion, a new road and a bridge Feb. 12 in the village of Virgen del Fátima.
Other dignitaries on the trip included vice president Hugo Velázquez, minister for public buildings and communication Arnoldo Wiens, minister of agriculture and livestock Rodolfo Friedman, minister of health Julio Mazzoleni and Luis Alberto Villordo, head of the national power administration.
The president and his colleagues arrived in four planes at Alwin and Roswitha Kauenhowen’s Ganadera Esperanza (Rancher Hope) company. The president had been invited by Gustav Sawatzky, president of Cooperativa Chortitzer Ltda., to visit the cultivation of cotton with irrigation.
Ganadera Esperanza is a farm of around 9,900 acres, and Kauenhowen increases his arable land almost every year.
A tour included inspection of a 650-foot well that accesses a largely untouched aquifer shared with Argentina and Bolivia to feed pivot irrigation.
President Benítez and Minister Friedman operated a modern cotton harvesting machine, and the group observed trucks being loaded with two-and-a-half-ton bales of cotton, ready for transport to an industrial plant in Loma Plata.
The group visited the Neuhof company farm owned by the Herbert Hiebert family to get a look at an operation that began cultivation in August.
Four hundred acres are planted with cotton, drip-irrigated from three wells.
Another 250 acres are prepared for onion sowing, with a plan to plant several additional acres with watermelons, cabbage and other vegetables.
The Chortitzer cooperative expressed concern about the lack of electricity for irrigation in the region, resulting in large losses in agriculture and farmers not able to invest in irrigation, though experts report there is more than enough groundwater. Government support for research projects and new varieties of cotton seed was requested.
The Kauenhowens got word only days in advance that the president would come, after complaints about irrigation power supply problems fell on deaf ears.
Benítez reportedly promised to significantly improve the power supply within a few weeks.