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Davis, California

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Schwarzenegger, President of Chile sign agriculture partnership at UC Davis

As UC Davis students took their last finals June 12, the campus buzzed with excitement at the arrival of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for a signing ceremony of agricultural cooperation agreements between Chile and UC Davis.

Chancellor Vanderhoef opened the ceremony in Freeborn Hall, where he spoke of the importance of building relations between the UC Campuses.

“President Bachelet’s presence here today validates the importance of building bridges – building them globally – and the role that university can play in building those bridges,” he said. 

Schwarzenegger drew laughs from the audience in his introduction, declaring that President Bachelet’s background “reads like a script to a Hollywood blockbuster…. She is a doctor, she is a surgeon, she is a pediatrician, and the first female defense minister and the first female president of Chile. She is also brilliant and speaks five languages – three more than I speak if you give me credit for my English.”

President Bachelet delivered part of her speech in English, emphasizing the new stage of agreement into which Chile has entered with California. She said that now, instead of looking for UC Davis to help the Chilean economy, the two will collaborate as equals.

“We come not asking for help as in the past in the ’60s, but offering help as good partners … in trade, culture, and education and agriculture, wine and energy,” she said.

She ended the latter part of her speech, spoken in Spanish to address the Chilean audience members, with an “hasta la vista” to the governor and the indication that she hopes to see him soon – perhaps in a future visit to Chile.

Chancellor Vanderhoef, Dean Neal Van Alfen of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and two Chilean officials joined Schwarzenegger and Bachelet to sign two memoranda for UC Davis and Chile’s collaboration in researching and teaching agricultural seed and variety development, and wine-making and grape growing.

The second pair of memoranda was signed by Californian and Chilean officials agreeing to work together in energy strategy and development, water conservation and renewing the California State University’s partnership in education with Chile.

Schwarzenegger said the agreements will provide “opportunities for curriculum development, applied research and capital development.”

“The benefit [of the agreements] is working together to improve trade and help Chile with its development,” said Schwarzenegger, who noted that trade between California and Chile has increased 250 percent since 2004, when the South American country signed a free trade agreement with the United States.

Schwarzenegger’s visit came on a day in which drought concerns prompted him to proclaim a state of emergency in nine Central Valley counties. The governor said the agreement with Chile highlights the importance of “infrastructure [and] moving water as quickly as possible.”

Chile is facing water supply challenges of its own, Bachelet said.

“For the last 20 years, we’ve had all the dams we need. It’s the need of water we have to take into consideration,” she said.

A question-and-answer session followed the signing, in which Schwarzenegger and Bachelet fielded inquiries from reporters. While Chilean journalists asked Bachelet – in Spanish – about a recent small plane crash in their country, American reporters grilled Schwarzenegger on California’s budget woes.

“No nation has ever suffered from economic development when it tries to live within its means,” said the governor, responding to a question as to whether severe budget cuts will hurt the state’s growth.

“We should fix the dysfunctional system,” said Schwarzenegger, who said economic growth should be a stable 5 percent per year as opposed to “20 percent one year, 1 percent the next.”

“We’re going to work together, Democrats and Republicans, to solve this issue like we have in the past,” Schwarzenegger said.

The two distinguished guests ended their visit with a private luncheon at Vanderhoef’s home, where he presented Bachelet with the UC Davis Medal – the highest honor the school awards.

Before the signing ceremony, Schwarzenegger and Bachelet took a short tour of UC Davis’ vineyard, guided by graduating viticulture major Alysha Stehly and viticulture and enology professor Andy Walker.

“It was fun; the governor is quite articulate and free thinking. President Bachelet knew about viticulture and was very articulate as well,” said Walker of the unplanned tour.

UC Davis’ renewal of educational partnership with Chile stems from a 1965 to 1975 program funded by the Ford Foundation, where Chilean students studied in UC Davis to receive their Ph.D.s. Self-proclaimed as the “Davis boys,” the Chilean students returned to Chile with their newfound education as key developers of the currently existing Chilean agricultural export and import industry, said Seed Biotechnology Center director Kent Bradford.

California is well-suited for an agricultural union with Chile since the climate and topography are so similar.

“Chile and California are mirror images on opposites of the equator; they’re good complementary industries,” Bradford said.

“When our crops are in, theirs aren’t, and we aren’t in when their crops are in,” he said. “We hope to advance our breeding programs faster so we can grow two crops a year by finding the complementary programs. We have more breeding programs, and by capitalizing on that synergy, we can breed things they can test, varieties [that] we can license in both locations and locations around the world.”

The Seed Biotechnology Center helps develop tools and methods that enhance the ability to develop new crops and will be the primary center working with Chile.

“I think the fundamentals behind the memorandum are to increase education and expand research [for] whole new generations of scientists and leaders. I think it’s great and amazing, such far-reaching and forward thinking,” Walker said.


WENDY WANG and PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at campus@californiaaggie.com.


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