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Paraguay’s new minister of agriculture has K-State ties

By Bryan Richardson

Manhattanites wouldn’t normally be interested in a new cabinet officer in Paraguay.

But at least one local family is keyed up about the naming of K-State alum Jorge Gattini as that nation’s minister of agriculture.

Gattini, who in 1998 earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics at K-State, was sworn in Aug. 15 under new President Horacio Cartes. He has held several positions mostly in the agriculture ministry’s marketing department under three agriculture ministers.

He also earned a master’s degree in applied economic environmental at University of London, Imperial College.

Gattini came to Manhattan from Paraguay in a cultural exchange program with Kansas 4-H, staying with Norman Schlesener and his wife, Mary Alice, for about a month during the early 1990s. Schlesener is a member of Kansas Paraguay Partners, an international volunteer organization promoting people-to-people exchanges between Paraguayans and Kansans.

Schlesener said he recalled Gattini being a “confident young fellow,” adding that “he once told us that one day he would be the minister of agriculture.

“Sometime after that, my wife and I thought, ‘He probably will be minister of agriculture,’” Schlesener added.

Schlesener said Gattini was very inquisitive and dedicated to helping his country. “He was incisive in his understanding of the problems in his country,” he said. “He was obviously dedicated to being a good student.”

Schlesener said he and his wife became closer with Gattini when Gattini came back for graduate school with his wife, Lourdes, with whom he has three children. He said the couples communicate during birthdays and Christmas, mainly by e-mail through Lourdes and Mary Alice.

Allen Featherstone, agricultural economics professor at K-State, served as Gattini’s professor during his graduate school work and oversaw his master’s thesis, “The Agricultural Financial System in Paraguay.” The purpose of the project was to setup a financial system to allow farmers to get credit for purchase.

“I always knew Jorge would have a big future just from the interactions I’ve had with him as a student,” Featherstone said.

In an interview with a radio station in Paraguay prior to assuming his position, Gattini said the country is poor, but it is also poorly managed. He said things can be reviewed to see what has been done wrong.

“He says he has ideas for things they can do to be more competitive and come out ahead,” Schlesener said.

There are also a couple of Internet tidbits about Gattini indicating that his past and current life needs to be updated online. For starters, his Wikipedia page lists him as a graduate of the University of Kansas, as of Monday morning.

Also, the K-State agricultural economics department has a section on its website for lost alumni, people who the department have lost track of over the years. As of Monday morning, Gattini is listed as a lost alumnus.

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