By Hugh Fisher, The Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS – Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa made an unannounced visit to Kannapolis Monday and Tuesday, touring the N.C. Research Campus and other facilities with David Murdock.
While here, Correa made a presentation on Yachay, a planned “city of knowledge” currently being developed in northern Ecuador.
Murdock, owner of Dole Foods and creator of the NCRC, led a delegation that included the Ambassador Nathalie Cely, Ecuador’s representative in Washington, D.C., and government ministers.
Organizers said that Correa is looking to the NCRC as a model for the kinds of partnerships and research that could take place there.
“It was really amazing,” President Correa told reporters in the lobby of Pity’s Sake Lodge, where Murdock entertained the delegation Tuesday evening.
Correa said that Yachay, which he called the first planned city in his country’s history, takes its name from an indigenous word that means “knowledge,” but as an imperative – “You must know,” Correa said.
He and Cely told the Post that, within five to eight years, Yachay will feature research laboratories, a university campus and a variety of other projects.
Tourism and historic preservation will also be components of the site, Cely said.
Correa called Yachay “the most important project in our country’s history.”
Cely said the Ecuadorians were inspired by how Kannapolis has transformed from a textile manufacturing center to a biotechnology hub.
“When we learned about the (NCRC) and how it got developed … this is precisely the objective that (Yachay) has,” Cely said.
She said that Ecuador, known primarily for exports of cocoa, bananas and other such products, wants to expand its economy and create more “value added” exports.
At the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, Correa and Murdock toured labs and spoke with scientists who are studying how individuals metabolize foods.
Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute, said Correa’s visit was a “fabulous opportunity.”
“I’ve worked in Ecuador for a number of years,” Lila said. “There’s a cornucopia of scientific linkages with Ecuador.”
She said she hopes Ecuadorian students and researchers will travel to the U.S. to increase their understanding of human health. “It can only benefit both sides,” Lila said.
Cely said she hopes Yachay will help Ecuadorians increase their quality of life by combining agriculture with science.
Perla Nunes, clinical trials project leader for Duke University and project leader for the MURDOCK Study, had a personal reason to be proud Tuesday.
“I was born in Ecuador,” Nunes said. Later, she was able to have a photo taken with President Correa.
She said the Yachay project seems wonderful, “if they can bring it to fruition.”
And, Nunes said, she hopes there might be an opportunity for exchanges of ideas and research with Ecuador.
Dr. Phred Pilkington, director of public health for the Cabarrus Health Alliance, said likewise.
President Correa, Murdock and delegates toured the Cabarrus County health facility, which opened earlier this year.
“It’s a wonderful exchange of ideas with people who are doing something similar to what we’re doing,” said Pilkington, who shared how CHA is trying to combat health problems such as diabetes through education and prevention.
Lynne Scott Safrit, president of Castle & Cooke N.C., which owns the NCRC, said this visit may help spur more interest that could lead to more investment and development in Kannapolis.
“Anytime that we can provide companies with opportunities that are unique and different … the more opportunities we can provide,” Safrit said.
And when you think about the biodiversity Ecuador has, that is something that I think will be interesting to companies, both food companies and pharmaceutical companies looking for some of these bioactives that we just don’t have access to right now.”
The rainforests contain plants – “millions of different kinds of plant life,” she said – that could bring to light foods and plants that could provide lifesaving nutrients.
“I think the opportunities are immense,” Safrit said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.