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Agriculture is a national asset which should not be subjected to the erosion of political and economic uncertainty

  • 30 September 2015
  • 851
  •  Nation in Conversation
  •  press-release

The amount of contradictory policies coming out of Government, the level of political positioning and continued rumours around land ownership and reforms are undermining this sector, and the future of our country.”

“Considering the levels of population growth and urbanisation trends, more people are coming to market hungry and having to be fed,” stresses Roodt.
Long term, fundamental investment is required in this sector to be able to meet these demands. 
Globalisation, mechanisation and innovation in agriculture are fast changing the landscape of traditional farming practices. “We are noticing the industrialisation of agriculture,” says Francois Strydom, Managing Director of Senwes, one of South Africa’s most prominent agri-businesses. 
The current business models in agriculture are outdated. “We need to change our mindset and realise that farming is no longer an individual business. Although private ownership should remain at the root of agriculture, ownership and finance models will have to change. Future successful agriculture businesses will be massive corporate organisations specialising in the manufacture of food. These commercial entities will follow a multi-disciplinary business approach and will require a work force with an ability to innovate and adopt technological advances,” continues Roodt.
Transformation is inevitable, but partnerships are required to ensure success
“Agriculture as a core industry in South Africa is busy transforming. One of our biggest battles now is to get agriculture and Government to find mutual ground and unlock the true potential of agriculture as a force to ensure economic viability and growth. Government and the agricultural industry need to partner each other – almost enter into a joint venture – to ensure that we take this industry forward,” says Strydom.
“While farmers in Europe and the United States are supported by Government subsidies to remain competitive on the global stage, South African farmers receive no subsidies or support from Government. To a large extent, local farmers has a deficit on a competitive scale because of the lack of political support, accessibility to markets, crippling exchange rates and global technological advancements which are changing the agricultural landscape. However, one of our biggest challenges still is to get cooperation between Government and agri-businesses so that we too can have the ability to battle it out for global market share,” explains Strydom.       
Thabi Nkosi, Senior Economist at AgriSA concurs: “When agriculture as an industry is constrained, the economy will be significantly harmed.” 
“Agriculture is about much more than the farmer. The reality is that agriculture has a long value chain before it reaches the consumer e.g. farmers, seed companies, logistics operators, storage facilities, agri-processors and retailers,” says Nkosi.
Primary agriculture (farmers) contributes around 3% to the economy, but the entire value chain’s contribution is closer to 18%. “Recently released growth figures for South Africa indicated that our economy contracted by 1.3%, and agriculture was a contributor to that,” says Nkosi.
“Job creation is a priority for our Government, but we have a large unskilled labour force. Very few industries can absorb the majority of our workers. The only real options available are mining, construction and agriculture, and with the pressures on the mining and construction industries, agriculture is the only remaining core industry which can absorb these workers – if we allow it to thrive,” continues Nkosi.
“It is essential that we invest in this sector and maintain political certainty to benefit from the enormous value that agriculture can add to our country’s economic well-being,” ends Strydom.
Local business, political and agricultural thought leaders are currently participating in a series of dialogues to facilitate a new dispensation in agriculture. The dialogue series, called Nation in Conversation, is currently being broadcast on Business Day Television and Soweto TV; and similar discussion will be broadcast on Kyknet from 02 October 2015.

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