Writes; ‘Makarabo Matšumunyane
As the world’s population is rapidly increasing, as day after day a life is brought into existence, food is running short, land is limited, natural disasters are taking their toll and more and more challenges are facing the agricultural sector, we need to determine what partnerships we should engage in, to ensure that agriculture benefits all, including the poorest among us.
The theme of the Agribusiness Africa Conference that was organised and hosted by Farmer’s Weekly from the 18th to the 19th July, 2018 was “Partnerships for equitable trade.” The value chain, most importantly the agricultural value chain, is not a linear process, but a complex, fragile and risky system with many role players. How do we integrate all these components of the value chain to come up with a fair, freer and friendlier trading environment?
In South Africa, and most probably in most countries in the world, there is so much inequality in the population; where there is a huge gap between the poor and the rich. Some of the topics that were discussed at the Conference included: How consumer demand changes the market, who owns the value in the agricultural value chain, the missing middle in agriculture and towards a fairer, freer and friendlier trading environment.
Many knowledgeable, educated and experienced speakers attended the conference. Others were keynote speakers while others were moderators and panellists during panel discussions. To mention a few, Denene Erasmus; the Editor of Farmer’s weekly, Wandile Sihlobo; Economist for economic and agribusiness intelligence at AGBIZ South Africa, and many others attended the conference. Pieter Geldenhuyns; a futurist, was presenting on how consumer demand is changing the food chain. In his presentation, he highlighted some of the very important factors that affect the agricultural value chain. He elaborated on smart farming technology that farmers could use to accurately measure their variables and connect farmers to the market only using the internet. This would help to improve the value chain and help small scale farmers to improve and expand their territory.
While seeking to equalise the uneven distribution of the economy in South Africa, the topic that was discussed was the missing middle in agriculture. Dr Theo de Jager, who is currently the President of the World Farmers Organization, has previously been the President of SACAU and most crucially a farmer in Limpopo, defined the missing middle (medium) as the gap between small scale farmers (often household subsistence farmers) and the large scale farmers (including plantations and other big farms). Among the issues that were discussed were; how do we address the financing gap in farming and agribusiness and how do we ensure a future for medium-sized farming businesses?
Furthermore, he emphasised the importance of having the middle farmers in Africa. Jobs are created, there is diversity, monopolies are avoided, community-based economies are supported, competitiveness is enhanced, risks are mitigated hence the sector is stabilised and most importantly, mobility of the sector is reached. Forward growth without leapfrogging opportunities is achieved. Moreover, medium/middle farming has several advantages to the community due to the fact that they are mostly family farms, they keep rural areas growing and they are multi-generation projects.
It is very important nowadays to invest in agriculture and in fact it has always been since a long time ago. There is a constant increase in the world’s population hence demand will increase and supply will be increasingly low with time. The important questions to ask are; who owns the value in the agricultural value chain, is there equal distribution of profits in the agricultural value chain? These questions were addressed by the General Manager of PMA Southern Africa, Lindie Stroebel in her presentation. It is really a hard question to answer, but probably the right question to answer would be; does every role player in the value chain, playing their part deserve their share of the value? Do you want the volume sold or do you want the best quality product? The trick perhaps will be, to know your market and meet the demands of the customer, and sell at the right time. As a farmer, know how retailers do it since most of the fresh produce in South Africa is sold at the retail markets.
Dessislava Choumelova, Counsellor Agriculture at Trade & Economics, European Union to SA was also present to respond on, how then do we invest in the agricultural value chain? We need to strive to meet the consumer preferences, convenience, production of healthy food, organic and sustainable food products and this will lead to trading profitably. Moreover, we should also focus on identifying those actions the farming and agribusiness sectors need to follow to take fully into consideration their ethical and environmental responsibilities. This can be achieved through implementation of Biotechnological methods in environmentally sustainable farming.
In addition, the role of foreign investment in the agricultural value chain in developing countries should not be neglected as it helps them to identify their strengths and weaknesses. This session explored some of the dynamics in international trade, and how they relate to Africa and the role of the World Trade Organization on issues relating to it were discussed. Dr Doaa Abdel-Motaal, Trade specialist and former Deputy Chief of Staff at WTO from Rome was the keynote speaker for this session.
In building partnerships for equitable trade, as it has been explained by the speakers of the conference, everyone has to play their role in the value chain effectively. The Agricultural value chain like I said, is composed of several different systems integrated together not only farmers, but also engineers, scientists from different fields, food analysts and many other relevant parties all before the product could even reach the consumer. With the world so much advanced in technology, how do we engage these newly arising methods to improve our Agribusiness sector?