Writes Tjonane Matla
Conceive a symposium that takes you deep into extrapolation of how and where food could be produced to feed the forever growing world population. Visualise a futurist taking you forty to hundred years into the future of agricultural production. That was the feel at the Emperors Palace during the 11th Agribusiness Africa Conference organised by Farmers Weekly over the two days of 4th and 5th of July 2017. But the question that remained was always how does one great mind bring everyone else along?
Craig Wing of Future World was the first speaker at the Agribusiness Africa Conference, and his keynote speech was “Now is the time for change”. In response to the question of “how do you bring everyone else along?” His response was centred on political and individual will of sharing possibilities of the future and having the right ideology.
The conference that is actually meant to reengineer Africa’s farming production lines as 40% of arable land needed to feed 9.6 billion mouths (world population by 2050) is in Africa. The conference had multiple speakers and moderators that also included the likes of Derek Hanekom (Former South African Minister of Tourism, and first Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries during the newly democratic era in 1994), Pravin Gordhan, former Minister of Finance South Africa, Nhlanhla Nene, former South Africa Minister of Finance, Prof Ferdi Meyer – Director for Food and Agricultural Policy, Dr Shadrack Ralekeno Moephuli – President and CEO, Agricultural Research Council and others. It is also of paramount importance to note that additionally the conference was powered by couple of moderators, to name but a few Nico Groenewald – Head of Standard Bank South Africa Agribusiness, Adv Koos Nel Head of Agri Markets – Old Mutual, Dr Tinashe Kapuya – Agribusiness trade specialist, USAID Southern Africa Trade and Investment Hub.
Prof. Ferdi Meyer offered a talk on ‘Seven Mega trends to shape Africa’s future and define agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2055’. Namely; Global food and energy prices, Africa Population Explosion, Shift in labour force to non-farm employment, Changing Farm Structure, Soil degradation and Climate variability.
Mike Bosch who was a panellist in the conference is a renowned farmer and Managing Director of Boschveld Chickens in Limpopo South Africa. His opinion on the fact that South Africa must help its 80% of the small holder farmers to farm the African way, but be able to increase their productivity from less than 10% to a more significant figure. Mike claims that this can only be achieved if the small holder farmers are given the right genetics in terms of livestock farmers, fertilizers in case of crop farmers and fair access to technology. “How could a small farmer in Africa be able to access information to enhance his farming while he cannot even afford charging a cell phone?” Mike commended.
The conference also revealed that at the moment Africa is experiencing low yields simply because of poor and few extension services. It was also learned that about 28% of animals in Africa die before weaning age. On the issue of bringing other people along, the conference concluded that it is a very difficult issue, but it has to be done as Africa has to double its production in order to meet the world’s demand for food.
One of the speakers; Dr Riaan du Preez, who is also a veterinary gave an example of an assessment he made when he paid one of the Black South African farmers a visit during last year’s severe El Nino drought and found out that seventeen cows out of a population of fifty were pregnant. His recommendation to the farmer was to sell the thirty three cows and the farmer refused due to social reasons. The drought hit the animals and most of them died and now the farmer is left with seven animals.
There was a general concession that South African private sector should find a way of penetrating their services into rest of Africa in order to help other sister countries to increase productivity. Research and Development was one other area where it was recommended that Africa Sub-Saharan must not waste resources but if possible share research centres as proper research whether basic, applied or practical are too expensive therefore these should be the areas where countries could partner.
It was at this juncture that ARC CEO Dr. Moephuli – confessed that his organisation is likely and uniquely funded as 40% of its revenue comes from farmer organisations in response to their questions and queries raised, therefore having received money, ARC has to respond and that is normally transmitted in a form of study groups with farmers.
“The cheapest form of insurance while going into Africa to partner up is to work with the local people” Dr Theo de Jager – Farmer and President, World Farmers’ Organisation and the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU). He further said that the South African farmers are ready to partner with rest of Africa as they know Africa, and they are doing well where they are, comparatively to farmers from other continents. He furthermore said that there is really nothing romantic about small farming, but small farmers are trapped by poverty.