From left: French ambassador to South Africa, Christophe Farnaud and Dr. John Purchase.

South African agriculture has many heroes, in fact, its many heroes are often its saving grace. One of these extraordinary heroes is Dr John Purchase and his team at Agbiz.

Dr Purchase was recently honoured for the exceptional contribution he makes to agriculture in South Africa and beyond, when he was decorated with the Order of Agricultural Merit (Mérite Agricole) by the French ambassador to South Africa, Christophe Farnaud.

“The order of ag merit is bestowed by the French republic for outstanding contributions to agriculture. When it was created in 1883, it was second only to the Legion of Honour,” said ambassador Farnaud.

The order rewards people who rendered exceptional service in agriculture, whether in public duties or in the very practice of agriculture. It also rewards people who distinguish themselves in scientific research or in related publications.

“With your outstanding career, Dr Purchase, you fulfill in all of these conditions,” he said.

Dr Purchase started his career in the agricultural industry at the Agricultural Research Council, where he served in many positions over a span of 22 years. He then joined Grain SA and in 2007 he took on the position of CEO of Agbiz and has been in the position ever since. Over the years he has served on many boards and special committees and has made a massive impact in many contexts.

Ambassador Farnaud reminded that South Africa is engaged in a difficult discussion around agrarian reform and commended Dr Purchase and the Agbiz team for the constructive role they are playing in such a sensitive debate.

Celebrating a relationship

Ambassador Farnaud said that decorating foreigners with this order has additional meaning. “It also serves as a celebration of the relationship between the two countries and exchanges between France and, in this case, South Africa. We know that both France and South Africa are great agricultural powers and the agricultural and food industries are pillars of our respective economies. We also have particular links in our respective histories.”

France and South Africa are, of course, important trading partners. “In 2017, France exported a 150 million euros worth of agricultural products to South Africa, mainly wines and spirits. South Africa exported 224 million euros worth of agricultural products to France, mainly citrus fruits. It is very important to retain free trade relations and to avoid any conflict as our trade relation is beneficial to both partners,” said ambassador Farnaud.

Responding after being decorated with the order of merit, Dr Purchase said that he  is truly humbled by receiving such a prestigious award. “I want to thank the French embassy and the French republic. I agree, we share a very special history as well as an important trade relationship. We must keep these ties going forward, South Africa cannot be in isolation, we must build trade. I believe that we have a lot to learn from the French as well as a lot to offer them. We must continue working together to make the world more food secure.” – Marike Brits, AgriOrbit