Challenges and opportunities in agriculture came under the spotlight at the Agbiz Information Day that was held on 1 November in Pretoria. Experts discussed short-comings and areas where urgent intervention is needed, as well as industries that are thriving under very challenges circumstances.

Dr. John Purchase

Dr. John Purchase, CEO of Agbiz said that he now has more insight on following their engagement with President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. He discussed organised agriculture’s five-year plan to revive the economy which entails an agriculture development fund and private/public partnerships. South Africa’s (SA) producer support estimate is not competive in comparison with some other countries, and this also needs to be adressed, according to Purchase.

He claimed that trade wars are now a reality, and affecting the South African economy. According to Purchase, the United States of America (USA) is responsible for 24% of the global GDP, China for 15,4 % and South Africa just made the cut with 0,44%. The biggest concern at the moment is the lack of GDP growth and the decline of competiveness. Some of the major policy and regulatory uncertainty issues that affect investment in South Africa are the credit legislation, the climate change mitigation framework, water rights, land reform, environmental legislation and agricultural sustainability.

Prof. Ferdi Meyer

The investment environment was discussed by Prof. Ferdi Meyer, director of Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP). He stressed that South African farmers and agri-businesses have shown resilience during challenging times and that SA agriculture’s global competitiveness remains high compared to countries like the USA and China. Some of the high growth industries in South African agriculture are rooibos tea, nuts, cotton, citrus fruit and canola and many of these products are boosting export performance. He claims that South Africa has some work to do with exploring and opening more export markets.

Wandile Sihlobo

Wandile Sihlobo, Agbiz head of Agribusiness Research, reflected on SA’s agricultural labour market in the context of changing farm structures. Turkey employs more than 5,5 million people, the US employs more than 2,5 million and Mexico employs more than 6,8 million people in their respective agricultural sectors. South African employment figures are far below those figures. In order for South Africa to increase employment, the key would be to focus on agricultural subsectors that are labour intensive, such as horticulture. This would include the extension of area plantings to untapped or underutilised provinces. He also said that an increase in mechanisation plays a huge role in the decline in employment. The South African employment figure in the agricultural sector was 1,8 million in 1961. It decreased to about 800 000 in 2010. – Elmarie Helberg, AgriOrbit