Financial services firm Standard Bank has increased its initial invest- ment in its Centre for AgriLeadership and Business Development, at Stellenbosch University, from R3.45-million, in 2010, to R5.13-million over the next three years, says Standard Bank agribusiness head Nico Groenewald.
“It is important that we maintain the momentum of the centre’s success since its launch three-and- a-half years ago. The centre has driven crucial engagement and thought leadership in the South African agriculture sector and established itself as a credible and independent source of insight, both for government and the agriculture value chain as a whole,” he says.
He explains that the centre has initiated a number of ‘imbizos’, or leadership laboratories, in which industry leaders contribute information and ideas to address sector concerns such as transformation, land reform, employment and unity, adding that it is part of Stellenbosch University’s Hope Project initiative. Input from the imbizos was incorporated into the National Planning Commission’s (NPC’s) chapter on agriculture in the National Development Plan.
“We were fortunate to have Stellenbosch University Agrisciences dean and commissioner on the NPC Professor Mohammad Karaan contribute as an imbizo facilitator,” says Standard Bank Centre for AgriLeadership and Business Development director Professor Johan van Rooyen, noting that he was able to interpret the outcomes of the imbizos for the NPC.
Van Rooyen says that, as the centre is recognised as independent and neutral within the agro-industry, opinions and ideas are freely expressed. The imbizos, therefore, enable some of the best minds in the industry to collectively deliver constructive outcomes for agriculture and the broader economy.
“The centre also played a pivotal role in establishing the Agri Sector Unity Forum last year. This body aims to drive a unified approach to the sector’s challenges, which will be the fastest way to resolve industry issues as they arise,” he says.
The centre will continue to host imbizos throughout the next three years, extending discussions to issues such as the future of agriculture, training and skills development, water governance and renewable energy, the continued focus on productivity and competitiveness, and reinvestment to grow the sector.
“Future imbizos need to continue contributing new information to hotly debated topics in agriculture,” says Van Rooyen. “The centre will also commission research into these topics, providing fresh views and triggering new thinking. A number of case studies have already been published,” he adds.
Apart from industry engagements, the centre will also be refining its approach toward mentoring new and smallholder farmers and providing leadership and business management skills.
“Standard Bank’s Enterprise Development division and professional services firm PwC have developed a short course for the centre through which business development support (BDS) providers in the agriculture sector can gain accreditation,” says Groenewald.
“The accreditation of BDS providers will ensure that smallholder and medium-scale commercial black farmers get structured support to access markets, finance and other players in the value chain.”
The centre has also attracted international attention, engag- ing with Britain’s Royal Agricultural College and the African Fellowship Trust on the African Leadership Programme, an exchange programme in which South African agribusinesses offer internships to students from the rest of Africa who are engaged in various agribusi- nesses for the purposes of knowledge and skills transfer.
“We are pleased with the contribution the centre is making to the long-term sustainability and productivity of the agriculture sector in South Africa,” says Groenewald.