Industry organisation Agri South Africa (Agri SA) will, for the next 12 months, prioritise ways to ensure new farmers are able to successfully enter the agricultural sector.
Agri SA president Pierre Vercueil delivered the keynote address at the organisation’s yearly conference on October 8, highlighting that the secret of change, which was upon South African industry and the world, was to focus energy not on fighting the old, but building the new.
“Good collaboration is when you are willing to sacrifice and throw out your view for something that is more cohesive,” he stated, adding that, to avoid private ownership being taken away, which was a major concern that continued to haunt the sector, all stakeholders had to work on cohesive, inclusive strategies to build the sector.
Vercueil believed farmers and the agricultural value chain stakeholders would be held accountable not only for what they did, but also for what they did not do.
He pointed out the need for more involvement from family farms, smallholding farms and corporate farms with agricultural development, lamenting that the sector had to be accountable and accessible to all farmers.
“We must be driven by results and a timetable, having clear measures of success and engage all constituencies that are involved in the agriculture value chain.”
For example, Vercueil noted that industry stakeholders managed to collaborate in the first export shipment of live sheep from South Africa to the Middle East in October 2019, which was a controversial issue and sparked debate the moment it was officially announced.
Sheep were due to be exported from the Eastern Cape to a meat distributor company in the Middle East again, but the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals managed to interdict the export of 80 000 live sheep over such a long sea voyage.
Exporting company Al Mawashi South Africa has continued to assure of its compliance to animal welfare standards.
Aside from the battle between animal welfare organisations and the farmers and exporters, Vercueil said this business had recognised a new market for sheep and cattle and helped to empower farmers of the Eastern Cape, as a result of collaboration between agricultural stakeholders.
He added that a market was not only being created for existing farmers, but it was creating opportunities for new farmers and companies in the value chain involved with genetics, for example, which helped farmers to produce the type of cattle and sheep that the consumer wanted.
Vercueil was confident that the “land issue” was, despite it being challenging still, an opportunity for the industry to collaborate and build trust between stakeholders.
“New farmers will need skill sets that are not necessarily available traditionally in the education system; therefore, there is a need for a new structure. Agri SA has been working with the Motsepe Foundation to see how agricultural development can work in communities and how farmers can be enabled to build successful operations.
"We are in a position that we can devise systems to make inclusive agriculture a reality. If we are not successful in that, we will put our private property rights in danger.”
He explained that there was a lot of risk involved with agricultural development initiatives and projects, but that entering into joint ventures and collaboration across the value chain could greatly assist in mitigating risk and making projects bankable.
Vercueil acknowledged that it was a daunting task to transform the industry, since it had not undergone much transformation to its traditional structures in the last 100 years; nevertheless, he stressed that this had to be done and done right.
In addition to the ownership structures of land and the social prerogatives of agriculture changing, a wave of change in consumer behaviour is also imminent as a result of Covid-19.
Consumer insights consultancy Whyfive director Brandon de Kock discussed during the Agri SA conference how Covid-19 had influenced consumer behaviour and what farmers could expect once the full impact of the pandemic on consumers realised in coming months and years.
De Kock motivated that Covid-19 had not changed anything, but rather exposed and exacerbated pre-existing conditions to a worse state and accelerated changes that were inevitable anyway.
With South Africa having one of the youngest populations in the world – almost a third of the population is made up of children aged 0 to 14 and 64% of the population is under the age of 35 – De Kock believes it will certainly impact on what foods are consumed and in what way, in the near future.
He pointed out that young people eat more, drink more and spend more on clothing and household products overall, which naturally require commodities produced by the agriculture sector.
On the one side of the spectrum, informed young consumers would soon discover that 30% of food produced is wasted, which ultimately hurts the environment, and would demand responsible circular-economy-type practices.
On the other hand, De Kock said young people were often unaware of where their food came from and were disconnected from its value chain.
This obliviousness was not only a concern with young people, since only 12% of adults surveyed by Whyfive cite food security as a cause worth supporting, which might well be owing to a lack of education about agriculture.
However, the consultancy reported that 60% of consumers cared about the way companies contributed to society, being attuned to the idea of companies “giving back”, which was something that the agriculture industry needed to keep being mindful of.
Moreover, De Kock said it was important to consider people’s aspirations to cater the right foods to them.
Whyfive surveyed thousands of people on their goals related to their consumption habits, with 56% of people citing a likeliness to cut down on sugar, 31% wanting to improve recycling habits, 24% aiming to avoid the use of single-use plastics, 19% targeting lower alcohol intake and 11% on the path to stop smoking.
Only 4% indicated an interest in becoming a vegan and, therefore, farmers and other value chain stakeholders need to do more research on what their consumers were considering or doing, instead of assuming that veganism – and therefore plant-based diets away from meat – was becoming a trend.
“Less meat, but not no meat, is rather the direction we are moving in,” said De Kock.