Ireland’s agriculture and foreign affairs departments have joined forces to launch the Africa Agri-foods Development Programme, with the objective to encourage business partnerships between Irish agricultural stakeholders and African companies, particularly in South Africa.
The Ireland government has declared Africa a key partner with which it wants to collaborate on sustainable food production and technology development.
Business promotion organisation Business Ireland South Africa (Bisa) says the country offers a lot in terms of agricultural best practice knowledge that can help the world produce better-quality food in a more sustainable way.
Ireland is on a drive to enter new markets by developing relationships and appointing partners on the ground for introducing solutions, based on market needs.
Ambassador of Ireland to South Africa Fionnuala Gilsenan says Ireland looks to build sustainable industries, develop markets for local produce and support mutual trade and investment.
The country also has a strong focus on socioeconomic development and, through that, determines how it can contribute to local market access and sustainability.
The programme provides grant funding of up to 50% of Irish companies’ funding required to conduct feasibility studies with African partners.
The programme will soon launch a call for proposals, for Irish and South African joint ventures.
In the meantime, Ireland is also developing a Tech Challenge Fund, which will gather youth technology-focused entrepreneurs to engage with the fund. The idea, again, is to encourage young South African entrepreneurs to connect with Irish entrepreneurs on agricultural technology.
Demand for Irish agricultural products decreased by only 2% in 2020, with exports having amounted to €14.3-billion, despite the combined impacts of Brexit and Covid-19 in the year.
Agricultural production from Ireland can feed 35-million people a year. The country has about 17 000 farms and about 1.5-million cows. In 2019, the country produced about 7.98-billion litres of milk, while dairy exports in 2020 totalled €5.3-billion.
Ireland has 140 markets for milk, which is testament to its agricultural vigour.
Ireland is also the fourth-largest exporter of beef globally, although Covid-19 challenges have altered beef demand, particularly in the European Union.
The country also remains a dominant exporter of whiskey globally – totalling €77-million worth of exports in 2020.
In turn, South Africa is the sixth strongest export market for Irish whiskey, and South Africa is the sixth-biggest gin market in the world by volume and tenth biggest market globally by value.
The African market accounts for about €544-million of all Irish exports, while poultry consumption in South Africa alone drove imports from Ireland up to €32-million last year.
Africa also accounted for 23% of Ireland’s seafood exports in 2020.
Bisa events lead Ureshnie Govender sees it fit that African countries take note of Ireland’s robust smart farming solutions, crop products, animal nutrition, milking, grassland and barn equipment, and agri software.
She points out that Ireland seeks to become a global leader of innovation for sustainable food and agriculture systems, producing safe, nutritious and high-value food that tastes good and protects natural and cultural resources, while contributing to rural and coastal communities and the national economy.
The impact on Africa will come in the form of collaborating towards sustainable development of the continent’s agri-food sector and rural economy, improving nutritional solutions through food security and creating opportunity for more innovative Irish and African companies to join forces.
Gilsenan says Irish agriculture companies enjoy a lot of support for the Irish government in the form of grants and market development programmes.
She believes Africa and Ireland are both focusing on issues around climate change and how to build sustainable food systems. She is confident that Irish research can assist African farmers in getting to zero emissions by 2030, for example.
The ambassador adds that South Africa and Ireland bring different strengths to the table – there can be learning from the Irish food sector, particularly from the owner-occupied farm structure, which has resonance with African farmers who want to move from subsistence farming to more economically viable commercial operations.
An example of a successful Irish-South African joint venture has been agriculture company Auranta, which specialises in animal nutrition.
The company has since its founding in 2013 expanded to 15 markets and is currently developing its presence in 23 more markets.
Speaking from experience, Auranta MD John Cullen says Africa comes with challenges such as slow bureaucracy, differing regulatory environments, different pathogen profiles, tricky logistics in some areas and the fact that all countries have different animal husbandry techniques.
Nonetheless, Auranta has managed to offer all and any kind of farmer increased productivity, leapfrogging of technology, improved food security and greater economic independence.
Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) CEO Dr John Purchase says South Africa is particularly in need of research and development around biosecurity, biodiversity loss and extreme weather. This while the African continent will have a rapidly growing population to consider.
He points out that South Africa rates well in terms of food security in Africa, but the problem lies with dampened consumer buying power and the country’s sensitivity to drought, which will continue to require innovative thinking and solutions.
What bodes well for South African agriculture investment is that the Agbiz Agribusiness Confidence Index was at an all-time-high level in May, indicating optimism about the sector’s performance and prospects.
Purchase highlights that South Africa’s primary agriculture recorded growth of 13.1% in 2020, while it is poised to grow by about 5% this year.
“We live in uncertain times with many risks and variables, some of which are controllable and others not. However, risk creates opportunity and reward. We need to concentrate on those risks and opportunities we understand and can manage,” he states.