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28 May 2021
How satellite data can boost agriculture
How satellite data can boost agriculture

How satellite data can boost agriculture

The use of Earth observation has brought about dramatic improvements in agricultural practices and access to water. A new report published by the World Economic Forum details how Earth observations are fundamental to harnessing the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support agricultural productivity growth across Africa.

Africa is a large continent with a rich and diverse environment, resulting in many challenges, such as access to drinking water, rapid urban development, active deforestation, and food insecurity.

At a time when these challenges are taking their toll on communities, the COVID-19 crisis threatens the African economy and hinders efforts to achieve global development priorities.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa reports that economic growth will slow from 3,2% to 1,8%, pushing 27 million people into extreme poverty.

Africa’s ability to respond and recover is linked directly to how well the human population’s impact on natural resources is understood. Earth observation data is the cornerstone to this information, and a key transition of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the change in how this data is accessed and used to support a quick response to these critical challenges.

Democratising data ...
Earth observation provides vast quantities of satellite data for monitoring and managing Earth’s natural resources and the human and climatic impact on them. Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa), funded in part by the Australian government, is building the world’s largest operational platform for accessing and analysing decades of satellite imagery specific to Africa.

The project will translate data from the world’s free Earth observation satellites into ready-to-use insights about the continent’s environmental conditions.

This is an example of how Fourth Industrial Revolution technology can enable widespread socio-economic development. The insights it offers can be used to tackle a wide range of issues, including water scarcity, land use and food security.

Even under conservative assumptions, the impact of DE Africa could be higher than US$2 billion (nearly R30 billion) a year. However, shifting such economic estimations to action at scale will require the uptake and integration of data analytics practices and analysis-ready Earth observation data into business models and political systems.

Drawing on existing frameworks and identifying gaps to make improvements will enable this data to be used to address Africa’s critical challenges.

Boosting agricultural productivity ...
Agriculture is the lifeblood of many African economies, employing over 40% of the continent’s total working population and accounting for almost one-tenth of GDP.

Yet productivity rates are often far from global best practices and local farmers are frequently missing accurate information such as water availability and crop development.

Through the provision of Earth observation data products for African agriculture, DE Africa has the potential to generate an impact of up to US$1 billion (about R15 billion) a year.

These economic benefits would be generated by exploiting Earth observation technologies in four areas already demonstrated in other parts of the world and applicable to Africa, the first of which is in water savings.

Africa’s share of global freshwater resources is only 2% less than its share of world population (10% vs 12%), yet rainfall is unevenly distributed, since 86% of water withdrawals in Africa are used for agricultural purposes, with the share even higher in arid and semi-arid regions. The main consequence is a significant reduction in crop yield.

The primary cause of water waste in the African agricultural business is evaporation, caused by high temperatures, inefficient storage of water reserves, and non-optimal irrigation plans. Satellite imagery can help smooth this problem.

In combination with meteorological and spatially explicit training data and hydrological modelling, it can be used to derive information about the past and current state of main crops to make future predictions. It could thus improve water procurement and water allocation before and during irrigation, reducing water shortages.

Even assuming a conservative 20% impact on African cultivations and extending such benefits to all cultivations, the results may be very significant. By improving irrigation plans and adjusting timing and resource allocation, DE Africa could save 176 billion cubic metres of water a year, equivalent to a US$880 million (R13,1 billion) reduction in water abstraction costs.

The water savings that DE Africa could realise in only one year would be enough to meet eight years’ water requirement from African households.

Increased Crop Yields ...
Due to insufficient production, sub-Saharan African economies spend between $30 billion and $50 billion (R445 billion to R740 billion) a year to import food.

If domestic production does not catch up with domestic food requirements, Africa could spend more than US$150 billion (R2,2 trillion) on food imports by 2030.

Several studies demonstrate that increasing agricultural productivity helps boost rural incomes and increases food availability. However, the productivity levels of many cultivations and food staples produced in Africa are below international averages, due to lack of knowledge of up-to-date technology and practices, low use of chemically improved and hybrid seeds, and inadequate irrigation plans.

Earth observation can be used to improve crop monitoring at field and farm level, and could be the basis of accurate models set up to identify and remove factors causing lower yields (for example, sowing too late for current weather conditions), and making informed decisions on when to irrigate.

Earth observation data can also provide a rapid, standardised and objective assessment of the biophysical impact of agricultural practices in terms of vegetation cover, calling for restoration interventions when most needed. Through optimising sowing dates, DE Africa could raise its annual wheat production (10% effect) by 136 000t, bringing a benefit of at least US$35 million (R519 million) to the continent’s economy.

Reduced Insurance Cost ...
A key hindrance to the insurance industry is information asymmetry, which causes moral hazard and shrinks the growth margins of the sector. Usually, insurers have little information on their insured farmers, no insights into how they run their business, and no control over their actions.

This results in huge risk borne by providers, which is reflected in the high premiums they set for farmers.

The problem is even more relevant in Africa, where insurance penetration (2% on average) is far below the threshold of developed economies (6%). Satellite data can improve transparency of agricultural activity and output, as it helps assess crop conditions and environmental risks.

This enables companies to develop index-based insurance products. Earth observation data may also be used to develop algorithms to assess farmers’ creditworthiness, enabling access to resources to improve production.

It is estimated that developing sustainable financial products based on increased transparency in Africa will reduce costs and help create new tailor-made solutions, allowing farmers to save US$20 million (R297 million) in premiums and expanding the insurance market by at least US$25 million (R371 million).

Furthermore, if farmers are properly insured, they can rebuild more effectively if hit by disasters, instead of risking the loss of their main source of income.

Reduced pesticide usage ...
Despite several benefits in agricultural practices, such as productivity improvements, pesticides can have severe consequences for public health and the environment. Through implementing best practices and preventing the spread of diseases, pesticide use could be reduced.

Earth observation data could play a focal role in setting up development models aimed at monitoring the evolution of diseases and the massive movements of insects. Such models would be crucial in forecasting how much and where these phenomena spread, to focus and limit pesticide intervention instead of resorting to broad-based, spray-all campaigns.

This article is an edited excerpt from the World Economic Forum’s report titled ‘Unlocking the potential of Earth observation to address Africa’s critical challenges’ published in January 2021. 

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24 May 2021
Rapid transition to regenerative farming’ needed ...
Rapid transition to regenerative farming’ needed ...

Small Scale Family Farms

Small-scale family farms must be at heart of sustainable future ...

'Rapid transition to regenerative farming’ needed ...

Prince Charles, the future King of England, has called for small family farmers in the UK and across the world to come together in a cooperative movement using sustainable farming methods, and for their plight to be at the centre of environmental action.

Small farmers, in the UK and EU, are facing their biggest upheavals in more than a generation, with the loss of farm subsidies and new post-Brexit trade deals in the UK, and sweeping reforms to the EU’s common agricultural policy to be announced this week in Brussels.

Small farms have a huge role to play in our sustainable future

Writing for the Guardian, Prince Charles has urged small farmers to band together to cope with the coming shocks and shift to a low-carbon economy: “There are small farms the world over which could come together in a global cooperative committed to producing food based on high environmental standards … With the skills of ethical entrepreneurs and a determination from the farmers to make it work, I would like to think it could provide a very real and hopeful future.”

Farming is undergoing a “massive transition”, and the needs of family farmers must be taken into account, the prince said.

“To me, it is essential the contribution of the small-scale family farmer is properly recognised – they must be a key part in any fair, inclusive, equitable and just transition to a sustainable future. To do this, we must ensure that Britain’s family farmers have the tools and the confidence to meet the rapid transition to regenerative farming systems that our planet demands,” he said.

Analysis of farming data for the Guardian has shown that small farmers were already facing an increasingly difficult future, before the shocks of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. The EU has lost vast numbers of livestock farms in particular, with 3.4m gone between 2005 and 2016, the latest year for which full data was available.

At the same time, the number of livestock on farms has increased on average, a clear sign of intensification in the sector.

Many farmers have warned that Brexit could hasten the loss of smaller farms.

The Prince of Wales has long been a supporter of sustainable farming, and earlier this year launched Terra Carta, a roadmap to 2030 for businesses to move towards a low-carbon and environmentally sustainable future. He said this could provide a template for farmers coming together in cooperatives to reach consumers who are increasingly interested in buying locally and from small-scale producers.

“These small farmers are some of the most hard-working and innovative small businesses and, in so many ways, we depend on them far more than most of us will ever know,” the prince wrote.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, echoed his views: “We would not want to see a loss of the traditional family farm. We would lose the culture and heritage of this country, where 70% of the land is farmed and the expectation is that at the end of every farm track is a family. Our national identity is built on this.”

Small farmers in the UK are increasingly worried about what Brexit will mean for them.

Consumers would also lose out from the decline of small farms.

Article Credits : The Guardian

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23 May 2021
'Grow Your Own' Organic Food'
'Grow Your Own' Organic Food'

Food Price Increases

More food price increases not benefitting all farmers ...

Economists are describing the continuing upward pressure on food inflation as worrying, given the current tough times consumers are finding themselves in. 

With COVID-19 related lockdowns around the world resulting in increased demand for basic food items due to more home-cooking, food manufacturers saw it as an opportunity to slightly increase the prices of these items.

This was according to Ettienne le Roux, chief economist at RMB, who added that it would, however, be difficult for manufacturers to continue hiking prices.

“Although food manufacturers’ input costs are also increasing, which puts their margins under pressure, they remain aware of consumers’ financial constraints as well.”

Against the backdrop of rising international food costs, the domestic food market was also experiencing upward pressure in terms of food inflation, as well as rising agricultural producer price inflation.

Speaking to Farmer’s Weekly, Paul Makube, senior agriculture economist at FNB, said this upward pressure on food inflation was worrying, given the current tough times consumers found themselves in.

According to Makube, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) global food price index rose for the 11th consecutive month in April to its highest level since 2014, at 120,9 points, which was up 1,7% month-on-month, and 30,8% higher than the same month in 2020.

In the local market, all food sub-indexes of the Consumer Price Index accelerated during the same period, except that of fruit, with the biggest increases recorded for oil and fat prices, which rose 13,4% year-on-year (y/y).

In addition, milk, egg and cheese prices each increased about 7,2% y/y, while local meat inflation rose more than its international counterpart at 6,7% y/y.

“Grain farmers have definitely benefited immensely, but livestock producer margins have increasingly come under pressure as maize and soya beans are the biggest raw inputs [for] feed,” he said.

John van Tubbergh, sector head for consumer, food and agriculture at RMB, said in a statement that agricultural producer price inflation accelerated to 12,3% y/y in November 2020, before settling at a still high 7,2% in March.

However, not all farmers were deriving a price benefit from the current situation as this was largely dependent on the type of commodity they produced and the prices achieved for a particular commodity, Le Roux said.

The latest Household Affordability Index of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD) indicated that the cost of the average household food basket increased R159,37 or 3,9% from R4 039,56 in March to R4 198,93 in April.

However, over the past eight months the cost of the average household food basket increased R342,59 or 8,9% from R3 856,34 in September 2020 to R4 198,93 in April this year.

Article Credits : Pieter Dempsey & Farmers Weekly

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22 May 2021
GreenAgric Cannot Be Beaten for Price & Quality
GreenAgric Cannot Be Beaten for Price & Quality

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20 May 2021
Go After What You Want
Go After What You Want

Go After What You Want

'Go after what you want’ – lessons from a young Spinach Farmer ... 

Gauteng-based Gugulethu Mahlangu says volunteering for experienced vegetable farmers gave her the confidence to launch her own successful career in farming.

Gugulethu Mahlangu farms vegetables on a 14ha plot in Boksburg, 

Gugulethu Mahlangu, who was born and raised in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga, started studying agricultural science at the University of Pretoria in 2014. After one year of study, she felt uncertain about following a career in agriculture, and switched to psychology and physiology.

But she still felt a desire to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother, who was a farmer. So, to help make up her mind, she volunteered for work on farms to gain practical experience and get a taste of what life as a farmer would really be like.

A challenging start ...
Mahlangu admits she felt intimidated at first, as her male counterparts kept undermining her. Because she was a young woman, they sheltered her by giving her ‘ladylike’ jobs.

“No one wanted to give me real farming jobs. They thought I shouldn’t work in the fields because I’d get sunburn,” recalls Mahlangu.

She persevered, however, and has been able to use the lessons she learnt to become a better farmer and business person.

“I never allowed the lack of land and resources to stand in my way. I went after what I wanted, compromised, and sacrificed my time, energy and comfort to get where I am today,” she says.

“The time I spent volunteering made me realise I really did have a passion for agriculture. I also learnt that farming, when done right, can be lucrative.”

After volunteering, Mahlangu set about looking for land to farm, which was a challenge as she didn’t know where to start. She asked for permission to start farming at a farm she had volunteered at in eNtokozweni (Machadodorp). Here she planted cabbages, but later learnt that the land had become extremely water-logged, and her cabbages had died as a result.

“I was so excited to have land with access to water that I never took the climatic conditions and production factors of the area into consideration,” she says.

Farming in KwaZulu-Natal ...
She next travelled to Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) to farm on communal land with a friend who was from the area and who spoke to the chief on their behalf. Again Mahlangu planted cabbages, and this time her crop was destroyed by pests as she had failed to apply any pest control method.

She had learnt another important lesson: thoroughly research the land you intend to farm and ask for help from fellow farmers.

During her time in KZN, Mahlangu continued looking for land for herself, as she was now certain about a career in agriculture, despite her setbacks.

To earn some money, she started a small construction company, called GMS Dream House Construction. She still runs it successfully alongside her farming business.

In 2019, she finally managed to find land near Boksburg in Gauteng, signed a five-year lease, and moved there in December. She says that if it had not been for the help received from other farmers in her network, it is unlikely she would have found this land.

Getting started ..
Mahlangu cultivates 2ha of her 14ha farm, growing Fordhook Giant Swiss chard (spinach) and turnips under shade netting and in tunnels. Drip and sprinkler irrigation were already established on the property.

There is also a 2,2kW pump, which extracts water from a borehole and fills the farm’s 2 000ℓ reservoir. But because it takes up to 12 hours to do this, she hopes to replace it with a larger pump capable of filling the reservoir in three hours or less.

The property is also home to a chicken farm. According to Mahlangu, sharing makes it safer for her as there are always plenty of people and activity on the farm.

Before she planted her first crop in January this year, she carried out a soil analysis, followed by soil preparation.

“When I got the farm, there were weeds everywhere,” she recalls. “I had to clear the land and do land preparation such as tilling, taking out weeds, removing large rocks and levelling ground. To do the work, I rented a tractor from a neighbour at a discounted fee of R200/hour. The normal rate is R500/hour.”

Getting her first crop in the ground required a capital investment of more than R170 000. Mahlangu had to spend R100 000 on preparing the land, R40 000 on seed and another R30 000 on fertiliser and herbicides.

She has also started making her own compost.

“I use chicken manure, grass and spinach plant residue. Once it is ready, I’ll apply it during the land preparation phase at a rate of between 2t/ha and 3t/ha. My dream is to be an organic farmer,” she adds.

The major pests that need to be controlled in the spinach are cutworms and locusts.

Double lines ...
“I have a hand planter that is set to plant at 30cm between each plant,” she explains. “We do double lines on the spinach, planting at an inter-row spacing of 15cm to allow each dripper line to supply water to two rows of plants.”

Drip irrigation is used on open lands, while the tunnels are equipped with overhead sprinklers.

Mahlangu’s first crop of spinach and turnips went to market in March. Her closest market is in Springs; after coming to an arrangement with an agent there, she delivered her entire spinach crop there.

“My contract stipulates that I need to deliver 1 000 bunches of spinach a week. The agent collects the spinach from the farm and takes it to the market. The second spinach crop was planted in May, but it perished due to frost.

“According to one of the larger farmers nearby, this year’s winter was the coldest he has yet experienced in Gauteng. Their spinach, like ours, suffered major frost damage.”

Fortunately, Mahlangu was able to prune the dead, yellow leaves of the spinach, which enabled the plants to produce new leaves when the weather turned warmer.

“I’m also expanding to include green beans, Hubbard squash, mustard spinach and parsley in my crop mix,” she says.

This, she adds, will enable her to have a crop that can be sent to market almost every month of the year.

Article Credits : Farmers Weekly

Grow Your Own ...
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* Free Delivery to most places on SA
* Free Assistance with your DIY Tunnel Installations ...
* Free Ongoing 'Best Help and Advice' for growing your own Food Crops ...

GreenAgric are the Very Best Value for Money Tunnels in Southern Africa ...

Contact GreenAgric on .
021 020 0505
Mondays to Fridays during business hours
or via WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal ...
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3 May 2021
GreenAgric.Africa
GreenAgric.Africa

Health and Safety Do’s and Don’ts for Farmers

Navigating your way through the numerous rules and regulations of workplace health and safety can seem a daunting prospect, but labour consultants are there to guide you.

Jeandré van der Walt spoke to a number of experts in the occupational health and safety industry about the key aspects of farmworker safety.

Providing workers with enough toilets, no further than 500m from the workplace, and handwashing facilities with access to clean water, soap and paper hand towels, is non-negotiable. 

“Health and safety is a critical component that should be central to every business strategy.

After all, healthy workers are the heartbeat of any business,” says Jahni de Villiers, director at Labour Amplified.

To this end, she adds, it is essential that employers adhere to the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act No. 85 of 1993.

The purpose of the act, as set out by the Department of Labour, is: “To provide for the health and safety of workers in connection with the use of plants and machinery; the protection of persons, other than those at work, against health and safety hazards arising out of or in connection with the activities of persons at work; to establish an advisory council for occupational health and safety; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

”Quoting the chief inspector of occupational health and safety at the Department of Labour, De Villiers says that compliance is only 45% to 55% across all sectors. Put another way, this means that at least one in two farmers is not compliant.

She advises that, as a first step towards compliance, a farmer draw up an assessment that outlines all the areas of risk in his or her operation.

'From this starting point, you can take steps to determine how you can hedge the risks that are within your control"

She points out that if one gets stuck, there are labour consultants who can offer advice and assistance.

Training, too, can play an important role, as it enables employees to understand what the health and safety implications are for the workplace and what their responsibilities are.

SAFE FARMWORKER TRANSPORTATION ...

Earlier this year, farmworker transportation safety came under the spotlight following a deadly crash near Worcester. 

According to Retha Louw, CEO of the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA), a transport risk assessment should form part of the overall health and safety risk assessment for a business.

'Although an employer is under no legal obligation to provide transport to and from the workplace, the remote location of farms, the lack of public transport, and the level of poverty in rural areas are some of the issues that often obstruct employees from getting to work,” she explains.

Farmers are therefore often left with little option but to transport their workers. This obviously carries risk and it is important that the transport be managed effectively. Doing so brings many benefits for the employees and employer: less chance of injury, less risk of financial loss, and improved productivity and morale, says Louw.

All vehicles used to transport workers must meet the legal requirements as stipulated by the National Road Traffic Act of 1996. For example, Regulation 247 of the Act specifies the following:

"No person shall operate on a public road a goods vehicle conveying persons unless that portion of the vehicle in which such persons are being conveyed is enclosed to a height of (a) at least 350mm above the surface on which that person is seated; or (b) at least 900mm above the surface on which such person is standing, in a manner and with a material of sufficient strength to prevent such person from falling from such vehicle when it is in motion.

'Ideally,” adds Louw, “no person being transported should be standing on the body of the vehicle, but there’s not really any specific prohibition on this.

”She stresses that farmers or management of farming businesses must at all times ensure the following:

Maintaining a safe speed when transporting employees;

Passengers must sit or stand properly before the vehicle leaves. No employee’s body should lean over a vehicle;

No equipment, materials or tools are to be transported with workers;

The transporting vehicle must be roadworthy and have a valid licence;

The driver must be in possession of a valid professional driving permit when driving on a public road;

No school going children may be transported in the back of a vehicle designated for the transport of employees.

Agri Western Cape (AWC) has also indicated that under no circumstances may vehicles be overloaded with passengers. Where workers are transported on the backs of bakkies or trucks, AWC recommends that the protocol developed by AWC and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture during levels 4 and 5 of the lockdown be adhered to.

This states that 50% of the vehicle’s registered mass be used as a guideline for the number of persons being transported.

I understand that the recommendations may imply additional costs, but in the interest of agriculture, we can’t support the overloading of vehicles when workers are transported,” says Jannie Strydom, CEO of AWC.

De Villiers cautions farmers that they must prepare themselves for possible changes to the law regarding the transportation of workers.“Although farmers try their best to transport workers as safely as possible, it’s never 100% safe and it’s problematic. I don’t think this is something that will be allowed indefinitely.

”She recommends that the agriculture sector prioritise finding safer transport methods for farmworkers.

SAFETY DURING HARVESTING ...

De Villiers says that the harvesting of crops is associated with a number of potential health and safety hazards, such as the use of heavy equipment, falling, and exposure to the sun.

According to SIZA, farmers must ensure that all equipment used during this period is well maintained and ladders be inspected before use to ensure they are safe and in good condition.

In addition, employees should be trained to work safely at heights and taught the correct manual lifting techniques.

Unlimited and easily accessible water as determined by the South African National Standard (SANS) 241: 2015 must be provided to workers in orchards or vineyards.

Werner van Dyk, SIZA’s audit manager says that the water must be tested every 6 months, in summer and winter, by a SANS-approved laboratory.“If any deviations are picked up, the laboratory will provide recommendations that must be followed to ensure the water is safe.”

De Villiers stresses the importance of training workers on the cause, signs and symptoms of heat stroke or heat stress.

“The OHS Act stipulates that employees also share in the responsibility of workplace safety. You have to be able to look after yourself, but it’s also important that you can look after your co-workers and know what to do or who to contact in case of an emergency,” she says.

According to Van Dyk, the provision of toilets to workers is non-negotiable; in an orchard, for example, farmers may make use of mobile toilets. Toilets should be no further than 500m from the workplace, and there should be handwashing facilities with access to clean water, soap and paper hand towels.

According to SANS10400, Part T, there must be at least one toilet for every four women and one for every eight men.

SAFETY MEASURES FOR CHEMICALS ...

The OHS Act has highly specific regulations on how chemicals used in the workplace must be handled. 

De Villiers explains that the type and amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) required by a worker will depend on the type of chemical being used.

PPE must be provided by the employer to the workers at no cost.

However, PPE must be taken care of by the employees, and if it is damaged, the employee can be held responsible.

Van Dyk adds that before employees are exposed to hazardous chemical substances, the employer must ensure they are comprehensively informed and trained. Workers who are exposed to potentially harmful chemicals must regularly undergo a medical examination conducted by a registered occupational health practitioner.

The medical bill for these examinations must be covered by the employer.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING COMPLIANT ...

Health and safety requirements are in place to keep employees safe and avoid exposure to hazards as far as possible. Health and safety compliance is also important for business.“If farmers don’t comply, they will receive findings during their third-party audits that could hinder their sales to markets,” cautions De Villiers.

She adds that there is no room for farmers who do not meet health and safety requirements, as it takes only one such employer to put everyone at risk.“Of course there are still some rotten apples here and there, but gradually they are being phased out because we simply cannot afford them.”

In addition, being health and safety compliant reduces the risk of being fined or prosecuted by the South African Police Service and the Department of Labour, or suffering reputational damage.

Louw says it is therefore important that farmers make sure they hire capable people who are in charge of managing health and safety on their farms.

"Competent people and a practical and relevant risk assessment are the key factors to managing health and safety successfully in a business,” she concludes.

Article Credits : Jeandré van der Walt & Farmers Weekly

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Fixing South Africa's Agricultural Problems

Fixing the problems facing SA Agriculture ...

A group of recent graduates from the Syngenta Leadership Academy believe the factors that give farming a poor public image could be resolved through developing a better understanding of the complexities that underpin the main challenges facing the sector.

The Syngenta Leadership Academy Class of 2020 had the opportunity to present the insights they gained from participating in this business leadership programme, and so shed light on how to tackle some of the greatest challenges faced by the agriculture sector.

Now in its eighth year, this programme, which is run by Syngenta in partnership with the North-West University Business School and Grain SA, seeks to empower a new generation of leaders in agriculture. Since its inception, the programme has successfully hosted about 150 young commercial farmers and agriculture sector professionals.

The 2020 intake included 17 candidates from the sugar, feedlot, forestry, livestock, agrochemical and seed, equipment, horticulture and agronomy industries, amongst others.

The major challenges ...
Mbali Nwoko, CEO of Green Terrace, an agribusiness that supplies retailers, food processing companies and the fresh produce markets in Johannesburg with high-value vegetable crops, says that uncertainty about property rights, illegal occupation of farmland, land grabs, access to markets, and government’s lack of support were some of the factors that contributed to creating a poor public image of the agriculture sector, especially from the perspective of would-be investors.

These are also some of the reasons that young people are reluctant to make a meaningful contribution to the sector, she says.

Additionally, says Nwoko, a perception exists in South Africa that farmers don’t take care of their employees, providing them with substandard and generally poor living and working conditions.

“This might hold true in some cases, but not for all, and it might be a small fraction who do this. Perhaps this perception is based on memories from the past.

“But right now, there are many farmers who provide safe housing for their farmworkers, and who are going above and beyond in creating a good livelihood for them by providing various services such as healthcare services and schools. These stories are not celebrated enough,” says Nwoko.

Lack of government support ...
Nwoko thinks that there is growing concern amongst farmers regarding the lack of government assistance. This, she adds, is disheartening for farmers, who have lost faith and trust in government.

“Consider, for example, the support that new farmers should be receiving from extension officers. These officers are supposed to provide farmers with adequate technical advice, such as updated information on commodity trading. Instead, government hires graduates with little expertise and knowledge who provide no value to the farmers.”

This problem of lack of capacity also applies to public research and development. According to Nwoko, institutions such as the Agriculture Research Council are no longer at the forefront of conducting research that could help solve farmers’ practical problems, and government needs to spend more on agricultural research and development if it wants to support the farming sector and see it grow.

Building trust ...
“An ideal future would be to unite a divided sector and find the necessary solutions to build a positive public image of agriculture,” says Mihlali Xhala, head of the Corporate Chamber at Agri SA and also part of this year’s Syngenta Leadership Academy intake.

To achieve this, the sector requires a strategy for building trust and strengthening partnerships amongst its stakeholders.

“We need to understand that agriculture is a complex sector consisting of interrelated stakeholders and reciprocal relationships. In our endeavours to address and understand these challenges, we should engage all stakeholders and identify shared interests.”

Gerswin Louw, livestock manager at Dasberg Boerdery in the Overberg in the Western Cape, says that unity will require a balancing of powers. Many of the problems that contribute to agriculture’s poor public image cannot be resolved solely by the sector.

But before other sectors can be involved, there first needs to be a degree of unity within agriculture. Louw says that, in addition to the poor quality of agricultural education, there is not enough knowledge-sharing and training to support upcoming farmers, and this adds to the sector’s poor public image.

He highlights the divide that exists between the private and public sectors in the way that institutions are managed.

“In the private sector, institutions are run according to business principles, which include the need to make a profit. In the public sector, government mostly works to win elections, and the focus is on retaining and gaining power instead of on service delivery.”

Mismanagement of the public sector, says Louw, spills over to the private sector in the form of tax increases, even though citizens gain little value from government’s spending of their tax money.

“This affects not only commercial farmers, but small-scale farmers, who also suffer when public money is not spent on developing much-needed infrastructure.”

A turning point ...
The good news is that there are solutions, says Sarel Olckers, junior feedlot manager at Morgan Beef Group. “Changes can be made in the short term, for example, ensuring better access to markets. Most of the infrastructure needed to make this happen already exists.

All that government has to do is maintain and upgrade it.”

Other interventions that could help address the challenges identified by the group of graduates include investing in agricultural education and improving relations between farmers and their communities.

“Sharing knowledge and experience from both sides of the spectrum and supporting one another is the change that we, as young leaders, will have to make,” says Olckers.

To this end, says Louis Steyl, CEO of the Bonsmara Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa and owner of Steyl Bonsmaras, there need to be integrated study groups where commercial and emerging farmers can share knowledge.

Steyl adds there should be incentive programmes to encourage commercial farmers to mentor emerging farmers in their areas.

According to Olckers, decreasing rural crime is a challenge that will take a long time to solve, and the solution lies in co-operation between government and organised agriculture.
Olckers and Steyl believe that one of the most crucial factors that needs to be addressed to increase investment in the sector is to obtain policy clarity, particularly on land, as lack of certainty scares off investors.

“We need to change from uncertainty about landownership to stability. No one wants to invest in a farm if there’s a chance it can be taken away without even getting compensation for what has been built up over generations,” says Steyl.

In general, the graduates would like to see land reform beneficiaries selected on merit, and not because of their connections.

Steyl says that organised agriculture needs to become more inclusive.

“This should begin at farm level to reduce racial tensions by understanding and respecting different cultures, and working together and accommodating one another.”

Email Mbali Nwoko at mbali@greenterrace.co.za; Mihlali Xhala at mihlali@agrisa.co.za; Gerswin Louw at gerslouw@gmail.com; Sarel Olckers at sarel@morganbeef.co.za; and Louis Steyl at louis@bonsmara.co.za.

Article Credits : Siyanda Sishuba and Farmers Weekly

Grow Your Own ...
Sustainable Organic Food Crops
in a GreenAgric Greenhouse ...
for Improved Health
for Food Security

Only GreenAgric Offers ...
* Free Delivery to most places on SA
* Free Assistance with your DIY Tunnel Installations ...
* Free Ongoing 'Best Help and Advice' for growing your own Food Crops ...

GreenAgric are the Very Best Value for Money Tunnels in Southern Africa ...

Contact GreenAgric on .
021 020 0505
Mondays to Fridays during business hours
or via WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal ...
on 072 387 2293
We are also available on Facebook and Messenger ...
http://web.facebook.com/GreenAgric
7 to 7 - 7 days a week ...
Email : Sales@GreenAgric.co.za
Web: https://GreenAgric.co.za

We look forward to hearing from you soon ...
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