In 2021, let’s Talk More

Yesterday, we all bid farewell to the year 2020, and ushered in 2021.
Agriculture, just like every any other sector required some thought of introspection and some hope plans for the future.

As the year begins, many people look forward to new opportunities, be it jobs or business ventures. Here at Mzansi Agri Talk, we also hope for a great year in agriculture.

We will continue to bring you latest research, policy, trade, markets, and development news, from around the world, not forgetting farmers and the finest thought leadership pieces from our pool of agricultural scientists and economists.

Looking back at 2020, many would remember that it started not at its best as many anticipated would be.

Reflecting on the first four months of 2020, Agricultural economist Zosuliwe Kala, wrote in Mzansi Agri Talk that South Africa had just moved from a severe drought and outbreaks of diseases such Foot and Mouth disease, and that it expected a greater season this year (2020) for both production and marketing in the agricultural sector.

The first down fall, she noted, was when the country closed at a bad note in 2019 and it was reported that South Africa’s agriculture has experienced two consecutive quarters of 2019, that resulted in technical recession and the sector contracted by 7.6% in the fourth quarter due to a decline in the field and horticultural crops.

“Not only did that threatened the employment rate which is at 29% but the outbreak of corona virus (Covid-19) in early 2020 made things even worse both economically and health wise.

“The country implemented a lockdown strategy as a way to curb the spread of this disease. While, the country is still facing this pandemic, the rating agency Moody’s has cut South Africa’s sovereign credit rating to sub-investment grade, meaning the country now has a junk rating from all three major international rating agencies. At the same time, in terms of South African exchange rate, rand became weaker and weaker losing its value against the foreign currencies which means that any food imported in the country will become expensive,” she reported.

Now, as we enter the first quarter of 2021, we hope it would perform better than same period of the previous year as In the last quarters of 2020, we already had multitudes of recorded gains on the high-end level, especially with the gallant display of South Africa’s agricultural export performance even under the duress of Covid-19.

We hope to continue seeing some positives in the entire sector.
Under all this veneer, Mzansi Agriculture Talk moved hand in hand with all industry stakeholders as we continued to report on the latest developments in all segments of the industry.

The year 2021 will not be any different as we are of a strong view that Agriculture needs to continue talking, more especially addressing the hurdles standing in the way of making this sector great.

In truth, the agricultural sector must continue having both comfortable and uncomfortable conversations that will see all role players, including the government, unions and farmers, pulling in one direction when in matters of policy, local trade, markets and use of technology and innovation.

For example, In First World countries, one of the most indelible trade features is numbers, data, statistics and when combined, leads to performance par excellence of the agricultural sector. South African agriculture on the other hand, prefers to hibernate these three essentials and only release them upon request or during optic periods when markets react.

Maybe South African agriculture needs one authority to galavanise information much like US, Botswana and India as this would be a much better cohesive policy and trade perspective.

Currently, every industry chamber conducts its own estimates (which it should), but these should also be available at one port of authority i.e., at a marketing council/board.

Secondly, industries were communicating transformation rather uncharacteristically. Our recent story on Tiger Brands indicated the importance of involving small players in the value chain much like the theory applied by Asian Tigers with their farmers. This was a definition of transformation, a manufacturing company sourcing from small players, making available technical, human and financial resources and in the end promoting South African agricultural products.

Government and industry had the habit of punching numbers of farmers trained or supported, yet in the end, this number did not translate to accessing markets which altogether pointed to the syndrome of ‘what was the use.’ In 2021, we hope to see the government’s return on investment on farmer support.

Thirdly, industries and government were slow to embrace technology and innovation. In the age Artificial Intelligence, there is below reporting on technology and innovation which seriously places doubt on the survival of the agricultural sector in the next five years.

In other parts of Africa, drones are used by smallholder farmers, whereas in South Africa the process is stifled in red tape requiring a pilot license.

Fourthly, captains of agricultural industry had placed too much faith on Minister Thoko Didiza for her to influence policy direction. Political environments change and are not static. With now the Land question possibly putting the sector in asunder, it is the same Minister that will need to ensure it complies with the resolutions of the ANC.

From the gallery, the Minister has done well to speedily ensure there is an Agricultural and Agro-processing Master Plan. Such a platform is hoped to bridge or close the industry and government gap.

Lastly, since the focus will be on land, political scientists without adequate agricultural background where taking over the narrative, putting it into perspective for policy and global business. Each industry needed to deploy its own political scientists to understand government and international thinking and shifts in local and global developments.

Reasons for this was simple as confirmed by our colleagues in radio and tv; agriculture professionals talked numbers which attracted less viewership/listenership whereas with political scientists it sparked instant debate.

As the sector heads into 2021 and let’s talk of the cuff with a free conscious.
*Some of the views expressed where garnered through engagements with industry captains, farmers and policy makers.

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