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Rahima Allah: Tributes pour for Agriculture champion Prof Mohammad Karaan

Silence discerns the agricultural sector in honor of a fallen giant, Prof Muhammad Karaan.

Academics, stakeholders, farmers and the entire agriculture community continue to send messages of condolences to the Karaan family.

His death on January 13, has touched many people in the agriculture sector with some calling it a big blow and a great loss.

Representing his friends and colleagues in Agriculture, Dr Sfiso Ntombela wrote that  the South African food, agriculture, agribusiness, land reform, forestry fisheries and rural development sectors have lost one of its greatest leaders.

“We express our deepest condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, companies and institutions where he worked. Over the course of his distinguished life – Prof Karaan touched, shaped and directed the lives and careers of many people, students, professionals, business and political leaders within and outside the agriculture sector and institutions.  His own professional life and career was forged, among others, at the Development Bank of Southern Africa in the early 1990s – whose authority, leaders, and experts including the Centre of Policy Analysis –  contributed considerably to establish a lifelong link of Mohammad to the leadership of the post-apartheid South African government and the shaping of its land and agriculture policies,” said Ntombela.

Ntombela said Prof Karaan has known all the Ministers and Director Generals of the National Departments Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development – which he advised one way or another – and had himself also been touted, on more than one occasion, as a possible Minister or Director General when Cabinet appointments were to be made or when Director General posts were to be filled.

Prof Karaan co-authored the South African National Development Plan, which in 2011 set the daunting task that by the 2030 South Africa should have no poverty, effectively employment for all and on route to equitable income, wealth and opportunities. He went on to serve two terms as a member of the National Planning Commission, and was appointed a member of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture in 2018. 

In 2008, he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of AgriSciences at the University of Stellenbosch and acting Vice-Rector at the University in 2014.

Professor Karaan championed the cause of agriculture in various government institutions and committees – which includes being the Chairman of the National Agricultural Marketing Council, a member of the Agricultural Research Council, and a Board member of the Land and Agricultural Bank of South Africa. 

He also provided visionary leadership to numerous private companies, which includes serving as the Chairman of a multi-billion rand fishing company, Terrasan Group and its subsidiaries Aqunion, Blue Oceans Mussels, Marifeed and Saldanha Protein, and serving on the board of companies such as Quantum Foods, Pioneer Foods, SSK, Kaap Agri amongst others.

“He also farmed in the Overberg District, demonstrating that he can manage and execute his own policy advice and integrate with the farming community.

In 2018, Prof Karaan was appointed as the President of the Maties Rugby Club. His sharp intellect, ready smile and soft voice was not lost in his character as a keen handicap twelve golfer with a mean feather-touch putting game,” wrote Ntombela.

Prof Karaan also served as President of the Agricultural Economics Association of Southern Africa (AEASA). In partnership with Cornell University, he established the Making Markets Matter agricultural training programme. The programme has trained over 2 000 agribusinesses throughout Africa. He was engaged in assisting the setting up of the Walter Sisulu University AgriBusiness Centre in Mthatha. 

“He will be remembered for his uncanny ability to unpack complex economic concepts into practical real life issues. Throughout his life, he was able to bridge the gap between Government and Agribusiness, black and white farmers, smallholder and commercial farmers.  Above all, he believed that the future of South African agriculture rests with smallholder farmers.”     

Prof Karaan leaves behind is wife, Basheerad and five children.

‘We extend our heartfelt condolences and sympathy to the Karaan family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in this most difficult time.  May his soul rest in Eternal Peace.” Rote Ntombela.

Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza also sent a message of condolences.

“We are greatly saddened to learn about the passing of Professor Mohammad Karaan, a former Dean of the Faculty of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University and a champion of agriculture and rural development,” said Minister Thoko Didiza.

Didiza said Prof Karaan was a giant in South Africa’s agriculture, with an enormous contribution to policy and academia.

“Amongst various roles he served within government is the National Planning Commission (NPC), the Chairperson of the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), a board member at the Land Bank and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), and, most recently, a member of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.”

Didiza said that Prof Karaan’s passing is a massive loss for the country, at a time when we need leading development thinkers and practitioners like him the most, and as the country begins to implement the Economic Recovery Plan.

“Chapter Six of the National Development Plan was largely drawn from his vision for agricultural and rural development, which emphasised a need for public-private partnership approaches in agricultural development. We should honour his legacy by continuing this approach as part of the broader government agricultural development approach said Minister Didiza. We send our sympathies and prayers to Prof Karaans family at this challenging time. The agricultural community will miss Prof Karaans insights and wisdom, added the Minister.”

Noko Masipa, Member of Parliament (DA). Portfolio of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development said he knew Prof Karaan as a man who inspired many people.

“Many of his past students who are active in agriculture as workers or farmers tell of fond memories. They considered him mentor, boss, friend and agriculture expert that they can call on. Prof was a grounded community worker, he was a policy expert, an academic and a corporate leader in agriculture. I had occasions where I invited Prof Karaan to my events. He honored my golf event aimed at raising funds for the farm workers’ early childhood development and made his contribution,” he said.

Masipa said Agriculture has lost one of their agriculture geniuses whom “we needed now than ever before”.

“He is the co-author of the National Development Plan, which so far made very little progress. And is sad that he leaves at a stage when the country is still battling with the implementation of the development plan, especially the use of private and public money to grow agriculture and transform the sector at the same,” said Masipa.

Agri SA said it has learned with sadness and shock of Professor Mohammad Karaan’s sudden passing due to Covid.

“We would like to express our deepest sympathy to his family, friends, colleagues, and institutions where he worked. May you find comfort in his legacy and humanity. He was indeed a well-loved and highly respected person.”

Agri SA Executive Director Christo van der Rheede said that during a recent meeting between Prof Karaan and the leadership of Agri SA, agricultural issues were discussed in detail and ideas were enthusiastically exchanged to determine the best way forward for the sector.

“Not only was he an expert who enjoyed great respect locally as well as internationally, but he also lived his passion for agriculture with conviction. His contribution in many areas, especially regarding his involvement with the National Planning Commission, the establishment of ASUF (Agricultural Sector Unity Forum), the University of Stellenbosch and its Department of Agriculture and many other institutions, was invaluable. The agricultural sector honors his contribution and carries on with his legacy. Rest in peace Prof Karaan,” said Van der Rheede.

He added: “Also, our deepest sympathy to the families of the late former Minister Gerrit van Rensburg who represented Agri Western Cape in Agri SA’s General Council and the late Welmar Ras of the RSA Market Agency who was also involved with Agri SA’s Corporate Chamber. We will cherish their memories with compassion.”

Dr Ivan Meyer Western Cape Minister of Agriculture said “Today I join the rest of the agriculture sector in mourning the passing of the academic and thought leader on agriculture Professor Mohammad Karaan. His death is a massive loss for the academic and agricultural community in South Africa. “

Meyer said that as an academic and Dean of the Faculty AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University Professor Karaan leaves an indelible mark on the agricultural landscape.

“We remember Professor Karaan for his contribution to the National Planning Commission and the Land Reform Advisory Panel. Professor Karaan played a crucial role in writing a chapter in the National Development Plan – Vision 2030 on shaping an integrated and inclusive rural economy for South Africa. He was a bridge builder between government and the agriculture sector and brought people together. He was a great facilitator of dialogue and reason in the political economy of South Africa.  He understood the impact of policy uncertainty on the agricultural sector and offered pragmatic solutions.  Agriculture was his passion and his legacy will continue to inspire us.”

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