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The future of agriculture in SA

‘The whole issue is around the current political environment’ – Dawie Maree, FNB Agriculture.

RSG Geldsake is currently hosting a series of talks concerning important events and current affairs within the agricultural sector. Excerpts of these weekly talks are broadcasted on RSG Geldsake, and uploaded as podcasts on the Moneyweb website, Today’s focus is on SA agriculture and the future it offers to entrepreneurs. We’re talking to Dawie Maree, head of information and marketing at FNB Agriculture, who recently issued a press release stating his views on this subject.

ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Good day Dawie, welcome to RSG Geldsake.

DAWIE MAREE: Good day Andries, thank you.

ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Before we discuss the future of SA agriculture, can you give us an indication on the importance of SA agriculture’s role within the greater South African framework?

DAWIE MAREE: Andries, if we look at primary agriculture, in other words on a farm level, then we’re only contributing 2.5% to the gross domestic product, and in this regard we’re a very small sector. If we look at the bigger picture, and we include the total value chain of input suppliers and product takers, then we’re looking at anything between 18% – 22% of the national economy. Seventy percent of our products are used within the manufacturing sector, and this is food production and fibre production. As a small primary industry, we do play a big role in the total economy of the country.

ANDRIES VAN ZYL:  Dawie, what are your observations – are South Africans, generally speaking, aware of the extensive role agriculture plays within the greater society?

DAWIE MAREE: Andries, if we look at the rural population – I think they are more aware of agriculture’s value in South Africa than the urban population. Naturally, the economy of these rural towns are more intertwined with South Africa’s agriculture economy. In general, I think the general public isn’t as aware of the role we play. The shelves at our supermarkets are fully stocked, our products are freely available, we can import what and when we want, and in this regard, I think the man on the street isn’t too aware of the role agriculture plays.

ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Those South Africans who are aware of the role South African agriculture needs to fulfil – do they show enough appreciation?

DAWIE MAREE: I really think they appreciate it. As I mentioned, the local or rural economy is dependent on agriculture, and they realise if we don’t keep our farmers, then it will leave a massive gap in those economies. We’re already seeing the decline of small rural towns and smaller towns where the numbers of farmers are decreasing, and where the money is flowing into the cities instead of rural development. I think in this regard there is a big appreciation, and together with the current initiatives recognising the role of the farmer, the appreciation will only grow.

ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Dawie, you’ve mentioned in your press release that the future of South African agriculture is regularly being debated on a variety of platforms. What are the most important reasons behind this pressing topic of conversation?

DAWIE MAREE: Andries, I think the whole issue is around the current political environment – policy frameworks and legislature on expropriation and land reform are currently being drafted, and of course people are realising we need to produce food. And here I must mention my support of organised agriculture’s effort to keep people informed on the importance of food security in the country. I think these are the most important reasons behind the current debates. Other hot topics also include the enormous role agriculture can play within job creation, because a big segment of the National Development Plan deals with job creation. Furthermore, it’s been said our farmers are getting older, and there is a concern that they’re starting to become an endangered species and that one day we’ll be left without farmers. These are some of the current topics that clearly highlight the important role of the farmer within society.

ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Dawie, there’s an opinion that a lot of the young guys on the farms aren’t too keen to enter the agriculture sector as farmers. Is this really the case, and why this view?

DAWIE MAREE: Andries, this perception was relatively spot on up until quite recently. Farmers were seen as people who struggle, and there’s always some kind of trouble or problem – not that the troubles and problems are on the decline, in fact, there might be even more trouble. However, in the past with the single channel marketing system, the farmers solely focussed on production. This was the way they farmed and what they did – to produce as much as they can. From 1996 within the free market environment, the role of purely farmer changed to businessman. And with it, the perception of what it means to be a farmer. You need to produce your own products in a scientific, economically sustainable manner, and then you need to market your products, you need to know your consumer. The dynamics are completely different, and agriculture is becoming a science – something it always should have been. And I think this the reason behind the current development of a new and younger generation of farmers. The farmer’s sons are becoming more interested in entering this sector. Agriculture is now starting to become, if one can say, a sexy industry. We’re also seeing this in the agricultural companies, where a lot of the younger guys are entering as scientists and marketers, and I think a whole new dimension around agriculture as a business is busy developing.

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