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VERSEKERING

  • Organic sales are set to break the £2 billion mark this year and health-conscious consumers are increasingly looking at plant-based diets and sustainable, alternative protein sources. All of which creates new opportunities for food producers and more reasons to source directly from smallholder farmers.

  • Robotics in farming and agriculture are allowing European farmers to work in a safer environment, increasing yield and helping to develop more sustainable farming, in asparagus farming and other sectors.

  • Somalia, home to a third of the world’s camels, is targeting new export markets as it looks to boost foreign-exchange earnings from its livestock trade.

  • Persistent unemployment has become synonymous with the youth experience across South Africa.

  • In the 2017/18 production season, North West average maize yields were at 4.4 tonnes per hectare, and the five-year average yield, up to 2017/18, is 3.7 tonnes per hectare (swayed down by the yield levels of the drought years – 2015-2016). 

  • Two weeks ago, I highlighted the effects of 16 per cent VAT on farmers and how they can cope with effects of Increased cost of chemical pesticides. One such coping mechanism was the adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). One rice farmer with a burning desire to produce high quality rice with minimal chemicals wanted to know how practical it is to apply the IPM in rice fields. 

  • While artificial intelligence is commonly employed within customer service, manufacturing, and retail, one sector that may not immediately spring to mind when one thinks of AI is agriculture. Nevertheless, farmers are increasingly relying on this technology to produce their crops.

  • South Africa and International News

  •  The agriculture and forestry sector recorded its worst quarter since 2013 and agriculture has now spent three consecutive quarters in the red, registering a contraction of 6.7 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2019 relative to a growth of 0.3 percent recorded during the same period in 2018.  

  • Today’s data from South Africa’s Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) is important from both the summer and winter crops perspective.

  • - As climate change reshapes agriculture around the world, the international trade of agricultural products will be even more important to feed the growing global population, according to a new UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report which identifies where global harvests will rise and fall by 2050 and the “winners” and “losers” in farming as the planet warms in the coming years.

  • Africa may in recent years have seen a growth in the number of agritech services that offer things such as farmer advisory services or access to finance via smart phone.

  • A number of countries in Africa have in the recent past reformed their cannabis regulations – moving it away from being a prohibited drug to a source of income as an exportable commodity.

  • Sustainability is transcending traditionally scrutinized industries to become a central issue in agribusiness, according to a new report from Fitch Solutions Macro Research.

  • Maize farmers in South Africa can nowadays choose from a wide variety of crop insurance products from various insurers to cover their crops against yield loss due to drought. Crop insurance should, however, not be taken lightly and you could avoid much heartache in the future by doing in-depth research into the various options.

  • The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey data (Q2: 2019) show that South Africa’s primary agricultural employment fell by 0.2% from the corresponding period last year to 842 000 .  The subsectors that faced a notable reduction were mainly field crops, the game industry and forestry. In the case of field crops, the reduction in employment was unsurprising following a reduction in activity in the fields on the back of a poor harvest in the 2018/19 season, all of which is underpinned by unfavourable weather conditions earlier in the season. From a regional perspective, a notable decline in employment was recorded in the Northern Cape, Free State and Limpopo, whilst other provinces saw a marginal uptick. 
    Will there be a change in the current jobs’ trajectory?
    The near-term agricultural jobs trajectory will be influenced by, amongst other factors, weather conditions, and levels of investment in the agricultural sector. As best as we can tell, there are prospects for good weather conditions in the coming months which could support agricultural activity and subsequent employment. But this might not assure levels of employment which far outpace the trends we have witnessed over the past few years, as illustrated in Figure 1. On an investment front, the outlook hinges on the broader policy direction of the agricultural sector, notably land reform and water rights. There are a number of developments on the land reform front at the moment, but the final policy direction will be an important determinant of the direction that South Africa’s agricultural sector will be taking. The same is true for water policy, and infrastructure thereafter.
    Even if we assume positive outcomes from the aforementioned factors in the coming months, the effects on jobs may be marginal. Fundamental change is needed to break away from the current trend, and to reach the targets of the agricultural job that are envisaged in the National Development Plan.1 By using the word – fundamental change – we are referring to (1) a need for a boost in agricultural productivity, (2) an improvement in rural investment climate, (3) expansion of export markets, (4) promotion of labour-intensive agriculture, and (5) expansion of area farmed where possible.
    At a practical level, if the underutilised land in the former homelands, underperforming land reform farms, and other parts of the country are not brought into full production with a key focus on labour-intensive subsectors, notable job creation in South Africa’s agriculture sector might not materialise. Labour-intensive subsectors specifically refer to the horticulture and field crop subsectors which currently employ two-thirds of the primary agriculture labour force of 842 000. The other subsector – livestock – can also be prioritised, specifically in areas where environmental factors do not permit horticulture and field crops. This would all happen at a time where there is a growing demand for horticultural, and protein-rich diets in the global market which is underpinned by the changing consumer patterns towards healthier diets. Moreover, global beef demand is also gathering steam, particularly driven by China. All this presents an opportunity for South Africa to partially address its twin challenges of rural unemployment and low economic growth.
    South Africa is still lagging behind in its effort of meeting a target of creating a million agricultural jobs by 2030 as envisaged in the National 
    provinces containing former homelands that still have tracts of underutilised, arable land that can be prioritised for agricultural expansion are KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.These provinces collectively have between 1.6 million to 1.8 million hectares of underutilised land, according to a 2015 study by McKinsey Global Institute.
    Also, worth noting is that these particular provinces are characterised by higher levels of unemployment and poverty, which in our view, would make sense for the government to prioritise them for agricultural development in the near term. As noted above, the starting point for this process would be to articulate a clear policy framework on land reform and water rights, which will encourage investment in the agricultural sector. Concerted investments would be required for land preparations and provision of irrigation infrastructure, amongst other aspects, to unlocking growth and employment, and associated positive welfare effects.
    The focus for provinces that already have extensive farming could be on ensuring that there are export markets for products being produced. Further, the ports infrastructure for delivering the agricultural produce to export markets should be part of the “fundamental change” to boost South Africa’s agricultural fortunes and jobs. This is specifically the case to, but not limited, the Western Cape. The province is a leading agricultural jobs creator, but for that to be sustained, there must be market access for the produce of the province. Animal and plant health as key pillars of trade need consistent attention. The effects of animal health were felt earlier this year in the livestock sector, specifically in the wool and beef industries, where a lapse in biosecurity controls severely compromised the industries' export potential. Overall, the quest for boosting employment in South Africa’s agricultural sector will need various interventions. Fortunately, many of these are within the policymakers’ reach.

  • Today, agriculture is a major contributor to challenges facing our environment: land degradation, aquifer depletion, nitrogen runoff and greenhouse gas emissions, to name a few.

  • By Tony Esmeraldo, business director at Corteva Agriscience, Southern Africa

  • The financial sustainability and effectiveness of a business can only be determined if it has been subject to technical analysis, says Nico Groenewald, head of agribusiness at Standard Bank.

  • The South African agricultural sector, and specifically the expansion in the sector over the recent past, is heavily reliant on exports.

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