07 June 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Leonie Bolleurs
Agri Power Talk
At the first Agri Power Talk presented by Food for Mzansi, were from the left: Dr Frikkie Maré, Head of the UFS Department of Agricultural Economics; Ivor Price of Food for Mzansi; Dr Ina Gouws, UFS Department of Political Studies; Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor; Koos Janse van Rensburg, Managing Director of the VKB Group; and Kobus Lourens, Food for Mzansi.

The first power talk to create cohesion in the agriculture sector was presented by Food for Mzansi on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS). Two UFS researchers, Drs Frikkie Maré, Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, and Ina Gouws, political analyst and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Studies and Governance, served on the panel of this initiative that aims to tackle and find solutions for difficult issues in the sector. 

Bringing role players together 
Dr Maré said their department is committed to engaged scholarship where the research and expertise of academic staff is shared with the broader public. 

“Hosting the Food for Mzansi Power Talk provides us with the opportunity to bring academic staff, students, and industry role players together on one platform to discuss the importance of agriculture in order to create social cohesion in the country.” 

“You cannot teach people to get along. You create cohesion if you share the same thing, such as passion for the sector. We need to get people to talk about that shared passion; in this way, we will create social cohesion.” For a good future, he believes that one needs to dream of a good future and to let go of the hurts of the past. 

Lack of government support

Dr Gouws’ take on this industry and it being demonised by politicians, is that there are several success stories, but all of them with that element of ‘in spite of government’s involvement, I prevailed’. “There is a massive lack of government support. We need a number of government departments to act, including Justice and Constitutional Development, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as Rural Development and Land Reform.” 

“Proper policies are overdue. We must let our voices be heard,” she said.

Co-founder of Food for Mzansi and Farmers for Change, Ivor Price, said they have found that people are hungry to talk about the news headlines that often make them feel scared – such as land reform and safety on farms. “We need to engage constructively on these issues. And we want people with different views to start engaging.”

Besides that, Food for Mzansi and Farmers for Change also aim to salute the unsung heroes of agriculture by sharing the success stories of the people who feed South Africa.

The role of thought leader

UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor,Prof Francis Petersen, said agriculture is crucial for food security and economic growth in South Africa. “It is important that we are aware of the challenges facing the sector, e.g. politics, climate change, sustainable production, change of technology, and using this technology properly in agriculture to be internationally competitive.”

“We need more debates about these matters to rightly address them. The role of the UFS is that of thought leader – bringing issues to the front. We cannot do it alone; we need to partner.”

MOS M Farm CEO, Mosele Lepheane, a pig farmer from the Viljoenskroon area, also made her valuable contribution to the discussion. She is positive about the industry. “I can see the light. And I do not want to sit still and wait for government to do something for me. I believe there is power in numbers. If we change our mindset and say we want to work together, we want to be friends, we have a plan – I believe we will make things happen!”

“We see more good than bad. I see my whole family growing this industry,” she said. 

No Google; hear their stories

Panellist Henk Harmse, CEO of Harmse Boerdery, also believes that South Africans need to make it a priority to work together. 

He said although the sector has its challenges, farmers should not focus on their problems, but on potential and on possible solutions. 

He also feels that government should be less involved in this sector. 

For the younger generation, his advice is to stop finding answers on Google, but to talk to people in the sector; to hear their stories.

Gerhard Kriel, founder of Friends of Agriculture, believes networks and friendships are key in this environment. “You can ask a friend a difficult question and you will get an honest answer. Organisations need to sit together, discuss issues, and find common ground,” he said.

He said, as Friends of Agriculture, they would like to partner with the UFS to share expertise and provide insight where needed. 

Agriculture, our source of food and fibre

Managing Director of the VKB Group, Koos Janse van Rensburg, said agriculture provides in all the very basic needs of South Africans, such as food and fibre for clothes. “The entire agricultural value chain needs to be internationally competitive to survive. If agriculture does not survive, the South African economy will suffer internationally.” 

“Tell the true story about agriculture. It is an honourable profession. Give the public the correct perception – the picture of black and white working together. Of commercial farmers helping small farmers. We need to concentrate on the facts and delete the noise.”

The discussion was facilitated by Dawn Noemdoe, journalist and content creator at Food for Mzansi.

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