Standard Bank South Africa's agri conferences bring provincial role players together

Standard Bank South Africa's agricultural division is hosting a series of provincial roadshows in South Africa aimed at engaging major role players and sector leaders in discussions about generating growth in their region. "Prospects for South African agriculture are positive," says Willie du Plessis, head of Agribusiness at Standard Bank South Africa. "However, the potential won't be converted into reality unless everyone involved acts collectively to remove obstacles to sustainability and create fresh revenue streams for primary and secondary operations.

"South African agriculture is perfectly positioned to implement the vision of the National Planning Commission and we see the roadshows as a way of cascading that very positive information all the way through the agricultural value chain." Mr Du Plessis says agriculture has now entered a bullish longer term growth phase. He points out that commodity prices have been good and will remain firm going forward. Interest rates have also been favourable, with the dollar exchange rate supporting export initiatives. Farmers are encouraged to invest in assets, whether in the form of equipment or property, and to expand their range of crops and livestock.

"This sets the scene for growth, not only for individual farmers, but right across the value chain. It is also an opportunity to make cutting edge changes that will move a farming operation into a new league. "Primary and secondary operations need to do things differently and better. Technology, mechanisation, precision farming, and better integration up and downstream will go a long way towards making agriculture more efficient and more profitable. This will keep farmers on the land and ensure that farming becomes an attractive proposition. In turn, this will provide South Africa's growing population with food security."

He says that a profitable agricultural sector will create not just more jobs, but also better paying jobs, noting that government too has a role to play in ensuring the profitability of farming.Innovation focused on productivity can also transform the sector from a labour perspective and provide farm workers and their communities with a better living.

"As with many other service sectors, financial institutions also need to develop cutting edge funding solutions that will pro-actively help the sector grow," Mr du Plessis says. "We need to stay abreast of the obstacles and issues confronting the full spectrum of role players in agriculture, including government.

"Our provincial conferences are geared to enable us to gain the insight to do that." Each day-long conference includes a morning briefing session during which industry influencers including John Purchase, CEO of the Agricultural Business Chamber, and Professor Mohammad Karaan, a member of the National Planning Commission and Dean of the faculty of Agrisciences at the University of Stellenbosch, brief the 100 invited attendees on opportunities and challenges confronting agriculture from a national perspective.

Provincial agricultural role players also provide information on their respective areas of influence. Each afternoon session is interactive, with panellists taking questions from the floor and members of the audiencetalking about their successes. "Certainly, we need to identify challenges," Mr Du Plessis says. "But the theme of the conferences is 'cutting edge'. Each session is growth orientated, focused on helping agri stakeholders become more efficient by capitalising on the many factors in the industry's favour." In addition, input from attendees that has the potential to impact the future of agriculture will also be communicated to decision and policy makers.

"The conferences serve to supplement the solution-seeking imbizos that Standard Bank hosts through the Standard Bank Centre for AgriLeadership and Business Development. These imbizos have provided valuable feedback to the National Planning Commission," says Mr Du Plessis. "As a bank, we see ourselves as not just as a financier, but also as an integral contributor to the development and transformation of the sector. Our commercial insight and capabilities can be game changers. We believe it is important to bring together people and organisations that don't often have a chance to engage with one another and have them work together. It calls for teamwork to enable a cutting edge sector."

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