Taking hands to overcome the three big challenges facing agriculture

From the left, Jan Oosthuizen (facilitator), Lance van der Spuy (Shoprite), Michael Brinkhuis (Fortco), JB vd Berg (Baruch Training Centre, Bergfoods), AJ Munian (Smart Agri Solutions) and Pieter Wasserfall (Six33) at the third Bridgebuilding Land Summit in Paarl last week.

Jan Oosthuizen facilitator of the Bridgebuilding Land Summit Initiative reflects on the third summit which took place in Paarl last week — and on the way ahead in South Africa’s challenging and contentious agricultural sector.

In a country divided by racism, economic exclusion, and social intolerance, we need to construct more trusted social bridges.

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An essential ingredient to healthy families, unified communities, national cohesion, and sustainable businesses are reciprocal respectful relationships.

Relationships, unfortunately, are also one of the first casualties when everyone is fighting for personal survival.

Although crime, corruption, and unethical practice are immensely painful, they are also an equaliser. Broken trust doesn’t only occur in cross-cultural relationships but also between neighbours, life-long partners, and even within one’s family.

The high instances of crime and farm attacks are forcing us to re-evaluate our responsibility to reach out to our neighbours, and people who are living nearby. The crime and struggling economy is forcing us out of the comfortable mono-cultures of friends-on-Facebook type connections into getting to know and engage with the people living next door.

Taking hands to survive
The only way to survive economic and social degradation is for people to take hands, earn one another’s trust, and build collective goodwill – i.e. the social cohesion sought as an aim in the NDP.

The Bridgebuilding Summit facilitated by Berné Leuvenink from Beulah Africa creates a safe platform for bridge-builders and nation-builders to meet and engage, finding new solutions together, and strengthen their resolve.

Dr Ruben Richards opened the gathering by reminding us of the cost of mercy, by modernising the Good Samaritan story — “We all know what this passage means, and its personal challenge to help the broken, hurt, and disenfranchised: Now go and do it!”

At the summit are, from the left, Hannes Pretorius (MD Foundation), Aubrey Terblanche (Gideon Milling), JB VD Berg (Baruch Training Centre, Bergfoods) Johan Mouton (Mouton Citrus), Tobias Basson (Namakwaland Farms).

Hennie Viljoen, the founder of Amos Agrimin, reiterated the importance of biblical economic principals like dual ownership where God owns the land, stewardship of the land and towards workers, sharing where everyone gives, a good work ethic and fencing one’s needs and wants.

Since the inception of the first Bridgebuilding Summit, we purposed ourselves to find a man of peace in every location, a father or elder-type leader who is already uniting and reconciling people.

Inspiring success stories
It was hence my privilege to present seven different land reform practices and models which are already being successfully implemented, and seven initiatives focussed on social-development. These stories are inspiring!

The stories of hope that we listened to during the day brought tears to many eyes. Although the financial costs are high, and solutions complicated to implement, the reward of lives impacted is immeasurable. Land reform can only work if it is in a person’s heart to make it work.

It is said: give a man a fish, and you have fed him for a day, teach a man how to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime. Teaching a man to fish is not easy. One needs all kinds of tools, time, and resources.

Maybe teaching why a man should fish is more natural — helping people find their “why” is fundamental to any empowering process. But take note! If there are no more fish in the pond, the whole exercise is useless. We thus ventured into the first aspect of the tri -dilemma — economic inclusion and market access.

Many small farmers have lost their farms because they could no longer compete due to rising input costs and unstable and low prices from off-takers and stricter food-security measures.

Other negative factors are persisting droughts and unpredictable weather conditions.

Solutions from retail experts
Solutions were proposed by experts in the retail chain, like Lance van der Spuy (Shoprite), Pieter Wasserfall (Six33), Aj Munian (AgriSolutions) and Michael Brinkhuis (Hortfin). We were reminded that, for example, Shoprite Checkers engages with 1 114 agricultural producers nationwide for fresh products.

Surely retailers would want to shorten this list. Differentiation, quality, consistency, scalability, food safety, traceability, and the social narrative make for desired, sellable products. Farmers are advised to focus on value-addition, innovation to shorten the value chain, and brand cooperatives or collectives.

The retail sector does not know colour or race preferences, and cannot afford to buy inferior products, that would not sell.

The land ownership question is the second, hugely problematic and complicated challenge of the tri-dilemma. Initiatives like Witzenburg PALS, however, are making promising progress.

Through agribusiness VKB, Free State Agriculture and Mpumalanga Agri they are being asked to present their successfully-implemented framework. With the solutions-focussed Landbou Weekblad GrondBeraad coming up in November, we hope that more and more farmers will begin to explore these avenues towards facilitated land ownership transfer and economic inclusion.

Pain about land distribution
Dr Wallace Mgoqi, former chief land claims commissioner, appealed to all the stakeholders to understand the depth of pain people have regarding land distribution, but also to engage positively with government to offer solutions.

The third aspect of the tri-dilemma we all face in agriculture is knowledge transfer. We believe the Future Farmers Foundation are leading in this field, allowing agricultural students to do their internship overseas for a year before continuing with a local internship or entering work in the sector with real farm experience.

We see this programme as the fastest way to peacefully and productively change the ageing white face of agriculture in SA. Most farmworkers are poorly educated, and lack capacity to enter into positions requiring technological, mathematical, planning and managerial skills.

In many cases, the children of farmers and farmworkers don’t want want to remain and work the farm, thus, opening opportunities for highly-motivated and hard-working students.

Addressing farmworkers developmental and social needs is, however, also an issue where farmers can play a big role and where corporate social and agriBEE social-development funding should be increasingly channelled.

It is also vitally important that agri colleges forge stronger alliances with the private and corporate sector in this regard. The underlying problem is that most of these students have no proper practical experience.

Agriculture requires hands-on experience, hence the need for agri-technical schools opportunities for internships providing skills and knowledge.

The way forward:
We want to see agricultural-, innovation-, logistical-, cooperative-, collective-, ilima- hubs from private, public, people partnerships at the most local level in communities, towns and even cities. As the most trusted bridge-builder, the Church could be leading these initiatives to bring all stakeholders together who share the same values.

We are now focussing on starting three new think-tanks that can begin to work towards engaging with appropriate parties, seeking practical solutions:

Skills development and knowledge transfer: There is a growing need among farmers to understand and apply the skills development process better, whether in a strictly mentorship role or through training, upliftment and any other means.

We strongly appeal to farmers to make use of the Future Farmers initiative to ensure that the right student is introduced to the right farmer. If we can place 100 more students per year, think of the impact over five years.

The agriculture sector is a relational sector, and thus needs face to face, contact engagements to stimulate integration. This thinktank will be tasked to facilitate and initiate such bridgebuilding initiatives throughout the sector.

Economic inclusion: The ReStory (Heal the land – heal the people) initiative is working to fight social and soil degradation under the leadership of Prof James Blignaut. They are busy creating a capital fund, as well as a buyer/seller e-platform to shorten the value chain.

Individual /family/commodity-driven enterprises of scale do exist, like Gideon Milling , Mouton Citrus and Six33 which provide a profitable, sustainable business model that unlocks social investment.

Land Ownership: Programmes like Witzenberg PALS (Partners in Agri Land Solutions) can significantly resolve the ownership question, yet owning land and not having access to a profitable market is self-defeating.

We propose that bridgebuilders evaluate the possibility of penetrating the local informal market. With the help of the Church, we should be able to build secure distribution networks.

Training initiatives like work4aliving, GF4GF , FFF and Farming God’s Way, and even individual farmer training offered by JB vd Berg of Berg Foods at their Baruch Training Centre near Bothaville, are needed to raise production to an acceptable standard.

AMCUP has distributed 14 000 small 9x3m greenhouse net structures to help small farmers produce enough food for 50 families all year round.

Bridges are built from a point of contact. So, go and make contact. Let’s get out of the compartmental silos of operation and existence and begin to form citizen assemblies where all the members of a community can take hands, and work towards practical, implementable solutions on the ground level.

View video of Jan Oosthuizen at the summit:

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