If you can walk into a shopping centre with thousands of people, why are you not allowed to attend an agricultural event? This is a question bugging Agri-Expo operations manager Breyton Milford who worries about the future of the country’s agricultural shows.
Annually, Agri-Expo hosts a number of leading events, including Agri-Expo Livestock and the South African Cheese Festival.
Many of these and other agricultural events have been cancelled in line with government’s stringent Covid-19 lockdown regulations. While Milford understands the importance of keeping people safe, he also knows this has resulted in severe financial losses for farmers, small business owners and the agricultural sector at large.
Agricultural shows in South Africa – largely outdoor events – face a bleak future, says Milford. In fact, the once lively agricultural show calendar has been completely wiped out. According to his estimation, there are now far fewer shows than there were 20 years ago.
“For many of the shows [cancelled in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic] it was the first time in years that they could not do it, so it was a big blow.”
Rural and farming communities are paying the price for this. Often, these shows bring in much-needed revenue to towns that were already struggling to keep the lights on. “The impact is great, especially on farming communities. I don’t think people realise how many people actually attended agricultural shows.”
The agricultural events industry is dying, adds Milford. “The impact is [devastatingly] huge on farmers, especially small businesses. People who are suffering the most are the entrepreneurs who now can’t make money and new entrepreneurs who are not [yet] developed.”
In the past, many entrepreneurs would travel from one agricultural show to another to sell their products, including agricultural machinery. Most of these entrepreneurs have been left without an income, says Milford.
‘Government not acting consistently’
During a recent meeting, Agri-Expo chief executive Johan Ehlers said most agricultural shows in the country were now either “lying [down] or crawling”. He believes urgent intervention is required to ensure its future.
In his overview of Covid-19 protocols, Ehlers points out that government restrictions on the number of visitors allowed at events are not consistently applied to agricultural shows and markets.
This forces Milford to wonder, “If you walk into a shopping centre, there are thousands of people. If you walk into a market, there are hundreds of people. But agricultural shows can’t continue?”
In a desperate attempt to breathe new life into these shows, many organisers have tried virtual events although it simply does not get the same traction, says Milford.
“Agricultural shows’ biggest asset is the interaction [between exhibitors and visitors] and if you go virtual, there is no interaction. The opportunity to talk to someone and to listen to them is no longer there. The virtual thing does not work. There is no interaction.”