There is a new sense of hope for agriculture in the country and it reinforces Food For Mzansi’s belief in the power of this sector to create social cohesion. It is against this background that we will be hosting a Power Talk on the campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein on Wednesday, 5 June.
This will be the perfect setting to pick the brains of five expert panellists who will unravel the topic of agriculture as creator of social cohesion, to showcase this dynamic sector.
Food For Mzansi editor Dawn Noemdoe will lead the discussion and will be joined by Dr Frikkie Maré, Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at UFS, Dr Ina Gouws, Political Analyst and Senior Lecturer at the UFS Department of Political Studies, Mosele Lepheane, farmer and CEO of Mos M Farm, Gerhard Kriel, Founder of “Friends of Agriculture”, and Henk Harmse, farmer and CEO of Harmse Boerdery.
According to Ivor Price, co-founder of Food For Mzansi and Farmers For Change, their journey has been nothing short of amazing. “Every day, we get to talk to people from all walks of life, and the more we do it, the more we realize that people are hungry to talk about the news headlines that often make them feel scared. Divisive politics and social media bubbles have made many South Africans deaf to other people’s opinions.”
Price believes that Food For Mzansi’s Power Talks are a bold attempt to give ordinary people a rare opportunity to engage with agricultural leaders about the burning issues that might otherwise be nothing more than an ill-informed tweet or Facebook status.
“We don’t care who you are or even if you have a different opinion. Let’s talk. People flock to our Power Talks because they want to walk away slightly better informed about burning issues,” says Price.
Panellist Lepheane says she’s excited about the upcoming event, especially to hear what large scale farmers are doing to contribute to social capital in the communities they live in, where there are many small farmers that need their support.
“Agriculture’s contribution to our GDP is the lowest in comparison to other African countries,” says Lepheane. “Government has not fully become aware of the potential of this great industry to build our nation.”
Her biggest concerns are the ailments in Mzansi communities that are caused by hunger. “If government could put in place ‘working’ policies and programmes that support urban farming and social capital – the relationship bonds between communities – we will see huge impact on social cohesion,” she says.
Managing Director of the VKB Group, Koos Janse Van Rensburg emphasises that we are all part of the agricultural value chain, since it provides for Mzansi’s very basic needs, like food and fibre for clothes.
“The agricultural industry is extremely politicised and there are enough reasons for it. The unequal distribution of resources is probably one of the biggest reasons,” says Janse Van Rensburg.
The solution, he says, is to continue to focus on what the agricultural value chain must do. He is adamant that ‘“we should all play a role to come up with solutions about how we get more equality in a way that does not bring the industry into disrepute.”
“This is why Food For Mzansi is such a beautiful initiative for me. It says let’s remove the politics and see what’s happening on ground level with new entrants and role players that will take hands to build a better future. Not just for everyone who loves agriculture, but to determine if we can build a better South Africa together.”
Dr Frikkie Maré, Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of the Free State says they are committed to engaged scholarship where the research and expertise of the 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 to create social cohesion in the country,” says Maré.
He adds that discussions that take place in isolation between only academics or students or farmers are certainly necessary, but are in his opinion not so effective as those shared between everyone who is involved.