Mzansi’s agricultural sector stands as a cornerstone of the nation’s economy, contributing significantly to export earnings. However, amidst its prosperity lies a complex web of challenges, primarily driven by forex risks.
This is according to Bianca Botes, director and treasury partner at Citadel Global, who sheds light on the pivotal importance of managing these risks for the industry’s sustained growth and stability.
Forex, or foreign exchange, is like a system where countries trade their money for other countries’ money. In agriculture, forex is important because it decides how much money farmers get for their products when they sell them in other countries.
“The amount of economic responsibility resting on the shoulders of South Africa’s farmers and the financial risks they face daily is staggering,” remarks Botes. “In 2022, their output amounted to 10% of South Africa’s total export earnings at a value of $12.8 billion.”
Botes underscores the sector’s vulnerability to economic fluctuations, particularly the volatility of the Rand, which significantly impacts export earnings. To counteract this, she emphasises the need for robust hedging strategies employing financial instruments to mitigate risks and secure prices.
Managing currency fluctuations
“Exchange rate volatility directly impacts the profitability of agricultural exports,” states Botes. She advocates for a multifaceted approach involving trend analysis, hedging, and scenario planning. “Agricultural exporters and their forex advisors should conduct thorough analyses of currency trends and global economic events.”
“Agricultural commodities are subject to price volatility,” says Botes. “The combination of fluctuations in commodity prices and currency movements creates a complex risk landscape for forex management.”
Highlighting the reliance on the South African Futures Exchange (Safex), she furthermore suggests considerations like cost-benefit analyses and long-term contracts to manage commodity price risks. “Long-term contracts with international buyers can lock in exchange rates and market access over an extended period.”
Overcoming limited access to financial instruments
“Small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises may face challenges in accessing sophisticated financial instruments for hedging,” notes Botes. “Smaller exporters can overcome these challenges by collaborating with established financial institutions and advisors with expertise in agricultural forex management.”
Botes underscores the critical nature of timing transactions and employing suitable instruments in a volatile forex environment. “With a volatile currency such as the rand, you should care about price risks; however, the savings on spot prices are much less important than the timing of transactions and the instruments you use,” she stresses.
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