While young people and women are increasingly turning to agriculture for opportunities, the newly-appointed Agbiz chief executive, Theo Boshoff, is concerned about barriers to entry in primary agriculture. To him, implementation is key.
Speaking to Food For Mzansi about his plans shortly after assuming the CEO position at Agbiz, Boshoff acknowledged agriculture’s growth in the last two years. His predecessor, Dr John Purchase, retired at the end of December 2021.
Boshoff said, “I know that many youths and women are taking up the formal employment opportunities offered by agribusiness. These are not limited to agricultural graduates but include a broad spectrum of expertise.”
However, it remains difficult to take up space in primary agriculture.
“Entering the sector often involves starting a farming enterprise. As with any new business, there is risk involved and it requires start-up capital which may be difficult to acquire. Agriculture is characterised by economies of scale, large turnover and relatively lower profit margins, so significant capital outlays are required.”
That being said, the new Agbiz boss is impressed with the many agripreneurs who are making their mark in the sector.
Zolani Sinxo: It is said that every new boss needs a 100-day plan. You’re officially in the hot seat. What will your first 100 days in the office look like?
Theo Boshoff: I suppose time will tell but if my first 100 days will go as planned, it will be spent putting systems in place and starting with processes that will guide our efforts in the coming few years.
Continuity is important, so there are a number of processes that were not quite finalised last year. The Agricultural and Agro-processing Master Plan is a good example. It will set the trend for the next five years, so it is vital that we finalise this process early this year.
On a more proactive level, we have a few industry initiatives and strategies in mind that I will look into.
Your to-do list sounds quite intense. If you had to pick just two major areas of concern that require urgent attention, what would it be and why?
There are a number of areas that require attention but that will not be solved in a year or two. Opening new markets for South African products is certainly one such example. The export sector is growing rapidly and there are vast investments being made.
If we want to sustain this growth, market access is key, and we are comparatively disadvantaged compared to competitors when it comes to preferential market access and trade agreements with the East.
Likewise, the SADC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is being reviewed and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is also taking shape, so there are lots to do on the trade front. These negotiations are complex, often involve trade-offs, and require close cooperation between industry and government – so there are no quick fixes.
More urgent interventions are required with South Africa’s infrastructure. Our ports are highly stressed and urgent interventions are required to sustain our trade in agricultural products. We have been forging close relations with Transnet Port Authority and I am confident that the goodwill and drive is there to find solutions.
On the domestic front, many rural towns are in a sad state of decay. Agribusinesses are the lifeblood of these towns but the maintenance for roads, water and basic service delivery is lagging far behind.
Agribusinesses often stand in for the municipality, but this is not fully sustainable as it adds significant costs to doing business. A strategy is required to deal with this matter in the short, medium and long term.
Looking at South African agriculture trade, what are your expectations for 2022?
This is an area where my colleague [Agbiz chief economist] Wandile Sihlobo is far better suited to comment. But if I could pick his mind for a second, then I am sure he would tell us that 2022 could be set for another good year in terms of agricultural trade.
South Africa is likely to have a bumper summer crop thanks to the La Niña weather phenomenon which brings good rains for Southern Africa but drought conditions for South America.
The result could be a large harvest and strong international prices despite higher input costs such as fertilisers. Horticultural and livestock products are also on a strong trajectory, provided we are able to unblock the logistical challenges that continue to pose a threat.
Let’s talk about the slow pace of transformation in agriculture. How should this be addressed?
I have no doubt that we have the necessary goodwill and intellectual capital in South Africa to meaningfully address the issue, but we sorely need the necessary levers to be put into place. The private sector and government have jointly developed a blended finance model to provide subsidised capital for black farmers.
This can be a real game changer, but we didn’t quite get to implement it in 2021 as we had hoped we could. Blended finance simply must be available by the winter planting season in 2022.
The scheme is also premised on formalised and legally recognised forms of tenure such as ownership or registrable long-term leases being afforded to the beneficiaries of land reform.
We also look forward to the land reform agency announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa being put in place.
Finally, the environment has never been more conducive for public-private partnerships.
Many agribusinesses are willing and able to partner with the government to commercialise the emergent sector. We also look forward to initiatives such as the Agricultural Development Agency building on the good work that they have done to date and proceeding at scale.
What is your wish for agriculture in the new year?
Those who have worked with me in the past will know that I am a pragmatist. So, if I can wish for anything I would ask for implementation, implementation, and implementation.
We have come so far in the past couple of years to develop feasible plans and agree on what needs to be done. Now, all we need is to get over the final hurdle and put the necessary enablers in place. If we can do that, meaningful and inclusive growth will follow.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.