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AGRIBUSINESS & AGRICULTURE

Farming in South Africa: 6 Things that Need Urgent Attention in 2023

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South Africa has a thriving agricultural sector which includes a healthy network of robust export markets. But it could and should be stronger, in particular because of the role it could play in reducing poverty in the country. So what’s the problem? Wandile Sihlobo maps out the six biggest obstacles to improving the country’s farming output.

South Africa’s agriculture remains an important sector of the economy and holds great potential to reduce poverty. It’s also central to the political economy of the country, as evident in the governing African National Congress’s (ANC) recent policy documents.

The ANC acknowledges that agriculture

holds the potential to uplift many poor South Africans out of poverty through increased food production, vibrant economic activity, and job creation.

This is not a misplaced view. There is compelling evidence that, on average, growth in agriculture is more poverty-reducing than an equivalent amount of growth outside agriculture. This brings home the need to invest in and expand agricultural production, particularly for the benefit of poor rural communities.

This is a view that many have held since the publication of South Africa’s National Development Plan in 2012. The plan argued for the expansion of agricultural production and agro-processing and held up the prospect of nearly a million jobs that could be created.

But year after year, challenges have distracted the country from its agricultural expansion goals.

The year 2023 will be no different. There are six key themes that are likely to underpin the sector, particularly in the first half of this year. These are:

  • the impact of energy shortages and associated costs to businesses and consumers, after the severest power outages the country has ever seen
  • the expansion of exports
  • land reform
  • the fallout from collapsing local administrations
  • lack of progress on key regulations
  • the financing of the sector.

Unless these challenges are addressed, the country’s agricultural sector won’t achieve the growth and job creation prospects it’s capable of.

The impact of power cuts

The country can expect intensified discussion about the impact of energy shortages on agriculture, food, fibre and beverages production.

South Africa’s persistent power cuts are a significant challenge across the economy. At the end of 2022, the South African Reserve Bank highlighted the risks that persistent power cuts represent to the growth prospects of the country’s economy in 2023.

The agricultural sector and food producers have not always been as vocal as, for example, the mining industry, about the impact on their businesses. This is likely to change this year. Power outages have started to disrupt the production of even essential food items This includes potato chips processing, milling and poultry meat processing.

At primary production, farmers using irrigation systems face production difficulties in the current environment.

And there are disruptions across a range of food value chains. Importantly, this also brings extra costs to food companies and farmers, some of which could be transferred to the consumer over time. Consumer food price inflation is already elevated, estimated to have averaged around 9% in 2022 (from 6,5% in 2021), driven mainly by global agricultural commodity challenges.

Export expansion

Expect a major focus on the need for expansion of agricultural export markets.

South Africa’s agricultural sector is export-oriented, exporting roughly half its products by value. Organised agriculture groups are pushing to expand exports.

This is not a new discussion, but it is likely to gain momentum in 2023 as the growth in domestic production necessitates that South Africa reaches new markets. The priority countries should be China, South Korea, Japan, the USA, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the Philippines and Bangladesh. All have sizeable populations and large imports of agricultural products, specifically fruits, wine, beef and grains.

Land reform

Land reform will be back at the top of the agricultural agenda as the drive for inclusion of black farmers in the sector is highlighted in the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan.

But the discussion is likely to focus on redistribution (rather than land restitution and tenure). The focus could be on the launch of the Agricultural Development and Land Reform Agency. For much of 2021 and 2022, the agency was mentioned on various occasions by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and the minister of agriculture, Thoko Didiza.

Working with the private sector and redistributing some state-owned land, the agency is expected to accelerate land redistribution.

Deteriorating municipalities

The threat of deteriorating municipal service delivery, corruption in public offices and the failures in the network industries such as roads, rail, water, electricity and ports have occupied agribusiness leaders for some time.

These inefficiencies have:

  • increased the cost of doing business
  • taken investment away from productive agribusiness activities to maintaining roads and other infrastructure
  • constrained expansion, and
  • made conditions even more challenging for new entrants.

This year, the country’s organised agriculture groupings are likely be more vocal about these challenges as they continue to constrain the agricultural sector expansion, and make conditions even more challenging for new entrants.

Slow progress in fixing regulations

There are likely to be signs of the growing unease about the slow progress in agricultural regulations.

The country’s agricultural sector faces regulatory constraints, such as the dysfunctional State Veterinary Service. This dysfunction negatively affects the production of key vaccines. There is also a need to modernise the Fertilizers, Farm Feeds, Seeds and Remedies Act 36 of 1947. This is key in enabling the importation and registration of key agro-chemicals that are essential for boosting productivity of the agricultural sector.

For an extended period, South Africa embraced science and led the continent in agricultural productivity, benefiting from the adoption of critical agrochemicals, seeds and livestock remedies.

But there’s been a drift away from this positive path. The country now lags behind its competitors due to delays and large backlogs in the office of the Registrar of Agricultural remedy. The result has been that crucial productivity-enhancing inputs haven’t been released to the agricultural industry.

The failures in national vaccine production also remain an issue.

The pressure will intensify to resolve all of these issues, especially as they are part of the legislative points the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan should address. The plan seeks to address key hindrances to growth at a commodity level. Notably, the master plan is a social compact approach. It has already been given the support of major agricultural private sector role-players.

Finance

The need for agricultural finance, particularly developmental finance for new farmers, hasn’t been given enough attention.

At the end of 2022, the focus was on the blended finance instrument by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and the Land Bank. The instrument will contribute positively to the sector’s growth and to serving the needs of some new farmers.

In 2023, there will be a drive for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to broaden the blended finance instrument to accommodate more financial institutions, and increase its scale to reach more farmers.


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AGRIBUSINESS & AGRICULTURE

Sweet Sorghum offers Solutions in Drought-hit Southern Africa

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By Hamond Motsi

The southern African region is battling with drought at present. This is the result of El Niño, a natural climate cycle characterised by changes in Pacific Ocean temperatures. It has effects on global weather patterns, particularly rainfall and temperature.

The drought has hit the region’s agricultural productivity hard. MalawiZambia and Zimbabwe have declared a state of disaster with respect to their current agricultural outputs. They are seeking humanitarian assistance in the form of food aid to feed their people. The downturn also has economic implications, since over 70% of people residing in the region’s rural areas rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

The dire situation underscores how important it is for the agricultural sector to prevent, avoid or prepare for the impacts of climate change, which will also bring extremes of weather.

One measure the sector can take is to cultivate biofuel crops. These are crops rich in starch, sugar or oils that can be converted into bioethanol directly or through a fermentation process. Bioethanol, a type of ethanol produced from biological or plant based sources, emits fewer greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas and coal. Commonly used biofuel crops include sugarcane, maize, grain sorghum, sugar beet, rapeseeds and sunflower.

These conventional biofuel crops do have drawbacks, however. They are highly susceptible to extreme weather events. They require high upfront investment for fertilisers, chemicals and irrigation. And they compete with food production – if they’re grown as biofuels they can’t also be used as food because of how they have to be processed.

So, researchers are always on the lookout for crops that might be good biofuels without those problems. Sweet sorghum, which is indigenous to the African continent, is one such crop. Unlike the better-known sorghum, it has sweet juice in its stems. In a recent study, I reviewed scientific literature to analyse the potential significance of sweet sorghum to African farmers because of its multipurpose nature and ability to adapt under harsh climatic conditions.

Multiple uses

Sweet sorghum has many uses. It can produce grains, animal feed and sugary juice, making it unique among crops. The grains from sweet sorghum are prepared as steamed bread or porridge malt for traditional beer, as well as in commercial beer production across the continent.

They’re nutritionally rich, with high energy values (342 calories/100 g), proteins (10g/100 grains), carbohydrates (72.7g/100 grains), and fibre (2.2g/100 grains) as well as essential minerals such as potassium (44mg/100 grains), calcium (22mg/100 grains), sodium (8mg/100 grains) and iron (3.8mg/100 grains).

The nutritional value of maize is fairly similar: proteins (8.84g/100 grains), carbohydrates (71.88g/100 grains), fibre (2.1g/100 grains), potassium (286mg/100 grains), calcium (10mg/100 grains), sodium (15.9mg/100 grains) and iron (2.3mg/100 grains).

What sets sweet sorghum apart from a crop like maize is that it’s also resilient in arid climates and has multiple other uses. For instance, it produces a lot of plant material (biomass) as it grows, which is left over after harvest. That’s why it’s useful as animal feed too.

Animal feed is made from what remains once the sweet sorghum crop has been harvested and its grains and stem juice stripped off. The residue is high in nutritional content, which can improve the quality of diets of animals, including cattle. The grains can also be used for animal feed.

The sweet juice in the crop’s stalks is what’s used to create bioethanol. Sweet sorghum contains sucrose, glucose and fructose, which are essential for bioethanol production. Of the conventional biofuel crops I’ve mentioned, only sugarcane yields more ethanol. Studies in the United States have shown that sweet sorghum far outstrips maize when it comes to bioethanol production: it yields 8,102 litres per hectare planted, while maize yields just 4,209 litres per hectare.

Resilient

Perhaps most importantly given the southern African region’s current drought struggles, sweet sorghum is well-suited for cultivation in the sorts of adverse conditions that are typically challenging for conventional biofuel crops.

One of the key characteristics of sweet sorghum varieties is their drought resistance. It allows them to enter a dormant state during extended periods of dryness and resume growth afterwards. Research has shown that, under intense water scarcity conditions, sweet sorghum makes use of its stalk juice to supplement its plant needs.

Sweet sorghum’s ability to withstand low water and nitrogen inputs, as well as its tolerance for salinity and drought stress, makes it an ideal crop for farmers in arid regions. This is why it’s widely used in other parts of the world, including the USBrazil and China.

Investing in sweet sorghum

The continent’s current agriculture value chain is dominated by major crops like maize, wheat and rice, which all originate from outside Africa. Not enough attention is given to crops of African origin, like sweet sorghum, even though it is a multipurpose, hardy crop with great potential for farmers. People are more familiar with sorghum, not the sweet variety, and it is also under-researched.

Governments should be using their agriculture extension services to raise awareness among farmers and consumers about the benefits and practical applications of sweet sorghum in people’s diets.

Developing recipes and secondary or industrial products can enhance the feasibility and awareness of sweet sorghum farming. By investing in research and development, the full potential of sweet sorghum cultivation can be unlocked through governments and the private sector.

Hamond Motsi is a PhD Student in Agriscience, Stellenbosch University

Courtesy: The Conversation


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AGRIBUSINESS & AGRICULTURE

ECOWAS Rules to Protect Pastoralists Discourage Investments in Modern Livestock Farming

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By Jane Ezirigwe

A common sight around west Africa is to see cattle grazing freely, even in major cities, on highways and in airports. Every year, about 300 million head of livestock (mostly cattle) move across west Africa. Based on seasonal factors, they leave their usual grazing areas in search of water and pasture.

These practices, called pastoralism, or transhumance, go back millennia. They helped maximise land use in dry regions. In a bid to support these practices, the Economic Community of West African State (Ecowas) drew up regulations in 1998 and 2003. All Ecowas member states were to apply the regulations.

As an expert in food and agricultural law, natural resources development and international trade, I examined the regulations to see what effects they might be having on investments in the livestock sector. My findings show that livestock productivity has not improved in the region since the introduction of the new rules. Cattle productivity has fallen and milk production has improved very minimally. Clashes between farmers and herders have increased, along with insecurity. Elites take advantage of the regulations to exploit poor herders.

I conclude that the regulations may be discouraging meaningful large-scale investments such as ranching that could increase productivity, create jobs and ensure peace in the region.

Movement of livestock across west Africa

Ecowas is the only regional economic community in Africa with specific regulations governing transhumance. The regional body is made up of 15 states.

Its regulations aim to improve livestock productivity and food security, enhance the environment and reduce poverty.

The regulations allow free movement of livestock across the borders of member states under certain conditions. For example, herders must possess the Ecowas International Transhumance Certificate, and a minimum of two herders must accompany the herds. The herders must be at least 18 years old.

Member states are obligated to apply the regulations. But they’re not doing so uniformly. Some coastal states don’t allow the herders into their countries. For instance, Benin Republic recently banned the entry of foreign herders into its territory. Togo and Côte d’Ivoire control the number of herders that enter their territories annually.

For its part, Nigeria is moving towards more sedentary cattle farming. Several states in Nigeria, such as Benue and Oyo, have also banned pastoralism.

These countries have restricted the movement of herds because of negative experiences such as farmer-herder clashescattle rustling and other forms of criminality.

Impact of Ecowas transhumance regulations

In my paper, I argue that Ecowas regulation allows transhumance to exist in a form that is inimical to other business investment options – like ranching – for livestock production in the region.

Investors want profit, safe environments and certainty in rules. Pastoralism, on the other hand, encourages cheap labour and other practices that put large-scale investment in livestock at risk.

Bad business environment

Transhumance has been commercialised – and criminalised – in ways that produce a negative environment for the livestock business.

Movement of herds has contributed to conflicts between farmers and pastoralists, gender-based violence, insecurity and other forms of criminality.

Traffickers, smugglers, bandits and drug peddlers capitalise on livestock movement to commit crimes.

Proliferation of arms, terrorism, kidnapping and drug use have also increased in the guise of transhumance.

In Nigeria, for instance, it has been alleged that Boko Haram insurgents disguise themselves as pastoralists to convey improvised explosive devices to attack communities.

Limits modern methods

I also argue that the Ecowas regulations, by allowing herds to move around the region, discourage investment in modern methods of livestock production. This is because the cost of production in transhumance is low. Land and fodder are free. Labour is cheap and exploitative. All this makes other business models, such as ranching, relatively unattractive by comparison. It affects their profits and investment risks.

Some countries which practise pastoralism, such as Mongolia and Tibet, restrict it to arid regions.

What should be done

In my view, the practice of transhumance in west Africa should be gradually phased out. By this I mean a gradual – and then finally a total – ban on herder movements across borders.

This is because it is not an efficient use of land. About a third of west Africa’s land area is used for agriculture. Two-thirds of this serves as rangeland and pastures while one-third is used for crop production. Designated rangelands should be established in semi-arid areas of the region. Pastoralism should be restricted to these rangelands.

In my view conflict will be reduced if transhumance is restricted to arid and semi-arid regions. This in turn will make ranching more attractive, making room for large-scale investments that could create jobs and improve food security.

In the immediate future focus should be given to:

  • the strict implementation of the International Transhumance Certificate. The certificate usually contains particulars on the composition of the herd, the vaccinations given, the itinerary of the herds, and the destination of the pastoralist. The responsibility of issuing the certificate rests on the country of origin. This should reduce incidences of criminal elements disguised as herders.
  • limiting the number of cattle that people can have in a moving herd. This will help avoid herds straying, and resultant conflicts.
  • introducing new rules requiring the use of ear-tags. This would help with traceability when cattle are stolen or when they destroy farmlands.

By Jane Ezirigwe is a Postdoctoral Fellow, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa


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AGRIBUSINESS & AGRICULTURE

The Great Tomato Debate: Fruit or Vegetable?

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Tomatoes are one of the most commonly used ingredients in the culinary world, yet there has been a long-standing debate regarding their classification as either a fruit or a vegetable. This debate has been ongoing for centuries, with no clear consensus being reached. In this article, we will explore the science behind this debate and try to unravel the mystery of whether tomatoes are a fruit or a vegetable.

Tomatoes are one of the most commonly used ingredients in the culinary world, yet there has been a long-standing debate regarding their classification as either a fruit or a vegetable. This debate has been ongoing for centuries, with no clear consensus being reached. In this article, we will explore the science behind this debate and try to unravel the mystery of whether tomatoes are a fruit or a vegetable.

The Great Tomato Debate: Fruit or Vegetable?

The Definition of a Fruit vs. a Vegetable

Before we dive into the tomato debate, let’s first define what constitutes a fruit versus a vegetable. Botanically speaking, a fruit is the mature ovary of a flowering plant, containing seeds. This means that any edible plant that contains seeds is a fruit. On the other hand, vegetables are typically defined as the edible parts of plants that do not contain seeds, such as leaves, stems, and roots.

The Botanical Perspective

When it comes to tomatoes, botanically speaking, they are classified as a fruit. This is because they contain seeds and are derived from the ovary of a flowering plant. Tomatoes belong to the same family as other fruits such as apples, oranges, and grapes.

However, the confusion arises because tomatoes are often used in savory dishes and are treated as a vegetable in culinary contexts. This is due to their mild flavor and their ability to be cooked and used in a wide range of dishes, from salads to sauces.

Seedy Secrets: Why Some Vegetables Are Technically Fruits

It’s a fascinating fact that many vegetables we consume, such as cucumbers, peppers, zucchini tomatoes, pumpkins, and other squash, contain seeds, yet they are not classified as fruits. The reason behind this lies in the botanical definition of fruits and vegetablesFruits are the mature ovaries of flowering plants that grow after fertilization and contain seeds that aid in reproduction. Vegetables, on the other hand, refer to any edible portion of a plant, including roots, leaves, stems, and even flowers. As a result, while being officially classed as fruits due to their seed-bearing nature, they are nonetheless considered vegetables based on their cultural and culinary usage. So, the next time you savor a juicy tomato or a crunchy bell pepper, keep in mind that despite their seedy secrets, they are still regarded as savory vegetables in the culinary world.

The Legal Perspective

The debate over whether tomatoes are a fruit or a vegetable has even made its way into the legal system. In 1893, the United States Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes should be classified as a vegetable for taxation. The decision was based on the fact that tomatoes were typically used in savory dishes and therefore should be considered a vegetable.

However, from a botanical perspective, the Supreme Court’s ruling was incorrect. This decision has led to a continued debate over whether tomatoes should be classified as a fruit or a vegetable in various contexts.

The Nutritional Perspective

Regardless of whether tomatoes are considered a fruit or a vegetable, they are a highly nutritious food. Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K. They also contain antioxidants, such as lycopene, which may help reduce the risk of certain diseases.

Tomatoes are also low in calories and high in fiber, making them a great food for those looking to maintain a healthy weight. Whether you choose to classify them as a fruit or a vegetable, there’s no denying that tomatoes are a nutritious addition to any diet.

Incorporating Tomatoes into Your Diet

Whether you prefer to classify tomatoes as a fruit or a vegetable, they are delicious. Tomatoes can be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches, or cooked in a wide range of dishes such as soups, stews, sauces, and more. With their bright color, juicy texture, and sweet, tangy flavor, tomatoes are a true culinary staple that can be enjoyed year-round.

While the great tomato debate may never be fully resolved, it’s clear that tomatoes are a versatile and nutritious food that can be enjoyed in a wide range of dishes. Botanically speaking, tomatoes are classified as a fruit, but they are often treated as a vegetable in culinary contexts. Regardless of their classification, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and should be included in a healthy and balanced diet.


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