The launch of the Agricultural Development Agency (AGDA) at the three-day Africa Agri Tech Conference and Expo in Pretoria today (Tuesday, February 28) has been heralded as a landmark in the history of South Africa by bringing together the various role players in the agricultural environment to be part of a powerful initiative led by passionate people.
The new organisation will be a private business initiative that will work closely with government in all aspects of agriculture from skills transfer to the practical aspects of implementing land reform.
This is the opinion of Nick Serfontein, a prominent livestock farmer who wrote an open letter to President Ramaphosa in December 2017 asking him to involve commercial farmers in the land reform process. He was subsequently appointed to the President’s 10-person land reform advisory panel and is an enthusiastic founder member of Agricultural Development Agency after actively and successfully supporting new farmers for the past five years.
This positive attitude was a good example of the atmosphere that prevailed at this launch event which was led by Leona Archery, the newly-appointed CEO of Agricultural Development Agency who is also the head of the agriculture division at the Bigen Group and a former deputy Director-General of Rural Development and Land Reform.
Thoko Didiza, the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, was unable to attend the function due to an urgent meeting with President Ramaphosa on public-private sector partnerships in Cape Town, but sent a very supportive message for the establishment of AGDA and its objectives in a recorded video address.
“Agricultural Development Agency will be an important instrument in meeting the need for the responsible use of land in the reform process,” said Minister Didiza.
The Minister said the formation of AGDA is an excellent example of a positive response for business to work with government in the drive to uplift the economy that went out as a request from President Ramaphosa in 2018.
“The addition of the variety of businesses involved with the agricultural industry which are now or will become members of AGDA will be an important instrument in meeting the need for the responsible use of land in the reform process,” said Minister Didiza.
“Access to finance and insurance are big challenges for new farmers and this is where an organisation such as AGDA can play an important role too as it will include major roleplays in the financial world.”
The Minister also stressed the challenges facing farmers in terms of biosecurity that is being impacted by global climate change
On the positive side the Minister said the Africa Free Trade Agreement, which comes into effect in July, will open the doors for increased export opportunities into Africa to the benefit of local farmers and associated businesses.
Rudi Dicks, the head of project management in the Presidency, said the President was given regular updates on progress with agricultural initiatives such as AGDA. He added that this sector of the economy was an important participant in the Jobs Summit, which was driven personally by the President. Dicks said that although there was no financial involvement with AGDA from the government at this stage there could be a possibility of a capital investment in this type of initiative in the future.
The President was given regular updates on progress with agricultural initiatives such as the Agricultural Development Agency
Roelf Meyer, a former cabinet minister and now a community and economic development activist, said the launch of AGDA marked a very proud moment for him personally as agriculture was one of the most important aspects of local business. It was one of 20 sectors that were identified to be part of public-private initiatives to boost the ailing economy.
Meyer is a major motivator and facilitator, along with Dr Johan van Zyl, a South African who is currently CEO of Toyota Europe and a member of the board of Toyota Motor Corporation, in setting up the Public-Private Growth Initiative (PPGI) which has full government support.
Kallie Schoeman, the managing director of a 100-year-old faming business, was another prominent member of the agricultural community who gave his full backing to the AGDA initiative. He said that he saw the efficient use of agriculture as an excellent vehicle for reconciliation in South Africa as it was a practical way of improving the lives of millions by providing wider access to affordable food.
Malcolm Ferguson, an associate in the In Transformation Initiative, said the way forward for AGDA will be to continue with pilot projects, source funding from the private sector, set up a board of directors, establish operational committees and build on the initial list of 36 founding members. The target is for AGDA to be operational by September 2020.