Ensuring a sustainable agricultural sector

Farmers face many complex decisions in order to ensure the sustainability of their enterprises and the food security of the nation.

In a panel discussion as part of the Nation in Conversation series at Nampo Harvest Day, Johan Geel, Group CFO of AFGRI, said to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the agricultural sector farmers need to diversify and adapt to advanced technology to improve their crops.

“To succeed in an increasingly complex sector, farmers need sound financial planning as the sector is capital intensive, return on investments are generally low and it takes between 7 to 9 months for most crops to deliver an income,” says Geel. Added to that, modern technologically advanced equipment requires an adequately trained labour.

Consensus amongst the panellists is that the current debt ratio of farmers at 35% is acceptable, even though the debt burden is on a record high at R145 billion. Geel says the expected bumper crop in the current season will help farmers to pay back their debt quickly. “However, careful financial planning is needed given the economic and political uncertainties. The recent sovereign downgrades by ratings agencies will have a negative impact on the farming sector as the downgrades will result in higher interest rates, which in turn means that less capital will be available. A weaker South African currency will also mean a significant increase in the price of imported goods such as equipment, diesel, insecticides and fertiliser.”

Geel says the current political uncertainty is not factored into financing decisions. “Companies like AFGRI need to discount the political noise in favour of expertise and the ability of the farmer and the land to produce a positive return when evaluating financing to farmers. We have to stick to the facts.”

Diversification of products will also ensure the long-term sustainability of a farming enterprise as well as the agricultural sector, says Geel. “Farmers with healthy balance sheets are those who have successfully diversified their operations. Diversification presents its own challenges, but in AFGRI’s experience established businesses that can add land cost effectively can be successful.”

The agricultural sector can play a very important role in job creation, but what is needed is better training as more and more, workers are expected to operate high-tech equipment. This adoption of high-tech equipment assists in diversification and efficiencies.

A sustainable agricultural sector will go a long way to trigger economic growth and in creating employment. “Some agricultural sectors are very labour intensive and the development and progress of the small towns are directly link to the well-being of the agriculture sector,” says Geel.

Innovative technology contributes to increased food production

Mechanisation and technological advances are crucial in the agricultural sector to improve crop yields through better efficiency and accuracy to feed the ever-growing population. Patrick Roux, MD of AFGRI Equipment, discusses the latest advances in equipment and highlights areas where technological innovation is already making a difference in the sector.

Mechanisation and technological advances in agriculture create new opportunities to improve food security by ensuring greater efficiency and accuracy in farming techniques to feed the ever-growing population.

Patrick Roux, Managing Director of AFGRI Equipment, the largest John Deere dealership network in Southern Africa and Western Australia, says implementing innovative technology and artificial intelligence will greatly improve the world’s agricultural production.

“From machinery that can inject fertiliser at precise depths, smart water management systems to precision drones, the use of technology will greatly impact the availability and affordability of food.”

Across the world, agribusinesses are developing new technologies for the agricultural sector and the growth in the market for agricultural machinery is predicted at 7% per annum over the next three years.

Areas where technological innovation is already taking place – and making a difference – are higher crop productivity, decreased use of water, fertiliser and pesticides, which also contribute to lower food prices.

Modern farm machinery allows farmers to control his entire operation through the cloud through telematics that send information about how machines are being used and crop information to smart phones.

Roux predicts that further developments in artificial intelligence farming and precision farming techniques to ensure increased production to meet the demands of the growing population.

“With mounting pressure on food systems and environmental concerns, the agricultural sector will lead the way in implementing technology to ensure food security for a rapidly growing world population, which by 2050 is predicted to reach 9,7 billion.”

“In 2015, research by the Population Reference Bureau included only one African country, Nigeria, in its top ten most populous countries. The Bureau predicts that by 2050, Nigeria, DRC and Ethiopia will feature in the top ten list. This rapid population growth is due to improved life expectancy as economic growth rates increase,” concludes Roux.

AFGRI to participate in Nation in Conversation and Nampo Harvest Day

AFGRI is proud to once again be a platinum sponsor of the Nation in Conversation series that will be broadcast live from the Nampo Harvest Day taking place in Bothaville from 16 to 19 May

AFGRI, the leading agricultural services company with a core focus on grain commodities and a vision of driving food security across Africa, is proud to be a platinum sponsor of the Nation in Conversation discussions that will be broadcast live during the four days of the agri-industry’s premier event, Nampo Harvest Day.

From 16 to 19 May, local and international farmers as well as companies servicing the sector will gather in Bothaville in the Free State for the annual trade show. Nampo Harvest Day celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and is gaining in popularity amongst farmers to avail themselves of the opportunity to interact with experts in various agricultural fields and to benefit from their insights.

AFGRI has partnered with the preeminent agricultural trade show for the eighth consecutive year and has been involved with the country’s respected agri talk show, Nation in Conversation, for the past four years. The series has grown in stature and importance with leading players in the industry and mainstream economy participating in the discussions.

During the festival, viewers can look forward to daily panel discussions in front of a live studio audience on the following subjects: Finances: Labour, Diversification & Financial Planning; From Commodity to Trademark; The Role of Advisors, Technology and Soil Health; Female Role Players in Agriculture; Focus on Youth: A future in Agriculture; The Political Will and Successful Transformation Initiatives.

These riveting subjects will be facilitated by an equally reputable line up of show hosts and guests such as Carte Blanche’s Derek Watts; 702 and CapeTalk’s Eusebius McKaiser; former Nation in Conversation guest anchor and media expert Jeremy Maggs; CEO of Galileo Capital, Theo Vorster; Money Talk host Bruce Whitfield; Nation in Conversation co-anchor Mpumelelo Mkhabela and Power FM’s personality Andile Khumalo, with former politician and current chairman of the In Transformation Initiative, Roelf Meyer, as a special guest.

Among the stakeholders featured and represented on this series will be representatives from industry thought leaders like AFGRI, Senwes, Monsanto, Engen, Nedbank and the Department of Agriculture.

This year’s production of Nation in Conversation at Nampo Harvest Day is made possible by the following partners: AFGRI, Engen, Grain SA, Monsanto, Nedbank and Senwes, in association with Hinterland and Imperial Isuzu.

AFGRI clients will have the opportunity to engage with AFGRI at the Nation in Conversation VIP lounge. For more details and programme information, please visit the Nation in Conversation website at www.nationinconversation.co.za and download the app to join the conversation.

AFGRI Agri Services will, once again, be on proud display at NAMPO at stand number 119 and 120 in the NAMPO Hall.

Please come and visit the AFGRI stand and to see what is on offer from our Agricultural Services divisions which includes Grain Management, Equipment, UNIGRO and Harvest Time Investments. Our Hinterland joint venture will also be on display at NAMPO, where a host of goods can be bought from the retail outlet. Be sure to visit our stand as you pass by.

On Wednesday 17 May, certain members of the Vodacom Bulls rugby team will be at the stand, giving you an opportunity to interact with the players and get a sough-after autograph.

CFO SOUTH AFRICA: Lead by example, says AFGRI’s Johan Geel

AFGRI CFO Johan Geel sees massive potential on the continent for the food industry, as long as the approach is correct. He says: “Find trustworthy people, work with the correct information, do proper research, go there and make sure of things yourself – don’t stay away. Johan has been nominated for the CFO Awards in both 2016 and 2017, an impressive double-whammy that less than a handful other CFOs can boast about. We chatted to him about the past, present and future for AFGRI.

What is new in your finance team of late?
“AFGRI is a very challenging and eventful company to work for and that makes it incredibly exciting to come to work every day. Towards the end of the financial year we embarked on a group optimisation process. This is an exciting time for the AFGRI finance team as it provides an opportunity for the team to, yet again, demonstrate their ability to assist business in optimal value creation.”

What plans do you have in place for your team for 2017?
“In addition to finalising and implementing the optimisation process, the focus for 2017 will be on transformation, bringing more diversity into the team on various levels. Following the conclusion of the optimisation process, a bigger focus will be on our expansion plans into other parts of Africa and more contribution by the finance team in assisting business create more value from a financial and social impact perspective.”

What external factors have the greatest impact on the financial performance?
“Weather, commodity prices of soybeans, maize and wheat, and exchange rates have the biggest impact. On the weather side, you cannot do much. Regarding commodity prices, we have a grain specialist who started last year advising on procurement. Our MDs are immersed in the markets and also know what’s going on.”

How would your internal stakeholders describe your finance team?
“We have a great number of business units to consolidate as finance. Overall the relationship is good and fair, but around budget time people get itchy as we get tough around year-end. We do assist people where it is possible. We are now putting a finance template in place with all important things per business unit on two or three pages. There used to be more differences between finance and the business, but that noise is now dead.”

How do you deal with ever-increasing and changing rules and regulations?
“I have used a company to do an exercise around all acts and regulations and paint the regulatory universe for each of the business units. LexisNexis gives us updates too. In each business unit, we have a person responsible for governance, so it is slightly decentralised. You have to find the balance, but you cannot be outside the law, so as a business you need to make the best of it.”

What does your compliance programme look like?
“It is a detailed process. We have a risk and compliance department and our risk register gets checked at least every year. We are using Aon for insurance and Alexander Forbes for operational risk. Through the committees, we identify what we are concerned about. The audit and risk committee meetings are very detailed, taking about five to six hours, and are held three times a year. These days we focus quite a bit on cybercrime and IT security in general.”

What are the opportunities for your business in the rest of Africa now and in the future?
“The big dream of the CEO Chris [Venter] and myself is to ensure people have proper work in Africa and everybody has at least a plate of food daily. That won’t happen overnight, but we want to play a role in this with AFGRI. There are lots of opportunities. We are involved since the early days of 2000 and are active in countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ghana and Congo.”

“AFGRI consists of grain management, equipment (John Deere tractors), food and retail. Our biggest success is in Zambia, where we have opened a small AFGRI, which includes equipment, grain management and finance. Unfortunately, it hasn’t rained properly there in the last three years and the power failures have increased to 12 hours a day, but we have already had fair profits in Zambia before the drought and employ between about 200 people. The rest of the world is developed, so if you look at 2050, Africa is the continent that can help the world meet its need for food.”

How is the finance function organised to manage the operations in Africa effectively?
“We use our team in South Africa. We have an SA-based MD and FD per business unit, who look across the continent. We do use consultants, but we are trying to limit their involvement as much as possible. Most of the countries have a full-time team on the ground as well. Over time the need to fly people over will decrease.”

“The MD of Equipment (John Deere tractors) can see on the system what happens outside South Africa. In countries, we have a country manager who takes responsibility to meet with government and work across the business units. That is not an easy role, because people like to report to one manager and in that case, there are sometimes more.”

What advice would you give other CFOs whose companies are looking to expand into the rest of Africa?
“Find trustworthy people, work with the correct information, do proper research, go there and make sure of things yourself – don’t stay away. Before you start spending any money, make sure your information is correct and confirm this with external parties. Understand your market: some information you get can be old. Understand the infrastructure locally and make sure off-takers will be there. It will help if you can create your own value chain. Keep the right staff and skills and realise that people think differently.”

Two CFO Awards nominations in two years
Johan has been nominated for the CFO Awards two years in a row. We asked him what the nomination means to him, and why he thinks he has been nominated two years running. “I am pleasantly surprised and incredibly honoured to be included in awards of such high stature for the second time in a row. It has been a humbling experience since the first nomination and I am incredibly happy to, once again, be counted among such outstanding talent.”

“I personally believe that one of the qualities that differentiates a good CFO from a great CFO is having that instinct that wants to create value. As a CFO, you have to instantaneously want to find out where value is created and assist business in that regard. I also would like to believe that honesty and credibility have been one of my greatest assets. Equally important, my passion for people development and transfer of skills through mentorship have assisted some of the best young talent to grow both in AFGRI and in the profession.”

Up close and personal: 3 questions

1. What is your personal recipe for success?
“One word: work. If you don’t do something with passion, you can never be successful. I give people around me breathing space. They tell me I am tough but fair. I involve my team in my decisions.”

2. Tell us about your leadership style: how do you get the best out of your team?
“I am family-orientated. Integrity is not negotiable and good values are important for me. I think I am a visionary who leads by example. I am an extremely hard worker, tough and fair. Sometimes I push too hard, but I make time to listen to people; what is their passion, where do they see problems? Sharing information is also very important. Most of the time you can unearth the information or insight you need by talking to your team, which means you don’t need a consultant who tells you what you already know.”

3. What role does mentoring and coaching play in your working week?
“Several people have asked me to be their mentor. I ask them what their goals are, what they see as their shortfalls, what was difficult in the last two weeks. I always try to find time late in the afternoon or early in the morning.”

AFGRI Equipment Australia scoops sought after accolade

AFGRI Equipment Australia, a subsidiary of South African-based AFGRI, and the largest distributor of agricultural machinery in South Africa and Western Australia, has been awarded the status of 2017 Platinum Medallion Dealer by John Deere Financial Limited in Australia and New Zealand.

“The Platinum Medallion is awarded to a dealer for achieving excellence through their finance portfolio based on volume financed and strike rate and AFGRI Equipment Australia is one of three dealers who can boast this achievement for 2017,” says Patrick Roux managing director at AFGRI Equipment.

AFGRI Equipment Australia has also achieved Platinum status in 2014 for achieving goals set by John Deere on the penetration rate and large finance volumes during a calendar year. AFGRI Equipment Australia was ranked bronze in 2015 after the criteria for the medallion awards were revised in 2015.

The dealership bounced back in 2016 to achieve a Silver Medallion, and topped it with the Platinum Medallion in 2017.

Coetzee believes the acquisitions of Jolly & Sons in 2015, followed by Greenline AG in 2016 by AFGRI Equipment Australia contributed to its success in 2017. “The acquisitions over the past 18 months have added to the portfolio volume for AFGRI as well as afforded them the scale to continue to provide high quality service to a growing finance portfolio,” he said.

AFGRI Equipment recently announced yet another acquisition in Australia, that of Rattan & Slatter.   “ The acquisition was made to further our well-established mission of being the preferred supplier of premium agricultural equipment, services and solutions,” concluded Roux.

BUSINESS MEDIA MAGS: Farming For The Future

Big business is putting big effort into securing the world’s food supply – “sustainability” is the new “eco-friendly”, reports Trevor Crighton.

The farming industry requires a system that produces higher volumes of a better-quality product without compromising on price, and which quantifiably improves the environment in which is it is produced… Does this sound like a dream business scenario? Well, it’s one that two South African corporate giants are well on their way to implementing.

“Sustainability” is a 21st-century business buzzword – easy to promise, but challenging to deliver on. For many corporates, it’s a catch-all term for recycling and cutting down on energy consumption, but there are few industries in which it delivers such tangible, long-lasting effects as farming and food supply. With the earth’s population currently at seven billion – and set to top nine billion by 2050 – food security is a truly global issue, and both corporates and consumers are paying more attention to the provenance and supply of their daily bread.

The decline in the nutritional value and quality of food has caught popular attention as consumers around the world focus more on their own environmental footprint and what they put into their bodies. This, in turn, is forcing companies to take a more environmentally savvy approach to producing food.

Taking sustainability seriously

South African retailer Woolworths, for example, launched its Good Business Journey programme in 2007, with an eye on consolidating all of the company’s environmental and social responsibility work under a single umbrella. More than a nod to sustainability as a box to tick on the corporate citizenship checklist, the Farming for the Future element of the journey aims to help farmers to grow quality produce while protecting the environment, preserving natural resources and reducing dependence on synthetic fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, without adding to the price the consumer pays.

“Our suppliers have been incredibly supportive of our Farming for the Future programme, as they have seen the benefits: improvements in soil health, reductions in water usage and reductions in inputs such as chemicals, pesticides and fertilisers, with associated cost savings,” says Woolworths’ head of sustainability, Justin Smith. “They have also seen biodiversity improvements on their farms, which they really are passionate about, as stewards of the land.”

Sustainability is about rethinking processes, from what to produce and how to produce it, through the packaging, delivery and sales processes. For example, Woolworths’ participation in the Water Stewardship Programme with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) seeks to protect the most important natural resource required for farming: water. Working directly with its producers – such as Bergsig Wines – sees the company participating in the safeguarding of ecosystems, with a view to long-term production.

Furthermore, the retailer’s Enterprise Development Programme is focused on bringing emerging suppliers into the supply chain, with 50 partners currently on the journey.

Organic production plays a role in the Good Business Journey, but it’s just one element, according to Smith. “The demand for organic products is fairly stable in South Africa, but we are certainly seeing consumers placing more importance on understanding where their food has come from, and how it was produced.”

“Organic farming works really well for certain crops in certain climatic conditions, but if it is applied in the wrong climatic areas, it can require more land and water resources to produce the same yield as conventional farming. This is why we developed the Farming for the Future programme, to take the best parts of organic and conventional approaches into a structured programme that does not add any cost to the consumer.”

A bonus delivered by the Good Business Journey has been a saving of R280 million for the company over the last five years, thanks to reductions in the use of energy, water, fuel and packaging. The plan for the next five years has seen the company establish new targets across eight key focus areas: ethical trade, energy, water, waste, sustainable farming, transformation, social development, and health and wellness.

A streamlined approach

While agricultural services and processing company Afgri is not directly involved in farming, the group has also become increasingly aware of the need for a focus on sustainability. Looking inwards, Afgri’s focus has been on the environmental streamlining of three core operations: factories, silos and mechanisation stores.

Energy supply has become increasingly crucial in South Africa, and with Afgri relying on a mix of coal for direct consumption and purchased electricity for production, responsibility demanded the introduction of sustainable solutions. The company’s industrial foods businesses therefore introduced a number of programmes aimed at reducing electricity consumption and bringing down costs. These interventions range from operating outside peak hours to introducing solar heating for non-essential hot water, applying heat transfer principles to heat non-essential water, the automation of boilers and the introduction of variable-speed motors.

A focus on the efficient use of waste products from Afgri’s production processes has delivered innovative projects, such as one that sees solid waste being removed from effluent water at their Delmas processing plant before being released to an irrigation dam, which is used by a local farmer. Its milling operation was already a relatively efficient system, since most waste from production already has a secondary use. Chop and maize flour produced in the maize production process have commercial applications, as does bran, which is a byproduct of the wheat production process.

External processes also play a role in refining Afgri’s own standards. For example, its Nedan crushing and oil extraction business supplies oil to a large fast-food franchise, which applies its own strict standards in terms of quality and provenance. Nedan’s role in supplying products to FMCG conglomerates requires compliance with international food safety audit standards, which means it can export its products.

Afgri’s group sustainability manager, Marion Shikwinya, says the company is delighted to see “green thinking” becoming a pivotal part of the South African agricultural mindset. “Currently, the contribution of agriculture to climate change is significant. Agriculture is an emitter of greenhouse gases associated with land-use change, fertiliser use and enteric fermentation among livestock.”

Globally, agriculture accounts for around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, says Shikwinya, who concludes: “Agriculture will have to reduce these emissions substantially and contribute to climate change mitigation if it is to contribute to a green economy.”

Did you know?

One in three of the world’s hungry live in Africa, which remains the continent that does not grow enough food to feed its citizens. Yes, Africa has around 60% of the world’s uncultivated land.

Therefore, as a continent, Africa is ideally placed to capitalise on the availability of rich agricultural land and the associated opportunities for investment. This means Africa could play a pivotal role in meeting the planet’s agricultural needs in the future.

Greener communities

Beer producer SAB has focused its sustainability drive on assisting local farmers in producing the raw materials the company uses in its production processes – building local communities and cutting costs along the way.

One of the SAB Go-Farming Sustainable Agriculture Initiative’s most promising success stories is the Jacobsdal Pilot Project. Having spotted the barley-farming potential in the small Free State town, SAB assisted two local farmers in setting up farms. The brewer offered advice from inception – starting with soil analysis and upgrades, through to fertiliser recommendations and water monitoring. Overseen by Kimberley-based SAB agriculturalist Frikkie Lubbe, the pilot project has encouraged other farmers in the area to explore barley as a rotation crop option, bringing previously disadvantaged farmers into the SAB supply chain and helping the company to secure a sustainable, local source of one of its key raw ingredients.

Afgri also has two successful community-based projects: the Roundabout PlayPumps in Mpumalanga (a playground merry-go-round system that uses the energy of children at play to operate a water pump) and a borehole initiative in the Zama Zama informal settlement outside Pretoria. Afgri’s Marion Shikwinya says Roundabout PlayPumps were set up in five underresourced primary schools in Mpumalanga to supply learners and communities with access to clean and disease-free water. “Our mission in Zama Zama was the same – the community had no access to clean water until we provided a borehole,” she says.

AFGRI acquires stake in bank and broadens financial offering

AFGRI Holdings Proprietary Limited (“AFGRI”), the leading agricultural services and food processing company is pleased to announce the potential acquisition of the National Bank of Greece Group’s stake in the South African Bank of Athens Limited (“SABA”), corresponding to 99.81% of the issued share capital (the ‘’Transaction”) of SABA .

The Transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including, regulatory approvals from the South African Reserve Bank (“SARB”), the South African Minister of Finance as well as the South-African Competition Authorities. AFGRI is liaising with SARB in this regard and is in the process of preparing the prescribed applications for the regulatory approvals under the guidance of appointed advisors.

“AFGRI values the support of clients, depositors and banking partners of the SABA and commits to continue to provide the service excellence they are accustomed to,” said AFGRI CEO, Chris Venter. He went on to say that acquisition would be a further enabler to both AFGRI and SABA customers.

Fairfax Africa Holdings Corporation, the indirect controlling shareholder of AFGRI, has provided its support for the proposed transaction.

SABA was established and has been operational in South Africa since 1947. It offers comprehensive traditional business banking such as lending, transaction banking, treasury and foreign exchange. It is further known for its focus on the development of market leading niche transactional banking offerings in partnership with businesses.

“We are impressed with the strides SABA has made in specialised banking offerings especially as these pertain to the application of technology and innovative solutions,” indicated Venter.

Venter concluded by indicating that the acquisition provides an additional retail and alliance banking platform to current and prospective AFGRI customers where deposit taking and lending is possible and in this way enables AFGRI to continue with its focus of innovation and an enabler to food security.

BUSINESS DAY: Fairfax bullish on SA and has cash to deploy

Fairfax Financial Holdings, a Canadian-based investment holdings business with predominantly insurance and reinsurance assets, says it has $500m to deploy in Africa.

The group, listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and led by billionaire Prem Watsa, is also bullish on SA.

“We happen to be really quite optimistic about SA. We take a long-term view and we believe SA is uniquely positioned,” said Mark Cloutier, a Fairfax representative and incoming chairman of Bryte Insurance, formerly Zurich Insurance Company SA.

Fairfax raised the $500m in equity capital (housed under Fairfax Africa) via an initial public offer for subordinate voting shares, private placements and a commitment from its parent, Fairfax Financial.

Fairfax Africa would seek investments with a view to acquiring control or significant positions of influence, the group said. Its investment objective was to achieve long-term capital growth by investing in debt and equity instruments of businesses primarily conducted in Africa, it said.

Fairfax bought Bryte Insurance, the new brand of Zurich Insurance in SA and Botswana, from the Zurich Insurance Group in 2016 for R1.8bn. Also in SA, Fairfax has bought a 7.15% stake in reinsurer Africa Re and a 50% stake in specialist liability underwriter Camargue, through another of its subsidiaries, Brit Insurance.

Fairfax made its first investment in the country in 2014, when AgriGroupe Investments, in which it is the largest investor, acquired a 60% stake in agricultural and foods group Afgri.

Cloutier, who is executive chairman of Brit, said Fairfax was in “early-stage discussions” with two private insurance businesses in SA.

There was significant growth potential for insurance in the country as the transformation agenda progressed, he said.

Short-term insurers have struggled to grow premium income in a country with economic growth below 1%.

But Cloutier said the country would resemble other emerging markets from a demand standpoint, as people increasingly acquired assets that needed to be insured.

SA had a strong culture of insuring valuable assets, which was not the case in all countries, he said.

“We continue to make investments in SA and explore opportunities in the insurance and reinsurance worlds,” Cloutier said.

Watsa founded Fairfax in 1985, earning net insurance premiums of $10m that year. In 2015, it earned net premium income of $7.5bn.

Fairfax’s net earnings amounted to $642m in 2015, a 61% decline on the previous year due to larger losses from claims. Figures from September 2016 indicate that the company has a $44bn balance sheet.

Watsa — referred to as “Canada’s Warren Buffett” by the likes of Forbes, Irish Times and Financial Post — is adept in financial markets. He sold nearly $5bn in US Treasury bonds ahead of that country’s recent election, saving a lot of money, Forbes reported, as bond prices fell sharply on the news of Donald Trump’s election.

Giving Bryte its independence and “putting Fairfax’s financial strength behind it” would give the company an advantage in SA, Cloutier said.

East Africa recognises AFGRI’s contribution to food security

AFGRI Uganda was recognised by the East African people as the largest contributor towards food security at the annual East Africa Book of Records (EABR) awards.

At the handover ceremony recently held in Uganda, attended by members of AFGRI’s management team, EABR honoured AFGRI with the award for Responsible Consumption and Production in recognition of its sustainable contribution to agriculture in the region.

Jacob de Villiers, Managing Director, Grain Management at AFGRI, says the award proves that AFGRI’s initiatives to assist small scale farmers in the region are paying off.  “AFGRI’s Grain Management business in Uganda began in 2013 with the purpose of managing grain for food security and to prevent post-harvest losses on grain commodities.”

Across the African continent, AFGRI assists farmers to develop subsistence farms into semi-commercial farms in its efforts to ensure food security. AFGRI Grain Management in Uganda incorporates Farmer assistance and mentoring services, grain handling, grain storage and grain marketing.

The EABR aims to inspire ordinary people into doing extraordinary things in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. At the annual awards ceremony, the EABR recognises ground breaking achievements in various categories and records such achievement by awarding certificates to the winners. Companies in East Africa have been enthusiastic about the possibilities in harnessing the unique appeal of being a record breaker. Previous winners of the East African Award include the President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni and other distinguished individuals and companies.

At the 2017 ceremony, the awards were handed over by the Burundi Ambassador to Uganda standing in for the Speaker of Parliament, Honourable Rebecca Kadaga.

De Villiers concluded by saying that this is a tremendous accolade for AFGRI in support of its vision of being an enabler to food security across the continent.

Highvelder: Solomon’s a-‘maize’-ing story

“I know I have proven that I can farm successfully. All I want is to be able to settle on a farm and be allowed to produce food. That is what farming is all about.”

Solomon Masango (36) is a young farmer who grew up in the Carolina district and has a truly amazing story to tell.

He currently farms on a hired stretch of land just north of Carolina that he is transforming from nothing to one of the healthiest and potentially best yielding maize and soy fields per hectare in the district.

The pride and knowledgeable enthusiasm with which Solomon shows off his 90 ha maize crop and 90 ha soy bean crop is a tell-tale sign that his dream of becoming a commercial farmer is well within his reach, given the right opportunity and support. He also has a herd of cattle grazing on the farm.

Things didn’t come easily for Solomon. He has had to stand up against some unpleasant red tape and obstacles put in his way, but his tenacity and will to farm has already earned him the title of “Farmer of the Year”.

Solomon’s story began seven years ago when the Ubuhle Uyazenzela Communal Property Association (CPA), of which he is a member, acquired a farm in a land claim settlement.

He then made an application to work the land, which at that time was lying fallow.

From the outset he made it clear that he did not want to farm on the property for free, so that the other members would be able to receive dividends.

In 2009 he started working on a 50 ha section of the farm with one tractor. He hired only one guard and they worked day and night, rotating day and night shifts between them.

When government authorities saw the progress Solomon was making with the meagre means at his disposal, they stepped in and assisted him with two more tractors, along with two drivers.

Initially the yield was only 20 bags of maize per hectare. With hard work and sheer determination, Solomon used the money from the 2009 crop to buy a second tractor for himself. This enabled him to work only during the day and in 2010 he increased the hectares to 100.

By 2011 he was able to buy a third tractor and was now working 200 ha, producing an average of 3.5 tonnes per hectare.

The following year he received an offer of financial assistance from Afgri and the Department of Agriculture, mentorship from Agri SA and expert advice from Grain SA.

In 2013 he was able to hire more employees and equipment and was working 300 ha with a yield of between four and five tonnes per hectare.

“Only at this stage was I able to show a small profit,” said Solomon.
Still determined to achieve more success and provide more employment opportunities, in 2015 Solomon increased the hectares to 450, now split between 300 ha soy beans and 100 ha of maize.

That same year he was voted Grain SA Farmer of the Year, but according to Solomon, this was when the problems began.

“Certain members of the CPA ordered me off that farm, because, according to them, it was making me too rich.

“I then approached the Department of Land Affairs in Ermelo and explained to them that I was being chased from the farm and I wanted to carry on farming. I told them I had the necessary equipment and was successful, so I needed land where I could farm.”

The matter was taken to court, but the CPA members who had arrived at the court by the busload managed to convince the magistrate that Solomon was using their land to make himself rich and claimed they were not benefiting financially, even though he had proof of regular payments which far exceeded the norm.
The court then ordered him to leave the farm.

Solomon left, taking his tractors and equipment with him and started over again on the adjacent farm, which he hires from the Santungane Trust. He hired some of the labourers he had worked with on the CPA farm to help him out. In addition to providing jobs, he also made his tractor and equipment available to them to work their own small tracts of land on the CPA farm where they were still officially employed.

These actions landed him in court again on charges of disobeying an eviction order.

“But luckily, this time I had a lawyer who put forward a very convincing argument.
“I told the court the people could not chase me from that farm, because I was the one that was providing food for the very people who were chasing me away.”This time the court found in favour of Solomon, but he is afraid to go back to the CPA farm for fear of intimidation.

“That’s how I ended up on the present farm. I hire the farm from the trust on a five-year lease contract.
“At first some of the members of the trust were reluctant, but they had seen how successful I had farmed on the CPA farm and I was granted permission to lease the land.”

Solomon is now looking to government to allocate a suitable farm to him on which he can carry on farming without fear of eviction.

“I know I have proven that I can farm successfully. All I want is to be able to settle on a farm and be allowed to produce food. That is what farming is all about.”