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Strengthening the Next Generation of Agriculture Leaders: South African Agricultural Professionals Visit GHI
By: Ann Steensland
Global Harvest Initiative
Agricultural production in South Africa is experiencing its most significant transformation since the advent of large-scale production agriculture more than 100 years ago. For much of the twentieth century, South Africa was the continent’s agricultural powerhouse, but its success was due primarily to colonial and apartheid era policies that favored and supported white-owned, commercial farms. The most notable and notorious of these discriminatory policies was the dispossession of black farmers and rural communities of their land, consolidating it in the hands of relatively few white farmers
A new generation of agricultural leaders is now addressing the injustices of the apartheid era, while working to transform South Africa’s agriculture sector into an important source of economic development and employment for black farmers and rural communities who were previously disenfranchised.
Every year, a group of early and mid-career agricultural professionals are selected to participate in the Agricultural Professional Fellowship Program which is designed to build their skills and strengthen their leadership abilities. As part of the year-long fellowship, participants travel to the U.S. to visit universities, research institutions and government agencies to enhance their knowledge base and form relationships with fellow ag professionals.
During their visit to Washington, D.C., in December 2016, the fellows stopped by the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) office to learn more about the work of GHI to promote investments and innovations for productive, sustainable agriculture systems. Ann Steensland, Deputy Director of GHI had an opportunity to present the findings of the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) to the fellows and learn more about their work.
The fellows had a robust discussion about Total Factor Productivity (TFP), an important indicator of agricultural innovation in action. TFP is a ratio of agricultural outputs (gross crop and livestock output) to inputs (land, labor, fertilizer, feed, machinery and livestock). TFP measures the efficiency with which these inputs are transformed into outputs and is enormously useful in identifying where improvements and investments are needed to make agriculture more productive and sustainable. (For more on TFP, see the 2016 GAP Report®, pgs. 10-15.)
South Africa’s agriculture sector faces many challenges and improving productivity will be essential to meeting them. Small-scale farmers and farmer co-operatives need productivity-enhancing inputs, business training and access to markets. The combined impact of climate change, a historic drought and increased competition with urban areas for water resources poses a significant challenge to the productivity of South Africa’s agriculture sector. Developing and disseminating innovations and techniques that improve agricultural output in these drier, warmer conditions will be critical to increasing the productivity and sustainability of farmers operating at all scales.
Despite these challenges, there is hope. This group of dynamic enthusiastic agricultural leaders, together with many of their colleagues, are pressing ahead with a vision for South Africa’s agriculture sector that is productive, sustainable and transformative.
*GHI wishes to thank to Joyene Isaacs, Head of the Department of Agriculture for the Western Cape Province and Dr. Edward Mabaya, Associate Director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, for facilitating this opportunity.