Pity the poor president. After a few days recuperating from his performance on the hustings, where he dutifully and even enthusiastically trotted out the required “we have a good story to tell” needed to drum up votes from a loyal but often uninformed electorate, he had to stand up last night and try to be convincing again in delivering the State of the Nation Address.
Two such performances within five months – no wonder he needed a lie-down. His Excellency almost pulled it off earlier in the year, admittedly when the stench on Nkandla was at its worst, by banging on about the National Development Plan (NDP) as if it was more than a bunch of good intentions rolled up together to swat away the perpetual critics who want to see actions and implementation instead of the sweet talk, NDP this and NDP that, we have had to endure for the past three years.
But last night the ground had shifted.
In the wake of dramatically reduced growth expectations from our Reserve Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and downgrades by ratings agencies Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, who all suggest that only a miracle (notice how they are in short supply lately?) would push growth to anywhere near 2 percent this year, trying to carry on with the “good story” line was never going to work.
We may dodge the recession, which was threatened by damage done by the never-ending and still unresolved strike, but that will be more a matter of luck than good management and perhaps some extra business on the back of the weak rand.
A Reuters poll estimates the chances of recession at 30 percent. Retail figures out today are expected to disappoint.
So after trying so hard to put on a brave face (like putting lipstick on a pig, a former colleague used to say), and looking not quite as excellent as he did while regaling the country with “good stories”, the president may be wondering if five more years of this is such a good idea.
From Monday until tomorrow, the world of agribusiness has converged in Cape Town.
It was the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association Academic (Ifama) symposium, where more than 150 papers relevant to food and agriculture were delivered by international and South African academics, economists and other experts.
But when it comes to Africa, even though the continent is familiar with the term “agribusiness”, agriculture and business have a distinct difference.
Business is for profit, whereas agriculture is for sustaining the self, the eradication of personal hunger.
One sobering session to take place today is going to be the Global Food Security Index Workshop.
According to the 2014 index sponsored by DuPont, while global food security improved in the past year, getting to scores of around 50 out of 100 in South and central America and around 30 points in poverty-stricken Asian countries, in sub-Saharan Africa the 30 point mark is more prevalent and is not just for a few countries.
Only South Africa and Botswana had scores above 50.
Sub-Saharan Africa had the lowest regional score in the index, with an overall score that is just two-thirds that of the Asia and Pacific region.
It also scored the lowest in each of the index categories as 18 out of 28 featured countries from the region were low-income countries.
One of the factors that undermined food security was affordability, even though the region has been experiencing one of the highest economic growth rates in the past few years.
But Africa has what the rest of the world envies – the land. The continent uses less than 25 percent of its arable land and less than 15 percent of the irrigation potential.
As these Ifama discussions continue, the questions and solutions that have to be found are: how can the continent make productive use of its land? What has been stopping Africans from getting into agribusiness when there is so much potential? Where is the chain broken and where do we start fixing it?
* Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Peter DeIonno and Londiwe Buthelezi