Daneel Rossouw, Nedbank's divisional head of agriculture in the Western Cape. Photo: Supplied

CAPE TOWN – Food security, together with adequate nutrition, is a matter of life or death at one end of the market, while good agricultural practices are necessities at the other. Whether it's food in abundance or eco-friendly food production – partnerships in agriculture are now more important than ever. 

Agriculture in South Africa has yet to achieve its full potential for a variety of reasons. And this year’s Nampo Cape exhibition comes at an important moment, as the industry has grown significantly since the drought of 2015. 

Recognising the value that can be created through collaboration and partnerships in all agricultural projects to achieve sustainability for the agricultural sector, Nedbank is committed to working with all stakeholders.

One of the successful partnerships making a difference for farmers is the association between Nedbank and local agritech startup firm, Aerobotics. This Cape Town-based company is setting up an online drone marketplace to team up with players along the food chain. Aerobotics processes data from drone and satellite imagery through a proprietary artificial intelligence platform, and uses the specific data to identify and analyse problems, such as pests and diseases affecting trees or vines.

As part of Nedbank's commitment to big-picture banking, it acquired a minority stake in Aerobotics, which also secured funding from local and international private-equity houses to accelerate the investment in infrastructure and projects.

A big driver behind Nedbank’s initiative is the fact that drones provide a great solution to help expand the agriculture value chain network and provide various services to the farming community. By growing its physical presence, Aerobotics proposes to bring leading technology to this industry in a way that helps farmers and partners to meet their immediate and long-term challenges.

In addition, Aerobotics is set to launch an online farm yield management app, Aeroview, to help farmers collect more accurate infield data. This app will allow farmers to select a yield sample on the farm, capture produce count and size, and get a report on the size of distribution and number of the products.

On an investment front, according to Wandile Sihlobo, head of Economic and Agribusiness Intelligence at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), the outlook hinges on the broader policy direction of the agricultural sector.

Looking ahead, he says that, because of lower production, particularly in grains and wine grapes, South Africa’s agricultural trade prospects for 2019 are not as positive as in 2018. 'However, trade in livestock and its products, which has been distracted following the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in some parts of the country, has resumed somewhat, and conditions could normalise in the coming months. With these factors at hand, we still believe that South Africa’s agricultural sector will maintain a positive trade balance in 2019,' he adds. 

Economic factors make partnerships all the more important. The farming community in South Africa has worldclass skills, and through partnerships people are increasingly being provided with the right tools and knowledge to become better at what they do, which in turn means an increase in the planting of cash crops, higher crop yields and an increase in productivity.

One future area of partnership in the agricultural sector must be water management. Last year’s Day Zero in the Western Cape crippled the local agricultural sector, and good rains have only served to disguise the underlying problem of reliance on natural rain as opposed to a variety of water sources.  

Partnerships will be at the forefront this year at Nampo Cape, which will provide an opportunity for farmers to gather, network and avail themselves of the latest technologies and trends. New technologies, such as those of Aerobotics, and investment opportunities such as water management have the potential to boost productivity and the economy.

Through Nation in Conversation, Nampo Cape also provides a platform for dialogue regarding pivotal industry topics such as policy, technology, climate change and land policies.

Nampo Cape will also provide greater clarity on the recent establishment of the South African Agricultural Development Agency (ADA), which has the mandate of expediting land reform and to empower farmers and solve problems in the sector. 

The agency has the potential to take pressure off the state at a critical time in our economic recovery, and will play a pivotal role in addressing land reform challenges. This will ultimately help create a transformed and vibrant sector, thereby contributing to economic growth and job creation. 

Daneel Rossouw is Nedbank's Divisional Head of Agriculture in the Western Cape. The views expressed here are his own.

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