Approximately 65% of the continent’s working population is employed in the agricultural sector.
This continent has the world’s largest share of underutilised arable land. And Africa, along with Latin America, is seeing the fastest growth in the share of global farmland under cultivation. Between 2000 and 2008, African countries have cut their foreign debt by a quarter and trimmed their budget deficits by two thirds.
Investment flows into Africa reached more than US$200 million in 2014 and projections show the upward trend is set to continue.
We are also making it easier to do business in Africa. Here in the Western Cape, we have a dedicated Red Tape Reduction Unit to clear the way for economic growth. Across the continent, there is an undertaking to make the regulatory environment easier for businesses.
According to the World Bank’s Distance to the Frontier scores, the majority of African countries have put measures in place to create enabling environments for entrepreneurs.
The Enabling the Business of Agriculture index shows countries such as Mozambique and Uganda are making significant progress in streamlining the imports of farming equipment.
Africa Rising also presents increased pressure on our resources.
Over sixty percent of Africa’s population is under twenty-five years old, and it is expected than seventeen million young people will enter the labour force each year for the next ten years.
Research shows that while employment opportunities on nonfarm sectors will increase, agriculture will remain the main source of employment in many African countries for the next several decades.
Here in the Western Cape we have selected agriculture and agri-processing as focus sectors. Our Project Khulisa growth strategy has the goal of adding up to a further 100 000 jobs to the economy, and increasing the Gross Value Add of the agri-processing sector to R26 billion.
We are driving a suite of initiatives to grow agri-processing to reach these goals. These include efforts to boost halal and wine exports, and to create an enabling environment for all agri-processed products to flourish. We have made headway, together with our partners, in our drive to increase water storage in the Brandvlei Dam, and we have commissioned the equipment we require for our residue testing facility.
All of the initiatives under Project Khulisa are designed to open international markets for our produce, and I am pleased with the progress we have achieved thus far.
Wesgro, the Western Cape’s tourism, trade and investment promotion agency, also has a dedicated agri-business unit which has played a significant role in facilitating investment in this sector into our region.
To ensure that agriculture can continue to deliver on its potential, we have developed an urgent and co-ordinated response to climate change.
Last year, Ethiopia recorded its lowest annual rainfall in thirty years. In South Africa, annual rainfall dropped to the lowest level since 1904.
We have partnered with the private sector and African Climate and Development Initiative of the University of Cape Town to launch the Smart Agri climate response framework and implementation plan.
Smart Agri identified four focus areas and six priority projects which are being driven by the private sector and government.
Briefly, these include:
Priority #1: Conservation agriculture
This approach includes minimum tillage, year-round soil cover and crop rotation.
Priority #2: Restoring degraded landscapes
The benefits of this action include improved soil conservation. It is suggested to pilot a restoration plan in three regions, and there are significant employment opportunities under this priority project.
Priority #3: Improved catchment management for water security and job creation
One strategy here is the removal of invasive alien plants, which reduces the flow of water and impacts water purification.
Priority #4: Energy efficiency
This step was prioritised across the province and particularly for regions with substantial irrigation farming and processing and cooling of fresh produce. It is also relevant to export-orientated, fruit and wine industries and intensive life-stock industries, such as dairy. Under this step, clean forms of energy are promoted through the use of case studies as success stories.
Priority #5: “Climate-proofing” the Western Cape’s agri-processing sector
This priority project includes prioritising climate-resilient crops and livestock.
Priority #6: Integrated knowledge system for climate smart practices
Through this priority project, we are seeking to ensure our extension officers become the first port of call for farmers requiring information on smart agriculture practices.
We are already seeing the success these principles can have. Due, in part, to conservation agriculture farmers in the Swartland have seen good yields in the wheat crop, despite a challenging year.
With the introduction of no-till seeding methods, combined with crop rotation practices that were pioneered through the Long Term Crop Rotation Trial at Langgewens Research Farm in the Swartland, we are currently producing nearly double the amount of wheat on less than half of the area previously planted to this crop.
The results of the Langgewens long-term crop rotation trial speak directly to the increase of wheat production within crop rotation systems. A recent study on the impact of this research project has shown that 98.8% of farmers in the middle Swartland are implementing crop rotation.
We also recognise that to support agriculture to grow, we must embrace innovation.
Farmers here are using smart technologies and artificial intelligence. In the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, we are pioneering several smart agricultural instruments. One example is Cape Farm Mapper which is a combination of geospatial tools.
With the Cape Farm Mapper, which you can download to your phone, you can search for a farm, view climatic parameters, determine broad agricultural potential or even draw and measure features for farm planning.
With this African Agriculture Investment Indaba, we’re coming together to provide a platform to connect the most innovative agriculture projects to funders.
These projects illustrate how this sector is delivering inclusive growth and real job creation.
We have been delighted to partner with these businesses on key milestones.
I’d like share with you some of the successes these agri-business ventures have already achieved.
Marketplace Energy (MPE) is a Biotechnology Start-up specializing in the development of biotechnology process platforms. Based in Cape Town, MPE is spearheading the development of a bioprocess technology to sustainably produce biomass feedstock; specifically, algae biomass.
This will convert biomass feedstock into bio-based raw materials for food supplements and they have set their sights on producing for Africa.
Following the award of a grant by the National Department of Trade and Industry’s Employment Creation Fund, the company is set to construct a pre-commercial scale Algae Bio-Refinery in Philadelphia, Cape Town. This refinery, with a footprint of two thousand square meters will be constructed on a one hundred and four hectare farm. This facility is the first step towards an Algae Biotech Innovation and Business Centre which is set to create 600 direct permanent jobs in the first five years in the Western Cape.
Another one of the projects being featured is AGRi-Life Fruit, a black-owned company focussing on agro-processing and based in the rural town of Wolseley. It provides fruit packing and logistical services to fruit farmers and fruit export companies in the Witzenberg region.
Because we recognise the potential this company had to add jobs in our rural areas, this project received initial grant funding from the Western Cape Government.
The company’s shareholders include sixty-six farm workers who jointly own four farms.
The final project I’d like to highlight is Buffalo Ridge. It is unique in that it is the first and only water buffalo dairy and buffalo mozzarella producer in Southern Africa.
The Buffalo Ridge buffaloes are milked naturally, with no routine medication permitted. The milk yield of the buffalo is not artificially enhanced and certified biodegradable products are used in the cleaning of the dairy and all milking equipment and all water used is recycled for irrigation of the pastures.
Buffalo Ridge intends raising finance for capital expenditure to cater for the large increase in capacity.
These projects make plain how agriculture is bringing hope to communities. I am confident that the African Agri Investment Indaba will facilitate valuable partnerships which will contribute to Africa’s sustained success in this sector.