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Standard Bank Agribusiness Roadshow

Innovation and technology will be key drivers of the agricultural sector in the next few decades – a time in which exponential growth will be expected in order to supply in demand. This according to presenters at a Standard Bank Agribusiness Roadshow in Stellenbosch recently.

“Farming is where the money will be in the next decade,” said Charles van Niekerk, general manager at Barloword Agriculture. Although the limitation of natural resources may stunt growth, farmers will continue to play a crucial role in feeding the world. World output in agricultural products have to grow by 20% every decade for the next 40 years in order to supply in demand, which will be driven mainly by China, India, the US and Indonesia.

“This is good news for commodity prices, but we need to use innovation and new technology to keep up,” said Van Niekerk. Precision agriculture will be characterised in future by digital farm maps, yield monitoring, telemetry, as well as variable plant spacing, flow and application control and water-wise solutions. Drones are already used in some countries to detect disease and emission control measures are tightened.

“Flexibility, agility and responsiveness are key to all companies,” Van Niekerk cited a Barloword Logistics Supply-chain Foresight. Technology will not only drive agriculture at farm level, but “customer experience is changing the expectations of how we do business,” said Donovan Steenkamp, head of customer financial solutions for business banking at Standard Bank.

Social media has already changed the way in which banking takes place, with more than 80% of customers expected to be engaging in the mobile paradigm in the next five years. The emergence of digital information is immense; 3.9 zettabytes of content was generated world-wide in 2013 – the equivalent of every book, magazine and newspaper ever printed, regenerated 100 times every second.

“This is the see and hear generation, and banking is not a place you go, it’s something you do,” said Steenkamp. Internet connectivity and more accessible broadband will lead to cloud computing, and smartphones have already resulted in big data being stored on small devices. Connectivity enhancement at a low cost will bring about instant trends and there will be a move away from structured to unstructured data, bringing in experience and expectations.

Prof Johan van Rooyen, director of the Standard Bank Centre for Agribusiness Leadership & Mentorship Development, discussed the way in which young talent is being prepared for the changing agribusiness landscape.

“People are being trained for jobs that don’t exist yet,” he said, emphasising that agriculture will always need a technical/scientific base. The skills base can be improved via more practical exposure – bursaries, work placements and internships – combining financial, logistics and marketing skills and improving communication between the industry and academics.

“It is important to activate the link between the agribusiness industry and academia in order for talent development to be sustainable. The status of agriculture has also changed in the eyes of Government from a social to an economic sector, which makes collaboration crucial,” said Van Rooyen.

“Agriculture will be an exciting place to be in 2050. If in agriculture, be a scientist – both pure and social,” said Chantel Illbury, independent scenario strategist and co-author of the book Mind of a Fox.

Businesses not only need to take note of scenarios, but be able to identify the flags indicating a scenario will play out, and be proactive accordingly. Illbury referred to a “cone of uncertainty” which gets larger the further one looks into the future.

Megatrends, which may provide some certainty, include an ageing population while innovation is driven by the younger generation; the conversion of more economies into steady states; greater control from countries other than the US; a shift from the knowledge to the intelligence age; an urgent scramble for resources; education being out of sync with the job market; and the work/life balance being more elusive than ever due to technology driving a 24/7 work ethic.

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