Where are the bridge-builders?

Published: 4 September 2020

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Jannie de Villiers
CEO, Grain SA jannie@grainsa.co.za

Although we have had quite an overdose of virtual meetings since March 2020, there is a new virtual highlight on the calendar this month.

The first NAMPO Virtual will take place from 9 to 12 September 2020! It’s like ploughing and planting a new land and not really knowing what the yield will be. There is no history of which cultivar will do best as well as many other uncertainties. One thing that producers have taught us as personnel, is to take on the risks of life, otherwise you will never know how it will turn out. We will definitely miss the fellowship, but there will be no shortage of new farming products.

Our country and its people are struggling. Some are trying to stay afloat and survive, while others are devising evil plans to rob their fellow man. The struggle continues. However, one thing that is glaringly obvious, is that COVID-19 brings about change. The Grain SA leadership took to the bush for a few days at Sonder Sorg to reflect on everything that needs to change at the organisation in order to help grain producers stay profitable. The challenges to remain sustainable are many, but courage and ingenuity still prevail. There were discussions and planning on how we can be harder and softer in negotiations at the same time and how to balance the goals in terms of profits and social needs. We also devoted attention to the racial tension in the industry.

One of the conclusions that we as leaders reached, is that organised agriculture in all likelihood also needs a makeover to serve the producers of the future. For this purpose, we are going to have to consult widely: outside of agriculture and probably outside of South Africa too. The focus areas Grain SA will deal with, are the following:

  • Profitability and stability of grain production
  • Research and technology
  • Market environment
  • Agricultural development and transformation
  • Marketing, communication and funding of Grain SA
  • Training and accountability of the Executive
  • Organised agriculture
  • State intervention in the market and failures of government

After this bosberaad, I have thought a lot about the great shortage of bridge-builders in South Africa. We hear so many voices, especially on social media, that are dividing people and belittling and breaking down others. The focus placed by the media on differences is destroying the few unsteady bridges that still remain. A modern-day bridge-builder is not someone who relinquishes his standpoints and only compromises – it is someone who can stand on the other side of an argument, who looks at the problem through someone else’s eyes and search for a better solution. Such a bridge-builder’s focus is on the problem, not on the other person. A new concept that came up in conversation the other day, was the ‘coalition of the willing’, referring to – as Louw Steytler would have called it – ‘the voice of reason’. Bridge-builders always keep their eyes peeled to find other bridge-builders in the room. When they discover each other, change happens.

Finally, I would like to tip my hat to the new generation of leaders who ventured into the lion’s den the other evening by presenting a first webinar – about the differential no less. Well done, guys! I think we will have to make use of this technology long after COVID-19 to improve the speed and efficiency with which we inform producers on what Grain SA is busy with; where we are in the process and where we need help and new insights. Keep up the good work!