New seasons await

Published: 31 August 2021

Pieter Taljaard
CEO, Grain SA

What a pleasant privilege to start walking this special new path officially in the month of September. Symbolically, September means refocussing our energy – September 2021 is therefore the beginning of many new seasons that we are entering in South Africa and specifically in South African agriculture.

The past 18 months have been particularly stormy, but despite this we have been very blessed that the agricultural ship has continued to sail incredibly well. For a variety of reasons there are several new leaders in agriculture who are already busy or who will soon take the baton in the near future. We see so many things change daily and experience such a high and fast degree of change compared to previous generations. Unfortunately, this does not come without additional responsibilities and pressure.

When we listen to earlier risk warnings, they often sound so unreal and even far-fetched. However, when we look at only two recent great risks, it clearly causes us to reconsider. As early as 2006, the World Economic Forum ( sounded the alarm about pandemics and health-related risks. Was it a little too long ago or did we just consider it a false alarm? Either way, I know for sure that we just cancelled the alarm and gave the password away. Over the past 18 months we have clearly seen that the world was not sufficiently prepared for this. A more recent example is the cyberattack on Transnet. Several previous reports listed cyberattacks as a risk. Although Transnet got back on track quite quickly, I wonder how many businesses today have real plans in place to overcome such attacks – not to even mention prevention.

These examples bring me to what we learn from it and how we will approach or deal with the warnings in the future. The most recent report highlights the risks and consequences of growing inequalities and social fragmentation. Here we can probably also say that we have been warned, but the matter is definitely not something that will remain the army’s problem in future. We will really have to do something about this! The question remains: “How will we stop it? How can we resolve this?” Furthermore, it is warned that where environmental decline takes place together with growing inequalities, it can hold dramatic or exponential consequences.

I would like to conclude by quoting an excellent piece I have recently read: ‘Ships do not sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them.’ We should not allow the things happening around us to get inside us and weigh us down. Nevertheless, there is a multitude of challenges for which we as organisation in South Africa and specifically within the agricultural sector will have to take ownership, as this is the only way in which solutions can be found.

In spite of everything, we are still privileged in agriculture that we have certainly been least affected by the recent lockdowns. We have also seen again with COVID how true it is that challenges bring new opportunities and this is what I plead for: Everybody in agriculture must think together, work together and really take ownership of the enormous social challenges we have. This is everyone’s problem – whether you own land or not, whether you are in agriculture or not – all sections of the economy are threatened. That is why it is easier to accept the challenge – there is no place to hide and there are no free rides! Working together is the only way to get the job done.