What is the alternative?

Published: 1 August 2022


Pieter Taljaard
CEO, Grain SA pieter@grainsa.co.za

It always sounds so easy when one reads about or listens to passionate motivational speakers or strategies that emphasise the importance of resilience – and when we are admonished to listen beyond the noise and to focus on our personal and business goals.

Sounds easy … just focus! But do those guys really know what is going on in the real South Africa – in our reality? I like to see myself as an absolute optimist and choose to focus on the positive. Yes, I know about and hear of all the negative things and deterioration, but this month I would like to share with you a few things that I have picked up along the way lately and that excite me. Opportunities on the way that will be unique to Africa. Hence the question: ‘What then is the alternative, given the struggle, ineptness and general level of mediocrity to which we have become accustomed?’

For me the answer is really found in the business and growth opportunities that lie ahead. I am convinced that if our mindset is right and we constantly focus on seeing new opportunities, the expression that ‘you can’t keep a good man down’ will remain applicable. I have repeatedly referred to public/private partnerships: It is precisely the mediocrity and inability to deliver (that we are so fed up with) that will bring about these future opportunities.

It is those things – business, services, contracts – that become possible in a country where the state fails to perform. Still, there is enough clarity in the tunnel to keep on believing, but it is everyone’s individual responsibility to help build the road and direct it towards the light. It is exactly in this that our strength lies, that we can continue to ‘shape’ the changes that are so urgently needed and the things that we want to achieve, on so many different levels and places in society simultaneously. And with ‘we’ I include everyone who wants to see our country and continent flourish, who is right now helping to plant the seedlings of which our grandchildren will one day sell and export the fruit!

So, with an optimistic focus on the good, I will just briefly mention three positive things that have begun to emerge. First, Transnet has done away with BEE procurement requirements (albeit only temporarily).

Secondly, André de Ruyter is extremely positive about the fact that only policy stands between us and enough sustainable energy in the country – and that agriculture could potentially play a significant role in this. There are many possibilities for a province like Mpumalanga with its extremely favourable wind energy opportunities, and maybe a blessing after what the coal mines destroyed. The great risk here is that Eskom’s large carbon footprint will destroy the competitiveness of agriculture if we do not actively and soon start working on the R1,2 trillion energy infrastructure investments needed by 2030 to save our power grid from total collapse by 2035.

Thirdly, at the recent Agbiz congress, we as agriculture received a formal invitation directly from the head of investment in the Presidency – to come with investment requests and proposals that can be approved outside of provincial budgets. We know talk is easy and quite cheap, but what particularly impressed me was Dr Ramokgopa’s conclusion that ‘… we would move at the speed of agriculture’. I think he is underestimating us a bit, but let’s take him at his word.

It is our dreaming, thinking and planning together, putting our shoulder to the wheel (or maybe in front of the chain or cable this harvest season?) that will make the country a better place. From Grain SA’s side, we focus on the things that can make a difference, what we can do for the producers in our country – together with all our colleagues from other organisations – to equip you, empower you and speak on your behalf. That is why it is so important for us to constantly hear and know where – and exactly what – we have to continue to drive, manage and hone.

As I write this, our grain family’s hearts and prayers go out to the Rautenbach family from Standerton with their double loss after a silo accident – even though nothing we say can make it any better.

May all producers enjoy farming and be safe in everything they take on. No matter how dark it sometimes is, just focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.