Ronald Ramabulana, CEO of the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) talks about the stagnation in exporting and local markets, the lack of research and young blood in agriculture, and setting up a database of emerging farmers to streamline land reform. Cornelia du Plooy reports.
What is the state of agricultural marketing in SA ?
Since our deregulation in 1994, nothing much has changed in terms of our agricultural marketing status. When looking at the international markets, we are still exporting what we used to and to the same markets we used to. We have to change our mindset and change direction to export to other markets such as China and India. To create a new market we have to focus on areas where the competition is not as fierce. The same applies to the local front. We have reached a level of stagnation as far as innovation is concerned. There is no need to be alarmed as we are still making money and we have to keep in mind that we are still a young democracy.
When looking at biofuel, one can only imagine the drastic change it will bring about. As food prices go up it might just be the reality check we need to come up with better and more innovative ways of using and marketing our produce in our unique market.
What agricultural aspects need special marketing attention, and which aspects are being sufficiently promoted, and why?
We need to improve on our economic research capacity. We have to look at how we handle our trade and tariff issues. Our trade promotion is not based on good economic research. The US and countries in Europe possess the economic research capacity, which we lack. Our research institutes and universities are doing good work, but we need more. The other aspect needing attention is the common saying that 20% of our farmers produce and export 80% of our produce. The question is how to bring the remaining 80% of our producers up to speed? Market intelligence is of the utmost importance, but as of yet we don’t have the capacity. A third problem is a lack of young people to drive innovation in the industry. If we don’t start employing young people in leadership positions I’m afraid we’ll wake up 10 years from now still stuck in the same position. There have been some successes, though. The statutory measures we’ve put in place have helped a lot in establishing workable databases providing different bodies with information needed to put local agriculture on the map.
Do you think the farming community has lost faith in your organisation’s promotional ability as a parastatal?
I would like to think not. The council has undergone significant restructuring, so much so that it is now a vital link between the agricultural community and the minister. We are not an agency of government. We are able to criticise and challenge government in a manner that benefits both parties.
As a link between government and the farming community, what have you found to be the most pressing issue to be conveyed between both parties?
Trust. There is not a lot of that between the agricultural community and the government. In theory those in agriculture should be driving and implementing a lot of government programmes, but that is not always the case. Agricultural role players should have more of a say in government’s decisions and be a driving force in the implementation of such programmes, but that requires both parties to trust each other implicitly. We work every day to bring government and the agricultural sphere closer together.
What are some of the most common misconceptions regarding your organisation in terms of its functions and goals?
Many people find it difficult to understand that we are an advisory body. We do not have the manpower to go out and visit each person who contacts us. As much as I would like to have this office brimming with people, budget constraints limit that option. We are also just as strong as our relationship with the minister of agriculture. Whether the minister implements what we say depends on that relationship. But it is not a matter of us simply telling the minister what to do. We can only advise her; we are not in a position to give instructions.
What are some of your main goals to improve the agricultural sphere?
If 30% of the country’s land is to be transferred through land reform, we need to find a way to keep that land productive. It is not that easy because those who receive land through restitution are not necessarily skilled enough to maintain the land’s profitability. Restitution should happen in partnership with the current landowners to ensure the land remains commercially viable. NAMC is implementing marketing schemes aimed at equipping people with the necessary farming skills. One of our biggest priorities is setting up a workable database of emerging farmers. We need to know who they are and what they produce. Once we have that information, we can successfully implement transformation plans. |fw