Purchase is the new CEO of ABC

Markets are business, and globalisation is opening up markets to agribusiness. This is one of many reasons why Dr John Purchase is excited to be the new CEO of the Agricultural Business Chamber (ABC). As former CEO of Grain SA, he also understands the synergistic relationship of farmers and agribusinesses. Susan Botes found out more about his vision for ABC.

Why have you decided to move from Grain SA to the ABC?
The ABC offers new and challenging opportunities, such as moving into a wider and more global agricultural environment.

At Grain SA you fought for producers and at ABC you will fight for agribusinesses. Isn’t this a bit like selling out?
No, not at all. Producers are often the members and shareholders within agricultural businesses. All have a role to play in making the agriculture value-chains more competitive internationally. That is key to our survival.

You took over the reins at Grain SA at a very controversial time. Is it now back on track? What impact will your leaving have?
Grain SA is certainly in a much better position today than it was two years ago. It has good leadership, management structures and personnel, so I’m not really concerned about Grain SA’s future. I think a new CEO can take it to the next level. Obviously there is still much work to be done – you never really reach a stage where all has been achieved! D oes your new position give you greater bargaining power within the agricultural sector? It’s neither helpful nor relevant for the sector to compare the bargaining power of different positions. The merit of your argument is more important.

What is the role of agribusiness in politics? it your job to influence politicians? Certainly, one of the goals of the organisation is to positively influence policy that affects agriculture. For example, the government’s trade policies and agreements are extremely important to agribusinesses.

How will you unite and manage different personalities in the agribusiness sector? The focus is on identifying common goals and collective interests, and debating how best to achieve these goals and serve these interests.

Will there be a resurgence of cooperatives that will put farmers’ interests first? There could be. It will depend on the strategy and goals of the group of farmers or members and to what extent they can cooperate to achieve those goals.

We know new cooperatives are forming all the time, which could be in the best interest of farmers. How do you feel about cooperatives that have become companies over the past few years? Each business must develop its own strategy and that will largely determine the structure or business model it will follow. Members of cooperatives and agribusiness shareholders should decide the strategies and models that best suit their specific circumstances.

So agribusinesses have farmers’ best interests at heart? As a primary objective, agribusinesses are constantly trying to add value for shareholders and members, but without farmers agribusinesses would not exist and probably vice versa. There is a strong synergistic relationship between the two, and each adds value in its particular area of expertise and service. So the farmers, as clients, are extremely important to the agribusinesses.

How do you feel about AgriBEE? AgriBEE is a reality and although the gazetted BEE Codes of Good Practice are not perfect, the AgriBEE Charter should be in line with these codes. The BEE codes are guidelines that are reasonable within the South African context. The AgriBEE situation needs to be clarified as soon as possible to avoid confusion and distrust, as it is important to the sector.

How will the new municipal land tax affect agribusiness? I think Agri SA did great work during the consultation phase to make the act more farmer-friendly. However, how it is implemented by the respective municipalities will play a major role in how it affects agriculture.