In his keynote address, Christo Wiese, chairperson of Pepkor and Shoprite Holdings Ltd among others, said we need to change our thinking about Africa, because it’s the continent of the future. He pointed out that Europe – traditionally SA’s main fresh produce destination – is crumbling under a burden of crippling debt and an ageing population. Africa, on the other hand, has, over the past decade, been rated sixth out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world.
The ballot box has started to change Africa as democracy – however shaky and imperfect at times – has taken hold. There’s a growing cohesion among people and politicians in a continent of 54 diverse countries, 2 000 languages and more than 1 billion people.
A chilling observation that Wiese made was that it took 900 years for the world’s population to reach its first 1 billion mark. Now we manage to add another billion every 12 years. With this sobering statistic in mind he explained that, with 60% of the world’s arable land, Africa has the potential to become a major food producer. And the ‘gold and diamonds’ of tomorrow will be food, energy and water – all of which are abundant in Africa.
It’s no secret that other countries like China have recognised this and are rapidly acquiring productive land in Africa.
Looking at the potential for trade in Africa, Wiese said suffocating trade restrictions need to be lifted to help spur this potential growth and Africa needs to pay serious attention to its infrastructure, which is in dire need of improvement in many areas.
Other speakers emphasised the potential of an expanding African market for not only fast-moving consumer goods, but fruit and vegetables as well. However, all cautioned that trading in Africa requires careful planning and a robust budget to make it work.
In this column I’ve commented on more than one occasion about the potential for the fresh produce trade within the SADC countries. Wiese and others at the PMA Conference confirmed that Africa, even beyond SADC, is poised for huge developments. The giant that is Africa is beginning to stir.
Contact Mike Cordes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Market floor’ in the subject line of your email.