Top companies vs important companies

‘You can’t feed all those people with platinum, gold or computer chips.’

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The Business Times’ annual Top 100 Companies is always an interesting read. This year’s list in the 30 October issue gave a fascinating, but all too brief, insight into our top business leaders and what makes them tick.

I was also looking for companies involved in agricultural production and distribution. Shoprite in fifth place is a major seller of agricultural products, but that’s the closet I could find. Mining and other sectors dominated the list.

While these all play important roles in the grand scheme of things, I’d suggest that perhaps the picture is somewhat skewed in the sense that none of the products they trade in are edible.

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Why the emphasis on “edible”? Well, I’m biased towards agriculture and its products and even more specifically to fruit and vegetables. But more importantly, the world population has cracked 7 billion and is set to grow to over 9 billion in about 30 years.

You can’t feed all those people with platinum, gold, steel or computer chips. That old cliché of “people have to eat” might sound corny but it’s true. In years to come, the pecking order could shift and those companies producing and distributing food will move to the top of the list.

It is agriculture’s task to rise to the occasion and meet the challenge for more food. As a nation we have to pay attention to these signals.

Our just completed national census will no doubt tell us a lot about our population and I suspect we’ll be in for one or two surprises when the results are released. As populations grow, the pressure on resources increases and the need to manage them becomes paramount. The Chinese, for example, are well advanced on a new kind of ‘imperialism’ as they expand their influence around the globe to acquire resources.

It remains to be seen how Chinese expansion will benefit the people of Africa. Our politicians need to realise that if they don’t pay a lot more attention to agriculture, the unsettling prospect of hungry people looms in the not-too-distant future. Can they learn from the upheavals of Egypt, Algeria and the rest?

Agriculture might account for less than 3% of our gross domestic product but it’s top of the list in importance for the nation.
Soon we’ll see a different breed of companies in the Top 100.

Email Mike Cordes at [email protected].