“It always seems impossible until it’s done”- Nelson Mandela
Last week student fellows, Shelby Hill and Mario Ortez, along with two other graduate students in the Agricultural Economics Department, Michelle Estes and Emily Mollohan, had the opportunity to go to Cape Town, South Africa and participate in the 2014 International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) World Forum, Symposium and Case Study Competition. IFAMA works towards improving the strategic focus, transparency, sustainability and responsiveness of the global food and agribusiness system.
The conference gathered highly diverse attendants within the global food and agribusiness industry, including academic and industry professionals. The theme of this year’s forum was “people feed the world” with a special focus on Africa’s food and agribusiness sector.
We also had the opportunity to visit South Africa’s Food Bank in Cape Town where we had a small round table discussion with the company and a tour of the food bank distribution center and warehouse. The food bank’s mission is to facilitate distribution in order to link hungry people in need with food. In 2013 they were able to provide 40,000 meals a day. These meals come from rescuing damaged goods and soon-to-expire goods. The food bank was established in 2009 and isn’t well known in South Africa. Their main goal is to build a self-sustaining model that provides a service instead of charity.
The two of us have provided our own reflections and insights from the trip.
Africa was once considered and described as the land of despair but is now quoted as a hopeful continent. The conference combined with other experiences during the trip has definitely shaped my perception about the “mother” continent. From my economic point of view, this now hopeful place will play a bigger role in the agribusiness industry in the years to come. Jacques Tylor, MD of John Deere Financial for Sub-Saharan Africa said, “Africa needs to see the agriculture sector as a business not as a way to fight poverty.” I think those words are very applicable for other developing parts of the world. Throughout the conference there was a consensus among the speakers about the need to add a new aspect to the food security issue related to food quality. The challenge is not just to provide enough affordable food to feed everybody, but to provide food that is high quality and nutritious.
The question is: who provides the food? The extreme charitable model would say rich people in the world should provide for the poor. I think a more sustainable hybrid approach is to enhance individual development. Helping farmers in developing worlds by teaching them how to better grow their crops is a huge step in the direction of feeding the world.
As for mitigating risk, some of the top priorities identified for the agriculture sector in Africa include uncertainty, volatility and policy requirement. All of these need a deep understanding of the type of industry we are in now. Based on that understanding, development of the appropriate risk management tools is necessary to achieve risk optimization in a rapidly changing environment.
It was very interesting how the whole conference focused on the development of young leaders in agriculture. Young leaders are needed to overcome the challenges the agriculture industry faces today. Although this sounds like a big problem to tackle, it’s good to be reminded of Nelson Mandela’s famous quotes, “It always seems impossible, until it’s done.” In a study performed across the agriculture sector in Africa, “positive work attitude” was identified as the number one interpersonal skill that employers are looking for followed by ethics. Additionally, agriculture and finance were the most preferred areas of expertise.
Our trip to Africa was an amazing opportunity and learning experience. The combination of the conference, the sightseeing, the food, and the people made the trip so meaningful. From the moment we arrived in Cape Town we started exploring and preparing for our case study competition. The first round of the competition was on Sunday, June 15th. We were given a case study and had a total of four hours to read over it, develop a strategic plan, and put our recommendations and action-plan into a presentation. We then presented our analysis to a panel of three judges coming from both academic and industry backgrounds. I think all four of us team members can say we learned a lot from the experience. Having the opportunity to present our analysis on an African business to African professionals really made the experience more realistic and significant.
The conference theme was centered on the phrase, “people feed the world.” This couldn’t have been more fitting for the location of the conference. Africa is known as the mother continent but yet is the last frontier when it comes to development and agriculture. There are so many small-holder farmers in Africa; however, these farmers are still using production practices from nearly a century ago. The issue at hand is feeding an ever-increasing global population. Africa will have to be the upcoming food producing continent in order to achieve this goal of feeding the world. One of the topics that conference speakers and attendees spoke on that has stuck with me is how important it is to invest in African agriculture and to help small-holder farmers by teaching them production practices that allow for greater yields. Greater yields for these small-holder farmers have the opportunity to make huge differences. Farmers can be able to feed their families and put an end to hunger seasons, as well as market their remaining crops to maximize their profits. An organization called One Acre Fund has established a business model in order to help these farmers. They provide services that help with the distribution of seed and fertilizer, finance farm inputs, train the farmers on agricultural techniques, and help facilitate markets to maximize profits from harvest sales. It’s amazing that farming is a leading occupation for the world’s poor. It’s hard to fathom that these people are growing food, but yet they’re still going hungry and are unable to provide food to their children. In order to feed the world, I believe it’s so important to invest in these types of farmers. Just like Mandela’s quote, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Helping small-holder farmers and investing in agriculture development is a daunting task, but not impossible. If the investment in these farmers helps end hunger and reach food security, I’d say the investment is well worth it.
The trip has left me wanting to do more, see more, and grow more into an agriculturalist ready to tackle some of these issues the agriculture industry is facing. Mario and I appreciate all the support, tools, and skills we have been given through involvement in the Risk Management Center. The opportunity to travel abroad, compete, attend a meaningful conference, and sightsee is one that will have lasting impacts.
We would like to thank the CHS Foundation, K-State College of Agriculture, K-State Dept. of Agricultural Economics and the Center for Risk Management Education and Research for your support in making this trip possible.