South African agriculture offered opportunities in Africa

South Africa has some of the most highly-skilled farmers in the world, as well as an agricultural engineering sector that punches well-above its weight.

Over the course of the last decade, South African farmers have been courted by a number of African countries, with the aim of bringing their experience to bear on the agricultural industries in those nations. Over 22 countries have approached South African farmers with a view to attracting agricultural talent to their lands.

Untapped Africa

Many African countries are food insecure — a term meaning that they cannot produce enough food to satisfy the needs of the local population. This food insecurity does not need to be a lasting condition in many of these countries. In the Republic of Congo, only two percent of the country’s total arable land was current being used to produce food, with 9.9 million hectares available that could be used to produce food. Zambia is among the most arable countries in the world.According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, in 2003, potentially arable land covered 47 % of the country’s total land, but only 15% of this was under cultivation. It is also among the most water-available countries on the planet, in stark contrast to South Africa.

In contrast to Zambia and the Republic of Congo, South Africa’s arable land is almost all used for commercial farming purposes.

Already, a significant number of South African farmers have moved away to start agricultural projects in African countries. The Zambian government has been particularly insistent in its efforts to attract South African farming talent, offering secure investment potential (Zambia is rated among the safest countries in Africa, with a stable political climate and friendly population), and vast tracts of land in which farmers can develop agriculture. In October 2016, Lusaka Province Minister, Japhen Mwakalombe, spoke to members of a South African agricultural forum, Agri All Africa (AaA), with the aim of attracting South African talent to the land-locked tropical country. With the promise reduced tax burdens and huge profit potential, we may see an influx of South African farmers to develop Zambia’s land and agricultural industry.

New markets for agricultural equipment

At the same October 2016 briefing, the Chairperson of AaA’s board, Dr Theo De Jager, bemoaned the fact that 97% of food trade between countries on the African continent was between an African country and a country on another continent, instead of between African countries. This is largely a result of archaic border regulations, and insufficient infrastructure between countries. However, there are signs that this may change. Infrastructure investment on the continent is booming, and a number of positive steps have been taken to reduce the border burden.

With better ways of connecting African countries comes better opportunities for moving large capital machinery between countries.

The South Africans who will take up posts on the continent will need high-quality agricultural equipment, from feed mixers for livestock projects to tillage equipment to make soil ready for planting. For countries like Zambia, which falls within the Southern Africa Development Community, these items can be transferred without a great tariff burden. For countries further afield, like the Republic of Congo, the South African government, with the encouragement of agricultural lobbies, should aim to forge trade agreements to encourage the trade South African-produced agricultural capital equipment.

Africa north of the Limpopo offers a great deal of potential that the South African agricultural community can tap into. We can expect strong growth in trade if this potential is reached.