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The South African agricultural sector has enormous potential. The vast landscapes, fertile soil and remarkable weather systems provide opportunities for growth and economic transformation. However, there are issues around limited productivity, a lack of investment and poorly maintained infrastructure, alongside existing supply chain challenges and access to services.
To overcome these challenges in sustainable and transformative ways, there must be consistent investment in innovations and collaborations that can help the sector reshape these challenges and redefine the future.
According to the United Nations (UN), the continent is still recovering after the Covid-19 pandemic and both lives and livelihoods remain at risk. The UN has put initiatives in place to support the transformation of agriculture across Africa, but emphasises the importance of investing in solutions that embed sustainability into the sector.
This view is echoed by a recent analysis undertaken by Brookings that highlighted how Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies can address productivity issues inhibiting transformation in the sector. However, the research equally highlights the importance of going beyond technology. True transformation is about more than investing in the digital sector – it’s about ensuring that it truly delivers.
The South African agriculture narrative is complex. There are no easy solutions or plug-and-play platforms that will step up and change the issues around crumbling infrastructure, unreliable power provision or poor market performance. However, there are tools that can and will change how the sector manages access to markets, engages with customers, gains access to private investment and embeds resilience into every aspect of the business.
Bridging technological gaps
An excellent example of this is how technology has been leveraged to address water challenges. With South Africa being a semi-arid country with low rainfall, a reliable source of water is invaluable for the agricultural sector. This need has seen the development of intelligent water management solutions to manage plant hydration and resources.
Some notable solutions in this space include Nosetsa, technology that helps poroducers develop more sustainable irrigation, smart water management tools that use the Internet of Things and sensors to manage water consumption and distribution, and artificial intelligence systems that can automate and analyse water usage.
This innovation is echoed in start-ups that are currently transforming the South African agricultural sector. Organisations such as Aerobotics, a smart analytics company, software and mobile marketplace, Khula!, Biotikum, a producer of microbial additives, and Ooka, a small-scale farmer marketplace, are invigorating agriculture in the country. These are supported by public sector institutions such as the Technology Innovation Agency, which is funding innovation within the sector to directly address local challenges.
Investment into strategic agricultural priorities and smart value-based initiatives, and the modernisation of agricultural infrastructure have the potential to fundamentally change the South African dialogue. It can put Africa firmly on the global stage, cementing its potential as the breadbasket of the world. It can turn complexity into opportunity and give producers the chance to build businesses that directly benefit communities and the economy.
Nedbank is committed to the growth and transformation of the agricultural sector and continually seeks to enhance its offering to producers and agribusinesses. Innovative technologies, the forging of partnerships, new product development and a relationship-based approach are all aimed at providing our clients with financial solutions that sustainably support their growth aspirations. – by John Hudson, Nedbank’s national head of agriculture