In a recent World Wildlife Fund report, it was estimated that a 50% production increase will be required to feed a global population of almost 10 billion people by 2050. According to the same current population growth statistics, in a country like South Africa alone, it will be required to feed an estimated population of over 70 million people by that date.
This implies a contingent minimum food production increase of 4% a year (in South Africa). Across the African continent (and, in fact, the world at large), the prevailing consensus is that incremental but consistent changes in production mechanisms are urgently required to address this.
Cherry Irrigation recently hosted an information day with industry players to address these issues and look at practical and realistic solutions and alternatives to dealing with food security issues. Representatives of many of our company’s key industry partners (innovative agri-irrigation companies and tech startups such as Netafim SA, Grundfos SA and Resurgence Technologies) painted an encouraging picture of a landscape in flux.
The field is currently driven by innovators and visionaries who, like ourselves, share a solutions-driven mindset. Their collective mandate is to help agriculturalists save on natural resources (power, water, etc. as well as to leverage valuable field data more effectively.
In addition, the day’s keynote speaker, veteran political analyst and journalist Max du Preez, spoke with cautious optimism about South Africa’s current political landscape. As with many other African countries, where our own company footprint is growing in countries such as Namibia and Angola, Du Preez intimated that he believes decisive political leadership can drive things forward and in the right direction. Du Preez stated that in the South African scenario, President Cyril Ramaphosa has the capability, expertise and support to drive positive change, stating: “I believe we will see a complete reorientation of political power in South Africa. We have a few key role-players who have to take a stand now.”
In many other SADEC countries, political stability and economic prosperity have aided positive change in the agriculture sector, and while every country in Africa may have a slightly different set of environmental and socio-economic circumstances, globally we face the same basic challenges.
Food systems are under severe pressure. There are several primary causes, including rising populations, a growing middle class, urbanisation and of course the global climate crisis (droughts, floods, rising temperatures, etc.). Mounting drought and desertification issues cause particularly major challenges for the agri-irrigation sector in Sub-Sahara Africa, where Cherry Irrigation does much of its field work.
According to the WWF’s report, issued last month, “Water constraints are exacerbated by rampant invasive alien vegetation and high rates of top-soil loss, resulting in an increase in farming on marginal land. This is in turn associated with increasing environmental impacts and land degradation, including soil erosion and the loss of soil fertility.”
Other issues around food security include low productivity (due to damaged crops and limited access to the right tools, systems and skills) and inadequate storage and distribution channels for fresh goods. In many countries, including our own, legislative red tape also prevents access to markets or the adequate or effective development of potential markets before it’s too late. The production of cannabis and hemp in South Africa is a good example, where, if we don’t move forward quickly, we will get left behind other countries in Africa and the rest of the world that are moving apace.
We therefore find ourselves in a challenging landscape. Yet at Cherry Irrigation we prefer to see challenges as opportunities. Agriculture is the largest employment sector in the world, providing livelihoods for 40% of today’s global population. It is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households. So, if it’s done right (and it can be), the sector has incredible potential to feed and employ many more successfully than it does at present.
As the speakers at our info day were able to prove, the tools and resources exist to take the industry forward. Through regenerative farming, crop diversification, investing in high-value crops, tracking and measuring valuable field data with smart-tech innovations, as well as using the technology and equipment available in clever, targeted ways, the future of farming looks green – not grey.
But we also need to maintain a committed and optimistic mindset to drive positive change.
By making incremental but valuable adaptations to how we farm and cultivate crops, by adopting a learning and adaptive mindset and through partnering with the right people, incredible things can be achieved – and are already being achieved.
The future is indeed being made now. Let’s make it happen right, together.
Source of statistics: org.za/our_research/publications/?27341/agri-food-systems-facts-and-futures