Africa’s new min­ing: From an SA field to the world’s shelves

CityPress - - News - NICKI GÜLES nicki.gules@city­press.co.za

For Unati Speirs, the head of agro­pro­cess­ing at the In­dus­trial Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (IDC), food is Africa’s new min­ing.

“By 2025, the South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity will be among the world’s largest food con­sumers. By 2025, the pop­u­la­tion of Africa will reach 1.4 bil­lion peo­ple and, by 2050, Africa will over­take China and In­dia [in pop­u­la­tion size],” she says.

It’s there­fore im­per­a­tive that South African food pro­duc­ers po­si­tion them­selves to take ad­van­tage of a new food rev­o­lu­tion for a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Speirs (36) con­trols a book of agripro­cess­ing com­pa­nies worth R7.3 bil­lion to the IDC, along with a team of 10 char­tered ac­coun­tants and 15 other staff, from mar­keters to agri­cul­tur­al­ists and food spe­cial­ists. To­gether they re­ceive re­quests for as­sis­tance from farm­ers and food pro­duc­ers and con­duct due dili­gence on busi­nesses to de­ter­mine the value the IDC can help to un­lock.

Speirs has a Master of Science de­gree in agri­cul­ture and is now do­ing her PhD in agripro­cess­ing. She be­lieves there is a lot of value in the sec­tor, prompted in no small part by the in­creas­ing global pop­u­lar­ity of food TV chan­nels and shows such as MasterChef.

“The new gen­er­a­tion of con­sumer is pas­sion­ate about his or her food and wants it to be sus­tain­ably pro­duced, wants to know where the food was pro­duced, by whom and how it was made,” she says.

“Peo­ple don’t just eat be­cause they are hun­gry; they are con­cerned about how nu­tri­tious their food is and how they are con­tribut­ing to the econ­omy with their con­sumer spend. They also want the con­ve­nience of gourmet at a rea­son­able price.” This, Speirs says, places en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly farm­ing prac­tices in South Africa in a unique po­si­tion to score for gen­er­a­tions to come.

Speirs cites the Coega Dairy near Port El­iz­a­beth (see left) as a good ex­am­ple of how avail­able op­por­tu­ni­ties can be max­imised by the IDC part­ner­ing with the right busi­ness model. Milk from Coega is sold by the Sho­prite group in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

The agripro­cess­ing sec­tor can make a real dif­fer­ence in the lives of those who work in it.

“A ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who work in agribusi­nesses have a low level of skills – it’s not like the health or chem­i­cal sec­tors, for in­stance, where a four-year qual­i­fi­ca­tion is a min­i­mum re­quire­ment. It’s pos­si­ble to start as a gen­eral worker and grow into a man­ager through work­place ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says.

“By grow­ing youth par­tic­i­pa­tion in agri­cul­ture, young peo­ple have the free­dom to grow in the ar­eas they come from that will re­duce the pres­sure for ur­ban­i­sa­tion with­out in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment, which in turn grows ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Agripro­cess­ing has the abil­ity to grow the econ­omy and jobs in the ar­eas that need them the most.”

The IDC is also help­ing to trans­form the sec­tor by fi­nanc­ing worker trusts that en­able a farm’s em­ploy­ees to buy sig­nif­i­cant stakes in busi­nesses for which they and their fam­i­lies have worked for gen­er­a­tions, some­thing Speirs de­scribes as a “win-win sit­u­a­tion”. The cor­po­ra­tion also funds eq­uity part­ner­ships and sup­ports emerg­ing black farm­ers who are linked di­rectly to re­tail chains or ex­port mar­kets.

There are ob­sta­cles, though. One is a re­luc­tance among young peo­ple to pur­sue a ca­reer largely deemed not sexy. Another is a lack of in­ter­est and in­for­ma­tion about the sec­tor’s po­ten­tial and eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Then, of course, there is the drought, the worst the coun­try has ex­pe­ri­enced in 23 years.

“The IDC is re­spond­ing by es­tab­lish­ing an emer­gency fund in the four af­fected prov­inces for new and ex­ist­ing clients,” she says. “We’re ex­pect­ing the drought to last un­til at least Septem­ber 2016, and we’re ex­pect­ing the sit­u­a­tion to get worse by then, with floods and other re­lated post-drought cli­matic con­di­tions.”

Among Speirs’ favourite agribusi­nesses are those that have gone global – such as Dy­namic Com­modi­ties, an IDC client pro­duc­ing sor­bet that is now avail­able in Ja­panese su­per­mar­kets.

“It’s like fly­ing our flag. I get so proud when I ar­rive in [global gro­cery chains] such as Tesco and see one of our prod­ucts,” she says.

Unati Speirs

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