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Public and private investment must prioritize the future resilience of local economies

Wrenelle Stander, CEO of Wesgro delivered this a powerful speech at the 2023 African Agri Investment Indaba.

With all protocol observed distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen good morning!


It is indeed humbling to stand before this room of farmers, agricultural experts, industry associations, sponsors, agriculture stakeholders and government.I feel a deep sense of gratitude and respect for the deep love of the land that this community has.


Agriculture is extremely capital intensive, and your continued investment shows your long-term commitment to Africa.


Today’s conversation is about food security and investment into agriculture in Africa. Together, we have a unique opportunity to build a new reality for agriculture on the African continent and importantly to make food security a universal reality. Climate Change and the Green Transition are rapidly changing the very fibre of the international economy.


We therefore need to adapt to and mitigate against changing environmental conditions. We need to find better ways to distribute resources to sustain people at a level above mere survival. The most essential of those resources is food.


One third of the world’s population suffers from food in-security. Temperatures are still rising with effects for global food production. COVID 19 disrupted global supply chains and transportation networks and created shortages of farm machinery, pesticides, and other vital agricultural components.


The pandemic caused mass shutdowns of food production in facilities and raised food prices. Although the world is recovering from the global pandemic, this is occurring unevenly across and within countries.


On top of this, the world is grappling with the consequences of the ongoing war in

Ukraine, which has shaken food and energy markets.


Inflation, which has been tame for 40 years, is back with a vengeance, compounded

by the energy crisis caused by the conflict; further driving up the cost of food. Agrifood systems clearly remain highly vulnerable to shocks and disruptions arising from geopolitics, climate variability and extremes, and economic contraction.


These factors, combined with growing inequality, keep challenging the capacity of

agrifood systems to deliver nutritious, safe, and affordable diets for all. If these trends continue, nations will meet food protests. So, what can we do?


Exporting globally is the recipe for a competitive country. Exports allows us to reach larger markets, markets with stronger buying power, and given different seasons, allows us to mitigate conditions at home.


The ability to access larger and diversified markets allows our agricultural sector to invest and create jobs at home while mitigating local market conditions. To stay in the game, we need to compete with global competitors in a digitised, decarbonising world.


How do we need to show up in 2024?

Sustainability, adaptation, and resilience are the buzz words for global competitiveness.


Changing climate patterns are driving farmers to mitigate and adapt. Climate commitments, investors and consumers are driving changing business behaviour to decarbonise. To stay in the game, we must harness the winds of change. We need to compete with global competitors in a digitised, decarbonising world.


Sustainability is no longer a tick box exercise.


Sustainability is the strategy!


Innovation across the agricultural value chain is crucial and African nations must

start taking measures in anticipation of the changes ahead.


What does all this mean for us?


It means we must work harder, smarter and faster.


There is NO time to waste. We need to focus on investing adequate public money in

the basic levers of competitiveness and supporting a transition to sustainable export

focused agriculture which promotes both emerging farmers and existing larger

agricultural operations.


While I have spoken a lot about the importance of exporting and of global

competitiveness, this is only one part of the story.


The other half part of the story is the crucial importance of supporting small-scale

farmers and farming communities, specifically, ensuring that small-scale farmers can

access value chains, and ensuring that more people are able to grow food.


Smallholders are more vulnerable to climate risks because they have limited access

to resources and information that would enable them to develop effective response

strategies.


While Climate change awareness and proficiency strengthens the problem-solving

capacity of a smallholder farming community, these strategies need to provide

concrete measures that address the community’s existing vulnerabilities. It needs to

also allow for stronger integration into both the agricultural sector and the greater

economy, to contribute to more resilient rural livelihoods.


Resilience is more than the ability “to resist and recover from adverse shocks” it’s

about the ability “to bounce back stronger than before and to learn from the

experience”.


To build resilience we need to invest in local adaptive capabilities.


The focus has been on mitigation with most of global finance going to decarbonisation and especially renewable and green energy projects. We need to ensure that enough investment flows into adaptation projects to protect communities and ecosystems from the effects of climate change.


We can’t trade mitigation and adaptation off against each other.


Public and private investment must prioritize the future resilience of local economies.


The level of investment in the local economy and the effectiveness with which it is

allocated towards areas that sustain long-term growth and development are directly

correlated to increased levels of resilience.


Local resilience must be built on a more efficient, intelligent, and coordinated use of

public investment.


Finally, innovation and technology have a role to play.


The adoption of advanced farming techniques, data-driven agriculture, and climate-

smart practices promise not only to increase yields but to revolutionize the very fabric of food security across our continent.


Precision farming, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology are not mere buzzwords;

they are the tools that can help Africa leapfrog into a future of abundance. Expansion in output needs to be matched by enabling infrastructure to support

growth and faster climate adaptation.


In conclusion: Together, let us cultivate a future where food security is not an aspiration but a guaranteed reality for every African.


I thank you.

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