Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa honours Prof Johann Kirsten

Posted on December 14, 2010

The purpose of this lecture is to give due recognition for contributions made to the Agricultural Economics discipline in South Africa and also awards a member of AEASA for his contributions as a researcher, extensionist, academic, consultant, businessman or administrator over a period of at least 10 years.

What made this award and the presentation of the lecture by Prof Kirsten even more memorable is that he presented this lecture in honour of his grandfather, FR Tomlinson. Prof Kirsten mentioned in his lecture that “I was at the beginning of my career as an agricultural economist (having just completed my BSc Agric Hons in Agricultural Economics at Stellenbosch) when Prof Tomlinson presented the first commemorative lecture on 31 October 1986, exactly 24 years ago. It is in this respect that this occasion is very special to me. It is even more special given that it is probably exactly 50 years ago that the idea of an agricultural economics association of South Africa was conceived in the corridors of the Department of Agriculture by Prof Tomlinson and his colleagues. Next year the Association will celebrate the 50th year of existence following the first meeting in 1961 that established the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa.”

In this paper he reflected on the standing and impact of their work and the standing of the academic departments of agricultural economics in South Africa to illustrate why we are faced with critical decisions as we head into the next decade. He argued that “the focus will thus be on the agricultural economic scholarship per se and not on the policy and practice issues of our discipline. This paper tries to understand to what extent the discipline in South Africa is facing the same identity crisis as in academic departments in the USA, UK and in Europe. Are the forces shaping the discipline globally also relevant here in South Africa?”

He also raised questions about relevance and impact and about the quality of our training. In the final section of the paper he also asked the question about the appropriateness of the current institutional model whereby academic departments are understaffed, and where agricultural economists responsible for academic training, analytical work, and research are scattered and thinly spread across the country. There is no critical mass, resources are wasted and efforts are duplicated and impact diluted. He concluded by asking “Is it thus not time for consolidation and for bringing the training, research and scholarship dimensions of our discipline together in an Institute for Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics?”

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