In his address, Dr van Zyl stressed that agriculture is far more important than suggested by its relative low contribution to GDP. He said that one of the challenges faced by the agricultural sector in South Africa at present was the fact that it is probably the most politicised sector of the SA economy.
However, the challenges are not insurmountable, he suggested. Van Zyl pointed out that agriculture has both social welfare and business characteristics and that both aspects should receive attention to ensure a health sector. He also called on greater co-operation between stakeholders. “Greater co-operation and solidarity between Agri SA, the TAU and NAFU is essential for the sector to be taken seriously at government level,” he said.
Van Zyl said the finalisation of land reform is of critical importance to eliminate uncertainty, to
stimulate investor confidence and to reduce security risks. “Right of ownership of land is similar to mineral rights, so there is much to be learnt from the mistakes made with the transformation of the mining sector,” he added.
He also encouraged academics in the agricultural economics sector to step up to the mark to assist communities and countries in this time of concerns about food security and high international food prices. “As it is, world events, particularly rising food and energy prices threatening food security to many billions of people, are working in our favour by providing the necessary platform for our endeavours,” he said.
Dr Van Zyl trained as an agricultural economist and holds two doctorates, one in Economics and the other in Agricultural Economics. He taught Agricultural Economics at the University of Pretoria from 1983 to1992 when he became the Dean of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. In 1997, he was elected Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria.
In 2001, Dr Van Zyl entered the private sector when he was appointed CEO of Santam. In April 2003 he became the Group CEO of Sanlam. He also serves on the board of directors of Santam and other Sanlam-related companies.
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