LeadUP: UP scholars and experts address future of agriculture in a post-pandemic world

Posted on September 30, 2021

A recent online discussion hosted by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Alumni Relations Office focused on the future of agriculture and lessons learnt from the pandemic. The session was part of the LeadUP virtual series of panel events in which topical issues of public interest are conducted with expert UP alumni guests and faculty members.

Dr Rebone Moerane, Head of the Department of Production Animal Studies at UP, moderated the panel discussion, which was opened by UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe. “UP believes that sustainable food systems and sustainable agriculture is at the heart of the sustainable world and sustainable use of natural resources and other resources,” he said.  

Addressing the positive and negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on agriculture, Dr Jemina Moeng, Chief Director at the National Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, said that agriculture remained an essential service, even during the highest level of South Africa’s lockdown. It remained a shining light amid darkness, she added, because agriculture realised around 13.1% growth, while other sectors experienced negative growth. On a negative note, not everyone had good access to agriculture and farms, she noted. 

“Government played a major role in assisting the sector; it assisted community members with immediate interventions in the form of food parcels,” Dr Moeng said. “President Ramaphosa went on to launch the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan in October last year to guide South Africa to recover what has been lost, especially jobs. From last year, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was able to support more than 15 000 farmers with COVID-19 relief funding, and most of them were able to secure their livelihoods.”

Prof Johann Kirsten, Director of the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University, noted that even though the health crisis claimed many lives, “the value of food was not impacted dramatically and the sector as a whole was doing well despite the pandemic”. He added that challenges included the banning of hawkers and informal traders, which resulted in a lack of food in informal settlements.

“Many surveys in South Africa indicated that a lot of people lost their jobs and could not afford to buy food and other resources,” he said. “Higher up in the value chain, there were problems with people supplying the catering market; many companies in hospitality had to close. Some companies had to sell food at a lower price to avoid the food being wasted. Looking at the agricultural sector, grain farming did well during all levels of lockdown, but those that depend on local farmers, local markets and informal markets suffered.”

“Agriculture was not impacted that much,” offered Dr Charlotte Nkuna, General Manager of Veterinary Wildlife Services at South African National Parks. “However, personnel issues became challenging for farmers. We always talk about agriculture being a 365-day, 24-hour business; as such, workers on the ground are needed every day. But they could not move around to go to work on the farms.”

She added that with the demand for personal protective equipment and cleaning chemicals increasing, accessing cleaning material and disinfectants became challenging for farmers. “Another challenge was that the produced foods were not fresh by the time they made it to other provinces; this was due to interprovincial regulations. The food had to be returned to the farmers and that hit them hard.”

Discussing the use of Ivermectin versus prescribed medication, Dr Peter Oberem, Managing Director at Afrivet Business Management, said that although the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority hadn’t approved Ivermectin, people ended up using it out of desperation and because they couldn’t afford other medication. “The use of Ivermectin has doubled since February this year,” he said. 

Click here to watch the full session.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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