Editor's Note

Agriculture 4.0

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Data and tenure are the topics of the day in agricultural circles. Agriculture 4.0, which is slowly but surely taking the world by storm, is driven by (big) data harvested by sensors, drones, probes and all manner of other technological innovations. It is the great hope for the future, enabling greater efficiency and precision at reduced cost. It was a big talking point at the EIMA 2018 agricultural machinery show in Italy, where the promise of technology is somewhat thwarted by the generation gap. Quite simply. the older generation of farmers is put off by technology, perceived as complicated and perhaps unnecessary. However, the younger generation of digital natives is poised to reap the benefits of digital agriculture to the full. Not only are new forms of agricultural entrepreneurship now possible, but entire careers are opening up in engineering, research and other fields that were simply not possible before. Of course, South Africa is no stranger to smart farming, as witness the achievements of firms like Aerobotics, who recently reach the major milestone of having processed 10 million trees in their software, making their artificial intelligence and solutions stronger and more efficient. “This is not just a major milestone for our company because of the massive number of trees we have processed, but also for the agriculture industry as we are better positioned to help tree and vine farmers around the world. This type of highly accurate data empowers farmers to make better decisions in the field, so they can increase their yield and produce a more balanced crop,” reads an Aerobotics statement, and we couldn’t agree more.

As regards tenure, uncertainty continues to bedevil the land reform process, as more and more questions are being asked. One that I have not found an answer to is, assuming for argument’s sake that justice is served by expropriating white-owned land, whether the same can be said for expropriating land purchased legally after 1994. Be that as it may: in this area too, the private sector is developing its own solutions. Most recently, on 16 November, 70 residents of the Karoo town of Aberdeen became home owners, with full freehold title made possible by the generosity of businessman Johan Rupert and his wife Gaynor, who are significant sponsors of the Free Market Foundation’s (FMF) Khaya Lam (my home) land reform project. On 3 December, in Stellenbosch, Johan and Gaynor Rupert will present a further 326 title deeds. The FMF points out that “titling in South Africa is a painstaking process complicated by lack of records of ownership and bureaucratic complexity. Each area has its own issues and complications. It takes time and commitment to work through individual difficulties to eventually be able to present the right title deed to the right recipient. It requires sponsors like the Ruperts who are willing to fund this process. Titling is particularly complicated in the Aberdeen and Graaff Reinet areas.

“The 1913 Natives Land Act prohibited black South Africans from owning land in so-called ‘white areas’ – restricting the question of land ownership entirely to the ethnic authorities in the reserves, later known as homelands. Black people in the cities thus lived as tenants on property owned by the local municipality, which developed into what we know today as ‘townships’. Not much has changed and as many as 5 million families still live as tenants or without ownership rights across SA. Khaya Lam offers hope to these citizens 20 years after the end of apartheid.”

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