by Calvin Jones

Growing a new future

A member of the board of Grain SA is passionate about working with the government

Andries Theron insists that forgetting the past will forge a new strong relationship between Grain SA and the SA Government

Farming is inherently in his blood – his father was a farmer, he grew up to be a farmer, and he is currently guiding his son in farming practices too. Andries believes that while he may have grown up with the belief system that farming is a business, it’s an attitude that he embraces, where managing his team of workers by guiding them and supporting them, is far more important than farming itself.

While his wheat producing farm is one of the oldest farms in the area, it has over the years diversified its operations to include sheep farming, and in the future Theron is looking to expand into legumes and barley.

It was only once his father passed away in 1984 that Theron took over the responsibility of running the farm, and becoming a farmer once he had completed his studies.

Theron has always been involved in organised agriculture, it was only seven or eight years ago that he became a member and representative of all the grain farmers in the Swartland area.

The relationship between the South African government and the white farming communities has for years been tainted by mistrust and resentment for the mistakes of the past on both sides. In many instances, while South Africa has grown into a country that still embraces the essence of what democracy means, it has been a case of two steps forward, five steps back.

Theron is optimistic however that these issues can be laid to rest.

“The government obviously has a lot of say in what happens in our country, but as an optimist in South Africa, the grain industry is the industry to be in because by being a wheat producing farmer, I’m grateful for contributing to what most people in South Africa have on their breakfast table either in cereals or in milk or in bread. And while there are those who are not fortunate enough to have bread at their tables every morning, which for many, is a staple diet, I see Grain SAs role as ensuring that South Africa remains food secure through job creation and skills development. At the moment, we import our wheat which means we are providing jobs for people in other countries, and not our own. It’s all about expanding the wheat industry here, by increasing jobs which will contribute positively to food security, which will also decrease the grain price, which in turn will decrease the high price of practically everything else we consume. If you can’t buy what you need, it’s of no use to you,” says Theron. In terms of Grain SAs mandate, food security is at its core with regards to the future. “I believe that South African farmers are the most experienced and knowledgeable farmers in the world. We are prepared to share that knowledge with our fellow upcoming farmers and the farmers of Africa. We must always include Africa because South Africa is the threshold to Africa”.

Theron believes there is no point being open to partnering with the government if the past doesn’t become part of the past.

“Let’s forget about the political issues of the past, lets learn from them but don’t let them hold us back.

“My employees from the farm are a part of my business enterprise. People who start to farm are of no threat to me. They are part of the solution. Let’s help the people to start farming as commercial farmers,” he says.

“One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life was being influenced by people’s negative thinking. I lost opportunities that came my way because I was so negatively influenced.

“That is why I say, let’s make use of the opportunities we have now to make a 
difference, and to do things better. There are huge opportunities for those farms that the South African government bought, to be a success. Let’s rise to the challenge and make them a success. The farmers in South Africa are willing to contribute to changing the wrongs of the past by participating with the government,” he says. For Theron it really is about working together.

“Let’s learn from the past. There is no colour in farming. There is no difference between a black, brown, white, or green person farming next to each other, there’s only a fence. Each of us have the same needs.

The biggest message Theron had was explaining that what Grain SA is trying to do, will take time but if given the opportunity, the fears, resentment, anger and unfairness that arises between the government and the white farmer, will be negated when the proof that what they are doing is trying to correct the wrongs of the past, by helping developing farmers to become sustainable and profitable, and allowing them to become empowered by owning their own farms, and being able to feed, educate and look after their families.

“It’s a natural process that will happen with people coming into farming and lets use people who are capable of farming sustainably. It’s not necessarily going to be the guy who has been working on the farm for 15 or 20 years who will end up being the farmer. It could be that young guy who’s finished matric and university training, who has the best ability to do it” he says.

In essence, Grain SA is striving to find the best people to train and educate in matters of farming.

“Let’s use the best people – we do have them, to ensure that we have food security.”

Agriculture is not one of the highest contributors to the South African GDP.

In other countries, this sector is one of the largest contributors because in rural communities the world over, it is a means of creating sustainable communities. In South Africa, it is two-fold: Creating sustainable communities, and providing food for those in rural communities. Theron believes there are big obstacles in the way, before agriculture in South Africa can be recognised as one of the biggest economic contributors. “Some of the constraints in South Africa are communication, road infrastructure and the like which is putting strain on sustainable farming in these farming areas. We need to be doing more,” he says. There is enough for everyone. “Big companies will survive if we start looking after people on ground level.

The population is increasing, which means there will be demand for products and services from the big companies, they will not be affected.

“We need to equip our people to live in a more sustainable manner. There is no need to maintain focus on primary agriculture. The value chain has a lot of value and a lot of opportunities for people to participate in agriculture in South Africa,” according to Theron. A variety of elements have increased the price of grain and it doesn’t seem set to stop according to Theron.

“I’m a bit reluctant to say this, but unfortunately I do think the availability of grain in the world is going to have a huge impact on the price of South African wheat. It’s going to put price pressure or inflation pressure on food,” he said. Climate change has impacted on the price of grain, but there are ways around that. The one principle that is most important is agricultural conservation, which has unfortunately been neglected. However, there have been surprising results using conservation methods in the country.

“South Africa is a dry country, it’s a semi-
desert and so conservation agriculture in areas where there is very little or very low rainfall, has been of great benefit. I have seen fairly good yields with conservation agriculture, where you make use of 
what you’ve got for now and in the future and simultaneously you create a sustainable farming enterprise that’s building on the fertility of the land.” Good government policies and correct procedures around agriculture can help to produce cheaper food.

This however, would all mean nothing unless there are programmes to share 
and distribute knowledge and expertise. 
“It’s important that we equip people with knowledge, with skills, with education to become successful in whatever they’re doing. If they’re a farmer they must be successful, if they’re a farm worker or tractor driver or 
a combine operator they must be successful, they must be taught and equipped to 
do that.

We are prepared to do that, and are 
doing that.

We are prepared to help. I’m prepared to take a young guy from university and teach him as I’ve taught my son and put him on a farm and teach him how to farm successfully,“ Theron says.

According to Theron, no man is an island. “We need one another to succeed in the endeavour of food security. We all have a hand in making things better for our children and their futures. Complaining doesn’t help. Action does,” he concludes.


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