Safe Harbours

Seil-Safari creates new hope for agriculture

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On Monday 1 April agricultural giant Laeveld Agrochem set sail for the second time on their world-first Seil-Safari, a luxury cruise from Durban to Mozambique, which marketing director Corné Liebenberg positions as their farmers’ day on water.

As was the case during the first Seil-Safari, levels of enthusiasm were matched by levels of anticipation at what is generally regarded as a cruise of hope. Unlike its predecessor, however, the number of passengers on Seil-Safari had increased from less than 800 to well over 2 000, filling the new, improved MSC Musica to capacity. Participants in the memorable maritime event included farmers and their families to a select cast of speakers, media representatives, entertainment artists and industry stakeholders.

The luxury cruiser lifted anchor from a cloudy Durban harbour towards rough seas, which some may have felt was indicative of the current political and economic storms, but any negativity was quickly left behind amid a general atmosphere of festivity and optimism.

Palate-pleasing cuisine and food for thought

While passengers enjoyed a 24/7 culinary feast, food for thought, hope and guidelines for the future were equally abundant, highlighting the importance of a frank exchange of views and a free exchange of information. This, said Liebenberg, has proven crucial not only in identifying farmers’ concerns but in creating the opportunity for commercial agriculture to take stock of transformation progress and the political temperature. It also provides a much-needed platform for technical experts to convey information about issues such as production innovation and technologies aimed at improving yields and growth prospects. An onboard exhibition area also allowed companies to engage directly with a very select group of delegates.

All expertise on board

A noteworthy aspect of Seil-Safari was the concentration of intelligence on board, with a variety of expert panels and presentations delivered every day. It was a rare opportunity to immerse oneself in cutting-edge thought leadership from across the entire agricultural spectrum.

Meyer on megatrends

Prof Ferdie Meyer, director of the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), discussed megatrends in agriculture that are likely to impact the way in which farmers do business. These include land reform, infrastructure, markets, trade, climate change and technology.

Pointing out that South Africa has 93 million hectares of agricultural land of which 66 million are owned by white commercial farmers, Meyer emphasized the need for an inclusive economy. “Farmers should not fear land reform; they should rather be part of the process to influence a market-led outcome favouring all stakeholders,” he said.

Serfontein’s solutions

Another highlight was Free State mega farmer Nick Serfontein’s presentation, following a letter he wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa last year in which he proposed solutions to assist developing farmers. Serfontein, who is also a member of President Ramaphosa’s advisory council on land reform, encouraged farmers to become part of the transformation solution and to not fear change. “My advice to you, is (to) buy more land if you can. There is a future for all of us in agriculture, but we cannot ignore the legitimate need for land reform which we must be an integral part of,” he explained.

A niche of their own

A particularly interesting panel introduced the audience to the presenters and director of the award-winning Nisboere television series, which seeks to transform perceptions of farming in South Africa. The title is a combination of the Afrikaans words nis (niche: position of opportunity, specialty, specialisation) and boere (farmer: person who cultivates land or crops or raises animals).

In the words of presenter Malixole Gwatyu, “The term boer is widely associated with the stereotypical image of a farmer with a vast tract of land, farming potatoes, mielies and wheat, or raising cattle. There are also many negative perceptions attached to farming in South Africa, and in some circles the profession is restricted to a small minority.

“As the population grows, food security, too, is increasingly becoming a cause for concern and a familiar topic in public discourse around land usage and opportunities. As much as we need large-scale farmers, we must also start envisioning a solution to the imminent national food crisis and become agents for change and innovation.

“Food security exists when people have access to enough food to ensure a healthy life. It’s time to stop the blame game and do something about the negativity surrounding the agriculture industry. If we want to improve the food security situation in our country, it is imperative that we attract people from all walks of life, empowering them to change their lifestyle and improve the lives of those around them.

Now in its fourth season, the show has surpassed all expectations.

“The initial expectations were to encourage people to start their own food production enterprises and create jobs over and above contributing to food security. We believe we have succeeded in popularising this move”, says Gwatyu.

“It’s been interesting to see what people have been doing out there – from successful snail farms to producing stuff in their kitchens and some producers who prefer to keep their businesses or inventions a secret. More than 200 farm visits later, we humbly believe it has garnered a huge following and keeps growing. We discovered that the concept of “niche farming or products” is also very popular with commercial farmers or farms for good cashflow (e.g. a 30 ha ginger production on a banana farm). So, we wanted to show that niche farming is much broader than we all think. The future entails rolling out the niche farmers concept in different facets such as training opportunities and broaden it to involve more South Africans.”

Nisboere received the accolade of Magazine Show of the Year at the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA) in March this year.

Stars by day and night

The entertainment menu was equally exciting and varied, including sterling performances from music group Touch of Class, storyteller and comedian Andries Vermeulen, musician and songwriter Elvis Blue and, generally perceived to be the star of the cruise, popular artist Bok van Blerk, whose humorous but heart-felt delivery touched audiences to the core and helped stimulate a vibrant sense of community.

After spending four days on board with hundreds of farmers, selected experts and a variety of stakeholders, Liebenberg believes there are ample reasons for optimism. “Without detracting from the challenges we face, I would say the reigning sentiment on the cruise was one of optimism, underpinned by the realisation of the power that lies in joining hands and working together,” he explained. “I think back to the launch of the fourth season of our hugely successful Nisboere series, I consider the red carpet that neighbouring countries are ready to roll out for our farmers, and I truly believe that we are standing on the threshold of a brave new era in agriculture,” he concluded. 

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