A group of students from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of the Free State (UFS) walked away as victors in the recent International Case Study Competition presented by the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA).

“It is an amazing accomplishment to be named world champions. The competition was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the talent of the UFS on the international stage. It has also been a platform for some insightful and educational conversations with students and specialists worldwide. Winning has been an affirmation of the high standard that the university holds and it has shown that the department excels on a global scale,” says Dr Jan Swanepoel, senior lecturer at the UFS Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

After submitting their essay and video about how the sustainability, productivity, and market access of smallholder sugar cane producers can be improved, the team was crowned world champions of the IFAMA International Case Study Competition.

A fresh and inspiring perspective

According to Dr Swanepoel, the group competed against teams from 17 countries and faced the Philippines in the final round. The finalists were invited to a final round to present their essay online to a panel of judges consisting of an international team of researchers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers.

The UFS students who emerged as winners are Carien Denner, Alina Ntsiapane, and Andries Strauss, all three from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, and Michelle Marais from the Department of Agricultural Economics.

Dr Swanepoel believes that having a personal approach to the problem and focusing on the people are what made the students stand out. “It was not just about the business plan, but also about the story behind the solution to the problem. On the international stage, this was a fresh and inspiring perspective.”

He adds: “The challenges are also personal because they surround us and we should be part of the solution.”

Making a positive difference in society

The students who participated in the competition are involved in similar projects that will make a positive difference in society, including increasing employment, community upliftment, and the development of small-scale producers.

At the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, they consider the students as well-rounded individuals. “We believe that they should have not only theoretical knowledge, but also be practical in their applications.”

One of the students acknowledged that the centre sees them as individuals, and goes above and beyond to create opportunities for them to apply and develop their skills and talents in contexts that stretch far beyond the classroom.

The top essays and the winners will be published in a special online publication, Food for the Future, on IFAMA’s website. Click here to watch the video of the winning team. – Press release, UFS

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