With the right leadership, agriculture can heal South Africa – Twenty-eight agriculturists, from grain producers and agri-researchers to a Brahman stud manager and even a beekeeper, started their journey into leadership mastery.
This group, which represents the rich diversity of South Africa’s agriculture sector, is the 2021 class of the ninth annual Leadership Academy for Agriculture programme, sponsored by Syngenta South Africa.
“The Academy is our investment in the future of South African agriculture, especially now when food security is more important than ever as we deal with a global pandemic,” says Ben Schoonwinkel, head of marketing for Syngenta South Africa. “Our objective is to help shape the future of agriculture by equipping the next generation of leaders across the agriculture spectrum to address the real-life challenges that confront our industry. Judging by the contribution that the more than 200 alumni are making, we are indeed impacting the sector positively.”
The Leadership Academy for Agriculture programme is supported by Grain SA and is presented in three modules of three to four days each, during which the candidates work in groups to research and present solutions to topical issues facing the local agriculture sector.
The curriculum is developed and facilitated by Thinking Fusion Africa, with the Northwest University Business School as academic partner. Candidates who complete the course therefore add a highly accredited leadership programme to their portfolio of academic achievements.
The impact and reputation of the programme are attested to by the fact that more than 300 young career agriculturists applied to be included in the class of 2021. Many of them were inspired to do so by alumni who described the programme as “demanding” and “rewarding” in equal measure.
In his address, Jannie de Villiers, CEO of Grain SA, emphasised the importance of the programme being aimed at young agri-professionals. He recalled experiencing the leadership development programme Syngenta presented for senior American producers in August 2011. “I was hugely impressed, but it was clear to me that we shouldn’t pour resources into teaching old dogs new tricks.”
Syngenta South Africa supported De Villiers’ conviction that a leadership development programme for the local agri-market had to focus on the younger generation, says Schoonwinkel. “We need passionate leaders who have the energy and the courage to accept the challenge to drive change in the sector.”
Professor René Uys from Thinking Fusion Africa, who was recently appointed as a professor of practice at the NWU Business School on the strength of her work with the Leadership Academy, says that personal attributes and diversity were taken into account in the selection process.
“This business leadership development programme serves the entire agriculture sector, and we have seen in previous programmes that the more diverse the group is, the more the delegates are able to engage with real-life industry challenges in innovative ways,” she says.
While the purpose of the programme is to equip agri-professionals with the skills to tackle the industry’s challenges, its dream is for agriculture to be the unifying force and leader of economic growth in South Africa. “I believe that agriculture can heal this country, and my mantra is that leaders make things better,” said De Villiers. This, he said, is achieved when individuals change their mindset and behaviour, learn to listen and are open to participate and develop.