At a recent conference in Cairo, South Africa and Zimbabwe were the only African nations not considered safe havens for foreign investment.
This was because of uncertainty about land-reform programmes and unfriendly labour environments, according to Agri SA deputy president, Theo de Jager, who attended the large-scale farming in Africa conference in April.
Representatives of major financial institutions such as Swiss RE, Standard Chartered Bank and EFG-Hermes also attended the conference. They spoke of Africa as the major destination for agricultural investment in the 21st century, thanks to natural resources and cheap inputs.
The conference was especially well attended by investors from the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) group of nations, De Jager said.“Their approach to food security is not to produce what you can consume, or to consume what you produce, but to produce more of those products on which you have a competitive advantage so that you can export the product, and in the process, be able to afford those products on which you do not have a competitive advantage,” De Jager said.
According to De Jager, the competition among African governments for skills was very intense. “At the conference there were presentations by Morocco and Kenya, and we were approached by many other countries. I found it quite surprising that our own Department of Trade and Industry was not represented – they would have had their eyes opened.”
De Jager said Agri SA was invited because of their involvement in programmes in many other countries. It was the second time Agri SA had engaged the Egyptians.
“Basically, they renewed an offer made to us about irrigated plots. That original offer was made as part of multilateral agreements with the Chinese, but in December last year the Egyptian government said, in the presence of the Chinese, that we should come directly to them.
“They want us to bring commercial farmers on a tour of Egypt. They think they will attract farmers under pressure from land reform, and they’re especially looking for grape farmers,” De Jager said.
There are already several South African table-grape farmers farming in Egypt on land reclaimed from the desert.
“There are many advantages to farming in Egypt, like tax holidays, and secure, long-term lease agreements, and the fact that the Egyptian government brings infrastructure to the farm gate. Generally, the South African farmers I met seemed content. However, problems have arisen for those who chose to partner with Egyptian businessmen,” said De Jager.Recently, the export of South Africa’s agricultural skills became government policy, when Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, announced a R6 billion fund for supporting South African farmers, half of which would be spent on projects beyond South Africa’s borders.