Syngenta launches 2021 Leadership Academy for Agriculture Programme

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.”  

Ben Schoonwinkel, head of marketing for Syngenta South Africa

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.

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Towards gender equality in the SA agriculture sector

Standard Bank and United Nations (UN) Women are providing financial literacy training to thousands of women farmers in African markets including Malawi and South Africa.

In October 2019, in an Economic Empowerment of Women in Africa through Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) agreement, Standard Bank and UN Women launched a partnership aimed at empowering women through modern farming technologies that increase productivity and income potential while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

UN Women is executing the programme under its ‘HeForShe’ campaign as part of championing the advancement of gender equality. Standard Bank is a global champion of ‘HeForShe’. The CSA programme is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the pursuit of gender equality, decent work and economic growth.

Standard Bank has committed US$3 million over a three-year period to end-2021 for the project, which is targeting 50 000 women. “Through this three-year CSA initiative, we aim to contribute to the economic empowerment of women across Malawi through climate smart agriculture and practical business skills,” says Graham Chipande, Head of Relationship Banking at Standard Bank Malawi.

In addition to critical farming skills and tools, the beneficiaries receive training for key technical skills including financial literacy. This is an important component of the project in that it will help to ensure the long-term success of the farmers.

While Covid-19 and social distancing requirements have posed challenges, significant progress has been made since CSA’s launch. In the first half of 2020, 40 business clusters were formed in Malawi to provide basic business management skills. These skills include record keeping, gross margin analysis, price discovery, and the development of business plans, among other skills. The business groups have more than 4 000 smallholder farmer members between them – three-quarters of whom are women.

By the end of 2020, 5 000 women farmers in the country are expected to have received financial literacy training. The beneficiaries farm primarily groundnuts, which are processed into oil, flour, and peanut butter. “Through the project’s holistic and comprehensive approach to empowering women farmers, we are helping to improve their functional skills as well as financial skills so they can manage and grow their farming businesses,” Chipande said.

In South Africa, approximately 950 women farmers have received training in business management and digital and financial literacy in the first half of 2020. The UN Women’s office in the country has continued to work throughout the national lockdown. Standard Bank has remained fully operational as a designated essential services provider.

In the six months to end-June, agricultural inputs – drought-resistant seeds of various crops, fertilisers and organic manure, farming equipment, and training on climate-smart agriculture – were delivered to 2 753 women farmers in South Africa.

Besides business skills, the CSA programme is designed to increase productivity, facilitate access to higher value markets and supply chains, and yield high quality produce.

“By the end of the programme, we want to ensure that women farmers are well equipped to thrive in a changing climate,” said Keneilwe Nailana, senior manager Agri Business, Standard Bank South Africa. “They will also be better placed to move up the value chain and access new markets and finance, and ultimately to grow their businesses.”

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Building back better on food and agriculture

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | QU Dongyu, Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations

FAO has elaborated a comprehensive Response and Recovery Programme to overcome the impacts of Covid-19 through up-scaled and robust international collaboration

As the impacts of Covid-19 take their toll on human health and well-being around the world, the imperative of producing and ensuring access to healthy food for each and every one of us must not be overlooked. The food systems that must give daily sustenance to all humans on this planet are under threat by the pandemic.

If we want to avoid what could be the worst food crisis in modern history, we need robust and strategic international cooperation at an extraordinary scale.

QU Dongyu, Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations

Even before the pandemic, global food systems and food security were strained by many factors, including pests, poverty, conflicts, and the impacts of climate change.  According to the latest FAO report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, in 2019 close to 690 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were hungry. The Covid-19 pandemic could push an additional 130-million people worldwide into chronic hunger by the end of 2020. Furthermore, in 2019 three-billion people did not have access to healthy diets and suffered from other forms of malnutrition.

Due to the pandemic and related containment measures, we have already experienced disruptions in global food supply chains, labor shortages, and lost harvests. Now we are seeing a delayed planting season. Around 4.5-billion people depend on food systems for their jobs and livelihoods, working to produce, collect, store, process, transport, and distribute food to consumers, as well as to feed themselves and their families. The pandemic has put 35 percent of food system employment at risk, impacting women at an even higher rate.

The impacts of this reality are both immediate and far-reaching. Together we can – and must – limit Covid-19’s damaging effects on food security and nutrition. Simultaneously, we need to transform our food systems for a more resilient and equitable future. To build back better.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has actively supported countries and farmers to work on scalable and sustainable solutions to help ensure nutritious food for all. This forms the basis of the comprehensive FAO COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, which identifies seven priority areas for action. However, to catalyze and build upon these solutions, a business-as-usual approach will not suffice. The following three strategic shifts must guide our collective response.

First, we need better data for better decision-making

Timely and effective responses to the impact of Covid-19 depend upon knowing exactly where and when support is needed, as well as how that support can be implemented best. This means up-scaling work on data, information and analysis, and taking a bottom-up approach.

FAO is rapidly adapting and enhancing data collection methods at the country, regional and global levels, as data collection processes have been disrupted by physical distancing measures to contain the pandemic. For instance, FAO has recently released the FAO Data Lab to bring real-time data on food prices and sentiment analysis. We have also developed the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform which brings more than 1 million geospatial layers to help prioritize interventions within countries. These make visual datasets available to provide global early-warnings on possible hotspots that may be affected by adverse weather conditions, and how they evolve over time.

Second, we must dramatically increase the synergy of our collective actions.

The Covid-19 crisis calls for us not only to come together but to act in unison like never before. Pooling all available data, efforts, and resources for synergistic action will be paramount for a holistic response and recovery, as will collaboration on promoting economic inclusion, agricultural trade, sustainable and resilient food systems, preventing future animal-to-human disease outbreaks, and ensuring coordinated humanitarian action.

The pandemic is already generating an unprecedented impact on global and regional trade, with world merchandise trade in 2020 expected to fall by as much as 32 percent[1].

Unlike any other food or health crisis in modern times, the impacts of Covid-19 are causing supply and demand shocks at a national, regional and global level, leading to immediate and longer-term risks for food production and availability.

We need to ensure the compliance of trade requirements and improve efficiency in moving goods across borders. FAO aims to facilitate and increase international agricultural and food trade, with a focus on intraregional trade.

In addition, the prevention of future animal-to-human disease outbreaks requires coordination between stakeholders from all relevant sectors. This includes the health sector, as well national and local natural resource management and rural development, in order to address potential outbreaks in high-risk hotspots. To respond to these needs, FAO and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have recently strengthened the Joint FAO/WHO Centre. This Centre hosts the Codex Alimentarius Commission and unites expertise on zoonotic diseases from FAO, WHO and other global partners and coordination mechanisms, to build national capacities to predict, prevent and control zoonotic threats.

An effective food and agricultural response to the pandemic also calls for joint humanitarian action, particularly to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable smallholder and family farmers. We must thoughtfully and adequately increase collaboration and partnerships among and between United Nations’ entities, the private sector, civil society and key local actors. It is only if we all work hand in hand for greater coherence and efficiency that we can we achieve success on the ground.

Third, we must accelerate innovation.

New investment strategies, digital technology and infrastructure innovation are essential to obtaining better data, increasing efficiency in food production and providing market access. In this regard, there are many solutions from the private sector that could be of great use to governments and international organizations, which can fine-tune their methods based on the private sector’s innovation-centric, results-oriented approach.

The prevention of food crises cannot wait until the health crisis is over, nor can we simply aim to return to the unacceptable levels of hunger and food insecurity witnessed before the pandemic. FAO is placing its convening power, real-time data, early warning systems and technical expertise at the world’s disposal. Together, we can help the most vulnerable, prevent further crises, increase resilience to shocks and accelerate the rebuilding of our food systems.

Together we can ensure a future in which everyone is well nourished. I invite you to join us and be part of the solution.


[1] World Trade Organization (WTO)

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