South Africa is in an interesting time for agriculture, possibly a historical turning point. The crossroads of politics, social obligation and absolution, commerce, and history is a tricky, trying, profound place to be. It is not a place upon which one can make much judgement. A two week trip does not make one an expert. It does make one much, much more curious.
Agriculture’s role in these seemingly social topics shouldn’t be downplayed, both for how the past was, and future could be, carved. We met with a number of farmers for whom social and racial equanimity was centrally important, and an equal number for whom sustainably feeding their citizens and maintaining a healthy market was centrally important – the implication being that one of these probably needs precedent over the other. I doubt either farmer would argue that either goal is more correct, or more vital, to their country’s stability. But, one’s focus must be placed somewhere. It is, I guess, the same philosophical quandary of any business owner: Is the bottom line more important, or are the people more important? How different are these two goals? Are they different?
An aspect of South African agriculture that continued to surface during our trip was the lack of governmental and University support. Research, extension, grant money, and lobbying power seem to be close to nonexistent. As such, private industry has emerged to fill this gap, and in many cases has made great strides to improving regional industries. There are certainly some implications here, in terms of the intent and focus of research, and a concern for an industry as a whole vs a concern for one’s position in an industry as a whole. It has given me a new appreciation for the support agriculture receives in Virginia, and will make me a larger champion for the continued success of the programs we have.
I am still processing much of what we learned. Our trip has given me a desire to crack the egg a bit more and get a better understanding of what is truly inside. Agriculture’s position in South Africa is complex and complicated. As such, it will be centrally important to the future of the country.