Business

COVID-19: Lender harps on tech advancement in agric

While the rest of the world is rethinking its approach to commercial agriculture, Nigeria and other countries in the continent have a clear opportunity to refresh its approach to the sector and become an emerging force via advancement in agriculture, the Sector Head Agribusiness, Corporate and Investment Banking at Standard Bank, Linda Manda, has disclosed.

Manda explained that big shifts were already happening in food production, land and water use, while the integration of agri-tech and product tracing are apt to complement food ecosystem. According to her, “if African firms take an early lead during this transition of post COVID-19, they will be well placed to compete globally by building enduring assets and commercial advantages beyond primary production.”

She stated that the financing of new investments in agriculture had always relied on a healthy financial eco-system: active banks, sound insurers and lively futures markets, adding that the next set of gains will come from new platforms that allow small and large firms to connect to each other and to their shared stakeholders. She noted that reciprocal exchange of market data would make smaller, efficient players more visible to large buyers.

“Without continued advances in productivity, the whole project of African advancement is at risk. “The stakes are high for all of us, because communities in Africa rely on the agriculture industry for much more than food: employment, investment and infrastructure development are all part of the deal,” Manda maintained. Statistically, the banker pointed out that over half (52 per cent) of all people in sub-Saharan Africa were employed in agriculture last year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

While speaking on higher value incentives in agriculture, the Chief Executive of Africa regions at Standard Bank, Sola David-Borha, explained that three recent development milestones suggested that African firms were ready to move beyond lowmargin primary production while remaining active in agriculture. She said: “Higher-value economic activity is even more likely if finance, technology and trade move deeper into African agriculture.

Larger and more open markets, strong supplier networks and technology investments will drive Africa’s growth.” The CEO explained that trade data, and Standard Bank’s own long experience of trade finance, showed that Africa has been a net importer of food for almost two decades although the trade deficit has narrowed recently. She said: “Despite impressive export growth of certain key products, other food imports continue to rise.

The COVID-induced disruption to import is a reminder that regional resilience in food supply is a practical imperative, not an intangible aspiration.” On a larger, more open, internal market in SSA, David-Borha said: “First, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) should create a much larger internal market that gives producers access to a larger and more open market. Local production can better compete with the current import-and-distribute model.

“Secondly, large-scale production will arise when the returns are not stifled by trade friction. As an African bank, Standard Bank’s role is to put our strong balance sheet to work, lending to the new crop of agri-entrepreneurs.

“Multinationals are already active cross-border distributors, but we expect new African producers to be attracted to the intra-African produce-to-trade and value addition opportunity. “Africa also needs to be ready for the next disruption in trade. Some global imports will always be required but it would be wise to ensure that key inputs can also be sourced regionally.”

 

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