The economic security of the Western Cape agricultural sector is something that cannot be taken for granted, but which must be nurtured and cultivated. In the extremely competitive global environment characterised by fast-changing consumer preferences and the market environment, the services of this Programme provide a buttress for security. The services are provided through its four divisions i.e. Marketing and Agribusiness, Production Economics, Statistics and Macro and Resource Economics.
In order to monitor trends and to make good decisions at all levels of responsibility (both within and without of the Department) good and reliable “data” or statistics is necessary. It is unfortunate that for various reasons the consistency of the agricultural economics database currently needs to be addressed as spurious claims are often made regarding various important agricultural issues. It follows that it is necessary to develop a comprehensive agricultural economics database in order to monitor certain actual trends in the agricultural sector.
The history of agricultural statistics in South Africa goes back as far back as the beginning of the 20th century. With the exception of the World Wars and great depression years, an agricultural census was conducted on annual basis in the first half of the 20th century. As agriculture’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased over the years, so did the frequency of conducting agricultural censuses. Post 1994, agricultural censuses have been conducted on a five yearly basis, with annual surveys being conducted in between the census years. Until now, agricultural censuses and surveys have largely concentrated on commercial agriculture leaving out small-scale and subsistence agriculture.
Trends and data are not enough to ensure sound decisions, but it is needed to distil the truly crucial variables and to evaluate the impact of these on the agricultural economy of the Western Cape. As mathematical and/or computerised models are a representation of reality, reality can be “changed” under controlled conditions in order to evaluate the impact of a specific variable. However, models are only a representation and simplification of reality. It follows that various angles on the same problem need to be developed. The purpose of this division is to develop the necessary mathematical frameworks and to evaluate the impact of various local and international environmental and policy measures on the economy of the Province.
With the change of the nature of competitiveness from land labour and capital to information and knowledge, the root of global agricultural competitiveness is embodied in farming systems and farm management practices. This division research and analyse the relative competitiveness of local farming systems and management practices in relation to international best practice. Due emphasis is also placed on resource issues with prominence given to alternative and sustainable uses of scarce natural resources. The results of these actions are wrapped in advice packages and disseminated to the whole spectrum of clients.
Access to markets and information, fair participation, retaining and repositioning into sustainable markets are some of the critical concerns that this division aims to address. The focus is skewed towards the identification of market opportunities and risks through research, packaging and dissemination of such information through appropriate channels. While the research conducted focuses on traditional markets, there is also research conducted for niche and differentiated products and industries that need to be developed and exploited. Facilitation of market access to ensure uptake of identified opportunities at both local and international markets is also one of the services provided. This component also aims to improve the bargaining power of farmers, sharing of expertise and collective pulling of resources through facilitation of co-operative development. The division also promotes agribusiness support through value-adding, provision of advisory services to unlock opportunities provided by AgriBEE Charter, facilitation of partnerships and acquisition of funding for increased investment in the sector.