The agricultural sector is used to facing events of abnormal impact, including floods, droughts, veld fires, and disease outbreaks. Even if it is possible to prepare against any of these risks by taking proper measures, for instance by having a farm emergency plan in place or by securing property properly, there are times when it is not possible or practical for the modern-day South African farmer to proactively manage all the risks they are facing.
It is in times like these that the newly established body, the Agri Relief Foundation (ARF), provides an invaluable service to the agricultural sector.
Dr Frikkie Maré, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of the Free State (UFS), is one of the directors of this non-profit organisation, which focuses on assisting agricultural producers in need.
This initiative is the brainchild of a number of businesses in the agricultural sector.
He says although there are many institutions in South Africa assisting farmers, most of the current initiatives are geared towards large-scale disasters, such as severe droughts, floods, unpreventable pests and diseases, and veld fires that affect many producers.
Benefiting the wider society
According to Dr Maré, the ARF will focus on helping individual agricultural producers who are in need; both financially and otherwise. This may include elements such as the loss of grazing due to brown locust, assistance after a farm attack or murder to ensure the day-to-day running of the farm, and localised natural disasters such as floods, hail, severe cold, or fire.
The group of directors plays a key role in screening the applications for assistance and deciding, based on merit and the availability of resources, who they can assist.
Besides the direct benefit to the farmer, this initiative also adds value to the wider society. “When the sustainability of an agricultural producer is under threat, it also threatens the livelihoods of his/her workers and their families, the rural economy of the nearest town where they purchase production inputs and general groceries, as well as society at large, as less food and/or fibre will be produced. The assistance of the ARF will therefore ripple out to a much larger level than only the agricultural producer,” explains Dr Maré.
A learning experience
There is also a benefit for the university. In the classroom, Dr Maré will be able to share any knowledge he is gaining in this process with his students. “Agricultural Economics is fundamentally about ensuring the long-term sustainability of agricultural production through concepts, including but not limited to, production economics, natural resource economics, agricultural management, and marketing. My involvement in the ARF will provide examples of what can go wrong in terms of primary production that threatens the sustainability of the enterprise and what can be done to assist,” he says.
Any business or individual can contribute to this noble cause. Financial contributions as well as physical products such as transport, fuel, animal feed, and legal services are welcome.
Dr Maré says they have already received contributions from companies such as Zoetis (animal health), which sponsor a part of their profit from certain products to the foundation on a continuous basis. Lavendula (animal feed) also sponsored the proceeds of a farmers’ information day.