Theo de Jager, a prominent figure in South African agriculture, paints a vivid picture of the challenges and opportunities facing farmers not only in his home country but across the African continent. At the heart of his narrative is the contentious issue of land expropriation without compensation, a policy that he deems irrational. Rather than framing it as a threat, he encourages a perspective shift, urging fellow farmers to see it as an opportunity rather than competition. He contends that, as South African farmers, they possess a unique understanding of the continent, distinguishing them from external investors.
Theo underscores Africa’s agricultural potential, citing statistics that reveal the continent harbors 46% of the world’s underutilized land. In his extensive travels across 44 African countries, he dispels the notion of Africa as a poor continent, asserting that its wealth remains untapped. The key, according to him, lies in effective leadership and a vision that transcends mere ownership of land. He draws a parallel with Japan’s post-World War II recovery, emphasizing the transformative power of strong leadership and a collective vision for economic growth.
A poignant tale from Congo highlights the crisis of malnutrition, despite the abundance of land. Theo contends that it is not the lack of resources but the absence of farming skills, competitiveness, and access to production finance that perpetuates such challenges. He stresses that landownership serves as collateral, unlocking capital for farmers to invest in their ventures. In essence, he argues that the true wealth of a nation lies not just in the demarcated area on a map but in the ability to farm the land effectively.
Theo’s narrative extends beyond South Africa, encompassing the broader African context. He reflects on his experiences as the president of the African Farmers Organization, where he had the privilege of engaging with farmers from diverse regions. This global perspective enables him to advocate for collaborative efforts and the exchange of knowledge among African farmers.
The story takes a positive turn with an account of agricultural expansion in Congo. Theo narrates how the addition of farmers led to job creation, economic growth, and improved living conditions in a village. This success story becomes a testament to the transformative power of strategic agricultural initiatives and underscores the potential for positive change across the continent.
Theo de Jager’s narrative, rich with insights, weaves together stories of challenges, resilience, and the untapped potential of African agriculture. Through his experiences, he delivers a compelling message that goes beyond the borders of South Africa, resonating with farmers and leaders across the African continent.