AFGRI’s eAccounts platform now allows farmers to record and track rain fall measurements

e-Accounts, AFGRI’s electronic account management system, has been enhanced to include yet another innovative feature that benefits South African farmers. The feature – the first of its kind in the agricultural industry – enables farmers to record rain fall on their lands, allowing them to keep track of seasonal rain fall measurements, and assisting in having statistics readily available for comparative purposes.

Users will also be able to upload historical data to provide handy comparisons. Moreover, the new feature is simple to use. Clients simply log into e-Accounts, select “My Farm” and then “My Rainfall”. On the menu, navigate to “Grain” and “Capture Rainfall”. Here clients can capture or upload their first measurement. This unique functionality also allows users to capture measurements for multiple farms and for multiple rain meters.

Once the information has been captured, the system generates detailed graphs showing the rain fall per farm. Users will also be able to submit feedback by clicking on “Suggestions”, allowing AFGRI to keep enhancing functionality.

e-Accounts was originally launched in 2014 by UNIGRO, the financial services arm of AFGRI Agri Services. It has since evolved into a powerful, dynamic digital channel. Not only does e-Accounts allow farmers to manage their entire business, finance and planning on one secure user-friendly platform, but has been expanded to include further agri-related functions that enable farmers to administer and manage their entire farming operations.

The rain fall measurement feature is just one such feature that has been added to the platform to make life simpler for farmers. Another is the popular grain management tool. Using e-Accounts, farmers can view the amount of grain they have in stock at the silo, as well as the amount they still need to deliver on their contracts.

AFGRI e-Accounts now has approximately 1,200 active users, with more than 30,000 logins since the launch in 2014. The largest single payment so far was more than R60 million.

AFGRI Agri Services is owned by AFGRI Group Holdings, an investment holding company with interests in agricultural and food products and services.

 

 

 

Climate-smart Agriculture: A new approach for a new reality

As the world’s population continues to surge, there are mounting concerns about how agricultural production will cope with feeding everyone. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food production must increase by at least 60% to respond to the demands of the nine billion people that are expected to inhabit the planet by 2050. This has become a food security issue globally.

With many of the resources needed for food security already stretched, the challenges are huge – and are being intensified by the fact that the world’s climate is changing fast. For agriculture, change will be significant, as temperatures rise, rainfall patterns change, and pests and diseases find new areas to inhabit or spread to, all of which pose significant new risks to food and farming.

There is also a growing recognition of agriculture’s contribution to climate change, and of the means by which farming systems can adapt to cope with the changes, as well as the potential of agriculture to mitigate climate impact. This recognition has led to the concept of ‘climate-smart agriculture’ (CSA).

 Just what is CSA?

CSA is defined by the FAO as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience, reduces/removes greenhouse gas emissions where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals”.

Therefore, CSA is an integrated approach that aims to deliver food security in the face of climate change by:

  • Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity
  • Building the resilience of food systems
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture

While there are several other sustainable agricultural models in place already, what is new about CSA is that it includes climate change and risks, which are happening more rapidly and with greater intensity than in the past.

CSA is more comprehensive as it strives to adopt a perspective including various other systems at play, such as landscapes, ecosystems and value chains. It also goes beyond new technologies and practices like drought-resistant varieties or precision farming. Identified CSA practices include the following, along with some examples of actions that contribute to CSA:[1]

    • Soil management: Nitrogen and other nutrients are essential to increased yields – this can be done through composting manure, precise matching of nutrients with plant needs, or using legumes for natural fixation.
    • Crop production: Crop productivity can be increased through breeding higher-yielding crop varieties, though crop and crop nutrient management, and through choosing crop species that have higher yield potentials under given environmental conditions.
    • Water management: For rain-fed agriculture, improved water management can be done through water harvesting, soil management practices that result in the capture and retention of rainfall, as well as through soil fertility and crop management innovations that enhance crop growth and yield, thus using water more effectively.
    • Livestock management: Sustainable interventions that target improved feed resources directly increase productivity. For cattle, examples include improved grazing management, using improved pasture and agroforestry species, as well as nutritious diet supplements. Similarly, interventions aimed at improving animal health, such as vaccination programmes, will also improve animal productivity.
    • Forestry & Agroforestry: Examples here include planting trees to act as windbreaks to protect adjacent field crops, reduce wind erosion, and store carbon, or as shelter for grazing livestock.
    • Fisheries & Aquaculture: For aquaculture, the emphasis is on intensifying production, improving stocks, making feeding more efficient and reducing losses from disease. More broadly across the sector, efforts should be made in reducing losses and wastes, increasing yields and productivity in fish and aquatic food processing and other areas where value can be added, and enhancing efficiencies in product distribution.
  • Energy management: Agricultural production can be increased by improving energy efficiency, and implementing the use of renewable energy sources.

 

 What are the benefits for farmers?

For farmers, weather variability brings both lucky breaks and difficult challenges that must be managed. This is especially true for resource-poor small-scale farmers in developing countries, like many in Africa. CSA gives farmers a framework for achieving increases in agricultural production despite the increasing climate variability being caused by climate change. This helps to secure both individual livelihoods and global food security.

CSA is gaining ground in South Africa – it was the topic of a workshop at the PMA Fresh Connections Conference hosted in Cape Town recently, which investigated the needs of South African agriculture. The needs identified for farmers, particularly small-scale farmers, were: [2]

  • more resilient seed varieties;
  • the importance of business planning and inclusion of youth in agriculture;
  • market access and logistics; and
  • scaling up or growing a farming enterprise, within an enabling policy environment.

The Government is currently working on a national strategic framework on climate smart agriculture for 2018.

For more information on innovation in agriculture, contact AFGRI Technology Services on ats@afgri.co.za.

 

[1] Climate Smart Agriculture – Introduction https://csa.guide/csa/practices

[2] Climate Smart Agriculture workshop at PMA Conference, Cape Town http://www.freshplaza.com/article/180702/Climate-smart-agriculture-workshop-at-PMA-conference%2C-Cape-Town

Fintech defines new trends in financial services offerings for farmers

By 2020, consumers may not turn to banks to get the financial services they need. We are already seeing other companies invading the space traditionally reserved for financial institutions. The reason? “Fintech” – financial technology – which is innovative new technology and software aiming to compete with traditional methods in the delivery of financial services to the consumer.

For those who might not know what Fintech is, it’s simply the use of software solutions for financial transactions – global examples include Google Wallet, Apple Pay, Wonga and a myriad of other solutions that are offered online or via mobile phones. Some examples include M-Pesa, SnapScan and Nomanini, to name but a few. To indicate the scale of Fintech, back in 2014 already, investment in the US had tripled to $9,89 billion, with Europe investing $1,5 billion.

The disruption caused by Fintech has changed the banking world as we know it. The Financial services industry has been in existence since the 14th century and has always stood the test of time. However, recently it has had to adapt to keep up with the technology evolution. This Goliath has no doubt been shaken up by modern technology’s David – the Fintech revolution.

For traditional financial institutions, the risk of disruption is real, as Fintech companies use the internet, mobile phones, cloud computing and open-source software to make banking and investing more efficient. These Fintech start-ups offer existing financial services at lower costs and offer new tech-driven solutions, not previously available and driven by traditional banks. Financial institutions – both legacy and start-ups – are also driving technology-focused solutions such as peer-to-peer payments, crowdfunding, mobile payments and transfers, and on-demand insurance. Examples here include Avant, Lending Club, Qufenqi, Affirm and SocietyOne.

What does Fintech mean for agriculture?

For agriculture, the rise of Fintech means easier access to funds, new competitors in financial services and a global reach. Selling cattle or produce? Fintech and digital markets can now connect farmers directly to buyers on a mobile platform, doing away with the middleman. Important to note is that Fintech not only minimises the dependency on traditional banks as the middlemen, but increases the use of peer-to-peer lending, growing and strengthening the sharing economy model. Good examples are M-Pesa and FarmDrive in Kenya, where FarmDrive connects smallholder farmers to loans and financial management tools through their mobile phones.

In Mozambique, the Institute of Cereals of Mozambique (ICM), which is responsible for regulating and promoting agricultural production and commercialisation under the remit of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, recently joined forces with FinComEco to link agriculture to the latest financial technology.

The collaboration will develop a range of projects and high impact initiatives in the agricultural commodity markets sector. ICM, with its Mozambique domain knowledge, countrywide network of warehouses facilitating smallholder farmers, traders and buyers, will deliver commercialisation and operational capabilities. FinComEco will provide the commodity trading platform and electronic warehouse receipts capabilities, as part of the wider FinComEco model. This includes distribution of third party agri-finance and electronic banking facilitation enabled by scalable technology supported by its partner GMEX Group

In South Africa, PICSA is a ground-breaking organisation whose primary aim is to responsibly protect and assist the lower-income active population through the provision of credit solutions. At the core of their offering is the savings platform, offering members real returns by saving as little as R25 a month. Their comprehensive products scale to cater to every stage of the saving journey, thereby contributing to the financial well-being of employees in the agricultural sector.

With the pace of technology developing so quickly, it is difficult to say what the next 10 years will look like. For agricultural financial services and its customers, it may mean the possibility of loans backed by cryptocurrency – currencies such as Bitcoin, a digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer – by 2025. What is important though is that AFGRI as a company, the agricultural sector as an industry, and South Africa as country do not get left behind.

 

For more information on innovation in agriculture, contact AFGRI Technology Services on ats@afgri.co.za.

 

Sources:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2017/02/10/a-complete-beginners-guide-to-fintech-in-2017/#367c7d873340

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-is-fintech_us_58a20d80e4b0cd37efcfebaa

http://www.business2community.com/finance/5-fintech-firms-reshaping-lending-financing-01701485#bUsBMMz8YWzzADyH.97

 

Eastern Cape Relief – AFGRI Says Thank You

A month has passed since devastating wildfires caused havoc in the Southern and Eastern Cape regions, claiming lives and leaving many displaced. Apart from homes and businesses affected, the destructive fires also swept through numerous farms in the Thornhill district, destroying pastures, killing livestock and leaving the farming community in dire need of aid.

Several farmers in the Free State and KZN Midlands region, as far as Bothaville, Koppies, Danielsrus and Tweeling, have generously donated animal feeds to the farms in need. AFGRI partnered with these farmers to facilitate a structured and transparent platform and process through which large-scale hay donations could be sent to farms in the Thornhill district. The feeds donation, comprising hay bales and maize rests, amounted to more than a 1000 round bales. AFGRI Grain Producers further donated maize for trading, using proceeds to fund this project.

South Africa’s agricultural community is known for its generosity, resourcefulness and genuine support of fellow farmers in need. During 2015/16, when the Free State lay stricken with severe droughts and the province declared a disaster area, Cape farmers liberally assisted inland farms. Now, as the Eastern Cape faced the trail of damage left by the blaze, Free State and Midlands farmers were returning the favour by offering their support and bringing relief through these donations to farms in distress.

AFGRI is proud to be associated with the South African farming community and wishes to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the farmers that made this generous contribution possible.

Nevertheless, the cost of transporting the bales proved the biggest hurdle to overcome. Taking the task upon themselves, AFGRI ensured the transport costs were covered by involving several industry partners and formally sourcing additional financial contributions from our suppliers and business affiliates.

The response was astounding. AFGRI Animal Feeds MD, Anina Hunter, wishes to acknowledge the following institutions for their financial contributions towards transportation: AFGRI Grain Management, AFGRI Grain Producers, AFGRI Animal Feeds, AFGRI Unigro, VD Commodities, Seaboard, Lynn Phillips Consult, Central Edible Oil, TICSA Feeds, VS Soya CC, Farmwise Grains, KWS Carriers and SCP Polycloth Manufacturers.

Feed donations from various farmers continue to come in, and we would like to fulfil the process by delivering all of the donations to the affected farms. To date, only 85% of the transportation costs have been covered. Should you wish to get involved by contributing financially, please email Phillippus Oosthuizen (Logistics Manager for AFGRI Animal Feeds): phillippus.oosthuizen@afgri.co.za.

As partner to the agricultural community, AFGRI is honoured to be involved in initiatives of this kind.

 

 

Enhancement to AFGRI’s online transaction platform frees up time for farmers

AFGRI’s innovative e-Accounts online transaction platform has evolved into a powerful, dynamic digital channel that will soon span services and products across the AFGRI suite with further enhancements aimed to free up time for farmers

UNIGRO, the financial services division of AFGRI, became the first South African agricultural lending provider (excluding the tier one banks) to provide internet transaction services to its customers with the launch of its online offering in 2014.

Named e-Accounts, the transactional online system has evolved into a powerful, dynamic digital channel that will soon span offerings across AFGRI.

“e-Accounts evolved from a relatively simple transaction portal into a sophisticated digital channel that is changing the way AFGRI’s customers are doing business,” says Tinus Prinsloo, Chief Executive Officer, AFGRI Agri Services. “The platform lets farmers manage their entire business, finance and planning on one user-friendly platform that’s secure, instant, convenient and accessible from a variety of devices. In addition, farmers get end-to-end transaction capability at lower rates than those charged by banks.”

Four years after the portal was developed by specialist software provider Synthesis for UNIGRO, e-Accounts have been leveraged by most AFGRI divisions and expanded into a powerful, dynamic platform. Additional enhancements will further revolutionise the way farmers manage their AFGRI accounts.

Johann Barnard, Chief Operations Officer, UNIGRO Financial Services and e-Accounts project owner, says the platform is a resounding success. “AFGRI e-Accounts enables farmers to manage their entire operation online – from loans, forex and payments to grain trading and equipment purchases. It offers a secure, easy-to-use transaction and management platform for customers. Instead of having to call or email AFGRI, customers can now access their accounts from multiple devices, simply and intuitively, 24 hours a day.”

Following the initial success of the platform, AFGRI saw the opportunity of adding further agri-related functions that would enable farmers to administer and manage their entire farming operations, says Barnard. Several additional features, including payment scheduling, viewing and authorisation of foreign exchange transactions as well as payroll capabilities, were added for GroCapital, another AFGRI financial division.

As features to the platform are added on demand, the popular grain management tool was added in June 2016. Using e-Accounts, farmers can view the amount of grain they have in stock at the silo, as well as the amount they still need to deliver on their contracts. They can keep an eye on live grain prices, estimating how they will affect them, and trade their grain with brokers, who are able to immediately transfer money from their UNIGR0 facilities to the farmers, says Prinsloo.

With this feature, clients can see everything from tonnage, date of delivery and Rand per ton, through to the processing of loans and payment. They have insight into the entire value chain, via a graphical dashboard, adds Barnard. “e-Accounts also enables farmers to tender for offcuts (called chaff and siftings) from the grain processing which can be used for cattle feed.”

AFGRI’s insurance division will be next to benefit, followed by retail.  And later this year, farmers will have access to e-Credit, where they can apply for new lending facilities through e-Accounts.

“Within five years, we want to create a ‘bartering’ system so that, for example, when our client delivers his grain he can drive away in his new tractor!” says Barnard.

For AFGRI, e-Accounts delivers a major competitive advantage. AFGRI is benefitting from greater customer satisfaction, increased revenue as a result of up-selling and cross-selling, better efficiency, increased employee satisfaction and reduced risk. The platform has been a major differentiator for AFGRI, which is now viewed as a leading technology innovator.

AFGRI e-Accounts now has approximately 1000 active users, with more than 30 000 logins since the first project went live. The largest single payment so far was more than R60 million. “We’re seeing a dramatic trend upwards,” says Barnard. “Within the first 12 months, R1,2 billion in payments went through the system.  During the second year, this value has tripled, shooting up to more than R4 billion.”

“We see e-Accounts as one of most important sticky factors for the agricultural sector going forward,” Barnard concludes. “We’re not aware of any other company – in South African or the rest of the world – that enables its customers to have this wealth of information at their fingertips and which enables  them to run their entire farming operations.”

BUSINESS DAY: Silos ready for record maize harvest

As farmers in SA get down to harvesting a record maize crop, operators of grain storage facilities say there is enough space to accommodate the bumper haul.

President of the Grain Handling Organisation Annatjie Loio said there was adequate capacity for the local crop, most of which would be stored in silos. Additional silos were being built while some of the crop had already been booked for exports.

According to the Crop Estimates Committee, the maize crop output was expected to be 101% more than in 2016. The expected commercial maize crop has been set at 15.631-million tonnes.

Earlier in 2017, Brazilian farmers had to resort to storage bags as a quick-fix solution to stockpile their bumper crops of soybeans and maize, while in 2016, US farmers also faced the prospect of running out of storage supplies for maize, soybeans, and wheat.

Afgri Grain Management operations manager Jan De Sousa said Afgri operated silos across SA’s main maize-planting regions. The company frequently received its own crop estimates from farmers within the regions, which helped with effective storage management processes.

“In the event that additional storage is needed, we look at instructions for dispatching the grain,” he said.

Afgri’s silos are located in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and parts of Limpopo. Farmers deliver their crop to the silos shortly after harvest to avoid risks such as fire, theft and contamination.

On arrival at the storage facilities, the crops are graded, weighed and put it into the silos. Storage bins keep between 22,000 tonnes and 160,000 tonnes of the crop, which can be stored for up to seven years. Clients — who may be farmers, traders and cooperatives — have the option of daily storage, short-term or longer-term storage, with equivalent payment variations.

The head of economic and agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber, Wandile Sihlobo, said while there were facilities to accommodate the surplus crop, demand for white maize outside SA’s borders was weak and could lead to prices remaining at low levels.

He said that SA exported about 80% of its white maize to neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, which were also expecting a bumper maize harvest.

“White maize prices are down because we can’t find export markets.”

On Thursday, the spot price of white maize was R1,728 a tonne form R3,704 a tonne in January, while the spot price for yellow maize was R1,865 a tonne from R3,365 a tonne.

Absa agricultural economist Conce Moraba said that in addition to the expected adequate storage capacity, the transportation of grain to export markets by road and rail was also expected to go smoothly, through the Durban and the East London Port Terminals.

Agriculture offers exciting career opportunities

The agricultural sector offers young people exciting career opportunities to leverage new innovative ways of farming to care for the food security of future generations.

The agricultural sector is an exciting and challenging global industry that offers young people far more job opportunities than planting seeds and rendering animals.

“The industry needs young people in that young people are key players in increasing farmer visibility and continue to rapidly leverage on current and developing innovative technology as well as collaborate with traditional farmers to produce and position farming as the future solution towards ensuring food security,” says Prudence Motseo, ‎HR Systems and Admin Manager at AFGRI Operations.

Furthermore, this also applies to careers in our sector, as education in agriculture has evolved and is aligned with developed trends and innovative ways of farming; enabling the development of diverse players, such as small and large scale farmers facing economic challenges locally and globally.

“A career at AFGRI is broad in nature and offers endless range of opportunities in career choices within the agricultural sector,” says Motseo. “Within Agri Services, our subsidiaries, Grain Management, Equipment, Unigro Financial and Insurance Service and Harvest Time Investments, jobs range from farm workers, crop scientists, researchers, financial analysts, agronomists and product developers, including support functions such as Finance, Human Resources, Legal and Marketing to name but a few.”

There are also new developing trends in career opportunities in the sector. Motseo says skills that will be needed in future include that of technical advisors, qualified artisans, strategists, business development managers, innovation specialists, hydrologist, lab technicians and entomology product specialists.

Qualifications needed to further a career in agriculture will vary according to the path that you intend to pursue. For instance, a career in grain management may require a qualification in agricultural crop science, grain grading and management; at Equipment and Unigro job opportunities vary between artisans and Relationship managers as scarce critical skills.

AFGRI also offers opportunities in Africa. We currently operate at Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ghana, Botswana, Congo, Mozambique and Australia. We envisage growth of our business, which may create opportunities in more countries.

Motseo says a career in agriculture will suit individuals with passion and dedication for agriculture, driven by innovation and possess an attitude of selflessness in caring for future generation’s food security.

– end –

The table below shows possible options in a career in agriculture. Qualifications will vary accordingly.

https://careers.afgri.co.za/ contains additional information.

 

Grain Management Equipment
·         Agricultural Crop Science

·         Grain Grading and Management

·         Artisans

·         Apprentices Technicians

Harvest Time Financial Services and Insurance
·         Business Management

·         Training and Development

·         CSI

·         Financial Planning and Management

·         Organisational Health and Wellness

·         Insurance Management

 

Ensuring a sustainable agricultural sector

Farmers face many complex decisions in order to ensure the sustainability of their enterprises and the food security of the nation.

In a panel discussion as part of the Nation in Conversation series at Nampo Harvest Day, Johan Geel, Group CFO of AFGRI, said to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the agricultural sector farmers need to diversify and adapt to advanced technology to improve their crops.

“To succeed in an increasingly complex sector, farmers need sound financial planning as the sector is capital intensive, return on investments are generally low and it takes between 7 to 9 months for most crops to deliver an income,” says Geel. Added to that, modern technologically advanced equipment requires an adequately trained labour.

Consensus amongst the panellists is that the current debt ratio of farmers at 35% is acceptable, even though the debt burden is on a record high at R145 billion. Geel says the expected bumper crop in the current season will help farmers to pay back their debt quickly. “However, careful financial planning is needed given the economic and political uncertainties. The recent sovereign downgrades by ratings agencies will have a negative impact on the farming sector as the downgrades will result in higher interest rates, which in turn means that less capital will be available. A weaker South African currency will also mean a significant increase in the price of imported goods such as equipment, diesel, insecticides and fertiliser.”

Geel says the current political uncertainty is not factored into financing decisions. “Companies like AFGRI need to discount the political noise in favour of expertise and the ability of the farmer and the land to produce a positive return when evaluating financing to farmers. We have to stick to the facts.”

Diversification of products will also ensure the long-term sustainability of a farming enterprise as well as the agricultural sector, says Geel. “Farmers with healthy balance sheets are those who have successfully diversified their operations. Diversification presents its own challenges, but in AFGRI’s experience established businesses that can add land cost effectively can be successful.”

The agricultural sector can play a very important role in job creation, but what is needed is better training as more and more, workers are expected to operate high-tech equipment. This adoption of high-tech equipment assists in diversification and efficiencies.

A sustainable agricultural sector will go a long way to trigger economic growth and in creating employment. “Some agricultural sectors are very labour intensive and the development and progress of the small towns are directly link to the well-being of the agriculture sector,” says Geel.