It is – a point I’ve made before – a wonder of modern society that for most of us, our relationship with food is rarely one of production, or even of availability. Well-stocked food outlets that never run out of supply are a convenience we take for granted, not always recognising them for the civilisational achievements they are.
To be sure, this does not mean that everyone in modern society is properly fed and nourished. This is certainly the case in South Africa, where an uncomfortably large proportion of the population lacks the means reliably to meet their food needs – so-called food poverty.
However, the broad point holds, that modern agriculture is central to modern life. An abundant supply of food is a precondition for a stable and prosperous society. As a country, South Africa is fortunate in having a robust agricultural sector, with plentiful downstream opportunities.
The relatively small contribution made by agriculture to GDP (somewhere under 3%) belies the outsized role it plays in the economy. This is seen not only in the large numbers of rural jobs it creates and rural communities it sustains, but also in the considerable reach and earnings of our agricultural exports. A rough and ready calculation from the Observatory of Economic Complexity puts agricultural and agriculture-related exports – foodstuffs, animals, hides etc – at $10.6 billion, accounting for around a tenth of the value our overall exports.