Coping Strategies To Deal With Uncertainty
Farmer's Weekly|July 03, 2020
South African agriculture is a uniquely risky environment, yet its farmers are well-known for meeting challenges with courage and resilience. Glenneis Kriel spoke to four prominent farmers to discover how they deal with uncertainty.
Glenneis Kriel

The coronavirus disease pandemic lockdowns have pulled the rug out from under millions of people, resulting in enormous financial and job uncertainties. South African farmers, however, are no strangers to uncertainty, due to constant political pressure, a struggling economy, and the threats posed by droughts, floods, pests, and disease. Indeed, few have not had to endure periods of drastically reduced income at least a few times during their careers.

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RICHARD KRIGE, the vice-chairperson of Grain SA and a farmer in Caledon in the Western Cape, says farmers are exposed to the same kinds of risk as most entrepreneurs in South Africa. The main differences are their extreme vulnerability to adverse climatic conditions and the absence of support when things go wrong.

“Farming in some ways is a lot like gambling, as one wrong decision can ruin everything. Failure is also often caused by conditions that are totally out of a farmer’s control, and are not necessarily a reflection of farming ability,” says Krige.

One way of reducing risk, according to him, is through good planning and decision-making. But it is not enough merely to make a decision; it has to be implemented, and farmers and managers need to face the consequences should things go awry. “Mistakes will be made. The important thing is to learn from them,” says Krige.

Decisions should therefore not be taken blindly. “Make use of all the data and information within your reach to help you make an informed decision, especially if you lack farming experience. Consult and exchange ideas with other farmers, especially in your region, to identify ways to lower risk.”

Krige adds that the framework that guides decision-making is continually extended as a farmer becomes more experienced, which also results in better management.

With farmers being price-takers, it is also crucial to selling produce at the right price.

“When you produce a commodity such as wheat or maize, farming efficiently and chasing margins are more important than producing a high yield,” he says.

His advice to farmers is to calculate margins and set target prices to determine how much money needs to be made, then sell the produce at the target price.

“Don’t get greedy and wait for prices to escalate; you might burn your fingers.”

Succeeding despite the odds

Award-winning farmer and FarmSol youth ambassador NJABULO MBOKANE has had to cope with two major hurdles in her short farming career: land-leasing problems and sexism.

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