Khaya Dlanga

Why you should become a farmer

2011-07-12 12:20

It’s time we chanted, “Join the farmers!” “Hayi!” “The farmers!” Hayi, hayi!” “Join the farmers!” “Hayi!” “The farmers!” Hayi, hayi!”

Let’s face it; farming is not one of the world’s sexiest professions that one can get into. One isn’t likely to use the fact that they are a farmer as a pick up line. Try saying, “I’m a banker” or some other sexy urban profession and see how that works like a charm. One can’t begin to imagine seeing a farmer at a club, for example. If you do, you think of someone wearing knee high socks and shorts at the club, which, let’s face again isn’t really one of the world’s hottest images.

According to the most recent Time Magazine, if you want to be richer than a banker you should become a farmer. Yes. Become a farmer. As I understand it, being a farmer isn’t sexy, but being stinking rich is. Looks like Jim Rogers who has come up with the idea of farming making one rich may be on to something. He says, "The world has got a serious food problem," says Rogers. "The only real way to solve it is to draw more people back to agriculture."

For lack of a more complex explanation, Capitalism is based on the economics of a scarcity of resources. Pretty soon, food will be one of these scarce resources. Food will unfortunately become a commodity. For all we know, the stock exchanges of the world might have a separate index in the not too distant future for agricultural commodities, just like the NYSE has for technology stocks.

I like quoting this part of the HBO miniseries, John Adams, every chance I get, and right now, there’s one and I won’t let it slide. He was the one of the founding fathers of the United States and its second president. While he was stationed in France to seek assistance from the French in America’s resistance against the British, an exceedingly wealthy French noblewoman asked him if he has ever attended the opera.

Adams seemed a little offended by the question but restrained himself and responded by saying he had no ear for music because: “My occupation allows me little time for the finer arts. No, I must study politics and war, you see, so that my sons will have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons must study navigation, commerce and agriculture, so that their children will have the right to study, poetry, painting and music.”

In the context of South Africa, it seems this is very true. Our parents studied politics and war so that we should study commerce and agriculture. Unfortunately many are just studying commerce and agriculture is the poor, neglected and unwanted child.

The continent and South Africa not excluded will experience a boon in the growth of its middle class over the next few decades. People will move from the rural areas to the cities as governments invest in developing their cities. The consequence of this is that subsistence farming will wane. The ever-expanding wealthier African middle class will need food. (Let’s not forget large and fast growing economies like India and China. They all need to be fed.) This is where farming comes in. If you do any shopping, you will note how expensive food has become and how food prices are constantly on the up. Food, agriculture is the new gold.

In the United States for example, net farm income was up 27% last year and is expected to jump another 20% in 2011.  And the average price of a farm has doubled over the past six years.

Considering the future needs of South Africa, Julius Malema might be on to something about land for the people. It is the future. No one said it better than Mark Twain when he said, “Buy land, they’ve stopped making it.” However, we can’t just own the land; we must do something with it.

Since very few people want to be farmers, the government needs to act to ensure that many people become farmers, specifically to put the country on the forefront of the world’s new globe need, food. Not just for food security for the nation, but for wealth creation.

If we harness the land and train people effectively, we could make the Old Economy the New Sexy Economy again. On that note though, I don’t really want to be a farmer. Sure I’d love to won a farm and get others to work the land, but we’re going to need people who not only own the farms, but who know how to man them.

How disinterested are we in Agriculture? Very uninterested, I can tell you by the very few hits this column is going to get.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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