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Sub-Saharan Africa need to increase fertilizer use to unlock agric potential

According to consulting firm McKinsey, sub-Saharan Africa excluding South Africa, will need to increase the use of fertilisers and improved seeds by eight and six times, respectively, to unlock its full agricultural potential.

At least 8 Billion US Dollars of investment in basic storage and 65 Billion US Dollars spending on irrigation will be necessary in order to boost total irrigated area to 15 per cent from its 2019 level of 5 per cent. Furthermore, additional investment will be needed in basic infrastructure such as roads, ports and power. It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of the sub-Saharan population is comprised of smallholder farmers. Although the number of medium-sized- which span 5 ha to 100 ha- farms is rising, small-scale plantations still account for the vast majority of cultivated land throughout the continent. In Nigeria there are currently fewer than 100 farmers throughout the whole country who operate at least 50 ha of land.

Small-scale commercial farmers, who own cultivated farms bigger than subsistence farming, produce about 85 per cent of Africa’s agricultural output, while the remaining 15 per cent comes from subsistence farmers and large-scale plantations. Though many of Africa’s subsistence farmers live below the poverty line, this is not necessarily the case for small-scale commercial farmers. However, the lack of education, difficulties in gaining access to funding and the low use of inputs can all have a substantial and negative impact on productivity levels.

In many African countries women account for at least half of the labour force. The average age of farmers in Africa is 60 years, according to the FAO. However, this may change in coming years as the increased use of technologies in agriculture on the continent, especially in precision farming, may assist young people and women in moving into farming.

Beyond public investment, according to the report, access to finance is a major issue for most of the continent’s farmers, especially for smallholders. Estimates show that only about 10 per cent of African households in rural areas are connected to formal financial institutions.
However, innovations such as microfinance and mobile banking are opportunities to boost African farmer’s access to loans. As mobile penetration has increased to reach 44 per cent in 2017, local entrepreneurs and international institutions have developed digital financial solutions for Africa’s farmers.

These solutions are wide in scope and variety, including products like e-wallets that can be used as business accounts by farmers or mobile phone apps, such as Farm Drive, that can help farmers to develop much-needed credit history. The report further said mobile applications providing micro-insurance and index-based crop insurance are also being developed across emerging markets, including Africa.

The World Bank, for example, is developing an index-based agricultural insurance in Cote d’Ivoire for Ivorian farmers who are increasingly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events. A pilot phase was launched in 2018 for four crops- cocoa, cotton, rice and corn. The World Bank listed index insurance as a good tool to improve the farmers resilience, helping them boost their yields and get access to desirable funding.

Further, the report said Africa has vast swathes of uncultivated area. In 2013 the World Bank said the continent had 200m ha of suitable land that could be used to grow crops, which is almost half of the world’s usable and cultivated land. However, the region faces major issues hindering the development of additional land. It said over 90 per cent of rural land in Africa is undocumented, making it vulnerable to land grabbing. In Cote d’Ivoire, where most of the rural area indeed remains unregistered, the land continues to be extremely fragmented, making it difficult to develop profitable businesses on some of the larger plats of land.

In Egypt, meanwhile, almost 85 000 acres of agricultural land have been lost to illegal construction projects since the 2011 unrest, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture. This prompted the Egyptian government to crack down on people building illegally on farmland. In some countries, women are also banned from land rights due to customary laws that are regularly enforced.

Recent analysis cited in an article from consulting firm Mckinsey said the majority of the unused land across Africa is located in areas barely reachable due to poor road networks and infrastructure, while some others are located in conflict of forest areas. It is estimated that only approximately 20m to 30m ha of additional land in sub-Saharan Africa- which is mostly located in nine countries and would represent a potential increase of 10 per cent- has the potential to be turned into cultivated area in the shorter-term.

The report said large land deals are also underising scrutiny in Africa. In 2018 India’s Karaturi Global asked for compensation from the Ethiopian government, which had cancelled the company’s lease, saying it failed to reach progress targets. According to McKinsey, 420 large agricultural deals, that each span 10m ha have been signed in Africa during 2000-16, but few of them have yet to be effectively implemented.

It also noted that most countries in Africa have greatly underdeveloped agro-industrial sector. That means that Africa’s exports are mostly comprised of raw products like agricultural commodities, including cocoa and coffee, and that finished goods account for the majority of the continent’s many imports. According to African Development Bank, ‘’little attention has usually been paid to the value chain through which agricultural commodities and products reach the final consumers within the country and abroad.’’ In the areas of Africa that are considered more rural, agro-processing is usually non-existent or quite basic, a fact that can sometimes result in significant harvest losses, the bank said.

Despite the challenges ahead, prospects for Africa’s agricultural sector are relatively positive. UN institutions expect cultivated areas to expand and farmers to increase their use of inputs, such as fertilisers, pesticides, improved seeds, irrigation systems and mechanisation. Innovations and greater access to technologies are expected to aid in developing smart and precision farming techniques and promoting their widespread use.

The report said, despite increased production, food security will continue to depend on global markets and significant imports of finished goods for the medium term. Contributing to this, food consumption is projected to surge as the population is expected to double by 2050 and become increasingly urbanised. At the same time, the continent is facing growing challenges.

Climate change is anticipated to be the most influential and is already directly affecting millions of farmers and households across the continent. In this context, experts have called for African governments to increase investment in the sector, including in infrastructure and agri-business and to continue improving their policies and governance. These challenges, according to the report, would encourage agriculture to truly transform into one of the strongest pillars of Africa’s successful long-term economic development.

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Pula smiles at COVID-19 vaccine

25th November 2020
COVID-19 vaccine

A squeaky and glittering metaphoric smile was the look reflected from the Pula against the greenback this week and money market researchers lean this on optimism following Monday’s announcement of another Covid-19 vaccine which is said to have boosted emerging market economies.

With other emerging market currencies, the Pula too reacted to optimism and fanfare on the new Covid-19 vaccine against the weakening US dollar which has been losing its shine since the uncertainty laden US elections.

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Choppies high on JSE rollercoaster volatility

25th November 2020
CHOPPIES

After bouncing back into the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) last week Friday, following a year of being in the freezer, the Choppies stock started this week with much fluidity.

Choppies was suspended in both the Botswana Stock Exchange and its secondary listing at the JSE for failure to publish financial results. Choppies suspension on Botswana Stock Exchange was lifted on 27 July 2020. On Friday last week, when suspension was being lifted, Choppies explained that this came into fruition “following extensive engagement with the JSE.”

Choppies stock, prior to suspension, hit a mammoth decline in value of more than 60 percent, especially in September 2018. Waking from a 24 month freezer, last week the Choppies share price was at R0.64 and the stock did not make any movement.

However, Monday was the day when Choppies stock moved vibrantly, albeit volatile. Choppies’ value was on a high volatile mood on Monday, reaching highs of 200 percent. At noon, the same Monday, the Choppies share had reached R1.05. Before taking an uphill movement, Choppies stock slightly slipped by 2 cents. But the Choppies share rode up high and by lunch time the stock had reached the day’s summit of R2.00 and that was at 13:30 when investors were buying the stock for lunch.

The same eventful Monday saw gloom on the faces of Choppies rivals, when Choppies gained by 220.31 percent around lunch time its rivals in the JSE Food & Drug Retailers sector were licking wounds. Spar lost 2.94 percent, Pick Pay fell by 2.43 percent, Shoprite 7.52 percent and Dis-Chem 1.98 percent. The only gainer was Clicks by a paltry 0.51 percent.

In an interview with BusinessPost, Choppies sponsors at the JSE PSG Capital Managing Director Johan Holtzhausen explained that the retailer’s stock was in high demand after a long suspension. He said when a company list or a suspension is lifted the market needs to find itself on the pricing of the share.

“Initially when the suspension was lifted there were more buyers than sellers. As far as we could see this created a shortage of shares so to speak and resulted in the price at which the shares traded going to R1.20 and eventually R2.05 before finding its level around R0.80 sent from a JSE perspective.

This is marked dynamics and reflect that there are investors that are positive about the stock in the long run. This is a snapshot over a short period and one requires a longer period to draw further conclusions,” said Holtzhausen in an interview talking about the Choppies stock.

On Monday this week where the Choppies value grew by 200 percent, the stock took a turn looking down, closing the day at R0.87 from a high of R2.00. According to local stockbroker Motswedi Securities on Monday while there was no movement by Choppies in the local stock exchange as the retailer appeared on the board as 141,000 shares traded at P0.60 each.

However in Choppies’ secondary listing the stock price rallied to over 200 percent during intraday trading on Monday before losing steam and declining to around R0.87 share.

Before press yesterday Choppies opened the market with the stock starting the day at R0.80 then went flat for few hours before taking a slide downward, dropping 5 cents in 30 minutes. Choppies then went flat at R0.75 for 50 minutes yesterday before going up at 10:20 am where it nearly recovered the open day price of 80 cents, but was shy of 1 cent. From 79 cents the price went flat until noon.

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Foschini-Jet merger, a class and rivalry conundrum dissection

25th November 2020
Foschini

Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA) has revealed that in its assessment of the Jet take over by Foschini, there were considerations on possible market rivalry and a clash in targeted classes.

According to a merger decision notice seen by this publication this week, high considerations were made to ensure that Foschini’s takeover of Jet is not anyhow an elimination of rivalry or competition or if the two entities; the targeted and the acquiring enterprise serves the same class of customers or offer the same products, to elude the anti-trust issues or a stretch of monopoly.

The two entities are South African retailers whose services stretched to Botswana shores.  Last month local anti-trust body, CCA, received an acquisition proposal from South African clothing retailer, Foschini, stating their intentions to take-over Jet.

South African government’s Business Rescue Practitioners earlier this year after finding out that Jet’s mother company, Edcon, is falling apart, made a decision that Foschini can buy Jet for R480 million. This means that Foschini will add Jet to its portfolio of 30 retail brands that trade in clothing, footwear, jewellery, sportswear, homeware, cell phones, and technology products from value to upper market segments throughout more than 4085 outlets in 32 countries on five continents.

However the main headache for the CCA decision which was released this week, is distinguishing the targeted and the acquiring entity businesses and services.

When doing a ‘Competitive Analysis and Public Interest’ assessment, CCA is said to have discovered that Foschini is classified as a “standard retailer” which targets middle-to-upper income consumers and it competes with stores such as; Truworths and Woolworths. The targeted entity, Jet, is on the lower league when compared to its acquirer, it serves customers of lower classes and is regarded as a discount/value retailer targeting lower income consumers or a mass market. This makes Jet to be in direct competition with Ackermans, Pepkor, Cash Bazaar and Mr Price.

“Therefore, a narrower view of the market is that Foschini through its stores trading in Botswana is not a close competitor to Jet. Additionally, there exist other major rivals who will continue to exercise competitive constraints on the merged enterprise post-merger,” concluded CCA this month.

The anti-trust body continued to explain that in terms of the Acquisition of a Dominant Position, the analysis shows that the acquisition of the target business by Foschini Botswana will result in an insignificant combined market share in the relevant market.

This made CCA reach to a conclusion that there is no case of an acquisition of a dominant position in the market under consideration or any other market on the account of the proposed transaction.

What supports the merger according to CCA is that it is in compliance with regards to ‘Public Interest Considerations’ because the findings of the assessment revealed that the transaction is as a result of the need for a Business Rescue by the target enterprise. This is so because in the event that the proposed transaction fails, it will translate into the loss of the employment positions at the target business.

“On that note the Authority (CCA) found it necessary to ensure that the proposed merger does not result in any retrenchments or redundancies. In light of this, the assessment revealed the critical need to protect the employees of the merged entity from possible merger specific retrenchments/ redundancies,” said CCA.

Before making a determination that the recently proposed transaction is not likely to result in the prevention or substantial lessening of competition or endanger the continuity of the services offered in the relevant market, CCA said it then moved into a concern for public interest which is a protection enshrined in the Competition Act of 2018.

CCA’s concern was mostly loss of livelihood or employment by 126 Batswana workers at Jet stores, stating that possible retrenchments or redundancies may arise as a result of implementation of the proposed merger.

Much to the desire of trade union or labour movements in Botswana and across Southern Africa where the Jet stores are stemmed-who also raised concerns about the retail’s workers job security- CCA subjects Foschini to keep the target entity 126 workers.

“There shall be no merger specific retrenchments or redundancies that may affect the employees of the merged enterprises. For clarity, merger specific retrenchments or redundancies do not include (the list is not exhaustive): i. voluntary retrenchment and/or voluntary separation arrangements; ii. Voluntary early retirement packages; iii. Unreasonable refusals to be redeployed; iv. Resignations or retirements in the ordinary course of business; v. retrenchments lawfully effected for operational requirements unrelated to the Merger; and vi. Terminations in the ordinary course of business, including but not limited to, dismissals as a result of misconduct or poor performance,” said CCA.

CCA also orders that Foschini informs it about all the details of 126 Jet employees within thirty (30) days of the merger approval date. CCA should also know information of when Foschini is implementing the merger, within 30 days of the approval date.

Other conditions include Foschini sharing a copy of the conditions of approval to all employees of the Jet or their respective representatives within ten (10) days of the approval date.

“Should vacancies arise in the target, the merged enterprise shall consider previous employment at one of the non-transferring Jet stores to be a positive factor to be taken into account in the consideration of offering potential employment,” said CCA.

According to CCA, in cases of any job losses, for the Authority to assess whether the retrenchments or redundancies are merger specific, at least three months before (to the extent that this deadline can be practically achieved and in terms of the prevailing and legally required employment practices) any retrenchments or redundancies are to take place, inform the Authority of:  i. The intended retrenchments; ii. The reasons for the retrenchments; iii. The number and categories of employees affected; iv. The expected date of the retrenchments.

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