The role and vision of agri-businesses in a changing agricultural environment

The changing agricultural environment

To start with. When the agricultural environment changed, certain businesses stayed in the hands of members while others cast the net wider and expanded the value chain. Where does this leave the prodcer, what is the role of agri-businesses and in whose interest do they act?

In reality it goes about the place and the purpose of an agri-business and where it fits in. This role has to be rediscovered continuously. In my opinion the global business sector lost direction in the nineties, when it was said that everything should be about the shareholder. Shareholders are secondary. It goes about the customer, staff, input suppliers and the community first. Once everything works well, the shareholder will be remunerated. The most important aspect is that there should be a balance between all of the above.

The role of leadership

The role of leadership is to bring contentious issues to the fore. A leader may never choose to talk about safe subjects only. The contentious issues have to be discussed as well to ensure that you can be definitive.

The definition of leadership goes about the role of leaders in taking their organisations and companies to places where they don't really want to go. However, at a later stage they are grateful that they did go there. This remains a good summary of leadership. This can be only be done through good leadership. A leader reaches this level through hard work and intense reflection. He has to look far ahead and does not merely follow daily plans, but pursues a long-term strategy. He has to have vision - this is what leaders are supposed to do.”

What is an agri-business?

A large number of agri-companies have made adjustments over the past 110 years in order to be able to cope with the new circumstances.

As already mentioned, agri-companies moved into different directions in the past. In view thereof, it is important to make sure that all parties talk about the same thing when they talk about agri-businesses. I think it is wrong to assume that agri-companies belong to producers only. It is the same as assuming that banks belong to bankers only. You limit yourself to a large extent. My questions is: What does it have to do with your strategy?

Good vision is of the utmost importance

A business must have a well-defined vision, which has to focus on the execution of its business plan. It goes about stragegy and vision. In the case of Senwes: What is the objective of Senwes? The customer will not be able to list the objectives of Senwes. You have to explain what Senwes stands for - Senwes stands for one thing only - to provide solutions to its customers in order to improve their businesses.”

From the producer's point of view

Today's producer conducts business with any organisation in the environment where he wants to conduct business. He conducts business with the best stakeholder in that specific environment. The producer can no longer afford to do business based on sentiment.

Obviously all these stakeholders will use different mechanisms to gain the business of the producer. It goes about his own long-term vision in respect of the customer. How do they serve the interest of the customer? Do they offer special loyalty programmes? How do they invest in their business in order to gain a customer? 

A range of these normal commercial practices could eventually result in the producer doing business with that specific organisation. Aspects such as price, range and service are also important aspects on which his choice is based.

Senwes invested in excess of R200 million in the silo business over the past few years. It is important to invest in the infrastructure and it is the right thing to do. You have to have a specific attitude. What is Senwes' objective? Personnel are really the people who make things work. Personnel are driven by motivation and not only salary. Such things are timeless. A company is a company for its customers but, it also goes about how you can change the environment, how you can change lives and even more important, how you can change South Africa.”

Agri-companies stand before a huge and important choice - they have to be sure about where they are heading and how they should define their objectives. The customer has to know that the organisation with which he conducts business, acts in his interest. 

But how often should one think about this? “On a minute-to-minute basis. However, if you change your goals every minute you will not achieve anything. You have to revisit your goals on a continuous basis.”

When do you say No?

Strategy goes about what you say “no” to and when you should say “yes”. 

It is important to know where you are heading. It is important to say no. You have to be able to stand on your own two feet and to know what you can do. It is even more important to know what you can't do and to say no to what you can't do. It is easy to say yes, but a lot more difficult to say no. These are the things which define you. To say no means that you have to be sure of the things you want to achieve.”

Be focused on the future

You have to look at the future from the outset. When I joined Senwes in 2010, I challenged all the strategies for the first eight months. We are now working on a rolling 10-year basis and every year we move ten years ahead. The reality is that businesses have to looked further and further into the future.

The legacy which we leave behind is important to me. I want to leave an organisation behind which is better than the one I received. I want to change people's lives, I want to change South Africa and for this reason I am willing to take a chance, as I did with Nation in Conversation.


The strategy of a good company is timeless. The methodology may change over the years, but you have to communicate with all concerned - this has never changed.