At a gala event held in Stellenbosch on Friday (16 November), Agricultural Writers SA announced the winners of the 2018 National Farmer, New Entrant Into Commercial Agriculture and Agriculturalist of the Year awards, among others.
Two former students in the faculty are among those who were honoured for their contributions. They are Pieter Graaff and Wandile Sihlobo.
Graaff, a farmer from Ceres in the Western Cape, received the 2018 National Farmer of the Year award. Wandile Sihlobo and Leonard Mavungu, a dairy farmer from the Eastern Cape, were named Agriculturalist of the Year and the New Entrant Into Commercial Agriculture of the Year respectively.
Graaff, through his Witzenberg Properties holdings, is the single biggest apple producer in South Africa. Graaff took over the farming business, Witzenberg Properties, from his father, Dr Jan Graaff, in 1984. Under his leadership, five farming units were added to the original farm, resulting in better productivity and an increase in the total turnover and profit. Graaff also expanded his farming business vertically into the complete value chain. Other farming activities include the cultivation of pears, nectarines, peaches, cherries, wine grapes, vegetables, grain, forestry with a sawmill, cattle, sheep and a thoroughbred stud.
Sihlobo, an agricultural economist from Gauteng, heads Agribusiness Research at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz). Sihlobo often leads the conversation in agricultural economics in print and social media. He was recently appointed on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Advisory Panel that advises and supports the Inter-ministerial Committee on Land Reform.
Prof Mohammed Karaan received the special 2018 Personality of the Year award for his contributions. Karaan is a former Dean of the faculty and was acting Vice-rector at the university in 2014 and 2015. Karaan was recently reappointed to serve a second five-year term as a member of the National Planning Commission. During his first term from 2010 to 2015, he was instrumental in writing the chapter in the National Development Plan – Vision 2030 on how to shape an integrated and inclusive rural economy. Karaan is a member of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Advisory Panel on Land Reform that will support the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Reform.
Prof Eugene Cloete was a finalist in this year’s category of the 2018 Agriculturist of the Year award. He is the university’s Vice-rector for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies. Cloete, the Agriculturist of the Year in the Western Cape, has played an integral part in formulating a plant biotechnology strategy for South Africa. He set up the very first Biotechnology Innovation Centre (BioPAD) in South Africa, leading to the establishment of a Plant Biotechnology Innovation Centre that played a significant role, under his leadership, in developing policy that governs the use of genetically modified crops in South Africa. Cloete currently chairs the advisory committee of the DST/NRF Centre for Excellence in Invasion Biology, which focuses on alien invasive species and their negative impact on ecosystems, including agriculture. The centre also has major projects on working for water, which has a direct impact on agriculture.
The aim of the awards is to give prominence to the role that farmers and agriculturists play in the agricultural sector, says Magda du Toit, chairperson of the Agricultural Writers SA. It is important to note that the recipients also impact on the broader economy of the country and the southern African region. “Every day we are met with the challenge of feeding a growing world population. With these awards, Agricultural Writers SA acknowledges the role that farmers and agriculturists play in the agricultural sector and in addressing food security,” Du Toit said in a statement.
On the photo, from left to right: Eunice Joubert (Agri-Expo), Prof Mohammed Karaan, Hugo Lochner (President of Agri-Expo)
Picture: Andrew Gorman