Satisfying infinite and diverse preferences of a growing global population with earth's finite natural resource base has become a daunting task. Efficient production, processing and distribution of food and fibre, while simultaneously limiting environmental impacts of these activities are of strategic importance to maintain food security and environmental integrity.
Agricultural economics applies economic principles to serve both the “supply/give" role (source of inputs for food and fibre production) and the “absorb/receive" role (absorb pollutants and waste of production and consumption) of nature. Both roles provide a growing number of essential and interesting work opportunities for agricultural economists. The Agricultural Economics Department at Stellenbosch University, already established in 1925, is continuously assessing the changing economic, social and technological environment to adapt the training programmes to remain relevant and effective.
Economics as the mother discipline provides a way of thinking, striving to find the best balance between various cost and income considerations to use scarce resources optimally to satisfy consumer unlimited and diverse needs. Agricultural Economics applies economic principles in costing, budgeting, risk management and project planning to attain the optimal production and delivery of food and fibre. Vitally important is the exposure to a variety of physical, biological and social sciences, which is fairly unique and requires multidisciplinary training. This provides a broad basis for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs who regularly switch to new opportunities several times in a modern job market. Such new ventures and/or jobs are available in primary agricultural production (e.g. production or financial management of a farming operation), in industries supplying inputs to farms (e.g. credit managers of commercial banks, financial and distribution managers of agro chemicals or livestock feed producers), in industries processing, distributing via wholesaling and retailing of food and fibre products (e.g. financial management of processing, packaging, import and export), or even in a non-agricultural environment. As the global awareness of the environmental impact of food and fibre and its contribution to climate change increases, more jobs for agricultural economists are created to ensure sustainable food and fibre production, processing and delivery to consumers.
Another focus of agricultural economics, apart from its entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial spirit, is the training of policy analysts in the agro-food and fibre sector. Policy analysts determine the impact of a variety of government policy measures on for instance the welfare of producers, consumers and tax payers. Policy analysts work either for government institutions to design and operate, e.g. import tariff regimes, or agribusinesses, or as consultants to assess such regimes. It is important for policy analysts to understand the policy making processes and to have a knowledge of current policies and legislation in which the agricultural sector operates. They must also understand the potential impacts due to changes in policies and legislation.
In short, Agricultural Economics provides a multidisciplinary approach to deal with a myriad of complex issues faced by food and fibre value chains that are constantly in a flux, and hence makes practitioners of Agricultural Economics indispensable now and in the future.