If trend forecaster Bronwyn Williams could have anyone as dinner guests they would be historian and author Niall Ferguson, Yuval Harari, the author of the futuristic book, Homo Deus, and fantasy writer Niela Gaiman.

And the talk around the table, Williams says, would be about the past, the future, how we all got here and where are we going to next.

Thirty-three-year-old Williams, guest speaker at this year’s South African Sugar Technologists’ Association (SASTA) congress, is a Trend Translator and Future Finance Specialist for the Johannesburg-based Flux Trends. She has over a decade’s experience in marketing management and trend research, working predominantly with brands in the financial and B2B industries.

Her congress address – titled: The Business of Disruption – is expected to delve into how the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence will affect manufacturing and agri-processing taking into account how digitisation, social media, individualisation and virtual reality disrupts society as we know it across the globe.

“Drones, blockchain technology, and the Internet of Things are three key technologies for the future of farming,” she said.

Blockchain technology, in short, is a system of de-centralised and transparent record keeping and the Internet of Things is  – as Wikipedia explains – a network of physical devices, vehicles, appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators and connectivity which enables these things to “talk” to each other.

Also, employment will continue to shift away from mass farms towards micro farms and farming technology and jobs that currently exist will be replaced by an entirely new set of functions.

Williams predicts the growth of neo-subsistance farmers or educated, former professional classes who are already investing in small scale boutique farming projects such as urban bee farming, hydroponic plants and even rooftop farms.

“Some companies are even researching self-efficient table-top vegetable and herb farms for every kitchen. There is also a trend towards a return to door-to-door delivery of farm fresh produce such as milk and greens.”

This trend she says is in response to the emergence of on-demand and GIG economies, or more simply put, a labour market driven by short-term contracts and freelance work resulting in people being subjected to a constantly evolving timetable.

Research she added was also now mainly driven by the private sector rather than by the state-sponsored academia which she says is changing the focus of technological research and where and how the results of that research is put into practice.

And, on how she would deal with the current messaging about the negative impact of sugar on diet and the sugar tax (now known as the Health Promotions Levy charged on sugar drinks), Williams said as an honest marketing message, the industry should promote moderation while waiting for the next food trend. “Food fashions come and go.”

Businesses across the world, whether in agriculture, manufacturing or in the services industries are finding themselves running two different entities at the same time. In other words, keeping the current business afloat, while focusing on the staggering acceleration of change. “There is no fail-safe method for a business to stay alive. The trick is to get comfortable with failing fast and often, and to understand that leaders have to break and re-break their businesses many times over in order to succeed.”

As a result, Williams says, big businesses requiring complex organisation are inherently less agile than smaller start-ups and will feel the impact of these trends acutely. “Speed and agility to adapt to the changing market conditions are the primary indicators of long-term business success.”

  • The 2017 SASTA Congress attracted 603 delegates – the highest number ever in the history of the event. Also, the 87 presentations were the most ever and for the first time the number of papers on factory projects overtook the number of papers on agriculture topics.
  • The South African Sugar Technologists’ Association was established in 1926 and is an organisation for technical workers and others interested in the technical aspects of South Africa’s sugar industry.

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