As part of SAICA’s Leadership in a Time of Crisis webinar series, Willem van der Post, CA(SA) and CEO of xTech.Capital shared some thoughts on what the workplace of the future will look like, especially in a post-Coronavirus world.

The new normal. It’s all everyone’s talking about. But what exactly does it mean? While van der Post points out he is of course not a fortune teller – “if I was I would give you more useful information, like the winning Lotto numbers” – he has estimated, given the current trend cycle we are seeing, certain changes we can anticipate in the workspace, both on a personal and an organisational level.

Social gestures

We used to shake hands, hug and kiss each other countless times a day when we said hello, goodbye and reached an accord. The anxiety around physical contact has changed this. If you look back in history, you’ll see that hand shaking is a millenia-old custom going back all the way to the Ancient Greeks. Men would hold their weapon in their dominant hand, so extending that hand, free of weapons, was a sign of peace and trust. We are subconsciously losing that, so while it may seem like an insignificant change, it will run deep in our psyche.


The persona of corporate veneer is likely to disappear. Through virtual meetings, we are getting real insight into what people’s homes and family lives look like. It’s normal now to see dogs barking and kids run into the room. This is going to shave off a little bit of that perfect persona we broadcast to the world. This will allow us to regain the trust that we may have lost by working remotely. In a digital world we don’t shake hands, we can’t monitor each other’s moods and body language carefully and so on, so we need a way to regain that trust, and sharing our authentic selves is a way to do so.

Remote working

Lockdown has once and for all shown us how ludicrous the notion is of sitting in traffic. We only have one short life, and it is almost criminal to waste so much of it on the road. It seems unlikely that employees will be going back to sitting in daily traffic if they don’t need to, so the expectation of flexible work engagements will become more pronounced, with many employees only going into the office once or twice a week.


People are realising the importance of holistic wellness. It has been wonderful to sleep in, meditate, exercise and spend time with family in the mornings, rather than rush off, while grabbing a takeaway coffee and a mass-produced croissant. There will definitely be a shift towards spiritual and physical wellbeing, as opposed to rushing to get to the capital structure we are a part of.

Curriculum of the future

The world has caught on to digital learning, and this is not only because of the Coronavirus, but also by virtue of the digital revolution. That said, it’s not only about how we learn. What we learn is also subject to a radical shift. There are 16 exponential technologies that are fundamentally changing business models and the nature of business:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Machine learning
  • Quantum computing
  • 3D printing
  • Blockchain
  • Nanotechnology
  • Robotics
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Crowdfunding
  • Drones
  • Digital Biology
  • Virtual Reality
  • Sustainable energy
  • Internet of things
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Space Technologies

Most organisations can’t even name all 16. If we can’t name them, how are we preparing for the impact they will have on us, and how can we expect our teams to be prepared? If we want to be able to deal with disruption, these technologies need to be a part of our curriculum.


Organisations that haven’t started their digital transformation journey are going to be pressured into doing so now. Companies that are already on the journey will extend the scope of their digital presence and invest in speeding up the process. The extended lockdown and economic downturn will make this a necessity.

New measurables

Measurables have always been important, but now they will become even more so. We are entering an era where we will get rid of KPIs, as politics, conflict aversion and so on make these kinds of goal-setting measures subjective. OKRs, or Objective and Key Results, are the way of the future. They are measured in a binary fashion – either a result was or wasn’t achieved, 1 or 0 – that befits a technology company, which is why they are so popular in Silicon Valley. In order to implement these, you need a thorough, rational and thought-through process of deciding what needs to be measured, and what success and failure look like in your organisation.

Disaggregated workforce

If more people are working remotely, many factors of office life will need to be re-examined. Will employers have to cover the costs of their staff’s data? Do we need to invest more heavily in cybersecurity? What about real estate? Do we allow employees to work remotely and repurpose or give up some of our office space? How do we deal with sick leave? Is it even relevant anymore if people are working from home? Last, but definitely not least, if employees are only coming into the office once or twice a week, how do we build trust and corporate culture?

Finding meaning

In this era of working from home, people are rediscovering the importance of wellness, and organisations are being forced to think about what they stand for. This is going to give birth to an era of authenticity, and of people re-examining how they spend their time and apply their talents. Currently, many people are trading in their dreams for a salary. Hopefully post the lockdown and reboot, people will find the courage to pursue their lifelong purpose, within an economically sustainable model. We have been given a very valuable window, a period to re-evaluate where we are in the world and what we are doing for society, for ourselves and for our family. Hopefully many people can use it to find their true purpose.

Courtesy: SAICA

How long can the status quo in the global food system hold?

How long can the status quo in the global food system hold?

As countries continue to implement “risk-adjusted” responses to COVID-19, global leaders and analysts alike continue to assess the evolving implications of the pandemic on global markets.

What makes COVID-19 unique is that it is a health shock that has fundamentally affected both the supply and demand side of the global economy. In the food industry, government policy responses have mainly hinged on three major interventions since the pandemic started. These include (1) an initial intent to implement protectionist trade policies in major agricultural producing countries, followed by a pullback of direct trade restrictions (2) supply-side support for the agricultural industries in the form of historic budgetary support for small and large companies, and (3) demand-side support through a boost in household incomes through wage support.

First, in the early days of the pandemic, countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Cambodia and Vietnam, amongst others, introduced export quotas and bans on rice and wheat. This was an attempt to ensure stable domestic staple food supplies amid uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last. But these policies were soon abandoned after a month, as aforementioned countries signalled a return to the open market trading terms within the next two months. One of the reasons that contributed to this change included the exemption of agriculture and food supply chains from COVID-19 restrictions that had affected other sectors of the economy. The International Grains Council has lifted its 2020/21 global grains harvest by 2% year-on-year to 2.2 billion tonnes. This is a welcome development for grain-importing countries who feared the risk of food insecurity when the protectionist policies were announced. This includes South Africa and the African continent at large, which relies on rice and wheat imports from the global market.

Second, as initial worries about production abated, it became clear that the biggest challenge was not a lack of food in the market, but logistical disruptions. However, the closure of meat processing plants in the US, Ireland, Canada and Brazil, amongst others due the outbreaks of the virus in production facilities is now bringing renewed fears that the longer the pandemic continues, the more likely those parts of the food system will cease to function. The risks of meat shortages in the global market, as well as the negative ripple effects in other parts of the food system linked to the meat sector, imply that the food system remains extremely vulnerable. The emerging concerns of potential meat shortages – and potential shortages in other parts of the food system – are putting intense pressure on political leaders to respond more aggressively, as seen in the US, where President Trump ordered meat plants to re-open to avert an inevitable spin-off crisis.

This specific aggressive intervention is just part of a much broader set of unprecedented policy responses from global leaders, which have been underpinned by large fiscal spending eclipsing those of the 2008 financial crises and the Great Depression. Richer countries have implemented financial relief programmes to support small and large businesses, including farmers, to cope with the deep negative impacts of the pandemic.   In South Africa, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development ring-fenced R1.2 billion for financially distressed small-scale farmers. This prioritises the poultry, livestock and vegetable sectors, amongst other agricultural commodities which will be selected on a case-by-case basis. The farmers within the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy programme are also included in this package.

Third, governments tried to preserve incomes and livelihoods, and in turn supported the demand side for the food sector. Rapid increases in already high levels of unemployment in most parts of the world translates to a weak demand for food, particularly high-value products in the near-to-medium term. Income protection and support in countries such as the UK and the US is expected to mitigate the weakening demand, and somewhat keep demand at levels that ensure that the economy can bounce back quickly once the economies are fully opened up post-COVID-19. Meanwhile, in the emerging markets, South Africa has been amongst countries that provided support through an increase in social grants and food vouchers and aid. While these are short term assistance, they help improve household demand for food products somewhat. These measures are short term and are being implemented with the expectation that the pandemic will keep the economy closed for three months.

But if the global economy does not bounce back sooner, under the pressure of a new wave of infection which leads to a much slower opening of the economy, then household income and purchasing patterns might be altered over the short to medium term. In this case, the implications for the agricultural and food sector could be dire. We suspect that the demand for higher-value products will inevitably decline somewhat post-COVID-19, but the longevity of this decline could lead to a shift in the supply chains. Depending on the extent and time of the impact over time, the shift could be permanent, due to irreparable damage to the supply chains – if critical businesses shut down permanently.

This is crucial for countries like South Africa whose agricultural sector is export-orientated, with roughly 49% of the produce in value terms exported. South Africa’s high-value export products are mainly fruit, wine and beef. These are mainly destined for the EU and Asia market which accounted for nearly US$10 billion in 2019.

In a nutshell, the resilience of global agriculture will continue to be tested as the pandemic impacts both the supply side and demand side of the global economy. There is no telling how long the global food system – as currently configured – will continue to sustain the pressure from COVID-19. What is becoming increasingly clear is that, the longer the pandemic continues to impact on the supply and demand sides of the global food system, the more likely we are going to see structural shifts that will fundamentally reconfigure it as it adapts to the changing effects of the pandemic.

What is particularly worrying is the lack of support measures for businesses and households in developing countries. In resource-poor nations – especially those in the African continent, who are already under the weight of worsening debt levels – governments do not have the wherewithal to support private businesses and farming communities to the same degree as the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and others. This means that the developing world is a part of the global food system and economy that remains extremely vulnerable to the pandemic. There have been relatively lower numbers of COVID-19 cases in sub-Saharan Africa so far, perhaps due to a lack of testing capacity. But if what is happening in the global north is a harbinger of what is to occur in sub-Saharan Africa over the next couple months, then the largely informal food systems in the continent will likely come under extreme pressure, a scenario which will evoke a food insecurity catastrophe.

Courtesy: Wandile Sihlobo, Agbiz

The impact of COVID-19 on small scale farmers

The impact of COVID-19 on small scale farmers

07 May 2020 – It is now inevitable that COVID-19 will lead to global recession and the local economy will not be spared. The true extent of its impact is not yet measurable however we are looking at negative GDP growth for the year and potential job losses with the South African Reserve Bank estimating GDP contraction of more than 6%.

The overall impact will exert further pressure on small scale farmers who were already struggling with amongst others rising input costs, limited market access, limited pricing power, critical agriculture and business skills and the list goes on. In this context we are looking at the profile of farmers targeted by the recently announced R1.2bn from the Department of Agriculture and Land Reform. Those are the farmers earning between R20,000 to a R1M per annum through their agricultural activities. The COVID-19 pandemic may worsen the pre-existing challenges but also open new opportunities. Looking at what could potentially be worsened;

  1. Due to restrictions on local sales of alcoholic beverages, cashflows for small scale wine and spirit producers as well as beer brewers will take a knock. In addition, the restrictions on travelling and gatherings limits extra incomes from social events such as beer festivals, wine tasting events and Agri-tourism.
  2. Market access and low demand on informal trading platforms– Market access is one of the pressing issues for smaller producers. Now with movement restrictions on consumers and companies closing off, informal traders keep below normal stocks. Most small growers sell their produce on informal markets and therefore reduced activity on these markets does pose a challenge on stocks on hand.
  3. Fresh produce has limited shelve life and needs proper functioning cold storage to retain marketable quality which is another challenge for small producers. Looking at the livestock, demand for meat may come under pressure given that some consumers are not getting their full salaries with others getting no salaries at all.
  4. The poultry market is of concern as keeping birds on farms for longer than eight weeks starts to eat into the producer’s profits and may lead to further burden on margins. Other livestock keepers may experience difficulties in marketing their stocks or even have proper access to feed and supplements given possible disruptions along the value chain.
  5. Labour availability – smaller producers may not have the capacity to transport their labour, therefore some may see themselves having to either cut working hours or operating on limited capacity.
  6. Farmers depend on events gatherings such as farmer’s days to access information, and with the restrictions on the number of people per gathering, this tool is limited. Network reception issues in rural areas adds to the difficulty in information access.

Some opportunities presented by the pandemic;

  1. Fuel price decline – this cannot have come at a better time, it is the harvesting season and some farmers are preparing for their fields for planting of winter crops. This will help reduce input costs to operate tractors and other equipment’s. It also reduces transport cost to markets.
  2. Input cost– input costs such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides may ease given that they are by-products of crude oil, helping to relieve some production cost pressure. However, Rand volatility does pose a risk to the upside on prices of these commodities.
  3. Interest rate cut – this will relieve those farmers who are highly indebted and those wishing to acquire more credit. The current prime lending rate of 7.75% per annum essentially makes credit facilities cheaper. Of course, credit applications will be evaluated using prudent financial measures.
  4. Higher demand for staple food items – for those producers who have access to markets, they may enjoy benefits of high demand for staple food items such as white maize by-products and some staple vegetables and fruits. However, some commodities have seen a decline in demand due to closure of hotels and limited operation for fast foods and restaurants.
  5. Government support– The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) has set aside R1.2bn to assist small scale farmers (turnover of between R20,000 and R1M). These funds will be released in a form of vouchers for mainly inputs.  Priority will be given to critical industries such as horticulture, poultry and farmers should take advantage of this fund to help relieve some of the cost push pressures.

With some of the restrictions eased, we will see a slow return to normality as economic activity resume.

Comment by Pertunia Setumo, Agricultural economist at FNB Agri-Business

Update from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials

Update from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials

RSB’s community of members and certified operators around the world are adjusting to the coronavirus crisis – working remotely and responding to challenging economic and social situations, mitigation regulations and navigating new and proposed policy shifts.
We’ve been sharing updates from our own team, as well as RSB members and Participating Operators, to provide a collective overview of some of the impacts the pandemic is having on the global bio-based and circular economy – and the people working in it.

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