Food Security in Africa
|New ventures in agricultural projects against the Corona pandemic backdrop |
|Interview with Itamar Gutman, Projects & Africa Department Manager, Metzer|
|July 20, 2021|
This past year has challenged global companies by preventing them from visiting their clients, not to mention participating in shows and conventions through which they establish contact with new clients. It has also added new challenges due to the new meaning given to the term “Food Security”.
Whereas prior to Covid-19 “Food Security” was understood more generally – research was conducted, data gathered and the U.N. viewed it as a global objective, over the past year lockdowns have caused closure of some airports, making sea transport difficult and leading to increased transportation costs, and have highlighted the importance of local food production worldwide.
Data from the U.N.’s World Food and Agriculture Association (FAO) show that even without the pandemic, the world would not have reached the Zero Hunger objective until 2030. Initial forecasts indicated that the pandemic added 132 million to those on the verge of starvation, before the end of 2020. It’s obvious to everyone that Food Security is a necessity and a serious challenge today, not just a remote objective!
We met with Gutman to hear from him about Metzer’s project efforts generally, and particularly about their management of projects in Africa in the post-Corona era. Gutman is Projects director at Metzer, with 10 years of irrigation experience. Until recently he was in charge of the African market, which has been transferred to the Projects area under his direction. Gutman’s range of responsibility also includes Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Metzer uses subsidiaries in central and South America that are responsible for local projects.
As a global corporation Metzer leads the micro-irrigation field, and copes successfully with the challenges it encounters. By contrast with equipment sales, Gutman says the main challenge in the projects sector is the need to supply entire systems that function in the field, to provide components locally and to meet the end results test – namely, successful operation of the entire system.
As noted, among other things the past year has made clear the need to rely on local contractors to engage in installations, thus highlighting the cultural differences that the parties must overcome. Nevertheless, throughout this year greater investment was noticeable in Food Security, with the goal of reducing dependency on imported food. For example, Africa governments began to free budgets or to forego obstructions to allow establishment of agricultural projects. Even the banks show greater flexibility, tending more and more to finance projects intended for food production.
Metzer’s main project activity is in East and South Africa. This past year the company began to work a bit in West Africa, primarily with private farmers or private entrepreneurs, due to the difficulty in advancing projects vis-à-vis local government bodies, where complex bureaucratic processes paralyze any progress. “The greatest challenge,” Gutman argues, “is the financing required to establish projects. Financing varies from one project to another, coming from funds, banks and NGO’s. Thus, we are mainly dealing with a private market.”
Although during the past year Metzer conducted mostly projects received prior to the Corona outbreak without additional new projects, since November 2020 an increase has occurred in new project development. This raised the need to create partnerships with local companies. In fact, over the last half year many contacts have been made with Israelis and with locals, who will constitute a replacement for the presence of company reps in the field. Metzer’s staff learned very quickly who could be trusted to provide exact data, and who would continue to be trustworthy over the long run.
Metzer is currently involved in several projects with sugar cane, using buried drip technology, and also in the orchards, where avocado has become very popular (for export), since produce reaches markets in opposite seasons, where produce from other countries like Israel or Morocco does not reach them. The same is true for blueberry and other berries projects -- crops that have developed greatly in recent years due to awareness of healthy food, and because the produce arrives in Europe during a season when local fruit crops like these are not available.
One example of Metzer’s innovative and efficient projects is the change the company has brought about in growing and harvesting coffee Arabica in East Africa. Before Metzer became involved in coffee growing in the region, only the Robusta coffee strain was harvested mechanically, whereas Arabica coffee was usually picked selectively by hand, requiring considerable manpower and involving high costs. Metzer established 3 projects for mechanized harvest of Arabica coffee, which have been very successful!
Metzer is known as a global irrigation firm, but is unique in its “family” character. Company staff are careful to closely accompany the projects they erect, while endeavouring not to overextend themselves, “since it’s important to us to supervise each project personally, to ascertain that projects will succeed,” Gutman stresses.
For more info contact Itamar Gutman firstname.lastname@example.org
Or visit our web site: www.metzer-group.com