Wandile Sihlobo is chief economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa and author of the book called Finding Common Ground. Finding Common Ground was released early this year and was published by Pan Macmillan South Africa. In this Q&A session with EW Blog editor, Wandile talks about writing the book, economic opportunities in the agricultural sector, and Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. He also shares valuable advice to young people who want to pursue a career in the agricultural sector.
Question: First of all, congratulations on your debut book. I think for the benefit of our EW Blog readers, let’s start with who is Wandile Sihlobo?
Wandile Sihlobo is a relatively young man from the Eastern Cape (Born October 16, 1990). Most people generally know me, I think, from the agricultural economics work that I have been privileged to practice in, and various affiliations that are related to my day job.
Question: You debut book, Finding Common Ground was released early this year, how has the book been received since it was released?
From the reviews, book sales and on social media views, I think the book has been well received. I was worried that it wouldn’t get good circulation because of the pandemic, but things have been fairly well.
Question: Finding Common Ground is an inviting title, what inspired you to go with this title?
The title of the book is the work of many people that I shared ideas with in the process of writing the manuscript. And after considering the running theme of the book — from land issues to agricultural productivity, issues of inclusion, etc. I felt that “Finding Common Ground: Land, Equity & Agriculture” was an appropriate title. In all the aspects I am discussing in the book, the goal of it is contributing ideas towards building an inclusive (gender and race) and prospective agriculture economy. So, I felt that the title captures this vision better as each of the aspects have some level of political economy which I detail in the book and ends with proposing solutions, which is a Common Ground.
Question: While the book is made up of your previously published articles, why did you decide to put them together in a form of a book?
While some of the pieces were previously published at different times. I felt that there was a bigger narrative which could come out more powerfully if captured into one book. Also, I had a lot of unpublished work, which forms a great deal of this book. So, it’s a combination of published pieces and also unpublished work that helped to narrate the SA agriculture development vision better.
Question: You make a valid point in the book that agricultural sector can play a huge role in creating jobs for many South Africans, how do we then showcase those economic opportunities in the sector to people who need jobs?
There are various avenues for this, both from the private sector and government and I think there is increasingly an effort to get young people in the sector more from the government. If one looks at the recently announced 700 000 hectares of land by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, the priority in beneficiary selection is young people and woman. So, this is an effort to get young people involved. But schools and various farmer incubation houses will need to play their part in showcasing agricultural opportunities to young people.
Question: Before I have read your book, like many other young people, I saw the agriculture sector as something for older people. How do we fashion the agricultural sector and make it more appealing to young people?
I don’t think we should be working to make the sector sexy per se nor appealing, rather we have to ensure that there are economic opportunities where people can be sure that if they put their best effort into this sector they will be rewarded fairly. That will be enough to attract the right people to the sector.
Question: The land question will have to be resolved as a matter of urgency if the agricultural economy will be more inclusive. Do you think the sixth parliament has the right appetite and the right leadership to finally bring solutions to the land question?
This is something I dive into more detail in the book. I won’t give a brief answer to it, it’s more nuanced.
Question: You also touched on the issue of women participation in the agricultural sector, what do you think should be the role of the government in empowering more women to become not only executives but also farmers themselves?
Also, more on the book.
Question: What is your message to young people, particularly those in rural areas, who want to be agricultural economists and farmers?
Agriculture is an exciting space that is ready for new ideas and fresh thing. We need young people to come help us craft ideas that could propel the growth of this sector.
Question: If you were to invite three African authors to your book reading session, who will that be and why them?
Tough, I think it would be South African authors and scholars like Jonny Steinberg, William Beinart and Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. They are all great historians and Tembeka and William also deeply educated about South African land reform issues. It would be fantastic to exchange views with them and learning from their comments. My take on land issues largely comes from an economic perspective, and they would bring great value on history, legal and sociological side of the land and rural development.
Which book are you currently reading?