A Message from Tinus Prinsloo, Acting Group CEO, regarding the 2020 Lockdown

Dear valued client,

South Africa will go into a national lockdown on Friday, 27 March 2020 (immediately after midnight on Thursday), to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The shutdown will last for 21 days (“the lockdown period”).

During that time, all businesses and services must shut down, other than a list of exempted business that are considered critical to support the health and safety of South Africans (“exempted businesses and services”)

The exempted business and services include:

  • Agricultural and food supply related operations, farming, veterinary and phyto- sanitary provider services, pest control services, and chemical and fertilizer providers;
  • Food, beverages and essential products manufacturing and processing facilities;
  • Warehousing, transport and logistics for food & essential products, and healthrelated goods;
  • Ports, road and rail networks will remain open in order to facilitate the import and export of essential products;
  • Food outlets – retail, wholesale, spaza shops and malls for food and essential products; and
  • Critical banking and financial services.

Although, we await the detailed regulations to be published in terms of the Disaster Management Act, it is clear that the entire Agro-food value chain is considered an essential industry, forms part of the Exempted Business and Services.

The AFGRI Group, including its subsidiaries, forms part of the Agro-food value chain.

Accordingly, the following businesses and services in the AFGRI Group will continue operating during the lockdown period:

  1. All grain silos and bunkers;
  2. All AFGRI Equipment branches and services;
  3. All Unigro financial services, including E- accounts;
  4. All Food processing and manufacturing facilities including AFGRI Animal Feeds and AFGRI Milling
  5. Hinterland (AFGRI Town and Country) retail branches.

Our employees will be allowed to travel to perform these services to you.

We will continue to act lawfully and responsibly in accordance with the Disaster Management Act and its regulations and if anything changes we will contact you. Employees that are not deemed essential to attend their normal workplace, will work from home. However, whether the work from home or from their normal workplace, they will continue to be contactable and provide you with the same services and products you are accustomed to.

Our clients and employees’ health and safety is paramount. It is also however important to appreciate the fact that the AFGRI group of companies, our employees and clients form part of the Agro-Food which has rightfully being recognised as essential to the country fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a privilege, but also a huge responsibility.

Lastly, we wish to ensure you that the AFGRI Group have the operational plans and human resources necessary to support you, our valued client in these trying times.

We will continue to keep you updated with any developments, including on social media and our website.

– Tinus Prinsloo Acting Group CEO –

A Message to the Agriculture and Food Sector of South Africa

As you may be aware, that last night the President announced measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, which include a 21-day lockdown.

Several businesses will be affected, but the agriculture and food supply sector is one of essential systems for livelihood and therefore will remain operational. Our food supply system will remain functional during this period. Agricultural production in all its forms will remain uncompromised. This includes all services including provision of veterinary and advisory services. Live auctions of livestock and sale of other agricultural commodities will continue but under the strict conditions a prescribed by the President. Exports and imports of critical agriculture commodities and the logistical measures will continue during this lock down period to ensure global and national food security.

This is not only limited to retailers but the entire food value chain, from farm- related operations, agro-processing and food manufacturing, logistics and related services, wholesale and retail services, and all support functions that ensure efficient delivery of the agro-food system.

As a nation, we boast for being self-sufficient in food production, and a part of this year’s supply is yet to be harvested – which promises to be a bumper field crop and citrus harvest – and these processes will continue as normal as a foundation of South Africa’s food system. I will be making regular updates on crop estimates to inform the country of our critical commodity supply. To ensure that we do not have inflated prices in the sector. Food price monitoring will be conducted on critical food basket commodities and reports will be given to the nation on regular bases.

The Department has set aside a package of R1.2 billion to address effects of the corona virus and ensure sustainable food production post the pandemic. The Department soon will make the details of this package together with the application channels available. The Department has also availed R100 million to the Land Bank to assist farmers under distress.

Together with the industry we are working on a sector operational procedures that would ensure adherence to the measures announced by the President this includes the provision of sanitation to employees within the sector especially farm workers.

We urge the food value chain role players to strictly comply and adhere to strict health regulations to contain and arrest COVID-19 as we strive to supply food to the nation.

I appeal to the public not to embark on panic buying, as the President has indicated. The country has sufficient food supplies. Panic buying will only cause disruptions and inconvenience in the food system. I urge you, fellow-citizens, to also be considerate and purchase that which is sufficient for your needs.

To wholesalers and retailers, we urge you not to engage in price gouging, at such a crucial time for the country. You have an important role to play in the supply of food, and the fight against COVID-19. We ask that you continue to serve the nation and help ensure food security at this critical juncture.

– Ms. Thoko Didiza, MP Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development –

Chris Venter to transition from AFGRI following successful re-positioning of the Group

AFGRI Group Holdings (“AGH” or the “Group”) today announced that Chris Venter will be stepping down as Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) after 11 years in the role and a total of 15 years’ service to the Group in various capacities.

Michael Wilkerson, Chairman of the Board of Directors of AGH, commented, “On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Chris for his leadership and substantial contribution as CEO over this past decade. He was instrumental in re-shaping the Group around a vision to drive food security in the region through a focus on the grain value chain. Chris played a leading role in positioning AGH as a leading agricultural, financial services and foods business in South Africa and beyond. I together with the rest of the Board wish him all the best in his future endeavours.”

Chris joined the Group in June 2005 as Managing Director of AFGRI Financial Services. He was appointed to the Board of AFGRI Limited 2007 and in 2008 was appointed as CEO of the then listed entity. When the company delisted from the JSE in 2014, Venter continued as CEO of the Group until his resignation.

Chris successfully established significant strategic pillars of operation around agriculture, food, financial services and corporate social investment (specifically the upliftment, support and training of emerging farmers, in South Africa and southern Africa), while undertaking a programme for the divestiture of several non-core businesses, and strengthening the Group’s capital structure. This process culminated in the establishment of a strategic infrastructure platform (AFGRI Silo Company) in 2019. During this period, the Group’s B-BBEE rating increased from a level 6 to its current level 3, making AGH one of the most empowered large agricultural concerns in South Africa.

Tinus Prinsloo, a seasoned leader with deep knowledge of AFGRI, agriculture and finance, will assume the position of acting CEO of AGH. Tinus joined AFGRI in 2006 after a ten-year career at the Corporate Finance Unit of the Land Bank. He served as CEO of AFGRI Operations until becoming CEO of AFGRI Silo Company in mid-2019. Chris will support Tinus and the board to ensure a smooth handover in the coming months.

Johan Geel will rejoin AGH as Chief Operating Officer. With more than 25 years’ experience, Johan is a seasoned executive with a proven track record as a leader in the agricultural industry. Johan has most recently served as Group Financial Director for GWK Limited. Johan previously worked with with AGH for over 22 years in a variety of roles including as Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer.

“It has been an amazing journey and certainly a privilege and honour to serve AFGRI and its shareholders in various capacities over the past 15 years. I enjoyed my time with the Group and was given an amazing opportunity by shareholders to positively impact the lives of people for which I will always be grateful. The agricultural landscape is an essential and dynamic sector across the world, playing a vital role in support of food security, which remains my passion and vision. I will be involved in this sector for a long time to come,” concluded Venter.

AGH announces new CEO for its AFGRI Agri Services business

Chris Venter, the CEO of AGH, the investment holding company with interests in a number of food, agriculture and financial services related companies providing products and services to ensure sustainable agriculture and food security, has announced the appointment of Jacob de Villiers as the new CEO of its AFGRI Agri Services business, following former CEO Tinus Prinsloo’s retirement at the end of July 2019. De Villiers is no stranger to the business nor any of its stakeholders, most recently filling the position of CFO of AFGRI Agri Services.

De Villiers, a Chartered Accountant by training, has held various roles within the organisation since first joining in 2002. Most recently, he acted in a dual capacity as managing director of AFGRI Grain Management and CFO of AFGRI Agri Services.

He believes there will be no major changes in the business, a leading agricultural services company with core competencies to enhance, support and guide the growth of agricultural enterprises, under his leadership in the next 12 to 18 months. His focus will be on strategy implementation and exemplary customer service.

“We are privileged that Tinus is leaving behind such an excellent legacy. AFGRI Agri Services has gone through extensive restructuring during the past two years as part of the overall AGH reorganisation, which has successfully positioned us to take this business forward. We’ve also during this time dealt with legacy issues and have built a solid management team – now it’s really a matter of fine tuning,” said de Villiers.

“What we want to do is to implement our strategy, ensuring our processes are optimised and working for us, doing more with less, and executing swiftly with an even greater focus on our customers, ensuring they are always front of mind.”

De Villiers says that given a number of external forces affecting the agricultural sector, including drought, political intervention, and foreign exchange fluctuations, amongst others,  that are simply beyond the business’ control, it’s critical  to remain heedful of those things that can be managed to ensure that AFGRI Agri Services continues to flourish.

“We are responsible corporate citizen, contributing wholeheartedly to building South Africa’s economy, employing more people – all this to ensure our business thrives.”

With the newly-created AFGRI Silo Company now in place, de Villiers says leveraging this platform will be a major focus in the next 12 to 18 months, with the intention being to have more grain storage participants come on board, with the goal of building storage capacity from 4,7 million tonnes to six million tonnes, as well as branching out into the storage of other agricultural commodities beyond grain.

On the financial services side, de Villiers believes that apart from having a more robust financial services offering from UNIGRO following AGH’s acquisition of the South African Bank of Athens (now Grobank) last year, securing long-term funding is critical to ensuring that the farmer book continues to strengthen, all the while ensuring the relationship of origination for the Land Bank remains steadfast.

“We are working with like-minded funding partners that have the best interests of the sector at heart to support South Africa’s farmers across all nine provinces, with AFGRI Agri Services now having a solid presence across the country.”

From AFGRI Equipment perspective, de Villiers says that the next 12 to 18 months will be a period of consolidation for this division, which has gone through several mergers and acquisitions over the past three to four years. “Here the focus for the next year or so will be on further process improvement, bedding these down, and ensuring the business operates optimally.”

Lemang Agricultural Services, created last year to focus on assisting black commercial farmers, is now in the final stages of being accredited as a level 1 B-BBEE financial intermediary and will be supported by UNIGRO and other funders. “This is a very exciting initiative – it’s almost like starting a new business from scratch, and here certainly the long-term goal is to grow Lemang to the same size as AFGRI Agri Services.”

AFGRI Technology Services (ATS) will also play a key role in supporting the other divisions adapt to innovation and technology, as well as bringing AgTech to customers as part of AFGRI Agri Services’ overall suite of offerings. Furthermore, ATS has several joint partnerships and in terms of data extraction and mining with the aim of ensuring that AFGRI Agri Services has the right information at hand to ensure its sustainability going forward. “We’re very excited to see various other developments coming to fruition soon.”

Another clear focus will be on people – for de Villiers having an engaged workforce is imperative to achieving a truly customer-centric organisation that is set apart from others in the sector.

According to Venter, AFGRI Agri Services will remain in good hands. “I am confident Jacob has what it takes to further cement this business’ position as a leader in providing agricultural services and products and I look forward to working with him.”

Venter added that whilst Prinsloo may be retiring as CEO of AFGRI Agri Services, he will continue to serve as a non-executive director on the boards of a number of invested companies falling under the AGH umbrella, and further assist in the positioning of the AFGRI Silo Company.

“In this way his skills and expertise will remain available to AGH, which will ensure that his knowledge and deep experience of the agricultural sector are passed on to another generation of leaders within the Group.”

The Future of Farming in South Africa

Afgri CEO Chris Venter believes South Africa is well positioned to become a major food exporter, and that the agricultural sector could become a significant contributor to the local economy in the next ten years.

Venter told a GIBS forum there needs to be policy streamlining regarding export licensing, a substantial increase in agricultural activity in the Eastern Cape and an emphasis on urban farming and hydroponics projects in order for agriculture to fulfill its potential in the South African economy.

A vision for agriculture and food security across the region and continent should feature a 50-year food security plan for SADC, and include plans for processing of locally produced products. He called for a formalised approach to export production, and “thoughtful agricultural policy” which takes into account the funding and support needs of small scale farmers.

“If we ultimately want to create one million jobs in agriculture, these can only come off the back of production and processing,” he explained.

Afgi was started as a farming co-operative in 1963, and has since developed into a diversified agricultural, food and financial services company with a banking offering launched through Grobank. The group’s investments include animal feed products, oil and protein, grain management and equipment.

Technology and farming

While agriculture is often considered old fashioned, technology has had a dramatic impact on farming in South Africa, Venter said.

Data analysis, including soil data and weather station analysis are becoming increasingly important to agriculture. AI-enabled machinery, such as crop sprayers that are able to distinguish between plants and weeds, are able to reduce the application of fertiliser and pesticides by as much as 90%.

“Farmers want more control over what they put into the soil,” Venter explained, as “more control means less spending as margins on farms become more pressurised.”

Advances in technology will however mean large scale commercial farms will become less labour intensive, resulting in jobless growth in certain areas of agriculture. However, Venter said small scale urban farming would drive productivity and jobs growth.

Climate and water challenges

Growth is expected in most subsectors of South African agriculture, with poultry, yellow maize, wheat and soybeans likely to experience the most growth due to changes in consumer preferences. Climate change however remains a concern and crop diversification is key. Venter said white maize would decrease in utilisation and production as consumers become more affluent and replace this staple with other forms of starch in their diets.

While seed technology has enabled farmers to plant for higher yields in dryer environments, some areas of the country are becoming unsustainable for grain farming due to climate change.

“We have enough land. The challenge is having enough land with enough water available – water shortages will be critical in the future and our current water policy framework is not catering sufficiently for water storage and distribution.”

Land reform and small-scale farmer development

Discussions around land reform and redistribution had impacted investor confidence in the sector over the past year Venter said. However, by the end of 2018 farmers had started to invest in their farms and buy capital goods again.

“Reform is a reality. Injustice was done and we need to decide how to correct it,” he said. Venter said business was encouraged by the productive engagements it had with government:

“There has been a genuine approach by government that food security and the economy would not be placed in jeopardy during the process of land reform discussions. There has also been goodwill from commercial farmers.”

However, the land debate is a very complex one, and “it may not be possible to cater for all the complexities in one answer,” he said.

On the question of foreign ownership of farming land, Venter argued that the country is in “a unique situation, we have land issues and we need to deal with that first before we consider selling large tranches of agricultural land to foreign owners for export food production.”

Mega farms or large scale commercial farming is not the only productive way to farm, Venter said, but small scale emerging farmers require funding and support to become commercially viable.

Mechanisms to support emerging farmers should include a proper funding structure and access to infrastructure, Venter said. “Farming is very complex. We must look at what we really mean when we say we need to get the land productive.”

“Small farmers need know how and they need access,” Venter said. To this end, Afgri offers a five year mentorship programme to small scale farmers that includes access to finance, soil analysis and assistance with the harvest.

“Route to market and infrastructure are both major challenges and the reality is that it takes time for small farmers to gain economies of scale.”

Commercial and small scale farming are not in direct opposition to each other, as large famers push commodities and drive exports, but there was a need to “consider new urban and small scale models to enable an economic environment to grow jobs and transfer skills.”

“All our systems and infrastructure are geared for large scale commercial farmers, we have to start to look at it differently,” he concluded.


 

Article by Chris Venter – Afgri
(Published: 23 May 2019)

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Chris Venter on Grobank:

 

South Africa becoming a major food exporter:

 

Technology in farming:

Emergence of Grobank a huge boost for SA’s agriculture sector

Agriculture has come under the spotlight in SA. Not only did the 2015/2016 drought highlight the sector’s importance to economic growth and job creation ambitions, the recent policy proposal on land expropriation without compensation drew attention to its importance in ensuring national food security, while also addressing inequality.

Over time the focus of the debate on agriculture has evolved from focusing mainly on the sustainability of production to a discussion of farmer support, and more recently on land ownership. However, one factor — access to finance — remains a cardinal feature that has not been properly addressed. This is because the financial services sector plays a significant role in the growth of SA’s agricultural sector.

The financial services sector’s credit exposure to agriculture amounted to R158bn in 2017, according to data from the department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries. The latest industry estimates put 2019 figures north of R160bn. This figure has been on an increasing trend since 2000.

Aggregate agricultural debt, adjusted for inflation, has grown by an annual average rate of 11% over the past 17 years, with the Land Bank, followed by commercial banks, accounting for much of this growth. Evidently, the agricultural sector has proven to be reasonably lucrative for local financiers, particularly at a time when corporate lending has been stifled by weak manufacturing growth.

Interestingly, despite this boom in agricultural lending, emerging farmers, and agroprocessing small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) in particular, have repeatedly lamented their inability to access credit and working capital, a challenge that has crippled many in their paths to commercialisation. Though the state has launched several initiatives to bolster the provision of finance to these farmers and SMMEs, primarily using the Land Bank as a conduit, many of these facilities remain underutilised, mainly because projects fail to meet funding criteria.

This incongruency illustrates the need for alternative funding models and innovation in the agricultural funding space, a need the numerous financiers in the sector have failed to address over the years. The shortage of emerging-farmer and SMME funding in the face of robust aggregate agricultural credit growth also highlights the agricultural sector’s dichotomy and the scale of untapped potential in the market.

Against this backdrop, it is encouraging to note the emergence of Grobank, a new commercial bank transitioned from the Bank of Athens and focusing primarily on the food value chain.

While most SA commercial banks have divisions offering agricultural finance, Grobank is the first commercial bank seeking to place all its eggs in the agricultural basket, so to speak.

At a time when the big banks are re-engineering their processes to modernise legacy systems and improve their digital offerings as numerous new-era entrants are hot on their heels, Grobank’s entry into SA’s banking landscape is certainly a bold one.While some people have lauded the new bank for its daring ambitions for the agribusiness finance market, some have understandably raised concerns about the sustainability of the agricultural finance market given the recent debates about land expropriation without compensation. Much has been written about the risks faced by SA’s banking sector should wholesale land expropriation occur. From our reading of the governing party’s policy documents, this situation is unlikely to materialise.

Many, including most credit ratings agencies, share this sentiment, and banks have to a large extent continued with business as usual, with positive results. In a report on SA banking performance, Ernst and Young notes that the country’s banks reported double-digit profit growth in 2018 and the highest returns on equity since the global financial crisis. It is thus likely that if the government continues to take a measured approach to land expropriation and the economy supports robust activity, new entrants into the banking landscape will be handsomely rewarded and increased competition will benefit agricultural clients.

On the agriculture front, the success of specialist banks such as Rabobank in Europe, South America and Australia provides a case for increased focus on the domestic agribusiness market. After all, agriculture continues to be viewed as one of the sectors that will drive growth and job creation in SA. At the heart of all this there should be financial innovation that is tailored for the agricultural sector.

New entrants in particular have the opportunity to step up to the task and plug the gap of the unbanked segments of agriculture. This calls for innovative financing models that will leverage technological advancement, either through new digital platforms and satellite technology. The traditional banks have failed to service these segments because of the rigid screenings, collateral requirements, and other regulations. However, with digitisation in this fourth industrial revolution, more can be done for the unbanked.

All over Africa new agritech and fintech start-ups are mushrooming, and their business models are focused on improving the efficiencies of agricultural value chains, all boosting a case for more innovative and inclusive financial instruments for the sector. This, supported by technological advancement, is the future of financing in the agricultural space, and the future looks bright for this critical sector.


 

Article by Thabi Nkosi and Wandile Sihlobo
Nkosi is executive director responsible for research, business development and investments at Afgri Group Holdings. Sihlobo is chief economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA.
(Published: 02 May 2019 – 18:42)

SA Bank of Athens Repositioning as Grobank

Against the background of South Africa’s rapidly evolving and expanding banking landscape, where digital solutions and low-cost operating models have become some of the top challenges, the former South African Bank of Athens has repositioned itself as a new banking entity – Grobank.

The Grobank brand reflects the transaction that concluded in October 2018 when GroCapital Holdings, supported by its shareholders AFGRI Group Holdings, Fairfax Africa and the Public Investment Corporation, obtained all the regulatory approvals for the acquisition of the South African Bank of Athens Limited (SABA), corresponding to 99.81% of the issued share capital. The SA Bank of Athens has been operating in South Africa since 1947 – a history of more than seven decades and, with the acquisition, the opportunity has been created to reposition the bank and introduce its new identity: Grobank.

Grobank is positioning itself to deliver both the extensive banking experience gained through its history as Bank of Athens, as well as accessing the deep food and agri-business knowledge of its shareholders. This will result in a Bank that is focused firmly on supporting the food and agriculture value chain in South Africa, comprising business ranging from farms to food manufacturers, retailers, transporters, importers / exporters and more. The Bank will be focused on building an agri-banking offering based directly on the insights gained through direct relationships with farmers and agri-businesses held across generations, and will add these to its existing range of proven business banking products and services. These services offered will also allow the Bank to continue to serve and grow its current SME customer base, as well as focusing on expanding its alliance banking business offering.

Grobank CEO, Mr Spiro Georgopoulos, said:

“We are marrying our strengths as bankers and financiers to the strategically important need to support food security. This focus will not only lie in the farming sector, but also across the food business chain including small and medium enterprises, business investors, entrepreneurs, retailers, restaurant owners, warehouse owners and factory owners.”

In a time where banking services are becoming increasingly digital, Grobank also intends on placing relationship banking at the heart of its offering. While a great digital offering remains a critical element of banking services, Grobank believes that a true relationship with an expert banker remains a core need for businesses that make complex banking decisions. Understanding what matters to a business, and delivering on those needs cannot be delivered without engaging directly with that business. As a result, while the Bank has today made a complete brand transition at all of its branches and digital sites, customer engagement will still largely be delivered at the farm, factory or premises of its customers.

Mr Georgopoulos, said “We will continue our strategy to reach out to business owners, learn their business, listen to their needs and provide products and services tailor-made for our market. We are committed to develop a deep understanding of the Grobank client’s world, their financial needs and aspirations.”

For information about Grobank, visit www.grobank.co.za.

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AFGRI Group Holdings and an investor consortium create a strategic commodity/grain storage platform to support growth and strengthen food security

AFGRI Group Holdings (“AGH”), the investment holding company with interests in food, agriculture and financial services related companies providing products and services to ensure sustainable agriculture and food security (collectively, the “AFGRI Group”), today announced the creation of a strategic grain storage platform vehicle in collaboration with a consortium of leading South African institutional investors to enable the growth of grain storage capacity in South Africa and on the continent and to strengthen food security in the region.

As background to the transaction, Chris Venter, the CEO of AGH, explains that in 2011 the AFGRI Group sold its debtors’ book to the Land and Agricultural Bank of South Africa (“Land Bank”) with a clear vision of gaining access to a stronger balance sheet and the ability to expand its lending capabilities to offer a broader base of financial support to farmers.

“Since then the AFGRI Group has substantially increased its debtors’ book, growing it more than fivefold in value from 2011. The number of loans to farmers has also increased considerably from 1,290 to 8,620 farmers. The Group has expanded its financial service offerings across all nine provinces, financing not only grain production but various other commodities. Through the recent acquisition of the South African Bank of Athens, we are today able to offer a wide range of additional banking products to farmers.”

Venter said that using a similar approach, the AFGRI Group is now pleased to announce the creation of a strategic storage platform vehicle, AFGRI Grain Silo Company Proprietary Limited (“AFGRI Grain Silo Company”) – which has the clear objective of expanding its current storage capacity of some 4,7 million tons to six million tons in the near future. “This will allow us to not only cater for grain storage, but to expand into the storage of other types of commodities,” says Venter.

Three new institutional investors have committed to invest alongside the Group and its current BEE employee partner, Izitsalo Employee Investments, in the platform and through this, to support AFGRI’s strategy for growth and food security. The three institutional investment partners are STANLIB Infrastructure Investments, Wiphold, and the Land Bank. This investment consortium will initially own storage facilities with a total value of R3,6 billion at inception.

Venter continued, “AFGRI Operations Proprietary Limited (“AFGRI Operations”) will manage the storage facilities on behalf of AFGRI Grain Silo Company in terms of an evergreen management agreement. This arrangement provides the strategic benefit of AFGRI’s excellent track record in managing storage operations, and deep experience of the sector.”

AFGRI Operations will continue to be a JSE Approved Storage Operator for all the grain silos, while the grain silos will continue to be JSE Approved Silos and JSE registered delivery points.

This transaction will assist AFGRI to achieve four strategic objectives, namely:

  1. the creation of a strategic storage platform with a focus on expanding across Africa;
  2. partnering with reputable South African institutional investors;
  3. unlocking the value of AFGRI’s grain storage assets, the proceeds from which will be used to further expand AFGRI’s financial services reach and support for farmers; and
  4. entrenching AFGRI’s reputation as the foremost long-term services provider to farmers and the agricultural industry. The Group’s current 4,7 million tonne storage footprint consists of grain silos and bunker complexes throughout six provinces in South Africa.

“High-quality commodity storage and related services is in demand by our customers, and through the consortium, we aim to ensure that we enter new areas across South Africa and simultaneously grow capacity,” said Jacob de Villiers, MD of AFGRI Grain Management.

“For clients making use of our silo and bunker facilities, it is business as usual,” de Villiers indicated. Farmers and grain silo users will continue to experience AFGRI Grain Management’s proven expertise and track record on an ongoing and uninterrupted basis.”

The effective date of the transaction is 31 March 2019 and all suspensive conditions to the transaction have been fulfilled.

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AFGRI commits R3 million to the establishment of the AFGRI Support Fund

AFGRI, a leading agricultural services company with core competencies to enhance, support and guide the growth of agricultural enterprises in South Africa and further afield, has launched a not-for-profit company to assist those in dire financial need involved in the agricultural sector in South Africa. The Fund will operate in the geographic areas of the country where AFGRI operates but won’t be limited to AFGRI clients.

Tinus Prinsloo, CEO of AFGRI, indicated that, “We want to make a meaningful difference in the areas we operate in, aside from our service and product offerings, as there are times that people just need a partner who cares. We have therefore established this Fund into which we have made an initial injection of R3 million.”

He went on to say that he hoped that those so inclined would also contribute towards the Fund, which has been established in order to extend financial support to beneficiaries in the agricultural sector, focusing on those operating within the AFGRI ecosystem and geographic areas. The aim is to grow the Fund to be sustainable into the future as a beacon of agricultural community support.

“The perils of farming are enormous, and to have an organisation that cares enough to lend a helping hand can mean a great deal” said Jacob de Villiers, the CFO of AFGRI.

Farming is a profession with a myriad of moving parts and possibly thousands of decisions to be made and just as many possible impacts to manage. There are times that no matter how dedicated, diligent and committed a farmer is, the elements step in and upset the apple cart. During the past two years farmers across South Africa have had to contend with drought conditions, hail, foot and mouth disease, armyworm invasions and wildfires, to name but a few.

AFGRI stepping in to help is not a recent development but has been part of the company’s ethos since it was established over 95 years ago. More recently, in 2016 during one of the worst droughts ever recorded in South Africa, AFGRI donated R5 million in drought aid to farmers. It also offered a zero increase on storage fees for a period, knowing that these gestures would assist farmers caught in the grips of the drought.

Similarly, in 2017 AFGRI partnered with farmers in the Free State and the KZN Midlands, as far afield as Bothaville, Koppies, Danielsrus and Tweeling, to facilitate a process through which large-scale hay donations could be sent to farms in the Thornhill district in the Eastern Cape. The donation amounted to more than a 1 000 round bales. AFGRI Grain Producers further donated maize for trading, using the proceeds to support the project.

The AFGRI Support Fund is not a development fund or a sponsorship vehicle. “Within our service offering we have Lemang Agricultural Services, a dedicated division focusing on new-era farmer development. Our Fund will focus purely on assisting people in need, based on the merits of each case” explained Prinsloo.

De Villiers, along with Marion Shikwinya and Ross Simmonds, all senior executives within the AFGRI Group, are the directors of the Fund and will be responsible for the evaluation and disbursements of requests received. “As mentioned, the Fund is registered as a not-for-profit company, with all contributions treated in terms of the Tax Act and thus donations will be deductible” said De Villiers.

Throughout the year AFGRI will make use of a host of events to raise money for the Fund, including golf and farmers days, as well as ad hoc opportunities, and will also be accepting contributions from external individuals and organisations. AFGRI itself has committed to an annual donation of a minimum of R3 million. In addition, AFGRI will continue to have an account into which farmers are able to donate grain for sale, the proceeds of which will be transferred to the Fund account.

When asked what drove the establishment of the Fund, Prinsloo explained that “We know all too well the publicised issues and get asked by so many to assist. We also want to ensure that support reaches those in need as much too often donations don’t reach those who truly need them.”

“We want control and to have a focused approached” added De Villiers, saying that the Fund will be audited and reports published, not only to AFGRI’s shareholders, but also to those donating money.

AFGRI is committed to and follows strict corporate governance procedures and the AFGRI Support Fund is no different. “Both the impact and the measurement of the difference we are making will be noted with the purpose of continual improvement to safeguard a growing and sustainable Fund.”

“This will ensure that financial support is available to all involved in agriculture in the long-term. In this way AFGRI will continue to make a positive impact on the agricultural sector in our country, just as we have for the past nine decades and more” concluded De Villiers.

Two e-mail addresses have been created for those in need of financial support to apply for funding, which are [email protected] and [email protected]. Please note that all requests will be subject to certain criteria, and due process. More information will be placed on the AFGRI website (www.afgri.co.za) from mid-March onwards.

GroCapital Holdings responds to Business Report allegations against the Prudential Authority

On 25 September 2018, an article entitled “Bank Regulator under scrutiny” was published in Business Report. GroCapital Holdings Limited (“GroCapital Holdings”), on its own and on behalf of its shareholders, AFGRI Holdings Proprietary Limited (“AFGRI”), the Public Investment Corporation SOC Limited (“PIC”) and Fairfax Africa Investments Proprietary Limited (“Fairfax Africa”), hereby wishes to release the following statement regarding the article to set the record straight:

GroCapital Holdings views the article and the statements and comments made by the author of the article in a serious light and distance ourselves from them in the strongest possible terms.

We further assert that the contents of the article are conjecture and that the inferences, conclusions and comments made by the author regarding the independence of the Prudential Authority (“PA”) are those of the author only and not those of GroCapital Holdings and/or its shareholders.

We can confirm that no interviews were requested by the author nor granted by GroCapital Holdings and/or its shareholders, prior to the publication of the article. The author furthermore did not approach GroCapital Holdings and/or its shareholders for their comments after the article was published.

We are of the view that the author quoted selectively, and out of context, from the records of the Competition Commission Tribunal hearing. The questions posed to Mr le Grange, Ms Simpson and Mr Bloem by the Tribunal members at the time of the hearing were done so purely to clarify certain aspects of the transaction, and to provide the members with comfort that the transaction was approved by the Minister of Finance and the South African Reserve Bank.

We therefore fully agree with the statement by the PA in the article that “these allegations of “match making……to include the PIC as a party to the acquisition of shareholding in banks, are not true.”

GroCapital Holdings categorically denies that the PA introduced the PIC as a prospective shareholder to GroCapital Holdings or suggested, inferred or implied that if the PIC was included as a shareholder, the acquisition would stand a better chance of being approved. The PIC has in fact been a substantial shareholder of AFGRI since 2014.

All of AFGRI’s shareholders were invited by AFGRI to participate directly in the acquisition of a stake in the South African Bank of Athens Limited  through GroCapital Holdings at the inception of the proposed transaction in October 2016. Both the PIC and Fairfax Africa accepted such participation. From a governance perspective, the PIC presented the proposed transaction to and obtained approval from its relevant sanctioning committee/s to participate in the SABA acquisition.

We reaffirm the fact that no third party facilitated the transaction nor fostered the relationship between the transacting parties. To the contrary, it was GroCapital Holdings which requested SARB to allow the PIC to participate in the SABA acquisition.