I walked out to the arrivals hall, passing maybe a dozen taxi drivers. I was clearly told not to use their service. “Take Uber instead” a friend once told me. I rushed out to the exit, no longer than 2 minutes passed before the driver I ordered pulled his car near the sidewalk. He placed my suitcase in the trunk of his car and patiently waited for me to realize I would be sitting on his left side rather than on his right.
“You are in South Africa” he gently smiled.
The trip to South Africa was on the back of my mind for months yet nothing could have prepared me to what I would be soon experiencing. How could one possibly talk about Vertical Farming when 47 percent of the sub-Saharan population live on 1.90$ a day or less? Clearly a different approach would be needed.
Maggie Tan, CEO of Magenta Global, an independent business media company based in Singapore, was the lead organizer of the Urban Agri Summit 2017 in Johannesburg. We agreed I would be presenting a talk about vertical farming on the 2nd day of the 2-day long conference. Days before my flight to Johannesburg, I spent hours reading reports on Food Security, Agriculture and the African market. I can’t say I learned much.
What I couldn’t pick up from my hastily printed grey-looking reports, I quickly caught up during The Urban Agri Summit. There were plenty of opportunities to learn about this vast yet mysterious continent: Smallholder Farmers, Investors, Researchers, Analysts, Vertical Farmers and outright enthusiasts!
It was, relatively speaking, an intimate event and the chemistry between the speakers and the audience wasn’t like anything I’d witnessed before. It kept reminding me of a preacher delivering a Sunday sermon in church, where the audience would faithfully chime in with an “uh-uh” or a more poignant “damn’ right!” whenever an important point or a pun was made. These dynamics also resonated to the more informal networking sessions. The energy, the drive to share one’s prospect of a better future with his fellow ‘comrades’ (as South Africans kept referring to each other) allowed me to safely shed my own inherent skepticism and happily delve into conversations.