School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Agricultural Economics Lecture Focuses on Human Development

The Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa’s (AEASA) annual FR Tomlinson Commemorative Lecture was hosted in KwaZulu-Natal for the fifth time, with UKZN alumnus Mr Duncan Stewart invited to present the address.

Stewart, the Managing Director and founder of the Lima Rural Development Foundation (LIMA) joins previous honourees from UKZN, Professors Emeritus Gerald Ortmann and Lieb Nieuwoudt, UKZN alumnus and Honorary Professor Michael Lyne of Lincoln University in New Zealand, and Mr Rex Hudson. The Lecture is named after Professor Frederick Rothman Tomlinson, founding member and first president of AEASA and the father of agricultural economics in South Africa.

Convened by Professor Stuart Ferrer of Agricultural Economics at UKZN, the hybrid event was held at the Shongweni Farmers and Craft Market and via the Zoom platform.

Ferrer emphasised that the occasion honoured the contributions made by Stewart to rural development in South Africa.

Stewart completed his BSc Agric and MSc Agric studies in agricultural economics at the then University of Natal and began his career with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, his education, work experience and postgraduate research giving him a sound understanding of livelihoods strategies and resource utilisation.

In 1989 he founded Lima, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working towards a more just society through dynamic community engagement and innovative rural development initiatives.

‘Under his leadership, LIMA has grown to become one of the largest rural development NGOs in the country,’ said Ferrer. ‘Its work has not only positively impacted and given hope to many rural families, but has also provided a platform for a number of young graduates to develop fulfilling careers as community development professionals.’

The topic of the Lecture was: Human development: Isn’t this After All What Economics is All About?

‘The Tomlinson Lecture offers an opportunity to share my agricultural economics journey with our friends at AEASA, and to provide some hope and motivation to those that have chosen to take up the baton,’ said Stewart.

He outlined theoretical concepts from the social sciences that have driven LIMA’s approach to rural development, and shared LIMA’s community development experiences – notable programmes include smallholder farmer support, land reform, infrastructure, public employment programmes and youth linkage projects – and the role that community and stakeholder participation plays in creating a more just and successful nation. He touched on sobering realities affecting the rural poor, including chronic malnutrition and terms of trade.

Stewart has remained a stalwart supporter of the University, hosting annual field trips for Agricultural Economics third-year students for three decades, sponsoring awards for top students, facilitating postgraduate studies, and employing many graduates from the Institution. He played a key role in establishing the Friends of UKZN Agriculture alumni association.

‘LIMA’s story begins at the University,’ said Stewart, adding that his master’s studies fostered determination and self-belief, and equipped him with the tools to establish LIMA.

‘LIMA’s success has been the result of a sustainable flow of top graduates that have come through the organisation in the past 30 years; adding value to the team and growing LIMA’s capabilities and reputation, and then moving on to other careers, taking with them their development philosophy and spreading the gospel of consultation and economic inclusion.’

Despite the postponement of the event from 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it drew record attendance, with more than 120 guests from universities, research institutes, private consultancies, government departments, the citrus, sugar and forestry industries, the banking sector, farming companies and NGOs. All nine South African provinces were represented, as well as Namibia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and the United States.

‘Your lecture is a testament to your passion for human development, which is a noble objective,’ said Ortmann in delivering the vote of thanks and presenting Stewart with the FR Tomlinson Commemorative Medal.

The content of the Lecture will be published in AEASA’s Agrekon journal.

Sponsors of the event included AEASA, UKZN, the LIMA Rural Development Foundation, the South African Canegrowers Association, and Nedbank.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied