'Tech, Green Economy key to SA finding new niches for a competitive edge'
Economists agree that to survive the country needs to rethink its competitive edge and find new niches.
Hugo Pienaar, chief economist at the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University, said: “Over the past decade, perhaps longer, we've become quite uncompetitive in terms of production. Whether in chicken, steel or cement, the manufacturing sector has been underperforming.
“Broader thinking away from manufacturing is needed. The Green economy sector could be our saviour. The recently published Integrated Resource Plan 2019, with its support of a diverse energy mix and policy interventions, could set us up for the next decade.
“But we have to be ready to invest heavily in this if we are to see any benefit down the line.”
Finance and Economic Opportunities MEC David Maynier said: “As a result of opportunities identified in digital and technology, for example, we're seeking to establish the Western Cape as the digital hub of Africa, investing in niche sectors such as greentech, fintech and healthtech.”
A report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) made the case for a “Global Green New Deal”, which it said “will not only support climate stabilisation, but stimulate economic growth and jobs”.
Pienaar agreed: “Agriculture is a niche we can exploit, but to encourage proper investment here we need to do away with a number of policy interventions that cause uncertainty, such as some of the land policies.”
He mentioned the blueberry industry, which according to a recent report from the provincial department of agriculture, is one of the fastest growing horticultural industries, in terms of hectares planted and gross value.
According to the provincial department of agriculture: “In line with several policy documents that suggest high-value, labour-intensive and exported crops should be targeted for growth, this industry is well-positioned to drive inclusive development and has created 4000 jobs in five years.”
“Tradeables or products with export potential, such as Halaal and ethical foods, wines and other agricultural products such as berries, are receiving significant support from the Western Cape government,” said Maynier.
For Ché Köhler, co founder of Nichemarket, South Africa’s first social online marketplace for entrepreneurs, the key to opening markets and creating sustainable jobs lies in education.
“We need to relook our education system as there's been a focus on tertiary education. How many of these graduates are armed with skills that benefit the economy once they’ve completed their studies?” asked Köhler.
“Courses are not being evaluated with an eye on the economy. By incentivising people to get skills that will give them a chance to secure work with a reasonable salary and reduce critical skills shortages, we not only reduce unemployment but improve productivity.”
According to Maynier: “In the tourism sector, we're investing in its niches such as cycling, food and wine and adventure, while in the services sector, in we're investing in the skills development of young people.”@MwangiGithahu