No one can predict the future. But can we identify actions that we can take today to shape a better tomorrow? By Anna Mouton.
Hortgro recently contracted professional futurist Tanja Hichert to facilitate a foresight study for the pome- and stone-fruit industries. Strategic foresight aims to identify drivers of change and then imagine how these play out resulting in different futures. Some of these futures will obviously be preferable to others. Foresight is about informing decisions and actions today so that we move toward a preferred future.
The Hortgro strategic foresight process
A group of stakeholders participated in four online workshops in October 2021 — see figure 1.
The concept of VUCA — volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous — conditions was explained to them in the first workshop, and they were introduced to future thinking. Participants were familiar with short-term business planning but had not necessarily worked with future thinking and strategic foresight which is concerned with long-term — 30 years plus — planning.
Who were the participants?
There were 40–50 participants at each workshop. The majority were either growers or technical advisers. Most represented operations or interests from either the Western Cape or the entire country. The breakdown of participants is shown in figures 2 and 3.
Workshop 1: Drivers of change
Participants produced a list of 95 high-impact and high-uncertainty drivers of change. These were refined to 16 items from which each participant then selected their top five. The overall top five drivers formed the basis for imagining multiple futures in the next workshop.
The top 5 high-impact and high-uncertainty drivers of change
- Market access.
- Water availability.
- Climate change.
- Political instability.
Workshop 2: Imagining multiple futures
The second workshop explored alternative futures using 2×2 uncertainty-matrix scenario gameboards. Participants brainstormed ways to make preferred futures more likely, avoid or mitigate less-preferred futures, and identify the risks and opportunities offered by alternative futures.
What is a preferred future for the South African deciduous-fruit industry?
- A diverse range of markets is easily and affordably accessed by all players.
- The production and route-to-market infrastructure are upgraded and maintained.
- The water supply is well-managed and sufficient.
- The industry can cope with climate-change effects.
- There is good governance, a supportive regulatory environment, and policy certainty.
- The supply chain is robust and operates smoothly.
- Fourth-industrial-revolution technology benefits all players.
Workshop 3: Strategy as landscape
The strategy-as-landscape model is a way of thinking about achieving goals. The actor — in this case, the deciduous-fruit industry — journeys across a landscape toward a preferred future. The landscape contains certain obstacles and opportunities. The actor needs to formulate a strategy and an action plan for crossing the landscape.
Participants formed four breakout groups to brainstorm strategies and action plans for reaching their preferred futures.
Workshop 4: Taking action
The third workshop generated hundreds of strategic activities. These were synthesised into a list of 73 actions clustered into seven categories. The fourth workshop entailed prioritising the actions within each category. The top 3 actions in each category are summarised below.
- Develop strategies to address major risks such as climate change and water availability.
- Source or breed adapted cultivars suitable for South African climatic projections.
- Develop maps showing the future suitability of major production regions for different crops.
- Create a strategic water-resource plan for each region in conjunction with the government to manage all water resources, including groundwater, holistically.
- Research and promote the implementation of water- and energy-saving irrigation technology.
- Develop a public-private partnership with the Department of Water and Sanitation for the maintenance of infrastructure.
- Investigate privatisation or public-private partnerships for ports.
- Establish working groups with the government to negotiate access to infrastructure.
- Advocate for government investment in bulk infrastructure required for exports, including roads, ports, electricity, and railways.
- Lobby government to prioritise market access and government-to-government links.
- Establish working groups with the government to negotiate access to markets and strengthen cross-product working groups on market access.
- Assist and support the government in developing the regulatory space, for example by seconding capable people to the government to address key issues.
Fourth industrial revolution
- Increase funding for industry research and research infrastructure.
- Encourage a focus on agricultural technology and engineering at local universities.
- Increase technology transfer and training for new technologies.
Governance, regulations, and policy
- Develop a transformed and profitable industry value chain. Address transformation at Hortgro and industry level.
- Position the fruit industry as an essential sector that the government needs to take seriously. Demonstrate that the industry can lead the way in for example job creation. Build on the good experience of transformation in the industry.
- Develop closer links with key government departments.
- Embed strategic foresight — visioning, anticipatory planning, etcetera — in the industry.
- Decide on key positions and fill them with capable people, and attract more skilled people to take up technical positions.
- Implement succession planning in the sector and for industry support services