University of Pretoria (UP) academic, Dr Melissa van der Merwe and students Jodie Vosloo and Paige Bowen were part of two teams that excelled in a case study competition at the recent International Food and Agribusiness Management Association’s (IFAMA) Conference.
Held in Buenos Aires, the competition, now in its 13th year, brings together students and young professionals from around the world to demonstrate their investigative and problem-solving skills to provide innovative solutions to practical problems. This year, the featured agribusiness was Bayer Crop Science. Although Bayer managed to expand its global footprint, it faced some challenges in growing some of its projects in developing economies.
The competition had two categories: one for students and one for young professionals and consisted of two rounds. In the first round, teams had four hours to work through a complex case study, develop a creative and practical solution to the problem and present this to a panel of judges. Eight teams were subsequently selected to participate in the final round, where they were allocated another four hours to work on the addendum to the case. A second round of presentations was then evaluated by a panel of judges.
Twenty two teams in total participated in the competition, with three young professional teams and 18 student teams. Countries represented included the United States, Australia, Argentina, Peru, the Netherlands and China.
Dr van der Merwe, of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development, was part of a team of young professionals that took first place with their ingenious idea to solve major value chain problems, through the use of blockchain technologies.
She said ‘it was a highly challenging but fruitful experience. Having individuals from different backgrounds, with different views, and different prior experiences in one team, with the task to come up with an innovative solution to a difficult problem in four hours, does not leave much time to figure out group dynamics’.
The student team comprising of Ms Vosloo and Ms Bowden of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development and students from the University of Stellenbosch and North West University, featured second in the student category. Ms Vosloo said she was surprised at how the student teams, from countries around the world approached the case study from different angles; thinking and interpreting information differently. ‘The South African team’s approach was to ground their solution on a value chain-wide traceability system. By improving the traceability systems they were able to create a branded product which resulted in a premium for the Indonesian farmers and a shared value throughout the chain.
Commenting on her experience, Ms Bowen said; ‘I learned so much about myself; my strengths and how to work and communicate with others. I am sure that this experience has provided me with the tools needed in the working environment. Overall this was a rewarding experience as it provided me with new knowledge and contacts that will assist me in my career.’