Peter Staude: SA’s drought – let’s learn, fix and not waste a good crisis

Tongaat Hulett chief executive Peter Staude is a deeply cerebral man with an encyclopaedic knowledge. So for this Davos veteran, the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting is a time of frentic activity, an opportunity to absorb as much as possible of the distilled wisdom available. We managed to grab a few minutes with him to share his thoughts on the implications of reputedly South Africas’s worst drought in a century. Staude’s reponse is precisely what you’d expect from one of the smartest CEOs I’ve had the privilege of meeting. – Alec Hogg

Alec Hogg is with Davos veteran Peter Staude who’s with the agriculture sector. Peter, there’s lots of concern in South Africa about the drought.

We’ve had droughts before. Obviously, what often goes through people’s minds is climate change. Are climatic conditions changing? Like every period, it has its pluses and its minuses. Droughts exercise people’s minds in a few really, fundamental topics. I’ll give you some fundamental topics in our region. When it comes to our region…when we work about water, it’s a good idea to do it regionally, rather than nationally and this is a very good time to think through the protocol on water between the different countries that we operate in.

So there could be a good side out of this.

Yes. Secondly, we still have a lot of fresh water in South Africa that flows into the sea. When you live in a province like KZN, you see it all the time. Over quite a period of time now, there’s been a logjam on relatively small farm dams as well as medium-scale dams. This is a good time to show some urgency to get those dams into place.

So you put the dams in and you look at things regionally. Sure, the drought is going to be tough but at least you’ve learned something from it.

Yes. The drought will be over and it will rain again but with more volatile climate conditions, it’s going to be quite important when we do get rain that we catch the rain and it doesn’t flow into the sea.

Don’t waste a good crisis.

That’s correct.

Peter, just to close off with, your feelings about Davos here… It’s been many years since I felt it quite as depressed as this. The whole world is having a bit of a tough time.

As I’ve often said, it’s actually a little bit of tenseness in a crisis that exercises people’s minds around certain topics. We all know (in the world) that we have to deal with some global topics so the whole question of inequality for example, is a serious topic in the world. Climate change is a serious topic in the world. How do you stop geopolitical tensions? That’s a serious topic in the world. It’s very often in these periods that people really exercise their minds, rather than when everybody feels good and are just going forward.

Peter Staude is the Chief Executive of Tongaat.

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