This first appreared on the Facebook page of This was first published by Andrew Ardington on the Regenerative Agriculture Association’s Facebook page (see it here:

A letter to the President from Prof. James Blignaut. In the times of the Corona Virus we need to see the light that Regenerative Agriculture provides.

Dear Oom Cyril

It is Friday 10 April. Another 21 days…, it is as if we’re starting all over again.

It is grey on both the in- and outside. It is a day of deep mourning.

I mourn for us, the people, I mourn for us as a country. I lament forfeited opportunities; I lament what could have been. I lament. It is thus with pain that I write this letter to you, but also with hope. Hope that somehow you might read it, and hope that somehow you can be moved towards acting on it. Are we still allowed to hope? Because of love, I do hope. You know, we know, that hope is the thin margin between sanity and despair; without hope depression lurks around the corner as a deadly virus with far more devastating consequences than any other. As a nation we cannot become trapped in a sinkhole of depression. We need to see a future, bright and prosperous. We need to see our children excited about tomorrow. We thus need to see a constructive way forward. The plague cannot render us lame; it cannot incapacitate us towards another three weeks of nothingness. Thus, with hope and love, I write to you. It is hope and love that drives away the deep greyness that abounds.

Irrespective whether it is the source of the virus or not, you did not eat pangolin in Wuhan; you did not bring the big ugly C to our country – yet you and the national command council has to deal with it, and you have to deal with us – the people. We did not eat the pangolin either – on the contrary. But now you must deal with us in a time when the economy has tanked – rock-bottom: virus-filled junk. I do not need to provide you with the details thereof, and the people are hungry… You know, I know, most people know the country can easily turn to forbidden fruit, pangolins proverbially speaking, for survival. God forbids.

Oom Cyril, I do not have to tell you that printing money to provide social grants or bailing out companies is not a good idea, moreso now when the economy is in complete tatters. Neither will taking money from foreign powers be. As a matter on the side: instead of taking additional money from foreign powers I think you have a good case for requesting the foreign debt related to Medupi and Kusile to be written off. An institutional failure against which you and many others have been forewarned, and for which our children need not to pay. Amidst this mayhem our people must eat, they must work, and the bills must be paid – all that while despair and depression are driving the country to desperate measures. Hand-out money cannot liberate and rekindle life; it is not freedom – it will enslave more. We need trade, not aid. It is why I eagerly watched you from the mid-80s, hoping that one day you will step into the leadership of our country.

Humbly I would like to submit an idea to you. Our country is desperately ready for a major overhaul. Restoration and regeneration. What if, just what if, the money earmarked towards supporting our people can be redirected, through a concerted effort akin to the one dealing with the big C, but this time focused on regenerative agriculture. Food production, big and small, based on the principles of healing. A focused effort of all and sundry like it is now in combatting the virus, but this time channelled towards life-providing, healthy, affordable and accessible food. Food produced regeneratively is food that builds immune systems. It is food that can constructively rebuild the core fibre of our country, quite literally, to combat both this and any other potential future virus. It can inject pride and a sense of ubuntu and togetherness unlike any other. In Africa it is the land that unites us. Let us therefore use the land constructively and strategically to develop a nation to stand up out of the dust, to grow itself onto a new pathway, a new trajectory of development; allowing this generation to leave a legacy that blossoms.

I will not bore you with much detail Oom Cyril, but there is much that can be done using the principles of restoring natural capital as we grandly call it, of which regenerative agriculture is an integral part. Simply put, this means the stopping of leaks in the natural and social environment, while making long-lasting investments in the soil. Let us rally together and:

  • Stop the leak of hope leading to hopelessness because there are just too many days in a month for the budget.
  • Stop the leak of precious job opportunities because the streets and the shops are empty.
  • Stop the leak of hunger because the plate is a mirror and the fireplace cold.
  • Stop the leak of precious nutrients because the soil is being washed away.
  • Stop the leak of nutritious food since the nutrition is syphoned off in the production and processing processes.
  • Stop the leak of human capability because of stunting and malnutrition.
  • Stop the leak of money because we must pay others for food we can produce on our doorstep.
  • Stop the leak of carbon since we can plant the carbon in the soil, building soil fertility, and not release it into the atmosphere.
  • Stop the leak of precious water resources because the infrastructure is broken, and the invasive alien plants are gluttonous.
  • Stop the leak of life because there is hope.

Oom Cyril, a plan of action towards a nation-wide restorative and regenerative strategy that heals more than the land, that heals the people of the land, can be put together within a couple of days with the roll-out to follow. Oom Cyril, you have said thuma mina, and we honour you for that, but this job is too big for one man. Allow us, grant us, the opportunity to help you to rebuild. Let us not look down the double-barrelled gun of depression and hopelessness and the need to hunt the proverbial pangolin for a bite and that in a virus and a junk-filled economy. Use that which is in your hand, our hand, namely the resources kindly availed, as well as our collective capacity, to innovate and garner resilience while producing food – healing the land, healing the people. Now, more than ever.

Kind regards

James Blignaut

James Blignaut is Professor extraordinaire attached to the School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University and honorary research associate attached to the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any of the institutions he might be associated with. ;