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SAPICS conference highlights urgent need for public-private port initiatives and rail infrastructure improvements

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Panelists reported on the operational progress made to date by the National Logistics Crisis Committee (NLCC).
Panelists reported on the operational progress made to date by the National Logistics Crisis Committee (NLCC).Panelists reported on the operational progress made to date by the National Logistics Crisis Committee (NLCC).

Supply chain and logistics managers in all parts of the world are facing rising industry volatility fuelled by geopolitical conflicts, climate crises and economic instability. The recent 2024 SAPICS conference highlighted several international supply chain threats while also unpacking South Africa’s systemic supply chain challenges, most notably the urgent need for port and rail efficiency improvements.

A focal point of the conference was the current efficacy of the National Logistics Crisis Committee (NLCC), formed by government in June 2023. Ian Bird, the senior executive responsible for Transport and Logistics at Business for South Africa (B4SA), reported that despite infrastructure challenges, encouraging improvements in rail, road and port performance have been registered to date.

“The number of trains cancelled on the North Corridor due to security incidents has been reduced by 50%. The length of the N4 border queue has been cut from 16km to 3km. A 36% reduction in container vessels’ waiting time at anchor has been achieved, along with a 73% reduction in the number of vessels at anchorage,” Bird stated.

Held in Cape Town under the theme ‘Supply Chain Metamorphosis’, the 2024 conference featured 128 African and international experts and thought leaders who shared their insights and expertise with more than 750 supply chain managers from 30 countries across Africa and around the world.  

Transnet and business get closer

In a crucial discussion on South Africa’s ports, panelists representing Transnet and business debated the impact of Transnet’s monopoly, non-investment and the growing imperative for public-private partnerships to upgrade port terminals, back of port solutions and infrastructure like rail. 

“Competition breeds efficiency,” said Oscar Borchards, acting managing executive for the Western Cape Transnet Port Terminals. He and panelist Brenda Magqwaka, general manager, office of the commercial executive at Transnet, revealed that the state-owned enterprise had benchmarked its port terminals against those in Singapore and Thailand. 

Borchards noted that compared to Thailand’s Laem Chabang port, the critical issue to be addressed in South Africa is the “boldness to invest and bring in redundancy”. 

Magqwaka stated: “Even though Transnet is a monopoly, we realise we cannot go it alone.”

Antoinette van Heerden, logistical affairs manager at the Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum South Africa, stressed that South Africa is competing on fruit exports with South America where there are large ports, large vessels and low slot costs. 

“It is critical to focus on how to get out of the hole we are in quickly, and we need oversight to ensure that we do not end up here again. We must get to the point where we can get our fruit out at the port where we need to get it out. We can rough it for two more years but after that, we need to see service excellence,” Van Heerden said.

Prashant Yadav, winner of the Most Innovative Presentation Award.
Prashant Yadav, winner of the Most Innovative Presentation Award.

Under discussion too at the conference was the importance of strong healthcare supply chains, critical to getting lifesaving medicines and health commodities to where they are needed, when they are needed, including to the most vulnerable communities. 

Recognising this, the 2024 SAPICS Conference featured a global public health supply chain track running throughout the event. These sessions examined topics ranging from last mile distribution challenges across Africa to the successful use of drones for the delivery of blood, medicines and snakebite anti-venom. 

Artificial intelligence’s role in reducing drug shortages by analysing huge volumes of data faster than any human could was also explored, along with the power of public-private partnerships to enhance public health supply chains.

Sustainability and the impacts of climate change

A new book, Sustainable Supply Chain Orchestration, co-written by circular supply chain expert Deborah Dull and supply chain management leader Douglas Kent, was launched at the conference. Dull and Kent introduced SAPICS Conference attendees to their ‘UNLEARN’ model, a framework outlined in their book and designed to foster sustainable practices in an organisation. 

“Our supply chains have been designed to drive cost efficiencies, optimise delivery times and ensure product quality. However, this focus has contributed to unsustainable practices that compromise the well-being of our planet and society. We can no longer tolerate excessive packaging, inefficient logistics which increase greenhouse gas emissions, single-use plastics, exploitive labour practices, improper waste disposal or chemical runoff. Supply chain leaders have an enormous impact on sustainability and a critical role to play in shaping a better tomorrow,” said Dull.

Vanya Jansen, winner of the Best Speaker Award.
Vanya Jansen, winner of the Best Speaker Award.

Prizes were awarded to the following outstanding speakers and exhibitors: 

Best Speaker: Vanya Jansen.

Most Innovative Presentation: Prashant Yadav.

Best Panel Discussion: Market Shaping for Drones.

Best Workshop: Mbuso Nkosi.

Best Written Paper: Oliver Jones and Luis Freitas.

Best Booth: GS1.

Best Single Unit Exhibition Stand: Webfleet.

Best Multiple Unit Exhibition Stand: Interrol.

In addition to learning and networking, the SAPICS Conference organisers and delegates also found time during the conference to give back to those less fortunate. At a ‘Rise Against Hunger’ meal packaging event, conference attendees packed 6 000 meals for disadvantaged communities. 

Fittingly, SAPICS president MJ Schoemaker concluded: “It is more critical than ever for supply chain managers to share and update their knowledge as change has become the only constant in the profession.”

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