Midrand company leads the new farming renaissance for Africa

 

Despite its relatively small contribution to South Africa’s GDP, agriculture plays an important role in terms of job creation, especially in rural areas and is a significant contributor of foreign exchange.

However, farming in Africa is a tough business at the best of times – lack of water, rising energy, transportation and operating costs, pests and uncertain weather patterns are constant challenges in attempting to feed a nation.

A Midrand company, Big City Farms is setting the pace in the farming sector and is rolling out tested and proven systems which address all of these challenges, including the introduction of ‘urban farming’ on a large scale.

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For the past three years, the company’s Hein Oosthuizen and Justin Hess have joined the latest group of ‘agropreneurs’ who have been building and testing various aquaponics systems – the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) – which will locate food production in or close to large urban centres.

Oosthuizen said, “As a result of increased energy and subsequent transportation costs, food costs have skyrocketed in the last few years, so it makes perfect sense to manage and reduce those costs by bringing the food closer to the consumers.

“But there is even a bigger challenge that is threatening food production – water, and the lack of it.”

What has changed the rules of farming sustainability, added Oosthuizen, was the introduction of fish production in the aquaponics cycle where the water and the nutrients from a tank of fish flow into a tank of vegetables and herbs. The water and nutrients from the vegetable tank flow back into the fish tank to the extent that the growth rate is double of the normal growing period – twice as much produce in the same time as traditional farming.

Essentially, with proper installation and use of tested aquaponic systems, the yield per hectare is greater than a farming hectare, uses less than 20 per cent of the water than a conventional farm and can be located in a building in the middle of a city.

BIG City Farm’s team with their indoor grown fish and vegetable harvest.

This ‘vertical’ farming concept is not the future, it’s happening now and Big City is spearheading the research and the drive to make these systems accessible to everybody including micro farmers and commercial farmers who want to increase yields and reduce risk substantially.

Regardless of the system, there are already off take agreements in place which guarantees the owner that stock produced is already sold while owning a system which can provide fresh fish and pesticide free produce 365 days a year.

“Big City Farms, in partnership with other partners, have also developed a concept of a holistic farming solution by combining aquaponics with traditional farming that delivers all vegetables, meat, eggs and milk for any size community,” said Oosthuizen.

“Growing technology has come of age and by leveraging innovation, Africa is no longer held hostage to unreliable weather conditions and decreasing water access but well poised to reap the benefits of ‘harvesting-on-demand’.”

 

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  AUTHOR
Al Karaki

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