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The technology is out there; access by small-scale farmers remains a barrier

Climate smart agriculture workshop at PMA conference, Cape Town

At the recent PMA conference in Cape Town, a workshop on climate smart agriculture investigated the needs of South African agriculture and how Dutch technology could answer to those needs.

Aart van den Bos, social entrepreneur defined climate smart agriculture as a strategy based on three pillars: increasing production and income sustainability, building resilience through the adoption of new farming methods and innovation as well as reducing greenhouse gases and protecting natural resources such as water and biodiversity.

He focused on seven needs of South African farming. The first of these is the more resilient seed varieties, helping farmers (particularly small-scale farmers) to access information and technology as well as the crucial aspect of accessing production capital. The second need relates to this: the importance of business planning in a farming enterprise, again something particularly small-scale farmer need assistance with. Also, particularly pertinent to South African agriculture, is the need to entice the youth to enter agriculture. “I’d like to see farming made sexy again,” he said.

Ruben Goudriaan (eleaf), Natasja van der Vlist (SunCooler), Erna du Plessis (Renlyn Agritech), Bart de Jonghe (Si Technologies International) and Jack Vera, agricultural counsellor at the Embassy of the Netherlands to South Africa

Thirdly, market access and logistics to get produce to the market whilst curbing postharvest losses. 

“If you can measure, you can manage,” he put forward in relation to the need to monitor and evaluate the efficiency of farming methods. “The farmer should be transparent and he should communicate how he’s dealing with carbon issues.”

In fifth place, there is the need to scale up or grow a farming enterprise, within an enabling policy environment, collaboration and investment in research and development.

Lastly, Aart van den Bos referred to the need for working ethics.
The South African government is currently working on a national strategic framework on climate smart agriculture for 2018 to 2018, an attempt to address the issues he picked out.

He provided Dutch examples of agricultural innovation to deal with constraints, like Salt Farm Texel which develops salt-resistant varieties specifically for saline soils, useful for the delta areas of Bangladesh and Pakistan. Another example is SoilCares which has created a device for immediate soil analysis and fertilisation advice, useful in areas where farms are far from soil laboratories. It has already achieved success in Kenya.

Pre-financing for emerging farmers is a matter close to his heart and in this respect the UN’s Green Climate Fund, based in South Korea, is doing valuable work. His own company Soil & More is also active in this field, helping to place sustainability at the core of agricultural business through true cost accounting, among other strategies. “It would be great if the whole supply chain could work together on sustainability,” Van den Bos said. Agrics is a Dutch agricultural input provider active in Kenya and Tanzania that also provides credit to farmers.

In answering the need for business planning, he referred to the activities of Delphy. It is an established organisation with a strong footprint in South Africa and Africa as a whole, advises on crop production management systems, assisting farmers with business planning. 

Helping farmers to manage growth, scale up and make the most of financial opportunities, companies like the AquaSoil Group provides solutions to farmers in a sustainable manner. Solteq Energy gives farmers access to sophisticated desalination technology, traditionally super expensive, but their solutions can operate off the electricity grid.

Finally, he showcased Demokwekerij Westland, a centre of excellence that demonstrates and trains participants in the newest technologies, already working in Vietnam and Colombia.

Partnerships are crucial, and social media allows farmers across the world to learn from climate smart agriculture best practices through knowledge bases like and

Representatives from a number of Dutch and South African companies presented their offerings at the PMA workshop.

Bart de Jonghe, CEO of Si technologies International, explained his company’s product, stabilised silic acid, the only bio-available source of silicon (Si) which enables plants to better withstand stress, thus directly addressing the imperative of climate smart agriculture to build better crop reliance. They have shown improvements in yield and quality through use of their product called NewSil.The company is looking to expand its business in South Africa, with registration for the product pending in Mozambique and Kenya.

The Fruitlook programme, developed by eleaf, uses satellite imaging to gauge water use efficiency through analysing biomass production. The programme, subsidised by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture and freely available for use by farmers in the Western Cape, has been going since 2011, initially in the grape industry but currently in the top and stonefruit industries too. About 35,000ha of farmland in the Western cape is currently being monitored by the Fruitlook programme, which is unique in the world, and from September onwards the entire province (with the exception of some parts of the Karoo) will be covered by the programme.

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SunCooler offers a simple solution to a big problem: completely stand-alone solar-powered cool rooms, capable of going down to -18°C, explained Natasja van der Vlist The system was designed to require minimal maintenance, is provided with tools, and can be assembled in two days. Apart from allowing a grower to start the cold chain immediately upon harvest, thereby radically reducing postharvest losses, the excess power generated by SunCooler can be fed to the electricity grid, to be used for other purposes.

Erna du Plessis confirmed what many in the South African agriculture sector know all too well: financing is the biggest challenge to emerging farmers, and is one of the main barriers of entry for emerging farmers. Renlyn Agritech, a South African company, offers a sustainable solution to this major problem, through offering advice on the right equipment (like greenhouses, tunnels, irrigation, automation and monitoring), skills in operating these systems, right up to postharvest technology, distribution and logistics. It proposes the setting up of agri hubs, which is in need of a reconceptualization, bringing in private investors, consultants and trainers in partnership with agricultural co-operatives. There was a lot of interest in the holistic package that Renlyn Agritech offers from both emerging farmers and government representatives.

For more information:
Aart van den Bos

Bart de Jonghe
Si Technologies International
Tel: +31 655 738 927

Ruben Goudriaan
Eleaf (Fruitlook)
Tel: +31 317 729 000

Natasja van der Vlist
Tel: +31 346 555 970

Erna du Plessis
Renlyn Agritech
Tel: +27 72 570 2626

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