It is an exciting time to get involved in South African farming. Some may argue against this statement by pointing out South Africa’s water and electricity shortage, along with many other issues, such as economic decline and rocketing unemployment rates; however, it is in stressful times that new opportunities arise. The agricultural sector will need to overcome the challenges posed by climate change, technology, infrastructure, and proactive social and environmental sustainability initiatives. The sectors will need to adopt more flexible and innovative systems in order to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the urbanising demographics of the African continent and labour supply. Going forward, the need for more innovative systems becomes imperative in order to sustain and secure food production for the growing population. There have been estimates from Research and Markets that the vertical farming industry could be worth 3 billion US dollars by 2024. Vertical farms and hydroponics offer solutions for farmers (who can cut on water and fertiliser, the consumer (who can buy affordable fresh produce all year round) and for the environment.
What exactly is hydroponics? Essentially, hydroponics is the process of growing plants without using soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Hydroponics offers one particular advantage over traditional growing methods, which is the careful manipulation and management of the growing environment. The amount of water, pH levels and the combination of specific nutrients can all be carefully measured and controlled, which encourages plants to grow faster. Air and soil temperatures can also be controlled more carefully, as can the pervasiveness of pests and diseases. The net effect of hydroponics is an increased yield and improved use of resources. A less wasteful approach to resource consumption means reduced waste, preservation of water stocks and a diminished reliance on pesticides, fertilisers and other potentially harmful materials. Hydroponics also provides more efficient use of space, as populations rate continue to increase this benefit becomes increasingly essential and makes the technology a particularly useful one. The fact that hydroponics offers many solutions to some of South Africa’s most practical problems makes it no surprise that there is such an immense sense of urgency amongst our hydroponic growers in South Africa.
There have been various industrial revolutions that have taken place across centuries; these industrial revolutions have undoubtedly assisted the world in advancing to where it is today. Four major industrial revolutions have said to have taken place. The first industrial revolution created water and steam power to mechanise production; the second used electric power to create mass production. The third industrial revolution used electronics and information technology to automate production, and the fourth industrial revolution builds off the third, it is the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. The third and fourth industrial revolution has created unlimited possibilities for billions of people to stay connected by different devices, with extraordinary processing power and storage capacity. The access to knowledge is unlimited, and this makes it easier for people to not only learn about different systems, i.e. hydroponic systems but also makes it easier for people to learn how to automate these systems effectively. A new quiet revolution, in what is usually dead urban areas, has seen seven farms flourish on the rooftops of Johannesburg inner-city buildings as of October last year with four others about to take off. This new quiet revolution has a name; the project is called the Urban Agriculture Initiative. Dr Michael Magenta, who trains the farmers and is also the director of the business incubator “Wouldn’t It Be Cool” (WIBC), mentions that this project is said to have between fifty to sixty hydroponics farms planned for the next three years. These new hydroponic farms have also been predicted to create more jobs, tackling the issue of the unemployment epidemic in South Africa. WIBC’s goal for the next year is to train 60 people and have 25 farms operating successfully. This would result in the creation of about 120 permanent jobs and 280 part-time jobs, says Magenta. He hopes that nine agri-processing businesses – for example, producing pesto – will be up and running by the end of next year.
There is no denying that we cannot continue the way we have always produced food, a fundamental shift in our food production with regards to the growing, harvesting and processing needs to take place. It is, therefore, no surprise that one of the most promising technologies that have been adopted around the world to recreate the way we produce food, is hydroponics. Hydroponics systems that are built efficiently have proven to be more educative and diverse, less wasteful and engird, and resource-efficient. All of which is needed to overcome some of the obstacles that are presented to farmers living in South Africa
The future will never be certain, as the world continues to grow and evolve, we are demanded to do more with less. With continued innovation and decisive action, the agriculture sector can rise again and become the fiscal champion it is. Food production is vital, as the number of people that need food globally continues to increase. South Africa is in an excellent position to produce food and to improve its farming technologies for large, small and even substance farmers in order to overcome its environmental and other practical implications. Knowledge about technology, therefore, becomes the utmost importance to enable farmers to improve their agricultural methods.