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Successful horticultural trade mission to South Africa

Seventeen experts from the horticultural private sector visited South Africa to explore trade opportunities. The horticultural delegation can look back on a successful visit with great future potential and immediate results. Gideon de Jager of Codema Systems Group was one of the participants. “The horticulture sector in South Africa is still needs to develop. And this means that there are many possibilities, but we must start from the beginning.”

The trade mission that took place in April 2012 was organized by the Chamber of Commerce Haaglanden in the Netherlands, in cooperation with Greenport Holland International, SANEC and the Agricultural Department of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Pretoria. Dutch experts in the horticulture sector traveled to South Africa where they met with potential business partners, (local) governments and knowledge institutes.

Netherlands is an absolute leader in the field of undercover horticulture, whereas the sector in South Africa is still in its infancy. This provides great opportunities for the Netherlands to step in with their expertise especially in the cultivation of flowers, pot plants and vegetables and their supporting industry, such as greenhouse equipment, substrates, packaging materials, etc.

Dutch roots in Krugersdorp

A fine example of Dutch entrepreneurial spirit in South Africa is the Plantimex Group, a group of innovative companies working together to ensure the quality, consistency and growth in the horticulture sector, especially in pot plants. Plantimex was founded in Krugersdorp West of Johannesburg in 1998 by the families Van Geest and Barnhoorn, both of Dutch descent. These horticultural families realized that the joint marketing and distribution of products is crucial for the development of the sector. And with success, because the Plantimex Group is now the absolute market leader and supplier of indoor potted plants and accessories to chain retailers, nurseries and landscape architects.

Director of Plantimex Ivo van Geest was honored by a visit of the mission and the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to South Africa, Mr André Haspels. They were present at the grand opening of the new ‘cash & carry’ hall of Hortimex. Mr Van Geest, who switches effortlessly between Afrikaans, English and Dutch, explains the close trade relations between the two countries. “The Netherlands is an important trading partner for South Africa in both the export of indigenous products to the Netherlands as the import of plant and soil materials and gardening equipment to South Africa.”

Mr Van Geest says that the Netherlands internationally plays a leading role in horticulture. “The Dutch horticulture sector is a strong international brand. The good reputation comes from a long history combined with the innovative and sustainable international approach. I am convinced that both the South African government and individual companies in this country can learn a lot from Dutch expertise. ”

Added value

“Added value” or value-added is a popular word in South Africa, partly by Dutch input. And value is what Koen Pack has to offer, as international player in the field of plant and flower packaging from Amstelveen. Trade mission participant Koen Pack is doing directly business with Hortimex, the packaging arm of Plantimex. The company is monthly shipping a container with modern packaging products to South Africa. “Hortimex has 80% of the market. We are delivering to South Africa for a year now and I’m here to discuss the progress of our business and to explore how we can expand our business, “said Dave Hoekstra, sales manager of Koen Pack. “Hortimex is proud to distribute European products to major retail chains such as Woolworths, Checkers and Pick ‘n Pay. “Some of the products are sold to florists or to cash and carry-halls like this. ”

Koen Pack supplies accessories for plants and flowers such as bags, bouquet holders and nice decorative sticks. “The trends in South Africa are certainly different than in Europe. In Germany for example ‘nature’ and ‘eco’ styles are very popular, German people like earth colors. If you look around here, you see all colors of the rainbow. Color, especially pink, is still very popular. A bit British, which is not surprising given some historical ties with England.

Growing (black) middle class

All mission participants agree that South Africa is provides an interesting export market. The economy is developing at a rapid pace and there is a growing (black) middle class, which brings changes in the demand pattern. South Africa has recently joined the so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and now South Africa) and thereby the trading position and trading potential has increased. In addition, energy prices are rising rapidly, water is scarce so sustainable solutions to produce food and ornamentals are badly needed. The favorable climate and the high light intensity add positively to the production climate. By implementing new horticultural techniques, production will not only become durable and of higher quality, but will also increase profit. “If you go undercover, you will only need five times less input for the same five time amount of production in a greenhouse “ is the motto. Obviously, this requires knowledge and technology transfer and investments.

Mr Maarten Oostenbrink, Managing Director of Svensson, recognizes this economic movement. His company provides climate-control screens for greenhouses and has been active in South Africa since many years. “The last two to three years, our sales continue to rise here – despite the crisis in Europe. The accession to BRICS is also a sign that we have to take the South African economy seriously. ”

Mr Oostenbrink indicates that not only the commercial horticultural sector, but also the South African government can play a role in the development of the horticultural sector. “An Agricultural Zone was built in Durban as part of an International Trade Port to boost the economy of the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal; in other provinces similar zones are planned, protected horticulture will play a prominent role in these zones .” According to Mr Oostenbrink this is a major large scale example, whereas small-scale solutions should be considered as well. “It is important as well to support Public Private Partnerships for the small, black farmers, to see how we can help these farmers to develop their undercover farming. Real gains can be achieved here. Research should be carried out to see which technology fits best, funding is needed for research and the willingness of the private sector to invest and transfer knowledge. ”

The Director of Svensson Netherlands is positive about the trade mission. “It is my goal to be able to provide more technology to South African partners. “I can expand my network rapidly by efficient matchmaking sessions in a short time. “And the visit has brought Svensson concrete results: Mr Oostenbrink returned back to the Netherlands with a confirmed order.

Proteas to the Netherlands

Ms Mariska Borst of J. Van de Put Fresh Cargo Handling is a bit of a an odd one out in the mission. “I represent a logistics company in the Netherlands, but the trade mission is extremely useful to us as we offer a complete handling service of flowers, plants, fruit and vegetables, as well as handling of hardware such as greenhouses, machinery etc, including transportation by air and sea. I am mainly in charge of sea freight from the ports of Cape Town and Durban, but I will gladly answer questions concerning air freight as well. “Cold stores, greenhouses, machinery and decoration and packaging materials are items which are exported particularly by Van de Put by sea. Apart from fruits, the protea, the national flower of South Africa, is our most important horticultural import product to the Netherlands, shipped both by air and sea. “I can finally associate faces with names and I have had some interesting meetings with eight companies already. These are useful talks that can lead to actual orders. This mission was very successful, actually beyond my expectation.”

Gideon de Jager is the Commercial Director of Codema Systems Group. This horticulture group is a global leader and delivers innovative logistics systems, management and control software, and customized products for the undercover horticulture sector. ” Our systems ensure that greenhouses are optimally used and a high hygiene factor and low failure rate guaranteed. In short, the quality increases and thus the yield. ”

Mr De Jager chooses his participation in trade missions carefully. “I only have two hands, so I limit myself to two missions per year. After all, extra work should be the results from these missions. Fortunately, that is the case now; I have already scheduled my follow up trip to South Africa for June 11. I will be meeting five potential customers in South Africa who I have just met during this mission.

Enthusiasm in the market

“We had no +extremely high expectations of the mission and that is why we so are pleasantly surprised: The enthusiasm radiates from there. “De Jager also identifies the growth curve of South Africa.”In the Netherlands we are always forced to find the best solution for the horticulture industry governed by expensive labor, high density, high energy consumption and high demand. This has led to effective, creative and sustainable solutions. We would like to bring this green spirit to South Africa as well, “said De Jager.

He however also needs to take local conditions into consideration. “Together with my new potential partners, we look at local solutions. A simple copy-paste method is not good enough. The ideas I suggest to my local customers are modular and need to keep up with the growth of a company. Since the technology here is still far behind, we begin with simple and relatively affordable systems. On the other hand, I spoke to a lettuce grower with a successful company that actually is bored with the technology he is using now. For him we need to find a more advanced method which can give a new impulse to his company. ”

Joint opportunities

The story of Mr De Jager is exemplary for the other participants. However, the commercial director, has another good reason to participate in a trade mission. “50% of the profit lies in strengthening the links between the mission participants. We share knowledge and present ourselves as a cluster to the outside world. We help each other and strengthen the Dutch horticulture top sector. Together we create opportunities and expand the brand “The Netherlands’.

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