Greenhouses: the future of agriculture

Greenhouses protect crops from too much heat or cold, shield plants from dust storms and blizzards, and help to keep out pests. This is according to Vegtech 2000’s Alex Hofmeyr, who adds that light and temperature control also improves food production in marginal environments.
Hofmeyr says that Vegtech is a South African company with over 16 years’ experience in greenhouse projects, growing, construction, and accessory supply, and has completed more than 300 projects across Africa.
Vegtech is able to provide its clients with complete solutions for greenhouse agriculture, from access to financing through to the design and construction.
“Firstly, we visit the client and discuss their requirements and needs. Vegtech then examines the climatic conditions at the proposed site. After that, the system is designed with the right kind of ventilation and irrigation systems,” he states. Once the system is designed, Vegtech finalises the documentation and exports the greenhouse to anywhere in Africa. The company can also send a team to build the project from scratch.
Which crops are suitable?
Hofmeyr notes that greenhouses are most suitable for the cultivation of higher-value crops that utilise the
space in the greenhouse effectively. These include tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, as well as melons and
herbs. Many of these crops are in high demand across the continent.
Another popular use for greenhouses in Africa is for the production of cut flowers, which can be exported to Europe. He says that a number of companies have already invested in cut flower production in Africa.
Who should consider investing in a greenhouse?
Hofmeyr explains that the company has worked on a variety of projects,varying from 240 sq metres in size up
to 10 hectares. “Our clients range from government institutions and wealthy businessmen to small-scale farmers.”Greenhouses in Africa Vegtech has been involved in a number of greenhouse projects on the continent. One of these is the Terra Verde project, located outside Luanda, Angola. The farm – a joint
Angolan-Israeli business utilising international expertise – was set up at the end of the war in 2002, and
has been harvesting various crops, including tomatoes and cucumbers, for a number of years.
Hofmeyr says it is encouraging to see that after so many years the project is still going strong. “The
crops, marketing, and management is good, which means that there is lot of demand for what they are producing at this stage.”
Vegtech is also currently involved in establishing two greenhouses for Puntoverde in Equatorial Guinea for
vegetable production. Although the project is still in its early stages, he says that it holds a lot of promise.

Community agriculture projects benefit from greenhouse technology

The Tshwaraganang Community Project in the isolated town of Windsorton, situated in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, was initiated by the provincial government, who commissioned a feasibility study for a greenhouse production unit in the area.
After the study was completed, a tender was put out for the construction of the greenhouse infrastructure. The tender was won by Vegtech 2000 – a South African company, with over 16 years’ experience in greenhouse projects, growing, construction, and accessory supply – and by 2006, work was completed on the 3,600sq metre greenhouse.
After a rocky start, Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products (ASNAPP), an NGO with offices in a number of countries across the continent, was called in to develop a business plan and provide training to
the local farmers in 2008. This was the effective birth of Tshwaraganang Hydroponics, a hydroponics project
involving the “soilfree” cultivation of cucumbers, tomatoes and brinjals. ASNAPP secured a deal to supply cucumbers to Freshmark – a subsidiary of pan-African supermarket group Shoprite – it being responsible for
the retailer’s fruit and vegetable procurement and distribution.
Freshmark in Bloemfontein signed a supply agreement with Tshwaraganang, having formally registered the project as one of its permanent supply sources. This provided Tshwaraganang Hydroponics with a ready
market for its produce, and in February 2010 – less than 18 months since selling commenced – Tshwaraganang
Hydroponics crossed the R1m ($8.75m) sales mark. This was a significant achievement for a community that, until the project started, had virtually no income, says Vegtech’s Alex Hofmeyr.
Freshmark is now set to open up its pepper and tomato supply chains to Tshwaraganang. A modern packhouse
facility is also currently under construction and there are plans to expand the greenhouse production base to at
least one hectare. Hofmeyr believes there is tremendous scope for similar greenhouse projects in other parts of
the continent, especially in areas that are too dry or too wet for open-field cultivation.
“Greenhouses are the way in which agriculture is moving. They allow farmers to produce better quality crops with fewer inputs such as water and chemicals,” he explains.