Hydroponic Farming In Africa: Growing more with less

By Susan Erwin AFKI Original Published: October 18, 2013, 11:00 am

Hydroponic greenhouses are becoming a new way to farm in Africa, allowing farmers to grow fresh fruit and vegetables year round, regardless of the climate.

Got Produce? offers a way for farmers to grow without soil using just 2 percent of the water they need for field-grown produce. Produce is also grown without harmful fertilizers and pesticides, making for a healthier product.

Got Produce? claims to be the first global farm franchise company offering modular hydroponic greenhouse systems that are technologically controlled.

Deborah Walliser, CEO of San Francisco-based Got Produce? was one of eight  U.S. companies chosen in 2010 to be in President Barack Obama’s first trade mission to Senegal and South Africa.

Since then, the organization has expanded production and supplies to South Africa.

“This has increased our export business dramatically as we now have a springboard for gaining clients and vendors not only in South Africa, but many of the surrounding African countries as well,” Walliser said.

Doing business with vendors in South Africa gives Walliser’s franchisees a local supply of building materials and replacement parts for the hydroponic greenhouses.

“For us, South Africa has a larger selection of distributors, vendors and merchant services than some of the other African countries,” Walliser said. “We have access to many of the same products and brands there that we work with here in the U.S. and the infrastructure is well established for moving material in and out of country.”

Walliser said she sees South Africa as a hub for doing business in many countries in Southern Africa.

“I plan to continue to build relationships with vendors and also see an opportunity for several new franchisees in the next 24 months,” she said. “All in all, doing business there has greatly increased our revenues.”

Michelle Adelman is managing director of a Got Produce? franchise in Botswana.

Her employer, Accite Holdings Co., was looking to invest in new technologies that would promote sustainability and food security throughout the region.

The Got Produce? model was originally innovated in Arizona in hot, dry climatic conditions very similar to key parts Botswana, Adelman said.

“This concept reduces the cost of fresh produce by minimizing the transportation cost and spoilage during transport, and increasing the freshness by reducing the produce handling and the time from farm-to-table,” Adelman said. “It’s a win-win for retailers who have reduced costs and (get) longer shelf-life and consumers who have fresher produce and locally created jobs.”

Adelman said the first operations in 2013 were in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone and in Maun, a tourist gateway. She said the company plans to expand the greenhouse sales into Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa during 2014.

“For the consumer, we are significantly increasing people’s access to and the availability of fresh produce, particularly fresh tomatoes and leafy greens,” Adelman said. “The tourism industry is benefiting from fresher, locally grown produce which supports their endeavors to be carbon-neutral and support the local community.”

Adelman’s company said it plans to create more than 100 high-quality agriculture jobs in Botswana by the end of 2014.

Sahara Krencker, an executive chef at Ngamiland Adventure Safaris in the Okavango Delta, said her company choose Got Produce? because the products are tasty, fresh, in very good condition and survive the long transfer to where they are delivered.

“We supply our (safari) camps each Friday with what we call a ‘fresh-freight run’ on aircrafts early in the mornings,” Krencker said. “Some camps are about 35 minutes (by boat) away from the airstrip, adding to the 35-minute flight (from Maun), so here it is vital that the produce is freshly picked and in super condition to survive the transport in heat conditions where others would fail.”

Krencker added that the company is vital to support local growth and farmers work together on availability and demand.

“We have happy chefs and satisfied guests,” she said.

Sign up for the AFKInsider newsletter — the most compelling business news you need to know from Africa and the African diaspora, delivered straight to your inbox.

Tags: , , , , , , ,