South Africa’s economy was premised and built around the discovery and digging of its mineral resources such as diamond, gold, platinum, manganese, and many others, to be what it is today. It is clear that in a few decades to come, these minerals will be depleted and we will be forced to discover new, innovative ways to make our economy efficient without gold, diamond or platinum. 

Agriculture is the “green gold” that has a potential to transform our economy and change people’s lives by creating employment, growing food security and widening foreign exchange.

According to the World Bank, about 79.42% of South Africa’s land is classified as farming or agricultural land. As well as being valuable for bolstering the country’s economy, the land needs many other resources to be able to be used productively.

During a recent webinar hosted by the South African Israel Chamber of Commerce (SAICC), Amit Lev, who is the Trade and Investment Consul at the Israeli embassy in South Africa, noted that many of Israel’s innovative technologies were already used in South Africa by both big commercial and smallholder farmers. “Lots of technology is coming to the agricultural sector which is by far the biggest sector. Most of these technologies are being used in South Africa,” said Lev.

“In order to compete in the export market, you have to be competitive and elevate the quality which you are producing. While technology is important in the agricultural sector, the best partnership also adds value,” added Lev.

This is true in that the South African government has done reasonably well in terms of allocating land to black communities through Communal Property Associations (CPAs) and individuals from 1994 to date but the land, in most cases, have not been used productively to bring opportunities and employment to the locals. This is primarily because of lack of support from the government, weak or no partnership, and lack of technological resources.

The director of Israel’s Center for Transboundary Water Management, Dr Clive Lipchin, discussed the importance of water in relation to agriculture during the webinar. He noted that water could be recycled and used for agricultural purposes, because “The era of water scarcity is fastly approaching, it is therefore important to opt for a viable alternative,” Dr Lipchin said.

“The deteriorating state of municipal wastewater and sewage treatment management in South Africa is one of the contributing factors to the environmental pollution, the problems experienced in most parts of the country and a major contributor to environmental and human health problems, ” added Dr Lipchin.

According to South Africa’s department of water and sanitation, the country is losing a staggering R7.2 billion a year due to water leaks. In 2019, the country lost an estimated 1.1 million litres of water annually as a result of leakages from pipes and reservoirs. This is because of the failure of most municipalities’ failure to supply water to its residents, resulting in daily service delivery protests.

Water is central for agriculture and the water being lost could be used effectively to grow food and help the economy. 

According to Dr Lipchin, “Off Grid Greywater Treatment Systems (GWTS) can be used in communities to divert “waste” water from kitchens and toilets to then be treated and used for agriculture.” 

Across the world, the importance of agriculture is recognised as having the potential for growth in employment and in foreign exchange. While South Africa’s exports are valuable to our economy, it is clear that the country also needs the right partnerships and the right technology in order to prosper and to help the unacceptably high and growing unemployment statistics.

Agri-entrepreneur and water treatment expert Guy Sela works with the Cropx start-up in Israel. Cropx has developed a technological tool for irrigation purposes, which is able to collect data under the soil. This technology helps farmer’s assess the status of the soil under the surface, including measuring the temperature, moisture, and nutrients among others.

“We started with irrigation because water is a super resource of course. The essential idea was that we could take third-party sensors and connect them to a smart platform that would analyze the data from the sensors and provide insights and recommendations about irrigation. We did that because we thought that the above data has a very low predictive value. Once you see visual symptoms there on plants, this might be too late,” Sela said.

In his presentation, Kinneret Innovation Centre’s (KIC) Jason Blumenthal described agri-tech today as “innovation… the thing that is going to close the gap and that is what we are doing.’’

KIC, which is Israel’s leading tech hub for agriculture, water, and sustainability, has met more than 250 inspiring entrepreneurs with amazing ideas. Out of these, some 29 have built strategy plans while five have benefitted from $130 000 grants from the Centre. During 2020, 970 people were trained despite the rigors of the global Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in 3 147 fully trained by KIC. Through agri-tech, water, and sustainability, the Centre’s support for the agricultural sector is legendary.

The final speaker, Gil Siaki, is KKL/JNF’s head of forestation in the southern regions. Gil stressed the importance of planting trees, which ‘enhance biodiversity and prevent soil erosion and the loss of nutrients.’ His presentation focused on the excellent work done by the KKL, which had reinvigorated Turkana in Kenya and brought life to the community there.

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Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a political and social commentator.

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