Ground-breaking project just keeps growing

12 October 2011

12 October 2011

Mlibo and Derrik

THE R430-million investment by Dube TradePort in its ground-breaking “AgriZone”, next to King Shaka International Airport, is bearing fruit.

Already more than 50 000 cucumbers and three tons of tomatoes are produced at the facility each week and sold to Woolworths and Checkers.

The AgriZone is one of the key components of the multibillion-rand Dube TradePort project.

AgriZone project executive Mlibo Bantwini said the facility was “the most advanced greenhouse hydroponics facility in Africa”.

He said the R430m investment seemed huge, but it included not just the greenhouses and equipment. The outlay was also used for other infrastructure, such as several buildings and pack-houses, bulk infrastructure, earthworks, landscaping and addressing the environmental requirements.

“We have four glass greenhouses standing which cover 16 hectares, and three are currently in operation. We harvested our first hydroponically grown crop of tomatoes in June. We are currently producing baby (Rosa) tomatoes, standard tomatoes and cucumbers. We are also set to start producing peppers and have a separate greenhouse for cut flower and pot plant production, which will start next year,” he said.

Workers tending to seedlings in a giant glass greenhouse at DubeTradePorts AgriZone

Bantwini said Dube TradePort had appointed leading South African hydroponics farming company Qutom Farms as a joint-venture partner to operate the vegetable production component of the AgriZone. He said the commercial farming company was a supplier to Woolworths and other shops, both locally and internationally.

“They have a proven track record and name in the industry, and believe in what Dube TradePort is trying to do here. We are working with them to bring the facility to full production to supply the local market, but ultimately we want to also start exporting this high-value produce to the Middle East and European markets,” he said.

Derek Baird, a director of Qutom Farms, said the Dube TradePort AgriZone was South Africa’s largest greenhouse project and probably the largest on the continent.

“This facility is on par with the best hydroponics farming operations in the world. The world leaders in this sort of production are Netherlands and Spain, with several thousand hectares under production,” he said.

“Hydroponics is a method of growing plants and vegetables using mineral nutrient solutions in water, without soil. It has been practised for decades, but is increasing in popularity because production can take place virtually year-round, and this adds to food security and more sustainability,” said Baird.

He said up to 90 000 cucumbers would be produced a week when production at the AgriZone reached its peak, in addition to eight tons of tomatoes. Pepper production would peak at around 10 tons a week. The project employs more than 100 local people.


Themba Madondo operates equipment in the greenhouse

Baird’s family has been involved in hydroponic tunnel farming for 38 years in South Africa, largely in Gauteng. He said Qutom Farms’ involvement with Dube TradePort would bolster hydroponic farming in KwaZulu-Natal. The company would undertake a farmer development programme to train local farmers to expand high-value hydroponic farming in the province. Bantwini said hydroponic tunnel farming was already being promoted by the Enterprise ILembe development agency on the North Coast. The intention was to develop export capacity ahead of future demand. He said the AgriZone had cold storage and packaging facilities as well as a hi-tech tissue culture lab to promote the development of hydroponic farming.