After losing almost all of her crops to floods and the effects of drought in 2016, Samkelisiwe Chunda decided there was a need to rethink her traditional farming methods.
The fluctuating weather conditions, where she experienced drought and floods as a result of climate change for three months, ate so much into her harvest and profits to a point where she decided it was time to explore innovations to help her survive.
She flew to China to learn about new farming methods, where vertical farming methods are applied to farm indoors using automated farming technologies.
But Chunda opted to take the concept and manufactured cheaper infrastructure – a vertical stand where one can plant as many rows of plants as possible off the ground.
In an interview with SAnews on the sidelines of the 2018 Science Forum South Africa, Chunda said she named the stand “Metro Farming”. The stand is sold by her company, Sibayeni Metro Farming, which she founded in 2013 after a 12-year stint in the public service, where she worked as an agriculturist.
“In 2016 we experienced challenges with climate change, where we had heatwaves, floods and all that happening in a space of about three months. At that time, we lost a lot of capital from what we had planted because we could not take our plants and hide them away from the ground.
“That is when we decided to look around for options. We went to China and started learning how they do their farming. They have terrible weather conditions for seven months each year and they are able to produce food, enough for their four billion people and also they export their food to us.
“They grow food indoors because their weather conditions are bad outside,” Chunda said.
She said her innovative stands have attracted a lot of interest in metro cities like Johannesburg.
In a month, she gets an average of 12 subsistence and small-scale farmers buying her smaller stands for R1 300 per unit. She said sales for commercial stands, which go for R12 500, have not gained traction, but said when she does, her customers are usually schools.
“We are bringing innovation and technology into farming. Agriculture has always happened for centuries the traditional way.
“We have a population increase in the cities and we struggle to produce food. [However, many jobless people], especially young people… don’t turn to agriculture because agriculture is seen as something that can only happen when you have a large piece of land.
“The good thing about the stand is that we are able to maximize the space. If [in a small space] you were going to [plant] one or two lines of crops, then you have an opportunity to plant eight or 10 vertically, and you yield more product from it,” Chunda said.
She said with the system, one is able to do their irrigation and it stays for about two to three days without drying out, as it collects the water so the farmer does not waste water.
“We are also able to be environmentally friendly as you are able to control everything that you have put in here,” she said.