With climate change already having an undesirable impact on South Africa’s farming landscape, agricultural engineers in the country have their hands full engineering implementable solutions that will help soften the blow to Mzansi’s food sector and its producers.
Currently, some of the country’s top agricultural engineers attending the 2022 Bennial Symposium and Continued Professional Development event are doing just that. Hosted by the South African Institute of Agricultural Engineers (SAIAE) at the Fairview Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort in Tzaneen in Limpopo, engineers are finding solutions to some of the sector’s most pressing issues.
Day two of the three-day conference saw engineers put their heads together in a series of technical sessions. During a technical session on renewable energy, masters student in agricultural mechanisms from the University of Venda, Prosper Mhlanga, pointed to why bio gas renewable energy is a viable solution to Mzansi’s load shedding crisis.
Mhlanga believes that anaerobic co-digestion of food waste and cow dung, if turned into bio gas, can solve the problem of waste management being dumped into landfills. This while also benefiting the environment.
“Instead of dumping food waste into landfills, we should utilise it in the production of bio gas (renewable source) it can generate heat or electricity.
“In this particular study my focus is in the consumption stage of food, where the excess food either in the household, restaurant or canteens, can contribute to renewable energy. This method turns waste into a resource,” he said.
Mhlanga hopes to do a feasibility study soon, however he added that getting funding to design and build the bio gas plant remains a challenge.
One of the major challenges in producing bio gas is that few industrial digesters are available and they have to rely on hiring foreign experts.
Meanwhile Dr Abdolhassein Naghizadeh from department of engineering in the University of Free State (UFS), told delegates about their project in which they produce green concrete.
“The main reason of producing this type of concrete is because of the cement which is [currently] used to make concrete is one of the major contributors to global warming.
“South Africa is a major consumer of cement, it consumes up to 15 million tons of cement annually and 11.5 billion tons of concrete is consumed globally,” Naghizadeh explained.
Naghizadeh added that they were also working on a number of other projects.
This includes the formulation of green concrete based on locally available agricultural waste, the formulation of geo polymer cement and the development of ambient cured green concrete.
Solutions to post-harvest losses
In another technical session on post-harvest technology infrastructure, Manoshi Mothapo, agricultural engineer at the Agricultural Research Council, spoke extensively about the post-harvest losses small-scale farmers in Gauteng have to endure.
Her study found that the farmers experience harvest loss due to lack of proper storage, cooling technology, water shortage, transport availability, pests and diseases, and extreme weather conditions.
Mothapo pointed out that some of the remedial actions could be harvesting early or late afternoons when temperatures are cooler. She also suggested a multi-disciplinary approach because an agricultural approach alone is not enough.
Day two of the symposium also saw presentations being done on dams and the responsibility of dam owners.
Other areas covered included why the application of greenhouse solar is dying under South African conditions, designing and developing a solar powered irrigation system model for South Africa, and so much more.
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