With rolling blackouts affecting the whole of South Africa’s economy, the urgency for alternative energy is fast increasing and farmers might be in a unique position to harvest the benefits.
Importantly, farmers have land, said the director of Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies, Prof. Sampson Mamphweli. He was among the guest speakers during Food For Mzansi’s live Gather To Grow session yesterday (20 July 2022).
“It is quite easier for farmers to implement or assist in the implantation of renewable and sustainable energy projects,” he told the audience during the online session.
He was backed by a Netafim irrigation specialist from Zambia, Nambwale Kalunga, who said that farmers were holding a golden ticket for future energy generation, especially in the irrigation space.
“There is a farmer in the north-western province of Zambia [who] is currently farming pineapples on his farm, running all year.
“What he has done, is to set up a mini hydro power plant which is currently generating about 850 kilowatts of power. Part of the energy he is generating is [used] to keep his [own] operations running.”
Go green or go bust?
Jason Gifford, a director of Logical Waste, said the reality was that, with the current power supply in the country, for farmers to remain competitive and in business for the next ten years, they would have to take their energy security seriously.
He said farmers needed to make the investment now because the grid would continue to fail, and the provision of electricity would get worse. Yet the investment would not only secure their own operations but also future opportunities.
“There are literally thousands of opportunities available in the country, but there is no market for them.
“The first step is for farmers to utilise what they have got, to secure their own energy so that they can continue operating, and then – as the grid starts opening up and more private power is welcomed into the system – an opportunity to exploit more power avenues could be looked at.”
Know who to call
Gifford had a word of warning, though. He said it was important for farmers to call in the right experts to install their alternative energy supply correctly. It’s a lifetime investment, after all.
“Initial investment capital may be a little steep when you look at it, but you will find that your energy investment will lead to big savings. You know it will be a long-term solution, so do not be deterred by the initial costs,” he said.
A few practical tips
Gifford called on farmers to look for help as installing alternative power does not come cheap.
“The one mistake that many people make is to install an improperly sized system or a system that is not properly installed by the professionals.
“For instance, you get a solar PV (photovoltaic) system that is installed facing the wrong direction and you do not get the maximum benefits. In the end, that creates a stigma against technology.”
The Twitter session was recorded and the full conversation will soon be available on Food For Mzansi.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.