Agribusiness and 4IR

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Sithuli Mbeje, 34

Food technologist and managing director
AfriFood Technologies SA

As a qualified food technologist with more than a decade of experience in food technology — working with large local and international fast-moving consumer goods​​ companies, in research and development, and new product innovation — Sithuli Mbeje was finally able to answer the questions he had as a child who was fascinated by food systems.

His company, AfriFood Technologies, specialises in the development of food products and processes. Its main product offering is a mobile abattoir aimed at implementing circular food economies across the country, especially in rural communities.

Mbeje explains that the mobile abattoir allows for the slaughtering of 10 cows per day as opposed to a normal abattoir with a capacity to slaughter up to 700. The benefits of this are less distressed livestock, better quality meat, reduced waste and fewer carbon emissions.

Mbeje says: “I believe if we dive deep into such practices, we could find a whole host of solutions for a greener planet.” Which is why he incorporates African traditional cultural practices — such as never letting the outside of the skin touch the inside meat when slaughtering a goat (to stopthe hairs from ruining the meat) — in his thinking and practice.

Mbeje predicts that with so many new entrants to the country’s agricultural market, all looking to go linear and drive volumes in large-scale farming, we will only farm for 10 years because of the carbon footprint we will have generated. He suggests we look into more sustainable means of production — especially with small and medium enterprises on the rise — so that the youth become the champions and drivers of negative emissions.

“Growing up, there was never a time when there was waste we did not know what to do with, whether it was the neighbour who could craft skins or the traditional healer who needed to use the horns, there was always a use for everything.”

Afrika Bogatsu | mg.co.za
GreenCape

GreenCape

GreenCape

GreenCape is a company that is working to transition Africa from a linear “take-make-waste” economy to a clean and sustainable circular economy by working with government and in academia.

Nicholas Fordyce, senior communications officer and publications manager, explains: “We collaborate to identify opportunities in the green economy and potential barriers to those opportunities — then we work to find ways to overcome those barriers.” GreenCape uses a noncompetitive market model to build trust with partners and collaborators.

“Sustainability means clean, renewable and economically viable green tech solutions that can meet the growing needs of the African community,” Fordyce says. This is reflected in the myriad projects that they’ve embarked on and plan to undertake. From water, food and waste management to transport and energy, GreenCape continues to make a sustained impact across South Africa after their founding 11 years ago. Their know-how and noncompetitive model make them a source of knowledge and experience for emerging organisations.

“Many NPOs make the mistake of wanting to be the heroes. Don’t be afraid to shift the hero status towards those who fund your work. Work with similar organisations, not against them,” Fordyce advises.

With the support of the EU, GreenCape will soon collaborate with South African youth. “Our intention with the South African Climate Change Champions project is to build a community of young South Africans who use their voice to meaningfully engage with national and local climate and energy policy, to communicate their vision of the future and who take action at their schools and in their communities on climate mitigation and adaptation,” says Fordyce.

“We collaborate to identify opportunities in the green economy and potential barriers to those opportunities — then we work to find ways to overcome those barriers.”

Nabeel Allie | mg.co.za
Rirhandzu Marivate, 32

Rirhandzu Marivate, 32

Project manager
Sustainability Institute — Living Soils Community Learning Farm

In her capacity as the project manager at the Sustainability Institute, Rirhandzu Marivate is at the forefront of combating challenges around climate change through the lens of community farming. Established in 2019, Living Soils Community Learning Farm is a partnership project between Woolworths, the Sustainability Institute and Spier Wine Farm. The main idea of the project is to establish a sustainable farm that uses ecologically regenerative farming practices to grow food. The project is also a platform for training young farmers and it also ensures that the vegetables grown go towards supporting local food security.

To Marivate, farming is more than a vocation, it is “life giving and life affirming”. She believes that if we can live in a world where people and nature co-exist in a respectful relationship, we will be able to support ourselves and thrive. We need to understand that we have to actively restore and protect our ecosystems.

Extreme weather conditions, habitat destruction and soil degradation are not unique to our corner of the globe. What is uniquely South African are the socioeconomic consequences of these factors. The work that Living Soils does mitigates the economic effects of climate change within one of the country’s largest employment sectors. Its work also breaks the cycle of poverty and food insecurity that plague our population, particularly among the youth.

Living Soils plans to expand its work nationally and start multiple regenerative farm projects across the country. Marivate hopes to lead the next generation of sustainability advocates and environmental stewards, and she believes that it is through generational care that these issues can be properly addressed.

“You have to be hungry for knowledge and humble enough to realise that you can’t know everything, and also be willing to fail and to start over again.”

Tshiamo Seape | mg.co.za
Thapelo Phiri, 29

Thapelo Phiri, 29

Founder and director
Golden Legacy Trading and Projects

Thapelo Phiri has always had an interest in sustainability, but was particularly inspired when the UN Sustainable Development Goals were released in 2015. “My focus became studying the 17 goals and assessing which I could target using my personal knowledge and experience,” he says.

Phiri is the director of Golden Legacy Trading and Projects, a Johannesburg-based business that concentrates on regenerative agriculture as a means to combat climate change and hunger.

He has developed an organic fertiliser called Dijo Tsa Mobu, which improves soil fertility and helps crops to become climate resistant by keeping the soil moist for longer. As well as improving yields for growers, organic fertilisers add value to plant or animal by-products that would otherwise be destined for waste streams.

“Less waste and abundant yields mean lower costs, which benefits the consumer, giving them access to high-quality and affordable food,” says Phiri. Rich in organic matter, organic fertilisers also encourage the biodiversity of soil.

Phiri assists local farmers in implementing regenerative farming practices. He focuses on researching solutions to agricultural challenges, using materials that benefit natural processes and nurturing farming communities.

He believes the agricultural industry has great potential to generate employment and improve economic development. “Making agricultural production more sustainable in South Africa is an important part of a greener and more competitive economy,” he says.

Food security in South Africa is particularly important for Phiri. “We are the last generation to be able to limit the future effects of climate change,” he says. “And I believe we could also be the first generation to end hunger in Africa.”

“We are the last generation to be able to limit the future effects of climate change, and I believe we could also be the first generation to end hunger in Africa.”

Andie Reeves | mg.co.za
Steve Carver, 56

Steve Carver, 56

Co-founder and chief executive
U Can Grow Africa (Pty) Ltd

Steve Carver is the co-founder of U Can Grow Africa, which provides a holistic approach to establishing collectives of small growers that, together, create economic scale. Their primary aim is to break down the poverty cycle in rural communities through the creation of shared value.

“You cannot save the planet if no one is making money and people are starving. U Can Grow Africa is transforming people’s lives by including them in major supply chains for the first time,” says Carver.

Small farmers are incentivised through micro-learning, micro-jobbing and rewards and micro-financing , which creates a fully traceable value chain. As a result, the history of consumables is completely trackable, further encouraging conservation and regenerative farming.

“Consumers want to know the truth behind what they are eating. Was this food grown on a massive industrial farm with chemicals, or was it grown organically? When people choose us, they are supporting the growth of transformational farmers; their money is making a difference,” he says.

According to Carver, small farmers don’t want to stay small farmers — they want to evolve. By developing a talent pipeline of exceptional farmers, the company is supporting their professional success. “When you combine business skills together with regenerative climate change skills, it suddenly means that innovation is in somebody’s hand. It’s incredibly exciting.”

Thanks to U Can Grow Africa, the future of farming is looking bright. “What people are learning is that the usual academic channels have all got a sell-by date. I’m a great believer in unlearning and recreating newer solutions so that we are striving for continuous improvement.”

“When you put business skills together with regenerative climate change skills, it suddenly means that innovation is in somebody’s hand. Farming within a business perspective unlocks potential. It is incredibly exciting.”

Loren Shapiro | mg.co.za
Primestars

Primestars

Programme manager
Primestars

Primestars, a youth development organisation based in Johannesburg, has been tackling South Africa’s high unemployment rate for 17 years by offering free training to high school learners. Their “step up to a green start-up programme” addresses another big issue for South Africa, namely the climate crisis. The programme runs as a competition, which inspires and guides students across the country to find sustainable entrepreneurial opportunities.

The organisation has a unique edutainment model and uses educational films as a way to reach potential entrepreneurs in underprivileged high schools. By arranging screenings at local movie theatres, in schools and through their website, Primestars is able to reach about 12 000 learners countrywide.

“We are trying to reach every South African high school learner who is interested in starting a business in the green economy,” says programme manager Tarryn Reynders.

Through their films, Primestars aims to highlight the climate emergency, as well as make learners aware of the opportunities in the green economy. The films end with a call to action for learners to team up and create an entrepreneurial business idea that can sustainably solve or alleviate a problem in their community.

The finalists of the competition — one team from each province — attend a boot camp, where they meet industry specialists, interact with other entrepreneurs and are upskilled with financial literacy tools. The competition concludes with an awards ceremony where bursaries for further studies are awarded by the sponsors of Primestars, including Bidvest, Sanlam and the department of education.

While this is the first time the programme has highlighted sustainable entrepreneurship specifically, Primestars will continue to focus on this area going forward. “The green economy is such an important part of today, tomorrow and the foreseeable future — we’re looking at running part two next year,” says Reynders.

“We are trying to reach every South African high school learner who is interested in starting a business in the green economy.”

Andie Reeves | mg.co.za