Expensive biotech hinders growth

Technology is driving agriculture forward and has been responsible for dramatic growth in countries that have adopted these tools. But small-scale farmers, unable to afford the technology, are being left behind.

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Speaking at the K2 Klein Karoo Seeds information day in Bapsfontein, Lomo van Rensburg, managing director of the seed company, said that biotechnology companies need to pay some attention to small-scale farmers – and not focus on commercial farmers solely.

“Biotechnology is improving and yield per hectare is set to double in the near future as a result, but seed prices are rising sharply. New technology at affordable prices will change the market as more players will be able to enter,” said Van Rensburg. Fanie Yssel, regional manager of K2 Klein Karoo Seeds, added that a big issue facing farmers was high seed prices that had been notched up by technological inputs.

“This means that farmers need to think carefully about what they plant. Planting must be done at the right time and the right cultivar must be planted, not the same one on the whole farm,” said Yssel. Van Rensburg said that small-scale farmers needed to develope and become commercial farmers so that they could contribute to food security.

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As an example he cited Zambia, who went from being a net importer of food to a net exporter after the government developed small-scale farmers and provided them with the technology to grow grain. “There are 800 000 small-scale farmers in Zambia and 90% of them plant hybrid maize. Biotechnology has done wonders for that country and there are many such success stories in Africa.

“The continent has the potential to radically improve agriculture, but you can’t change the world if you don’t have the right material,” said Van Rensburg.