Investing in green farming

Investment in companies that provide sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions to agricultural production is gaining momentum as concern grows over farming’s impact on the earth’s resources. Lindi van Rooyen spoke to Rudi van Niekerk, investment advisor at private equity investment fund Agri-Vie, about investing in bio-crop production company Hygrotech.

Investing in green farming
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Why has Agri-Vie decided to invest in Hygrotech?
Agri-Vie is a private equity investment fund focused on food and agribusiness in sub-Saharan Africa with a mission to generate an above-average investment return, as well as demonstrable socio-economic development impacts through its equity investments in food and agribusinesses.

Agri-Vie invested in Hygrotech because the company is the market leader in supplying vegetable seeds to the South African market and offers a whole basket of complementary and supplementary products to farmers. Hygrotech has a focus on sustainability and several exciting growth prospects which aligned perfectly with Agri-Vie’s targeted returns and environmental and developmental impacts.

What role is Agri-Vie playing to ensure that the agricultural sector grows economically?
Agri-Vie is an active investor in the agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only does Agri-Vie supply much needed capital investment into the sector, but we also drive an agenda of growth, job creation, minimal environmental impacts and socio-economic development.

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Agri-Vie gets involved with investees through active board participation and education and monitoring of good business practices and efficient allocation of capital. This ensures business development, which in turn has positive knock-on effects on suppliers and other industry players.

Bio-crop production is gaining momentum among farmers who cater for green markets. What is behind this growth?
There is a growing tendency among consumers to question the origin and production practices of their food.Paramount in their questioning is the impact on the environment. Farmers also realise that they need to produce in a sustainable way. If not, we will be depleting our natural resources, like good soil and water. An integrated approach focusing on enhancing the state of our natural resources leads to more efficient production in the long run, thereby also enhancing sustainability and profitability of the farmer.

Is there enough consumer awareness of how their food is produced?
Although there are some vocal proponents within the consumer community, most are still fairly uneducated about the origin of their food, and about production practices involved. Regulation around certain minimum requirements for display on packaging will help inform consumers. Several certification initiatives are also in place and gaining momentum as consumer awareness is growing.

How are bio-crops different from conventional crops?
The crops are not necessarily different, but the farming method differs in that a more sustainable approach is used. This includes incorporating softer chemicals and fertilisers which are more in harmony with the natural environment of the crop than the harsher conventional methods.

Do green chemicals and organic products have the ability to produce the kind of yields that conventional chemicals and genetically modified (GM) products can produce?
It is case specific. What is convincing though is that an integrated approach focusing on sustainability continues improving yields and profitability as it is a long-term process with benefits increasing over time. Conventional chemicals and GM crops are usually dependent on continuous innovation as the environment and pests build up a resistance to these methods.

How can food security be achieved through bio-friendly crop production?
Bio-friendly production is much more in harmony with nature. The advantage of this on food security is twofold. Firstly, the sustainability of existing food production is enhanced over time. Secondly, much of the world’s unutilised arable land is located in developing markets which do not have ready access to conventional cropping machines, techniques and products.

Bio-friendly production offers an opportunity for emerging farmers to grow production capacity from a low scale, effectively increasing total production of food globally.

Contact Agri-Vie on 021 913 5662.