Encouraging signs that South African agriculture is surging towards technology was evidenced at the recent launch of the state-of-the-art Tissue Culture Facility (TCF) – Western
Cape. Western Cape Department of Agriculture had contributed R10 million to the facility with a larger share raised through loan funding provided by the shareholder commodity groups.
“We have great potential, we have to think big. That is why farmer support, market access, increased exports and job creation, especially for women, are key focus areas” said Western Cape Agriculture MEC, Dr Ivan Meyer.
Hortgro Stone, Hortgro Pome, the Canning Producers’ Association, the South African Table Grape Industry, Raisins SA and SAPO Trust were shareholders in the TCF.
According to TCF’s Chairperson Anton Rabe, “it was decided more than 2 years ago that the “industry needed to establish such a facility to focus on deciduous fruits, mostly rootstocks for supply nurseries to make trees”
Over the years, Hortgro had decried the shortage of available rootstocks in the country. With this new facility, TCF will be able ‘supply industry with clonal rootstocks grown through rapid multiplication of in-vitro plant material.’
TCF also aims to establish a quarantine capacity with the focus on better and improved plant material or the industry.
Rabe added: “so compliance with the plant improvement act and scheme will be fully adhered to with certified material being available to producers via nurseries participating in the scheme.”
TCF is poised to be a game changer for South Africa’s biotechnology, enabling the deciduous fruit industry to compete globally. Speaking at the launch, Charmaine Stander, TCF Manager said South Africa will serve as a gateway in Africa “to providing phytosanitary accredited plant material.”
South Africa will go head on shoulders with its BRICS counterpart India. The Asian giant had the fastest growing tissue culture market in the world followed by North America. Ethiopia, had also massively invested in tissue culture with its government spearheading its commercialisation.
Hortgro was careful not to over exaggerate in managing TCF and was aware of its limitations. This was new territory for the industry, complex and highly technical field, it required specialised skills to grow exact copies of plants without seeds.
Rabe admits that it took a bit of time to develop a proper business plan and obtain the funding to proceed.
“We have obtained the services of a world-renowned TC consultant from California who is guiding the training of our staff. 2020 has thus far been mostly focussed on R&D phase with ramping up of volumes being planned for 2021 to 400,000 plants” he said.
TCF plans to have employed 45 people beyond 2021, estimated to run on full production of 3 million plants. As a tentative start, TCF is employing 6 people by the end of November with an additional 4 personnel in the beginning of 2021 to get the facility in full swing.
Meyer commended the TCF and said the safety and security of the industry was vital. “One way of achieving this is by creating jobs for women, and I am happy to see that there are already many women working here at the TCF.”
With the facility in operation, TCF projects a substantial reduction in bulk imports given the exchange rate.
Asked about cannabis as part of future plans for TCF?
Rabe said: “not on the cards, but if there is a demand/order for such plants and we have the capacity available, why not!”