Dr and Mrs Ngubane; Ms Ogilvie-Thompson of
the Southern Life Foundation; Mr van Zyl of the Zululand Chamber of Business Foundation;
Mr Morrison of Richards Bay Minerals; Mr Mike Dunn of Richards Bay Coal Terminal; Mr Tony
Ardington in his capacity as Chairman of the Welani Rural Development Trust,
Trustees and members of the Trust; members of the Thubalethu Co-operative; and Mr
Les Hutton of the Feed The People Project; ladies and gentlemen, I greet you all.
As a result of my dear wifes personal
involvement in the Welani Development Trust, I have followed the progress of this
project with a keen interest. I congratulate all those who have been involved in ensuring
that all is in readiness for todays launch.
Thubalethu, "an Opportunity is
I was delighted to hear that the womens
co-operative which is intimately involved in the Welani Hydroponics Project has
chosen the name Thubalethu, which I am going to translate freely as "an
opportunity is given"
In fact that is just how I feel today. Let me
explain. Since assuming office as Minister of Agriculture for KwaZulu-Natal, I have been
greatly impressed by the effort and scope of womens empowerment groups, in general,
and by the achievements of such groups in the rural areas, in particular. As a result of
my involvement with agriculture in KwaZulu-Natal, I have become very interested in the
potential for dramatically increased food production by means hydroponic culture. So, by
inviting me here today, you have given me the opportunity to combine these two personal
interests while performing an official task. I thank you most sincerely for giving me this
As I have followed the progress and
development of the Welani Hydroponics Project, I have noticed that an admirable and
impressive characteristic is the deep and committed involvement of a number of development
partners. It is becoming increasingly apparent that a common feature of many successful
development projects is that, in addition to being identified by a burning desire on the
part of the community to succeed, they are supported by a network of diverse partners
drawn from the business, finance, development, and investment sectors.
In such partnerships opportunity is given for
all parties to benefit in a variety of ways.
The first opportunity that is given is
for the community to commit itself to self-development.
Then follows the second opportunity
which is for sponsors to pledge their support to assist a community that is determined to
The third opportunity sees the
community acquiring additional production and business skills.
These new skills, in turn, give rise to the fourth
opportunity in which the community can improve its level of food security, plane of
nutrition and standard of living.
The fifth opportunity that is given
allows the sponsors to acquire a wealth of multi-disciplinary and innovative small-scale
business and production skills, as well as exposing the sponsors to the realities of
practical survival skills at which the rural communities are the declared experts.
It is thus with great joy that I congratulate
those who chose the name, Thubalethu. Indeed, they chose wisely and well. I trust
that every person here today, and all those who will become involved as this project
grows, will take full advantage of the opportunities that are being given.
The importance of hydroponics
I believe the first person to whom an
opportunity was given, was Mr Les Hutton, who truly is the Father of the Welani
Hydroponics Project. He had the knowledge and the vision, and he took the opportunity to
share his knowledge to make his vision become a reality and to show the role that
hydroponic production can play in KwaZulu-Natal. I congratulate him on his perseverance in
holding on to his vision even in the face of delays and frustration; and his persistence
in knocking on all doors until he saw the realization of his dreams.
I share his belief that hydroponics has an
important part to play in contributing to rural development while increasing food
production in this Province. In fact, there is a range of production styles which could be
described as hydroponic forms of culture. These extend from the least technical form of
hydroponic production, that of bark-filled "growbags" to which the nutrients are
supplied in solution, through a series of levels that become increasingly more complex, to
the hi-tech forms of production in which there is re-circulation from a gravity-fed
storage reservoir of the drained nutrient solution. Each of these levels of hydroponic
production has a place in this Province and can play an important role in contributing to
food security, alleviating poverty, improving the standards of nutrition and of living,
boosting rural development, job creation and thus the economy of the Province.
We all are aware that we are living in a
Province that is richly blessed with the agricultural natural resources. In support of
this statement, let me add that this Province has the potential to increase its present
level of agricultural production by 366%. While that is a very important fact, let us not
forget that we are living in a Province where poverty and malnutrition are the companions
of the vast majority of the population, and that an ever-increasing proportion of the
community is living in squalid conditions in urban and peri-urban areas where land is in
critically short supply, where security is problematic, and where bulk water is not
necessarily freely available. Thus, under these conditions, food production by
conventional means is not a reality. On the credit side, in such a situation, there is an
eager supply of job-seekers, a ready market for fresh produce, and often there is access
to electricity. In addition, the opportunities for value-adding can be developed as there
are attractive market opportunities for such products. It is particularly in such
situations, that I believe that certain levels of hydroponic forms of production have a
vital role to play, and could make an important contribution to the ability of this
Province to increase food production.
Role of hydroponics in food production by the
elderly and the handicapped
Another situation in which I believe certain
levels of hydroponic production have an important role to play is in assisting the
handicapped and the elderly to secure a greater level of independence by producing their
own fresh fruit and vegetables, and even by producing a surplus which could be offered for
sale, thus giving a measure of financial independence to these people who are living not
only on fixed, but rapidly dwindling incomes. I focus particularly on these two sectors of
the community since not only is this the International Year of Older Persons, but also
because the handicapped were, and in many cases still are, one of the very disadvantaged
sectors of our community.
Thus it was that I decided to use part of my
Ministerial Discretionary Fund to assist the Cheshire Homes for the Disabled in their
drive to empower those who are physically challenged to attain economic independence. An
amount of R50 000 was allocated, jointly, to the horticultural projects at the Chatsworth
and Merewent Cheshire Homes.
Hi-tech applications of hydroponics
Another, very different area in which I
believe certain levels of hydroponic production have an important role to play is in the
increasingly hi-tech world of the very specialised commercial farmer who has intensified
and produces specialist horticultural crops, out-of-season. Such installations usually
would be situated close to urban centres, serviced by a reliable electricity supply to
power pumps, heaters, valves and the computers that are linked to the radiation and
humidity sensors that regulate the irrigation schedules.
In summary, it is necessary to select the
level of hydroponic production that will be most appropriate to the technology base of the
producer, the production situation, the market, and the resources available. It is clear
that when the Welani Hydroponics Project was being designed this exercise was
undertaken with the greatest care.
Involvement of the Department in hydroponics
My Department is fully aware of the important
role that hydroponics can play in this Province,
and also that much of the basic research for
the hi-tech hydroponics systems has already been undertaken. Rather than re-invent the
wheel by this duplicating research, the Department will be directing its research efforts
towards those forms of hydroponic production that would be more applicable in the less
developed areas, and in urban agriculture, in particular. To this end, a hydroponics
demonstration unit is being established at Cedara, and we will be holding a Hydroponics
Day will be held there during the coming winter. May I invite members of the Welani
Rural Development Trust and the Thubalethu Co-operative to join us on that day.
Opportunities for the development of
The Welani Hydroponics Project is
already harvesting and marketing lettuces, and soon will have crops of green peppers,
tomatoes, cabbages, spinach and lettuces; an impressive achievement by any standard. As a
businessman, the profit margin of any project is always of particular interest to me, so I
was very pleased to find that it is the intention of the Welani Hydroponic Project
not only to market fresh produce, but also to investigate and develop markets for
processed produce. Not only will this increase skills-base and boost the number of people
that can be employed, but it will also provide outlets for the excess produce in times of
over-production, and add stability to the total enterprise from such diversification. I
look forward, eagerly, to the day we will see Welani sundried tomatoes,
attractively packaged and proudly offered for sale in the supermarkets in Ulundi, Durban
and Pietermaritzburg. While I have discussed only sundried tomatoes, these comments apply
equally to a whole range of value-added processes that include all forms of bottling,
preserving and drying, and could yield products as varied as jams, chutneys, atchars and
The development potential of the Welani
I am confident that the Welani Hydroponics
Project has the potential to realise these dreams. But, speaking again as a businessman, I
think that one of the challenges that will need to be addressed before the full potential
can be realised is the development of a link between, on the one hand, the community as a
whole, all the goods that it produces, this project and its produce; and, on the other,
the market place. This marketing link would play a pro-active part in securing the best
market deal for the all the produce of the community, in general, and of this project, in
Let me explain by way of a typical example
that is repeated hundreds of times throughout this Province. On the one hand, somewhere in
KwaZulu-Natal, is a small community of say 70 families, with active rural development
groups that produce, as you do, a range of fresh vegetables, and that also have sewing,
knitting and baking skills. On the other hand, some 15 miles away, is an hotel where
wealthy overseas tourists come to enjoy the beautiful scenery. This hotel needs fresh
fruit, vegetables, eggs, dressed poultry, bed linen, table cloths, serviettes, curtains,
and uniforms. All of which could be supplied by the men and women from the neighbouring
rural communities. The hotel also has a curio shop that sells high quality art and craft
work to the visitors. But what is lacking is a skilled marketing agent to link the local
community that has the skills with the hotel that need the goods produced by the local
The role of the marketing entrepreneur
This entrepreneur would find out the
skills-base of the community, and then would determine the exact needs of the market in
terms of quantity, standards and deadlines for delivery. He would fine-tune the skills of
the community to match the needs of the marketplace, determine a price that is mutually
acceptable, ensure that deadlines are met, and that goods supplied meet the standards
demanded by the marketplace. He would collect the money from the marketplace, and pay the
suppliers. This agent could encourage the hotel to ensure that their craft outlet stocks
only the finest locally produced arts and crafts, thus introducing lively competition
based on high standards that are maintained over time, as demanded by the tourist market.
This entrepreneur would encourage the local
producers, first, to produce those items for which there is a known demand, and then to
produce a few new lines to test the demand. He would advise the producers on changing
trends in the marketplace, and on pricing policies to ensure that all costs and an
acceptable mark-up are included in the price that he pays to the producer. In the
interests of transparency, the marketing agent should be quite open about the price he got
for the articles, bearing in mind that he has costs and carries considerable risk. If this
agent can come from within the community, so much the better. So yet another opportunity
would be given for the agent to develop marketing, quality control, and pricing skills.
Long term advantages of the Welani
I know that both Dr and Mrs Ngubane will
probably feel that one of the most significant of all the opportunities that will be given
by this Project is that of improved health through improved nutrition. Once the production
cycles are active, and there is an established flow of fresh and preserved vegetables into
the community, then the plane of nutrition of the community as a whole will start to
improve, especially among families for whom hunger and malnutrition have been constant
companions. Once the marketing channels are functional, then cash from the sale of the
produce will start flowing into the community, and the parents will have disposable
By producing goods for which there is a
secure market, by developing that market, and by returning benefits to the community, I
believe that the Trust will grow, this Project will prosper, and the whole community will
share in the benefits.
Ladies and gentlemen, since first I heard of
the Welani Development Trust, and of the Welani Hydroponics Project, in
particular, I must admit to having been very excited by their rural development potential.
As time has progressed, and as these organisations have developed so that initial
excitement has given way to a growing delight that today knows no bounds.
May I wish the Welani Rural
Development Trust and the Welani Hydroponics Project every success in the future.