I’m writing my first column for In Greenhouses sitting in the departure lounge at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. The reason for my three-day trip to the Netherlands was a joyous one: our daughter Wendy turned 30 yesterday, and as her proud father, naturally I had to be there. All the children and grandchildren were there this afternoon, and now I’m already on my way back to South Africa.

South Africa has been our home since 2014. After many years of travelling and deliberating, we ultimately decided to follow our dream: to be there for the people of Africa. We live and work in South Africa. Anne, my wife, is involved in development work for disadvantaged children, and I am a consultant for Delphy specialising in covered vegetable growing in eastern and southern Africa. Basically that means advising and training people in safe food production to enable them to create jobs and produce safer food.

Horticulture, and in particular covered crop production, has been gaining rapidly in significance in Africa in recent years. There are many reasons for this, with water shortages topping the list. As many people are aware nowadays, it takes five times less water to grow a kilogram of tomatoes in a greenhouse or tunnel than it does in the open air. Protection against wind and rain and keeping pests out are other reasons for growing crops under cover.

It’s much easier to grow food safely and sustainably under cover. Funnily enough, it has mainly been private initiatives and not government ones that have set this movement in motion here. Supermarket chains like Woolworths have been setting the trend for years with the Farming for the Future programme. As a result, growing in an environmentally sound way now tends to be the rule rather than the exception for modern GlobalGAP certified growers. But there are still a lot of smallholder farmers growing for the wholesale markets where certification is not yet a requirement, although it is a USP for them. In my next column I will be looking at how this works in practice and what role I can play in it myself.

Herbert Stolker
Senior Consultant Africa