With over 1.2m sq km of land, South Africa comprises Mediterranean, subtropical and semi-desert regions, producing everything from deciduous, citrus and subtropical fruit to grain, wool, cut flowers, livestock and game.
Its farm holdings range in size from the vast fields of the Eastern Cape to subsistence-based production in deep, rural parts.
When things become quiet around the Irish countryside, South Africa’s counter-seasonality offers agritech and farm-machinery producers an additional southern hemisphere market to provide a counterbalance to the end of a busy period back at home.
While some agricultural markets ‘down under’ have a strong indigenous farm machinery heritage, South Africa has a preference for imported European and North American equipment.
The good news is that, despite the weak value of the South African rand, European exports can compete on price. Irish companies active in the market include farm-machinery producers Keenan and McHale and food-processing software provider Emydex.
Other potential opportunities offered by South Africa’s large agricultural sector include animal nutrition and veterinary products, dairy and meat-processing equipment, alternative-energy solutions and water-saving technologies.
South Africa is the largest animal-feed producer on the continent, and there’s an ongoing opportunity to supply supplements to feed manufacturers, although this will mean taking market share from existing players.
Meat processing remains a large sector, particularly as the consumption of protein is increasing with a growing middle class. With the introduction of minimum-wage legislation there is a heavy focus on efficiency, with many South African farmers and processors looking to new technologies to increase productivity.
In selecting a South African market representative, companies should look for an agent or distributor that can provide an after-sales service and offer market reach right into the whole of the southern Africa continent. They may also be best advised to consider some of the smaller equipment suppliers, as larger distributors typically already have a full complement of partnerships in place and are less likely to take on new products.
In November, we will be taking a group of Irish farm equipment and agtech specialists on a market study tour to South Africa, providing an ideal opportunity to get a feel for the market, meet potential partners and showcase their products.
The visit will also take in Kenya, where agriculture accounts for 20pc of GDP, and tea and horticultural products are the country’s largest exports.
The Kenyan market represents yet a different opportunity again. The sector is characterised by small-scale farming, with family businesses typically operating on one-to-three hectare farms. However, the country is well capable of handling productivity gains thanks to a variety of climatic conditions, allowing for good grain, sugar cane, coffee and tea production.
Young Kenyans, who are leaving office jobs to venture into farming, are receptive to modernisation, and agriculture is central to the government’s economic development strategy. In 2010, Kenya signed a comprehensive Africa agriculture development programme to address constraints such as low investment and limited access to technology.
Irish animal-health company Cross Vetpharm has operations in Kenya, and those active elsewhere in East Africa include MagGrow, a start-up commercialising eco-efficient spraying technology; Hermitage Genetics, which specialises in pig breeding, and milking parlour specialist DairyMaster. There’s no doubt that other Irish firms selling to the agricultural sector could also look to Africa.
We here in Enterprise Ireland’s Johannesburg office can help with information, introductions and itinerary planning for market visits.