There is no doubt that South Africa needs macro-economic structural changes,  drastic things need to be tried if the needle of poverty and unemployment is to be moved. But if you have spent even a few minutes on Twitter, I mean X, you will know that South Africa’s education system produces more idiots that geniuses. The Zulu Nation’s Ingonyama Trust owns 29.67% of the land in KwaZulu-Natal totaling 28,000 square kilometers (a mind-boggling 2.8 million hectare) yet the king’s subjects live in shacks and blame Jan van Riebeeck for their problems.

South Africa as I have said before has a “Belindia” economy – a country in which a small minority of the population live like well-to-do people would in an advanced modern economy like Belgium, while the vast majority live like low-income people in India. Belgium is very fitting because the minority in this unequal economy does resemble Europe. The farming style in SA does not suit the reality, it is too uneconomical to be viable for most, the large tracks of underutilized land belies the dark reality. Too expensive to get started on a large scale and the cost of living is too high for small scale farming because all your profits go to electricity and food. That is why today we are talking about intensive farming, squeezing each and every drop of value from every inch of land. If you have not been reading South Africa’s best business blog then you will not know that we have looked that this problem multiple times before: Agrivoltaics, Aeroponics, Aquaponics, Hydroponics, Vertical Farming, contract chicken growing, vertically integrated chicken, and high value Saffron Farming

The reason most South Africans are poor – except for voting for the ANC – is that there are no tools available that make people earn a living wage let alone get them out of poverty due to external macro factors. What do I mean by this? How much do you need to earn a day to survive? Is that possible with appropriate technology like in the rest of Africa? No it is not! Due to European cost of living and African quality of life.
To overcome the cost of living issue for small-scale farming we need both intensive (increase the yield in small tracts of land) and the ability to grow your own fresh produce almost all year long for that you need greenhouses, which is expensive – not if you use tarps.

Today we are looking at the intensive farming used in Campo de Dalías, Almerí­a Province, Spain. Campo de Dalías is an economic marvel: 20 000 hectares of plastic greenhouses producing $1.5 billion of economic activity annually (around R28 billion). This is how it looks like from the sky and out of space:

Photo: Mauricio Bustamante

Photo: kallerna

Photo: NASA

From the lens of a passing satellite, Almería province is one of the most recognisable spots on the planet. The roofs of tens of thousands of closely packed plastic greenhouses form a blanket of mirrored light beaming into space. – The Guardian

Photo: ResearchGate

Head to head Ingonyama Trust Campo de Dalías
Land area 28,000 square kilometers (2.8 million hectares) 20 000 hectares
Economic output Leeches off South African taxpayers $1.5 billion annually (R28 billion)

Campo de Dalías –  is one of the driest places in Europe yet produces one of the largest fruit and vegetable crops on the continent – despite an annual rainfall of less than 250 mm it is called the “vegetable garden of Europe”. If you’ve eaten fruit and vegetables in Europe, chances are it came from this place.  It has the largest concentration of greenhouses  for horticulture on the continent: twenty thousand hectares under plastic sheeting. This intensive farming agricultural gold rush has turned one of the poorest parts of Spain into one of its most prosperous. Growing food all year long, farmers went from poverty to prosperity, yes there is some nouveau riche on display but nowhere as bad as Tenderpreneurville (South Africa).  There are no VW dealerships because the GTI is a rubbish car, and there are no Grooves to pick up slay queens because Spanish farmers don’t waste their money on whores. When profits come in the first thing they do is buy more seeds. These plastic tarpaulins are greenhouses and like a greenhouse it offers growers a controlled and consistent environment regardless of the season all year long – allowing them to keep production steady even when the temperature starts to drop.

The use of polyethylene as a substitute for glass had already been tested in the Canary Islands and Catalonia. The plastic was spread over wooden posts or metal structures and secured by wire. The transparent plastic intensifies the heat and maintains the humidity. This allows harvests to be harvested one month earlier than in an open field and ahead of other regions, starting harvesting in December and allowing the plant growth of the autumn-winter plantings until March. This allows for doubling, and sometimes tripling, the number of harvests. – Wikipedia

Yes, there are some unflattering articles about this place; it is backbreaking work to maintain this intensity and scale. It is a typical place where migrants who enter countries illegally would end up (sound familiar?). So you shouldn’t have a problem with labour considering that Zimbobwe has basically become a province of ours. The Zimbabweans will love it, it sounds exactly like the shadow economy they operate under in South Africa:

Around 130,000 people are said to work in Almeria’s agriculture. Many illegal, more than half of the registered workers are not Spanish nationals. The majority comes from the sub-Saharan countries of Africa and remains for several years. Everyone has no work permit, many do not even receive an employment contract.

Further reading
Intensive farming in Almería
Spain’s greenhouse effect: the shimmering sea of polythene consuming the land
Revealing the “Almerian Miracle”: Materiality of the Agrarian Modernization in the Campo de Dalías