South Africa’s first mobile agri-lab


11 September 2013

South Africa’s first mobile agricultural laboratory, one of the most technologically advanced in the world, will be a major boost for the country’s emerging farmers, enabling them to have their water, soil and animals tested on their doorstep.

The Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) spent R3-million on the development of the laboratory, which was recently launched by non-governmental organisation Mobile Agri Skills Development and Training (MASTD) at the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport outside Nelspruit.

“The benefits of the lab are numerous and include bringing conformity assessment support closer to emerging farmers, giving them access to a testing facility that will help them in their farm planning and crop production,” Seda spokesperson Beverley Kgame said this week.

Project manager Kevin Gambaran said the lab, with its cutting edge-range of equipment, “is definitely the most advanced agricultural laboratory in the country, and we are very proud to launch it after years of hard work”.

In addition to laboratory facilities, the 20-metre Scania truck unit hosts a training facility with high-tech electronic equipment and a comprehensive one-stop support centre for small, medium and micro enterprises within the agriculture industry.

Two high-definition television screens on the outside of the truck relay what is going on inside, and all laboratory equipment, barring the air-conditioners, are run with solar power.

“There is an interactive training room on board and a top-of-the-range computer where research and analysis can be furthered,” Gambaran said.

MASTD chairman Mathews Phosa said the laboratory would “strengthen MASTD’s hand in accelerating the growth of emerging farmers into commercial producers and beyond”.

The truck adds to a fleet of MASTD vehicles which visit projects and deliver seedlings and mechanisation to farmers across the country.

MASTD managing director Lynette Bezuidenhout, who leads a team of 30 full-time professionals at the NGO, said the lab would also be used for educational purposes.

“The plan is also to support rural schools by taking the laboratory unit to them and demonstrating experiments by using the television screens, making students aware of basic agri-science and showing that agriculture is a worthwhile profession.”

Bezuidenhout said more than 300 people were involved in the construction of the laboratory, which was hand-created and custom-made.

Phosa, the former premier of Mpumalanga province, said that such developments were vital for South Africa’s economy given the dwindling number of commercial farmers in the country.

“Many African and East European countries continue to lure farmers with extremely lucrative contracts. More worrying is the fact that the average age of our commercial farmers is 62. It is clear that the future of food production and rural job creation lies with South Africa’s 2.5-million emerging farmers.”

Phosa added that since MASTD’s inception in 2005, the organisation had made significant inroads in uplifting emerging farmers through its business incubation system.

“Last year alone, MASTD was instrumental in establishing 286 new SMMEs, creating more than 400 jobs,” Phosa, adding that the goal would be to establish laboratories in all nine provinces.