Growing for the Future
ZZ2’s farming roots date back to the 19th century, the van Zyl family continuing to honour its legacy while looking ahead to the future of an ever-changing agricultural sector
Writer: Sean Galea-Pace | Project Manager: Donovan Smith
“Agriculture in South Africa, although incredibly challenging, is a very exciting space to be working in.”
Today, the agricultural sector in South Africa is regarded as one of relatively few industries within the country that can showcase real growth and potential for job creation.
During the past two decades, the industry has transitioned away from mass large-scale intensive farming and the production of low-value food crops like wheat and milk to high-value export products that include deciduous fruit, citrus and game.
The opening statement comes from Tommie van Zyl, CEO of South African farming enterprise and fresh produce company ZZ2.
“Due to the unique diversity of our climate, we can grow many different crops,” he continues. “Despite South Africa being a water scarce country, we’re now at the forefront worldwide in managing our water resources. By removing invader plant species, careful planning of our resources and by employing the best technologies we have managed to overcome many of the water challenges facing us.”
And agriculture in the country is only expected to grow. The sector is anticipated to register a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.5 percent during the forecast period of 2020-2025 – this follows a positive 2019 during which the price received by farmers rose by 4.3 percent alongside a five percent increase in the amount spent on agricultural inputs.
Van Zyl also recognises the plethora of workers at its disposal. “The pool of young, skilled and highly qualified employees available to us can only bode well for the future,” he says.
“We are already designing and building highly complex pack-houses using our own team of young skilled engineers. The diversity of cultures within South Africa also means that we can call on the talents and creativity of many different people within the country. We also have the ability (and have done so) to bring in some highly skilled individuals from the arms and mining industries to assist us in employing the best technology as these industries scale down their operations in South Africa.”
Indeed, van Zyl has a legacy of his own to uphold.
The family began their farming journey over 100 years ago. Today, van Zyl explains that the need for independence and a passion for farming has always been the lifeblood of his family for generations.
“Willem van Zyl, our ancestor from the Netherlands, worked as a fresh produce farmer for the Dutch East Indian Company in the Cape of Good Hope,” he explains. “He later bought a farm in Franschhoek where he farmed with fresh produce, wine and livestock. His descendants left the Cape during the 1830s and gradually moved north. Eventually, they settled in the region east of Polokwane in 1880.
“My father formed the present company in 1966. Tenacity, an eye for a business opportunity, a knack for communicating with employees in their own language and an unwavering self-belief stood him in good stead over the years. I grew up on the farm and it was always my dream to continue to grow the legacy my father had left us.”
ZZ2 farms are primarily in the Limpopo Province where their sought-after tomatoes and avocados are cultivated. However, the firm also operates in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, North-West Province, Mpumalanga and across the border in Namibia.
The enterprise also grows mangoes, onions, dates, cherries, apples, pears, stone fruit, almonds and blueberries. The ZZ2 brand is well-recognised and possesses a proud history backed by a great customer value offering and superior economic value for all its stakeholders.
As a result of the South African economy being stagnant over the past few years, the enterprise decided to concentrate on superfoods that could be exported, a move which Van Zyl believes was essential.
“Our tomatoes and onions that are only destined for the local market were not showing any growth,” he explains. “Therefore, we decided to leave the hectares of the tomatoes and onions unchanged but to concentrate on improving the productivity of these crops.”
ZZ2’s portfolio has also been extended to include dates, cherries, blueberries and almonds. However, it is the avocado market that particularly piques van Zyl’s interest.
“We’ve been farming with avocados since the early eighties, but we’ve always been hampered by the lack of planting material,” he explains. “We established our own avocado nursery a number of years ago and this has now enabled us to begin an expansive growth strategy.
“We are very positive regarding our avocados as we see the per capita consumption of avocados increasing on a yearly basis worldwide. Currently, South Africa only has access to Europe for its avocados. As South Africa is ideally placed to serve the east and far eastern markets, ZZ2 will be in a very good position once market access is gained to serve these markets.”
Another enabler for the future is technology.
With industries the world over beginning to digitise at scale, farming is no different, and van Zyl believes that embracing new technology is fundamental and will continue to have a growing impact.
“It is vitally important to embrace digital farming techniques and digitisation strategies in the agricultural sector,” he adds. “Agricultural activities will continue to become more intense, detailed and have a greater emphasis on cost-savings. This will also lead to greater emphasis on effective resource utilisation and environmentally friendly farming practices as well as more effective packing facilities and increasingly optimised logistics flows.”
Looking ahead, van Zyl harbours ambitions of increasing the number of crops exported but stresses the importance of improving its current offering before extending its portfolio.
“We aim to become the preeminent supplier of avocados out of South Africa utilising the very early window we have to get into the market before Peru,” he says, bringing the conversation to a conclusion.
“We will continue to work with our government to get access to more markets especially in the East and Far East. We will probably not diversify too much further but rather concentrate on growing and improving on the productivity of the crops we currently have.”