Africa Agritech 2023 – innovation, technology and the future of (South African) agriculture

This month the Africa Agritech conference took place for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. This annual highlight, hosted in Pretoria, attracts important stakeholders from all areas of South Africa’s agriculture sector. The conference showcases the latest technology available to the industry as well as the scientific research and breakthroughs that are crucial for ensuring food security.

At this year’s conference, important figures included leading agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo, renowned vet Dr Faffa Malan, and Jason Bratley – John Deere Director for Asia, Africa & ME. This year Dr Faffa Malan was inducted into the South African Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Africa Agritech 2023 – innovation, technology and the future of (South African) agriculture
Dr Faffa Malan receiving his Agriculture Hall of Fame award

Artificial Intelligence (AI) featured prominently during this year’s conference, with discussions ranging from ChatGPT to precision farming. South African farmers are demonstrating an appetite for modern technology, adopting cutting edge solutions to make farming both easier and more sustainable. In this sense, farmers are staying more up-to-date than people might assume. This is something that the sector should promote, and by doing so could encourage youth to explore agriculture as a career path. Furthermore, during the three day conference, growers and farmers demonstrated their use of ChatGPT and how it can be used to help solve both technical and day-to-day problems; providing answers to pest control and improving soil health. Additionally, there were numerous discussions on the role precision farming and automation plays in making farming more efficient, saving both time and resources. These circular agri practices, which the Dutch are familiar with, demonstrate the numerous opportunities for Dutch businesses to find partners in South Africa to develop the practice in the country. With the steady demand for technology in the agriculture sector, there is clearly great opportunity for businesses to invest in South Africa.

However, with these great advancements come challenges. The energy crisis in South Africa, with regular rolling blackouts, pose a challenge to using these new technologies. Without electricity many of these new devices and innovations are rendered obsolete. Nonetheless, as with many South Africans, farmers have found ways to manage the their energy challenges, adopting diesel generators and solar systems to mitigate the impacts of frequent power outages.

In addition to the power challenges, issues of access to broadband featured in the conference discussions. South Africa has a well-developed, national 3G/4G/5G network operated by several private companies. The country also maintains a well-established fibre network in cities, towns, and along major highways. However, in a country the size of South Africa there are inevitably areas in remote locations where farmers have weak or no access to the internet. As a result, South Africa’s resilient farmers have opted for satellite internet connectivity, which has shown a major improvement in reliance with a great decline in cost in the last decade. The resilience and resourcefulness of South Africa’s agriculture sector make it an exciting and attractive place to do business.

Africa Agritech 2023 – innovation, technology and the future of (South African) agriculture
The John Deere stand in the exposition Hall presenting their latest tractor technology

However, while farmers have found solutions to overcome their power woes and connect to the internet, this connection exposes them to a more sinister threat: cyber threats. Panelists and experts made it clear that the internet has become an integral part of the agriculture sector, but the sector must protect itself and the new technology from hacking as previous hacks have brought food systems to a standstill, threatening our food security. Fortunately, the conference provided the opportunity for security experts to advise the sector on how it can best mitigate these risks through beefing up antivirus systems, educating personnel on internet safety and removing vulnerable devices/components from their networks.

Leading the discussion away from the internet, genetics and GMOs were the focus of the third day. There is a clear divide between pro- and anti-GMO farmers. On the one side there are farmers who advocate for circular farming practices such as no till, cover crops, crop rotations, no pesticides, organic fertiliser, etc. These farmers appear happy to grow non-GMO crops. On the other hand, there are farmers who advocate for the continued use of chemical inputs to protect their crops and achieve greater yields. This group of farmers also tend to advocate for the adoption of GMO crops as they face growing pressure from governments and the private sector to reduce the use of chemical inputs. While this debate is not new and is likely to persist, the discussions moved away from gene editing to gene mapping and research. An interesting investigation into mapping the genetic codes of ticks is proving challenging for South African researchers who explained the complexity and adaptability of ticks. Ticks can easily develop resistance to pesticides and other interventions, and the small changes in their DNA sequences often go unnoticed, thereby remaining a challenge to protect livestock from tick-borne diseases. This academic work demonstrates South Africa’s world class research capabilities and the opportunities available to work with South African partners on knowledge sharing, research and education. The University of Utrecht has taken advantage of this opportunity to partner with the University of Pretoria on an annual veterinary exchange programme that will train future state veterinarians.

This conference brings together prominent figures in the sector, and some of the sharpest minds behind the science that goes into improving farming, our environment and ensuring food security. It also demonstrates the resilience, competency and optimism in the country. South Africa is most definitely a place of advanced and leading research, a country of innovation and opportunity.

We look forward to attending the Africa Agritech 2024!

For more information on the agriculture sector and to explore opportunities in South Africa, please contact our office:

You can find the conference programme here:

AAT_Programme.pdf (