South African start-up funded hydroponics project failed

An award-winning, government-backed agricultural project for disadvantaged Beaufort West locals showed great promise in helping to reduce unemployment and poverty in the economically depressed Karoo town. But after a promising start and despite millions of rand seeding funding, from both provincial and national government, the project - a hi-tech hydroponics scheme producing top quality herbs and vegetables for the high-end consumer market - went belly-up.

As an initiative to provide employment and promote skills - specifically for single heads of households - the municipality launched a pilot hydroponics scheme with research assistance from the CSIR just after the turn of the millennium.

Major start-up funding was provided by the then provincial Department of Economic Development and Social Services, which put in 1 million Rand in the financial year 2003/4 to help start the project and further funding of R2.25m in 2004/5. The national Department of Science and Technology put in a total of R1.88m, also over those two financial years.

The project was formally launched in June 2003 with a cost estimate of R5m, and was greatly expanded to include five greenhouses covering an area of about 8,500m2. It focused on herbs - mostly basil, coriander, rocket and mint - and a small range of vegetables.

The project staff ranged between 50 and 60 people, trained at Stellenbosch University, making the project one of the biggest single employers in the region.

Read the full, comprehensive news article and discuss at Cape Argus

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