The growth of protected horticulture in South Africa offers opportunities for European suppliers of technology and expertise, according to a report by Dutch research body Wageningen University & Research.
However, it stressed that solutions need to be appropriate to local conditions, which are diverse and poorly documented.
Report co-author Professor Pieter de Wisser, based at the Dutch embassy in Pretoria, said: "In search of longer seasons and better quality, to protect from harsh elements and in search of more sustainable production, (South African) horticulture is increasingly looking for protected production options."
The report identifies three types of protected grower, "commercial", "emerging" and "subsistence". It suggests that emerging growers could profit from upgrading existing facilities with "standard equipment" such as water recirculation, integrated pest management and solar water-heating. Training, the introduction of superior varieties and improved logistics are other areas where European expertise can benefit the sector, it suggests.
But it adds: "For the bigger commercial growers, the development towards better quality and higher profits is less simple, not least because these growers have already exploited the expertise from Israeli or Dutch advisers."
De Wisser admitted: "It is difficult to get a good picture of what is happening on the ground," while the report says: "Among growers there is no willingness to co-operate and share knowledge and experience. A higher degree of organisation is required if the sector wants to expand and get more sustainable."
It urges the creation of a national demonstration centre, saying: "Local growers are rather conservative and wish to see the new technologies in practice before buying. There are several possible test centres such as universities that would be welcoming to test technology under local conditions."
Role model Sustainable Innovation Centre
The Wageningen report's suggestion for a research glasshouse in South Africa has a role model in Turkey. The Sustainable Innovation Centre, a joint venture by Wageningen University & Research, Dutch glasshouse equipment suppliers, the Dutch government and Turkish partners, opened in Aydin in June.
Focused on sustainable production, the 4ha glasshouse uses geothermal energy and CO2 extracted from groundwater.
Dutch partners have also developed a Greenhouse Investment Decision Support Tool, a web-based application to guide Turkish entrepreneurs on likely returns from investment in glasshouses across the country.