Durban - It might seem rather strange, but your Woolies
veggies may well have been grown at Durban airport.
One of the coolest innovations in the Dube TradePort
precinct at the King Shaka International Airport north of Durban is its
AgriZone, a massive 16 hectare network of glasshouses in which peppers,
tomatoes and cucumbers are grown for use by Woolworths stores, predominantly in
A team of 140 first-time workers - 130 of them women - have
spent eight months being trained in hydroponic farming under the tutelage of
expert Chris Scales.
Originally, each batch of the team’s produce, which includes
six varieties of peppers, had to be certified before being forwarded to the
high-end supermarket chain, but is now of such quality that it is moved
automatically to Woolies stores.
Scales, who hails from the UK, said the business had grown
dramatically over the past few months, with the climate-controlled glasshouses
churning out crops every four months.
Advanced hydroponic technology, said Scales, allowed each
plant to grow two stems, doubling the already escalated yield of every plant.
Dube TradePort chief executive Rohan Persad told City Press
it invested in a full 16ha of fully climate-controlled glasshouses for
“We decided to invest in the agribusiness to assist in
building the perishables industry. We went with the big-build approach, setting
up the 12ha of glasshouse,’’ he said.
“In the past, 70% of Woolworths products were trucked into
the province from inland. Now they are being produced here. The yields are
phenomenal. What you normally need 10ha to produce we can produce on 1ha, with
total climate control and several crops a year, because we can farm
year-round,’’ he said.
The produce is washed, checked, sized, chilled and packed
in-house, and trucked directly to the stores. About 10% of produce, which does
not meet the standard, is donated to local schools.
A separate 4ha set of glasshouses is under construction for
flower farming, with about half of the yield destined for the international