Inyoni Africa started out by selling mining equipment in 1949, before diversifying into irrigation and providing machinery to the farming sector. By the 1990s the company had expanded operations internationally to Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia, and now they provide irrigation solutions across sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Western Africa. Essential Business Africa spoke to Gordon Vermaak, the company’s director, to find more about the company’s path to success.
Providing Complete Systems
Given the climate and the vagaries of the water supply, irrigation is vital for any farming or landscaping project anywhere in Africa. While in some areas basic gravity-feed systems are sufficient it’s often much more of a challenge to get water to where it needs to be, especially when factoring in factors like power consumption and seasonal shifts in the water supply. Inyoni Africa has been supplying purpose-built irrigation systems to farmers for nearly 40 years, and has honed the process down to an art.
“Inyoni Africa is a turn-key irrigation developer.” Vermaak says. “That means we focus on the complete development cycle for each irrigation system we install, whether it’s for a farm, an estate or an irrigation system. The process goes as follows: We conduct feasibility studies, design and plan the system to account for local factors, source the correct kit and materials and manage the delivery, which includes handling export of kit as well as acquiring components locally. Once that’s done, we also oversee construction, installation and testing, and then provide maintenance going forward as well as training of operators and managers to make sure the system runs properly.”
The company’s years of experience are vital in creating complex modern irrigation systems. Designers have to factor in the needs of the client, local soil and climate features, the planned crops and a myriad of other factors to determine which solution to use. Inyoni focus on providing a quality system that balances initial outlay with long-term maintenance and operational costs.
Water From a Stone
Given a changing climate and the diverse terrain of the African continent, drought is a major. Farmers can lose entire harvests or see significant drops in yields, particularly with more water-fragile but valuable crops like sugar cane. (Sugar cane companies are some of Inyoni’s most frequent customers). The ever-present possibility of drought is a major factor influencing the company’s operations.
“Africa is a water scarce continent, and we see this a lot in our line of work. The recent drought has had a huge impact on the mindset of farmers. There’s a definite move towards more efficient systems, not just in water application efficiency but also in terms of power usage, labour requirements, long-term maintenance and management considerations. In line with this we see a move away from the old labour-intensive, inefficient systems like flooding and movable overhead sprinkler systems towards drip, micro and centre-pivot systems.”
The African farming industry faces many problems. Ample land space is useless without enough water, and advanced irrigation systems are often useless without sufficient power. This has led to the development of variable speed drive systems and systems planned around non-peak power tariff times. In addition, many farms will struggle with theft, and as a result components that can be easily stolen like copper valves or cables are being replaced with less-valuable plastic and aluminium components.
Compounding the problem, sub-standard components are also often used, which can lead to irrigation systems failing and wasting valuable power and water. Inyoni is a Corporate and Design member of the South African Irrigation Institute (SABI), an organisation that prescribes minimum design norms and sets guidelines for quality equipment.
State of the Industry
Things have been difficult in the South African agricultural sector of late, with seven consecutive quarters of decline, according to Stats SA. For many of Inyoni’s clients the mood is somewhat negative. Inyoni, however, has seen an increase in business, and found a positive side to this difficult environment. The companies which are flourishing are those which employ quality irrigation systems. Increasingly, farms willing to take the capital risk of purchasing a well-designed system, managing it properly and ensure it’s sustainable are doing well. As a result, companies like Inyoni that provide this expertise are thriving as well.
“There’s a definite move to irrigation systems that are more efficient in terms of water application while requiring less power and labour. We’re working closely with the R&D departments of our major suppliers, giving them plenty of feedback, to make sure we provide equipment suitable for the current situation.”
“Our biggest success in recent times hinged on the strategic partnerships we have formed with key suppliers like Valley Irrigation and Netafim,” continues Vermaak. “With exclusive supply agreements, access to training and additional services like the aforementioned R&D feedback we’ve been able to secure a competitive advantage through these partnerships.”
He also admits that there’s still room to improve, citing optimisation of internal processes, better control of costs on construction to avoid the dreaded cost overruns that plague industries all over the world and increased staff training, particularly for field technicians. Nonetheless, Vermaak is confident in the company’s prospects.