McFair Holdings, a high-tech, undercover farming operation located at Dube AgriZone has just begun harvesting its first crop of commercial-quality peppers. Photo: Supplied

DURBAN - McFair Holdings, a high-tech, undercover farming operation located at Dube AgriZone has just begun harvesting its first crop of commercial-quality green, yellow and red peppers.

McFair Holdings began in 2015 as a business consulting and commodities trading company. 

The 4-hectare greenhouse farming facility, which also grows tomatoes, is owned by KwaZulu-Natal-born husband and wife business partners, Knox and Lindiwe Nxumalo and began its farming operations within the Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone in May this year.

McFair Holdings is now the second Black African-owned agri-business to take up space within the Dube AgriZone, a precinct, which is Africa’s first integrated perishables supply chain and one of the most technologically-advanced, future farming platforms on the continent. 

The high-tech agricultural development, which forms part of the Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone, is host to the largest climate-controlled glass-covered growing area in Africa. It aims to stimulate the growth of KwaZulu-Natal's perishables sector and affords the opportunity to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistent quality, year-round production and the superior management of disease and pests.  

The present phase one development comprises an extensive 16 hectares of greenhouses, dedicated post-harvest packhouses, a central packing and distribution centre, a nursery and a sophisticated plant tissue culture laboratory, Dube AgriLab.

Dube AgriZone has already received several proposals for new farming and processing facilities, including aquafarming operations within the 30 hectare second phase of Dube AgriZone 

The inaugural eight-month-long harvest season at McFair Holdings is expected to yield in excess of 10 tonnes of peppers per week. Harvest season on the crop of tomatoes that were planted on the remaining 2 hectares in August, will begin in October. 

The growing agri-business currently supplies its fresh produce to the local market via giant retail distributor, Massmart and other major national fresh produce distributors. 

CEO of McFair Holdings, Knox Nxumalo, said: “We see Dube TradePort as a “big brother” to our business when we consider the extent of the support we have enjoyed from Dube AgriZone. Not only are our seedlings grown in the adjacent AgriZone nursery, which reduces our plants’ travel time and the risk of damage, but the feedback we receive from seedling research and the advice and support we receive on crop development is critical to improving our crop quality. Having direct access to the packhouse has also improved our efficiency tremendously.”
The company currently employs 33 full-time employees including junior and senior managers who are formally trained in agriculture, horticulture and quality control. The team also includes 26 general workers, many of whom have had no former experience in undercover farming and have been up-skilled by McFair Holdings to meet the requirements of the operations and are continuously trained and mentored on-site. An additional 10 seasonal workers are called in when needed. 

The tremendous potential for businesses like McFair Holdings to create and sustain jobs within our current depressed employment environment, and to stimulate interest in investment and trade within our region, deserves our sincere commitment and ongoing support.”

Nxumalo added “Our first priority is to make our current operations viable and self-sustainable but then we definitely intend scaling, and scaling fast. This growth has been thanks to the support we have received from our funding partners Sefa and our banking partner ABSA. We are currently negotiating on a piece of land for open-field farming of other fresh produce that we intend using in a range of frozen vegetable that will be packaged under our own brands. The plan is to export globally.”