Analysis | Adoption and diffusion of advanced ICTs in South Africa’s agricultural sector

“For policymakers to develop, implement and improve policies that facilitate adoption and diffusion while mitigating the potential associated risks, they need to understand the implications involved,” write Buchana, Sithole, and Majokweni (2022) in a new HSRC Policy Brief. “The main policy issue at hand is the absence of evidence-based policy instruments intended for facilitating the diffusion and use of these advanced ICTs in the agricultural sector.”

Download HSRC Policy Brief Adoption and diffusion of advanced ICTs in South Africa’s agricultural sector: Policy issues and implications

Policy Brief Authors

Yasser Buchana (PhD), Senior Research Specialist, Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators, Human Sciences Research Council | ybuchana[at]

Moses M. Sithole (PhD), Research Director, Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators, Human Sciences Research Council | msithole[at]

Pilela Majokweni, Senior Researcher, Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators, Human Sciences Research Council | pmajokweni[at]

Policy Forum | Agricultural Innovation in South Africa

Join this policy forum to explore new sources of evidence to strengthen agricultural innovation in South Africa. Engage with speakers playing key roles in the sectoral system, including in industry associations, universities, businesses, government, and the media.

Why this policy forum, now

The South African White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (2019) places the modernisation and strengthening of agriculture firmly on South African’s innovation agenda. Vital to food and job security, skills enhancement, and increased competitiveness across local and global markets, the case for strengthening agricultural innovation is compelling and urgent. Agricultural actors—such as producers (smallholder to large-scale farmers, loggers, and fishers), formal agribusinesses (small, medium, and large), industry associations, financial institutions, and policy actors—face diverse challenges. These include: addressing climate change; improving production, processing and market efficiency; ensuring product and facility certification and compliance; and enhancing absorptive capacity for new and emerging technologies, including 4IR. How, then, can the innovation policy agenda be advanced to strategically enable actors to address these and future challenges, and to provide adequate and timely responses that build resilience in this sector?

The evidence provided by South Africa’s first national Agricultural Business Innovation Survey, alongside, for example, the Statistics South Africa Census of Commercial Agriculture, represent key recent empirical contributions to ongoing policy discussions. Using the available data as one of the tools, this policy forum aims to address questions in agricultural innovation from the perspectives of three sub-sectors—farming, forestry, and fisheries, including the actors impacted—and explore routes to address a series of key questions.

Key questions

  • Do existing science, technology and innovation (STI) policy instruments support innovation activity in South African agribusinesses as effectively as they could? Are there types of innovation that do not occur on a wide enough scale, or are ‘below the radar’, that we should promote systematically? What are the different strategies required to promote the distinctive patterns of innovation in different agricultural sub-sectors?
  • In different agricultural sub-sectors, do we need specific funding instruments for R&D-led innovation, technological upgrading, and organisation or non-technological innovation to transform the agricultural, food and nutrition system in a more targeted manner? How can DSI coordinate and align its policy, strategies and interventions with other stakeholders in the agricultural system of innovation, including related government departments, science councils and universities, financial institutions, and industry associations, to address the barriers and constraints?

Zoom link for registration


*Programme Facilitator: Kgomotso Matjila, Acting Chief Director: Science and Technology Investment, Department of Science and Innovation

09h30 | Welcoming remarks

  • Ben Durham, Chief Director: Bio-Innovation, Department of Science and Innovation

09h40 | Keynote address: ‘Innovation and resilience in global agri-food and nutrition systems’

  • Judith-Ann Francis, Independent International Strategic and Policy Advisor on Innovation in Agri-food and Nutrition Systems

10h00 | Scene-setting presentation: Innovation in South African agribusinesses: New empirical evidence

  • Dr Glenda Kruss, Executive Head, Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators, Human Sciences Research Council

10h40 | Research Panel: ‘Directions for policy from the evidence’

Moderator: Prof. John Ouma-Mugabe, Professor of Science and Innovation Policy at the Graduate School of Technology Management, University of Pretoria

  • Dr Albert Strever, Agri-Informatics Expert, Stellenbosch University
  • Dr Marinda Visser, Director: Strategic Projects & Planning: Agriculture, Innovation Africa @ UP Initiative
  • Dr McLean Sibanda, IP & Innovation Expert & Managing Director, Bigen Global Ltd.

11h30 | Finance and Business Panel: ‘Directions for policy and investment from ground level’

Moderator: Dr Mlungisi Cele, Acting CEO: National Advisory Council on Innovation

  • Dr John Purchase, CEO, Agricultural Business Chamber (agbiz)
  • Dr Simphiwe Ngqangweni, CEO, National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC)
  • Denene Erasmus, Editor, Farmer’s Weekly
  • Mmabatho Portia Morudi, Farmer & Entrepreneur, II iju Bee Farms and co-founder of The Village Market Africa

12h30 | Policy Panel: ‘Strengthening the agricultural innovation system – the policy response’ 

Moderator: Dr Maneshree Jugmohan-Naidu, Director: Biotechnology, Department of Science and Innovation

  • Sibongiseni Ndimande, Director: Research and Policy Analysis, Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development
  • Sibonelo Mbanjwa, Director: Climate Change Adaptation-Natural Resources, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment
  • Sibusiso Manana, Head: Agriculture Strategic Technology Area, Technology Innovation Agency

13h20 | Closing remarks

  • Dr Petronella Chaminuka, Principal Economist and Senior Manager: Economic Analysis Unit, Agricultural Research Council

For more information or to contact the organisers please write to:

Announcement | SA’s first agricultural innovation survey

The Human Sciences Research Council undertakes national science, technology and innovation surveys, in terms of the Statistics Act (No. 6 of 1999). In May 2019, we rolled out fieldwork in the first ever SA Agricultural Business Innovation Survey, covering 2016 – 2018 and including farming, forestry and fisheries.

Between May and August, our research team will collect data from nearly 1,700 agricultural companies, from small to large businesses.

Results were released in April 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions
Survey brochure
South African innovation support programmes

Watch ‘The Future of Farming’ (The Daily Conversation, by Bryce Plank and Robin WestWall Street Journal), for a perspective on agricultural innovations shaping the future of farming.

The story of SA’s innovation surveys

Effective policy-making requires high quality evidence. The Department of Science and Technology (now merged with the Department of Higher Education and Training), as a partner within the national statistics system, is mandated to oversee the collection of statistics on science, technology and innovation. Since 2002, CeSTII has performed business innovation surveys for the Department.

Watch Dr Glenda Kruss, director of the SA Agricultural Business Innovation Survey 2016 – 2018, talk about why innovations surveys are performed in South Africa.

Previous Survey Reports


Recent Presentations

All Tweets and slides from the 2018 Industry Associations Innovation Day 

Follow our blog  or Twitter handle (@BizInnovationSA) for updates from the SA Business Innovation Survey team.

FAQ | SA Agricultural Business Innovation Survey, 2016-2018

*Fieldwork for SA Agricultural Business Innovation Survey 2016 – 2018 ended on 30 September 2019. 


*You can also download these FAQ

What is the purpose of the Agricultural Business Innovation Survey?

Commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology, and performed by the Human Sciences Research Council, the Agricultural Business Innovation Survey aims to deliver an internationally comparable report on innovation activities in South African agriculture, including farming, forestry and fisheries. Survey results will play a vital role in policymaking for technology, innovation, and economic development.

Why has my company been selected to participate in this round of the Survey?

Statistics South Africa has drawn a random sample of 1,690 agricultural firms from the business register in line with its agreement on official national statistics with the Department of Science and Technology—and your firm was selected. The sample consists of a variety of businesses, ranging from very small to very large firms that operate in agricultural sub-sectors. Sub-sectors covered by the survey include: agriculture (crops, wineries, livestock and poultry), forestry, and fisheries.

What will my business gain from participating in the Survey?

A source of business intelligence, the Survey’s results can be used to benchmark your company’s innovation activities against other agricultural firms in your sector, both nationally and internationally. An added benefit of participation is the opportunity it presents for an internal review of potential business development areas that might not otherwise be explored. The results of previous South African innovation surveys are available online

Will my company’s participation contribute to a national perspective on innovation in South Africa?

National business innovation surveys provide an essential source of data for evidence-informed policymaking towards increased inclusive economic growth and competitiveness. This is the first time South Africa will measure innovation in agricultural enterprises, filling an important gap.

Is there someone on the Survey’s team that can communicate in my mother tongue?

Our research assistants are ready to deal with the questions, comments or concerns of Survey respondents. Should you need to speak to one of the research assistants in your mother tongue, they will gladly assist you in South Africa’s official national languages.

I would prefer to print out the completed questionnaire and
return it via post. How can I do that?

Should you wish to submit your survey response via the postal services, please notify one of our research assistants, who will dispatch a questionnaire
and business reply envelope to your physical address, which you can use to return your questionnaire to us. Alternatively, please send your questionnaire to:
Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators
Human Sciences Research Council
Agricultural Business Innovation Survey 2016 – 2018
PO Box 15200

I would prefer to complete the questionnaire electronically. How can I do that?

The Survey questionnaire is available to be completed and submitted online, as well as via an Adobe Acrobat form that you can save and email to us. The online tool allows respondents to save progress and return later using a ‘Return Code’, which will be automatically issued to you when you save. Should you have any problems submitting your firm’s response to the survey, please contact

How will my company’s data be managed?

Questionnaires are stored in secure rooms and captured data is stored on secure servers at the Human Sciences Research Council premises in Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa. All staff who work on the survey have signed strict agreements on the confidentiality of the data. Your company’s details and firm-level data will not be shared with any third party.

What are the different types of innovation the Survey measures?

The South African Agricultural Business Innovation Survey recognises four types of innovation in firms: 1. Product innovation (including both goods and/or services); 2. Process innovation; 3. Organisational innovation; 4. Marketing innovation. This section of the FAQ provides detailed explanations and examples of each, as well as examples of what would not be considered an innovation in each category.

What makes a product or business activity an “innovation”?

Most people picture an invention new to the world when they think of innovation. In fact, two criteria are important in defining an innovation: 1. Does the product or activity represent significant change or improvement? AND/OR 2. Is the activity or product new to the firm? If the change meets either or both of these criteria, it can be considered an innovation. While a given change could be an innovation for one firm, the same change may not be an innovation for another firm. In answering the Agricultural Business Innovation Survey, each firm has to decide for itself whether a particular change is new to the firm and/or whether the product, process or service has significantly improved.

When does an innovation belong to an enterprise?

  1. If an enterprise has internally developed and implemented its own significant changes.
  2. If the enterprise has significantly improved or modified its existing products, processes, services, methods or delivery processes, either by internal development or by introducing a new idea from external sources.
  3. If an enterprise has implemented a new or significantly improved change, which may have originated elsewhere, such as the head office or a subsidiary company, another company, sector or country.

What is a product innovation?

Product innovation relates to both goods and services. When a good or service is introduced to the firm and is new to that firm OR shows significant improvement with respect to the capabilities or planned uses, then the change represents a product innovation. A product innovation may include significant changes in technical specifications, components and materials, incorporated software, user experience, or other functional characteristics of the good or service.

Examples of product innovations that relate to goods and services in the agricultural sector


  • Customised business software (e.g. farm management software)
  • Inclusion of eco-friendly products in product ranges
  • Automated harvesters
  • New wood, furniture or paper varieties
  • New wine blends
  • Drought-resistant seeds
  • Products with enhanced shelf-life
  • Bio-energy or bio-fuels


  • Customised business software (e.g. farm management software)
  • Inclusion of eco-friendly products in product ranges
  • Automated harvesters
  • New wood, furniture or paper varieties
  • New wine blends
  • Drought-resistant seeds
  • Products with enhanced shelf-life
  • Bio-energy or bio-fuels

What is NOT considered a product innovation?

  • Design changes that do not alter the function or technical characteristics of a good
    or service.
  • Routine upgrades, or minor changes or improvements.
  • Customisation for a single client that does not include significantly different attributes compared to products made for other clients.

What is a process innovation?

A process innovation relates to improvements in production methods, delivery methods or distribution methods. For these process improvements to be considered innovations, they must be new to the firm OR significantly improved. These significant changes include those that relate to specific techniques, equipment and/or software, changes that are intended to improve the quality, efficiency or flexibility of a production or supply activity or logistics, or changes that reduce environmental or safety hazards.

Examples of process innovations by sector

  • Predictive data analytics
  • Introduction of software to identify optimal farming practices (e.g. smart irrigation)
  • New or improved software or routines for purchasing, accounting or maintenance systems
  • Robotics and sensors
  • Vertical farming, Micro farming, hydroponics
  • Automated packaging
  • Computerised equipment for quality control of production
  • Mapping by drone
  • Smart boreholes
  • Installation of automated trucks and drill rigs
  • Radio Frequency Identity Tags

What is NOT considered a process innovation?

An increase in production or service capabilities through the addition of manufacturing or logistical systems that are similar to those already in use.

What is an organisational innovation?

An organisational innovation is intended to significantly improve the firm’s innovative capacity or performance characteristics. This can encompass significant changes in workplace organisation, business practices or external relations implemented in the firm.

Examples of organisational innovations

  • A reduction in the number of management levels to create greater flexibility in decision-making.
  • Integrated monitoring system for firm activities (e.g. production, finance, strategy or marketing).
  • The introduction of an organisational division to support new product development in a specific area.

What is NOT considered an organisational innovation?

  • Changes in management strategy not linked to significant organisational change.
  • Introduction of new technology that has limited benefits or is restricted to a small division of the firm.

What is a marketing innovation?

The implementation of a significant change in sales and marketing methods would qualify as marketing innovation. “Significant” would include improved product appearance and packaging that is intended to increase product appeal and/or consumer awareness.

Examples of marketing innovation

  • Bundling existing goods or services in new ways to appeal to market segments

What is NOT considered a marketing innovation?

  • Routine or seasonal changes.
    Minor updates in the appearance of packaging.
    Advertising, unless based on the use of new media or a new advertising technique.