Lowerland farm is situated just outside Prieska, a small town in the Northern Cape, which is precisely in the middle of South Africa, being equidistant from each of the oceans around the subcontinent and the northernmost boundary of the country. It is surrounded by famers who use conventional chemical-fed farming techniques and a pattern of labour relations that has not changed significantly over the last five decades.

Bertie and Alette Coetzee took on the task of converting Lowerland to regenerative farming practices around 2015, starting with one field and steadily expanding organic practices to embrace the whole farm. Lowerland is now a certified organic farm. As this work progresses it becomes apparent that the Lowerland team is achieving more than simply a change of agricultural method.

The farm and the value chain created in its work process starts to influence the wider activity system. We observe the first characteristics of what has been called a circular economy. The process of regeneration brings changes to social patterns that were deeply etched through decades, democratises management of production, bridges gender and racial chasms, and enables knowledge creation and distribution across extended networks and geographies.

Some of the farming techniques and practices employed on Lowerland include:

– Intercropping, relay cropping and no-till or green planting.

– The integration of grazing animals, cereal grains, annual crops, perennial crops, and cover crops in rotations.

-Closed loop systems.

-Bottom-up management style to grow future farmers, leaders and businesspeople and encourage engaged, committed teams who take ownership of the project.

Strategic SectorFood Production
LocationSouth Africa
Responsible PartnersUCT
External supporting partnersLowerland
The case
from theory to implementation on the ground

The first challenge for Lowerland has been to remain economically viable in the fiercely competitive farming landscape whilst managing the transition to an agroecology on Lowerland. It is this imperative that has driven first moves towards circularity in terms of on-farm practices and along the entire agricultural value chain.
LOWERLAND’S core philosophies, in pursuance of this business imperative may be succinctly set out:

  1. Regenerative agricultural practices working closely with nature and regenerating the people engaged in operations.
  2. Ensuring healthy soil to produce food that is as nutritious as possible.
  3. Increasing diversity in products and services to reflect the diversity in nature.
  4. Efficiency in production to make products affordable and accessible.
  5. Blue Oceans thinking in development of marketable brand, quality products, and integrated farming and production methods.
  6. Shortening the value chain and adding value on farm rather than farming single commodities and chasing the economy of scale.
  7. Bottom-up, team centered management style with a focus on initiatives and projects that come from within the company/community.
  8. Grow knowledge and practices and share to grow momentum, community and resilience.

Lowerland sets out to grow with these core philosophies intact and to seed new initiatives all the time, embracing the surrounding community and farming ecosystem. This aspiration will require careful attention to strategy, and constant learning.

Lowerland is an organic farm that produces a basket full of natural, nutritious and wholesome products by working with nature, adopting sustainable and regenerative solutions with a focus on perennial species.
The case will look at the role that such initiatives can play to scale-up circular economy in food global supply chains like the South African agricultural sector.
The initiative also wants to explore and demonstrate resilient solutions, on a small and large scale, to agricultural issues in the context of climate change and geopolitical challenges.
Distinctive aspects of the case study

Lowerland’s move toward regenerative practice, understood both in terms of agricultural practices and in terms of human potential development, takes place against the backdrop of a changing geo-political environment and dramatic climate change. The entire South African agricultural sector confronts changed weather patterns which are destructive of single-crop farming, experiences the fragility of extended value chains, and fears the brimming social discontent that derives from decades of extreme inequality and economic exclusion. Lowerland may then be seen as a prototype of a new mode of agricultural enterprise in South Africa, and harbinger of a future system that is in harmony with nature and society.

Crucially this study of the emergent circular economy around Lowerland seeks to understand how strategy, organizing and leadership works in a complex adaptive system. The aim to establish regenerative agriculture has been tied from the beginning to a quest for social transformation, “regenerating the people involved in operations” to ensure resilient communities. This goal cannot be achieved by objectives-based planning; it requires listening to and learning from evolving possibilities, adapting strategy to new potentials, constant learning, and adaptation. This study seeks to gain insight about these processes. Inevitably then, this is not so much a study about Lowerland, but a process of learning with those involved in Lowerland regeneration.

Lowerland will provide for an empirical examination of how strategy, organising and leadership works in a complex adaptive system or circular economy organising ecosystems. More specifically, the case will research:

a) enabler and barrier to implement circular economy practices in the food industry in South Africa;

b) the socially transformative role of circular economy businesses;

c) the drivers that allow the scaling up of circular economy practices in the food industry.

Main contact
Bertie Coetzee, Owner, Lowerland FarmAlette Coetzee, Owner, Lowerland FarmLowerland Learning Team, Actors and stakeholders in farming practice
The case will be conducted by the team of the Graduate School of Business (GSB) of the UCT:Associate Professor Kosheek Sewchurran, Project LeaderDr Gavin Andersson, Lead ResearcherDr Lester Davids, Research Assistant