Agriculture plus Zionism equals rapid business growth
Vegtech Netafim founder Barney Isralls says it was the combination of his two passions – agriculture and Zionism – that led to the success of his company and ultimately to winning the 2021 Absa Jewish Achiever Entrepreneur Award.
“It was a simple formula: Israeli agricultural technology to grow safe food with limited water,” he said about his company, the leading supplier of undercover growing solutions in southern Africa, in his virtual acceptance speech on Sunday, 7 November.
“I’m most proud of [the fact that] Vegtech is one of the solutions to a serious global problem. With the growing world population, limited natural resources, and global warming, food and water security are vital for the survival of humanity.”
He made the point, though, that he’s “saddened that the South African government refuses to acknowledge the contribution that Israeli technology could make to solve local problems of water and food security”. However, he’s humbled, grateful, and very surprised to win this award.
In a video before the conferring of the award, those who know Isralls said he was a hardworking and conscientious businessman who had excelled in many aspects of his life.
Having worked on the cotton fields in a kibbutz in Israel, Isralls’s love of agriculture and passion for Israel led to him starting Vegtech to export Israeli technology all over the world. “It was when I was standing in those cotton fields that I realised that agriculture was my passion and would be my lifelong course,” Isralls said in the video.
In spite of not having a formal education in business, he has grown his business into one of the leading high-tech agricultural companies in Africa.
“Money has never been the major motivator,” said Isralls, pointing out that his goal has always been to “supply an excellent product at a fair price and give people the service they want”.
“I’m very enthusiastic about the projects I take on, and that enthusiasm rubs off on the people around me,” he said.
He believes the enthusiasm he shows when he takes on projects rubs off on others, including his wife and son, who both work at Vegtech.
Martin Feldman, investment banker and Isralls’s good friend, said, “l love Barney’s values. I love the sort of business side to Barney, the Israel side and green side to Barney. He’s persistent. When there’s an issue, he tackles it head-on. He’s surrounded by a bunch of really smart people.”
Dennis Cuzen, the director of Next Entertainment, said, “Barney is a team player, and he’s built up an impressive business in Vegtech.”
Ben Levitas, the managing director of African Pipes, Valves & Fittings, said, “He’s a person with immense experience in agriculture, the highest integrity, a person who has introduced knowledge and sustainable farming to remote communities all around the country.”
Isralls’s message to young entrepreneurs is to “never forget the end goal, and enjoy what you are doing. If you don’t enjoy it, you will never succeed.”
He said creating a business was never easy on family. “So, most of the credit must go to my amazing wife, Ann, who has worked beside me from the beginning. Without her, I don’t think the company would have survived. Thank you also to my amazing children who lived through the journey.”