As Fruit South Africa celebrates a remarkable 10-year journey, commendable progress has been achieved in fruit exports and industry transformation. While the industry acknowledges these accomplishments, Fhumulani Ratshitanga, CEO of the industry body, says there is still work to be done in terms of new markets and compliance with global trade standards.
With a Gini coefficient of 0.65, South Africa has no time to waste when it comes to putting food on the tables of its people, to mitigate inequality.
Statistics South Africa reports that about 2.1 million South African households experienced hunger in 2021, mostly due to unemployment, the rising cost of food, and the prevailing energy crisis. And out of nearly 18 million, 1.1 million households stated in 2021 that they have “severely inadequate” access to food.
This underscores the responsibility of the agriculture sector of South Africa – and naturally, the fruit industry – in terms of sustainable food production.
Fruit South Africa celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, reflecting on a decade of being instrumental in facilitating the effectiveness of the export-oriented fruit industry, particularly when it comes to critical trade negotiations at the government level.
A key role player
As an umbrella body, Fruit South Africa represents the interests of the dynamic fruit industry through close collaboration with our government and regular liaison with the industry associations that it represents (viz. Berries ZA, the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa, the Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum, Hortgro, the South African Subtropical Growers’ Association, and the South African Table Grape Industry).
Within the open economy of South Africa, imports and exports constitute significant numbers. The fruit industry trades 60% of its fruit with more than 100 countries worldwide, injecting much-needed foreign currency into the South African economy. During the 2021/22 season, the industry recorded 203 989 hectares under fruit production, produced 6 307 592 tonnes of fruit, and clocked a total production value of R63 654 440.
These are significant numbers, largely made possible through the nearly 325,000 on-farm workers employed by the industry, mostly in rural communities. However, maintaining and increasing these figures comes with prerequisites.
For years, the fruit industry has put its money where its mouth is by setting measurable transformation targets, notwithstanding various setbacks beyond its control.
Fruit South Africa plays a supportive role in recording and communicating transformation statistics within the fruit industry. Fruit farm hectares under black ownership increased from 14 064 in 2018 to 24 532 in 2022.
The industry celebrates this progression with cautious optimism while navigating challenges like the abandonment of some larger farms by growers because of social challenges, and removal of old orchards without requisite succession planning. Not forgetting that – relative to other industries within agriculture – the fruit industry is rather capital intensive and only yields in the long term.
For transformation to be sustainable, support from the government is vital. Hence the fruit industry value chain round table (FIVCRT), a vehicle for collaborative dialogue and actions, established by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD) and Fruit South Africa, where strategic focus areas like transformation are tabled and actioned via relevant working groups.
The FIVCRT comprises DALRRD, the department of trade, industry and competition, the department of employment and labour; Fruit South Africa, the Perishable Products Export Control Board, the National Agricultural Marketing Council, the industry associations under the Fruit South Africa umbrella; labour unions like BAWSI agricultural workers union of South Africa, and the South African national consumer union; as well as civil society.
Long way to go
“The current dualism in South Africa’s agriculture is not desirable. Still, agricultural development and progress of black farmers will likely be achieved through a social compact approach,” says Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo, also citing the meagre 10% production by black South African farmers of the country’s total agricultural output.
These concerns are echoed in the fruit industry where protracted access to finance, delayed issuing of title deeds, and red tape around water rights count among black growers’ troubles.
Over the long term, transformation in agriculture can help to ensure a sound political economy in the sector – and certainly in the fruit industry. Given that much of the South African population is still located in rural areas, imagine the far-reaching economic benefits when smallholder farmers advance more consistently into commercial status, with the requisite support to operate profitably.
In “The political economy of food, agriculture and irrigation development in East and Southern Africa” the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) advocates for the agriculture sector to be prioritised at the political level. “Issues of smallholder agricultural development in general, and food security in particular can no longer be divorced from issues of democracy, politics and governance.”
The FAO also reminds us of the direct link between food security and garnering public sector support and investment in rural areas – the “secondary role of agriculture”.
Accessing new markets and retaining current market share is the heartbeat of fruit-industry economics. This is the only way that this export-oriented industry can continue to earn foreign currency for the South African economy.
However, effective trade in targeted international markets is dependent on favourable trade agreements, which can only be negotiated at the government level. Meaningful partnerships with the government are therefore critical in the increasingly competitive fresh-produce global arena.
For the fruit industry, navigating the evolving world of global trade compliance with its shifting goalposts has required throwing away the clichéd bath water but keeping the baby.
Increasing demands for compliance from the international trade community have culminated in an independent study commissioned by Fruit South Africa, in a bid to assess the current compliance landscape, and to seek means for a more streamlined approach. This is a critical requirement to safeguard South African fruit growers whose profitability is already under pressure.
As the largest employer in South African agriculture, the fruit industry understands the significance of its role in terms of food security, and that it can only be fulfilled with meaningful collaboration. Fruit South Africa stands firmly behind its industry associations and looks forward to another 10 years of active participation in helping to sustain South Africans in more ways than one.
- Fhumulani Ratshitanga is the CEO of Fruit South Africa, a non-profit company that is the umbrella body representing leading commodity groups in Mzansi. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Food For Mzansi.
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