Just after she was appointed as the chief executive officer of SA Olive, Wendy Petersen has hit the ground running ensuring that the sector reaches its potential and importantly, it becomes inclusive of all who work in it.
Tiisetso Manoko sat with Petersen to unpack what she has been up to and what could be expected from SA Olive in the coming year, which is expected to be tougher and hectic.
Tiisetso Manoko: How has the transition been from the wine to the olive industry, since assuming the new role?
Wendy Petersen: I did not have the luxury like in any other job to find yourself, because [in] the post I took there was a big gap between my predecessor’s resignation and myself starting. So, when I started it was really just to catch up. outstanding operational matters and redefining processes.
However, I am glad it happened like that because I found my feet and I had to run and start with immediate engagements with the producers, think of a a long term sustainable strategy, and how to address the immediate challenges. This also helped me because I got to fast-track my knowledge and workings of the olive industry and hit the ground running.
What projects and programmes have you been doing and can you share some of them?
The programmes really have been to look at the current challenges the industry as a whole is facing and work on solutions to those challenges. For example, when we conduct our tasting; that in itself is a process and specific procedure that must be followed and uphold big project – so streamlining it, finding ways of improving it – because the CTC tastings is vital for the industry standards it is important that this was addressed as high priority.
Secondly, on the SA Olive strategy, it was important to develop a holistic strategy side, that speaks to how are we going to grow and advance the industry in a sustainable manner. How are we going to add value to our producers, just to find out what are the immediate challenges, what are the things that the producers are facing and how do we incorporate that into our strategy.
Two months down the line we [are] sitting with a strategy that has been been shared with the board and that will be implemented in the next five years – it is a long-term strategy. So, there are a lot of actions in the strategy that will be implemented this year already. The strategy has clear mandates and tangible deadlines with deliverables.
The country is faced with enormous local challenges, load shedding, infrastructure, ports etc – how is the olive industry navigating through these problems?
The industry is facing a lot of challenges not only locally but internationally as well because 60-70% of our olive oil is imported . We do not have a market access problem, For this reason, we need to work closely with government to encourage that we get the product to the South African consumer at a cost-effective price as the products holds several health benefit if made part of a daily nutritional diet.
The producers are looking at how do we get the means of addressing the problem we have. That is where our organisation comes in: finding solutions for our producers and how it will benefit them. Importantly, speaking as the industry’s voice to say there are challenges that we are faced with and engage with partners, financial institutions to collectively assist and support our producers in the long term.
We know transformation is close to your heart. How are you planning to bring it about in the olive industry?
Transformation is very important and it is one of our top priorities because that is the only way we can open up the olive industry industry to become an inclusive one that is high priority. Things we are looking at is that we are trying to diversify the industry. One thing is bringing in emerging farmers to show them the potential of the olive industry [and] also to provide training to people who want to understand the olive oil industry.
It is a very mysterious industry, not a lot of people know or have knowledge of the industry [and] how it operates. So we [are] looking at opening that door for learning and gaining information and knowledge so that they develop a passion for the product. We [are] sitting with beautiful people in this industry who are highly skilled and on top of their game, so we want to use them to teach and advance the industry.
Transformation should not be a public relations campaign, it should be tangible, and real, [and] there should be physical examples that we can point to over a period of time.
It is an election year, a lot is happening. What is your message to the industry?
The message is that for the last two to three years our country has gone through a lot of challenges, such as economic problems, the list is too long and then the recovery after Covid-19 and everything that went with that. My message is that despite all of this, we should not be discouraged at all as our producers and farmers are a resilient bunch. I think these challenges that we have gone through have made us resilient and stronger, and I think our producers can be really proud of what has transpired, the achievements over the years, winning awards, and gaining international platforms.
What goes down must surely come up again, and when that happens, the tough times do pay off. That will be my message to our producers.
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