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VERSEKERING

Record blueberry production signals industry’s job creation potential - South Africa

Data compiled by the South African Berry Producers Association (SABPA) reveals that South Africa’s blueberry production is expected to reach a record high of 17 000 tons this year, up from 11 300 tons in 2018.

This will mean an exponential increase in jobs created from 1 000 in 2014 to 8 000 in 2019. Furthermore, by 2023, we expect production to reach 50 000 tons which will translate into 14 000 jobs.

Amidst the doom and gloom of South Africa’s recently released unemployment figures, this is a very good story to tell. But the story can be so much better if South Africa’s blueberry industry can gain access to core export markets in the Far East.

The potential to grow our export markets is huge. At present, approximately 70% of blueberries produced locally are destined for export markets. The value of blueberry exports grew from R133 million in 2013 to R1.058 billion in 2018.

Currently, South Africa does not have access to key markets like China and South Korea at a time when blueberry imports are growing phenomenally in these markets. In China, for example, blueberry imports grew from 2 400 tons in 2013 to more than 12 000 tons by 2017.

At the moment, China imports its berries mainly from Chile and Peru. South Africa should be competing directly with these countries, especially because we grow high quality blueberry varieties that are preferred by the international markets. We also have shorter transit times to markets in the East compared to our competitors, and the ability to expand production throughout South Africa due to the versatility of blueberry crops, which can be grown virtually anywhere.

Given access to these markets, South African blueberries will be a formidable competitor.

If we gained access to the Chinese market, for example, we could create an additional 12 000 jobs in South Africa, increasing the industry’s projected employment numbers from 14 000 in 2023 to 26 000.

We are aware that export protocols for other fruits have taken as long as 12 to 17 years. This means, at this rate, the South African blueberry industry will only gain access to the Chinese market in 2045. For the sake of the many unemployed agricultural workers in South Africa, we cannot afford to wait that long.

The only way for South Africa to take advantage of the job-creating potential of berries is if government and industry work closely together to overcome the hurdles impeding access to markets in the Far East.

The South African Berry Producers’ Association (SABPA) has therefore written to Minister Thoko Didiza to request a meeting to find solutions to these obstacles. We are confident that she will do whatever it takes to help us create thousands of jobs in this exciting emerging sector.


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