Transforming lives in South Africa’s stone fruit industry

20 April, 22

The South African stone fruit industry has launched a series of transformational projects aimed at improving the lives of workers.

With South African fruit being a labour-intensive sector, people form the backbone of the industry and are regarded as their biggest asset by the country’s producers. Today, deciduous fruit growers’ body, Hortgro views agricultural workers as ‘orchardists’ who carry out a range of technical work from picking and pruning to monitoring crop quality.

Supporting their work and career development, growers are putting great emphasis on specialised training and educational programmes to help them understand the most modern techniques and the inner workings of the crops.

A series of projects and bursary schemes are being run for both pre- and post-graduates, while Hortgro is also working closely with the Fruit Workers Development Trust to identify and address issues facing farm workers. In 2021, for example, when the Covid lockdown brought an increase in gender-based violence, a series of workshops were run to create awareness and to empower workers, both male and female on how to deal with this. A series of follow-up workshops will take place on participating farms this year following the success of the scheme.

Several other ongoing initiatives are focused on improving people’s lives, black economic empowerment, education, and access to infrastructure. It represents the continuation of work undertaken in South Africa over many years, with over £830m having been spent on land reform projects on orchards established since 2009 alone, in addition to human capital development and social impact work.

The establishment of Hortfin – a ring-fenced loan facility aimed at financing systems that promote job creation, transformation, and sustainability – in 2018 has already led to the creation of more than 700 new jobs.

A £50m Agri-Industrial Fund has also recently been launched by the Industrial Development Corporation in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to develop and implement large-scale black-owned commercial agricultural projects in the value chain.

And underlining the industry’s commitments to demonstrable change, in October 2020 representatives from Hortgro Pome, Hortgro Stone and the Deciduous Fruit Development Chamber signed a pledge to underline their commitment to realising transformation goals within a three-year time frame aligned with measurable goals.

“Deciduous fruit is a labour-intensive industry with agricultural workers forming the cornerstone of the industry as our biggest asset,” said Elise-Marie Steenkamp, group communications manager at Hortgro. “In South Africa the word ‘transformation’ has become a bit of a blanket statement meaning different things to different people. But at Hortgro, transformation is multi-layered and multi-dimensional, meaning that it is not just about black economic empowerment, but also about improving the lives of people and communities, by giving people access to resources, education, health, and social services.”

A further example of this diversity of initiatives in 2022 is Agri’s Got Talent, a singing and social development project started by Hortgro and now also sponsored by other industry partners. Now in its ninth year, the scheme allows anyone working in partner industries to enter a sound clip, with ten top contestants selected for intense voice, stage, media, and personal development for a week before they battle it out for the crown on stage.

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