The South African Berry Producers Association (Sabpa) expects South Africa’s blueberry production to reach a record high of 17 000 t this year, up from the 11 300 t produced in 2018.
It expects production to increase further to 50 000 t/y by 2023 and says this will help to grow employment in the sector from 8 000 to 14 000.
Amid the “doom and gloom” of South Africa’s recently released unemployment figures, which put the official unemployment rate at 29%, Sabpa believes the blueberry production sector can help to grow job opportunities if the sector is able to gain access to core export markets in the Far East.
The potential to grow the export market is huge, Sabpa notes, adding that, at present, about 70% of blueberries produced locally are destined for export markets.
The value of blueberry exports grew from R133-million in 2013 to just over R1-billion in 2018.
South Africa does, however, not yet have access to key markets like China and South Korea at a time when blueberry imports are growing in these markets. In China, for example, blueberry imports grew from 2 400 t in 2013 to more than 12 000 t by 2017, the association points out.
China currently imports its blueberries mainly from Chile and Peru, but Sabpa believes South Africa should be competing directly with these countries.
“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,” Sabpa points out.
However, keeping export protocols for other fruit in mind, Sabpa said that, at this rate, the local 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 association averred.
In this respect, Sabpa says the only way for South Africa to take advantage of blueberry production’s job-creating potential, is “if government and industry work closely together to overcome the hurdles impeding access to markets in the Far East”.
Sabpa has, therefore, written to Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza to request a meeting to find solutions to these obstacles.