The South Africa blueberry industry continues to set record-breaking growth trends, with export volumes for 2019/2020 increasing more than 50% compared with the previous season.
This was according to a statement by the South African Berry Producers’ Association (SABPA) chairperson, Justin Mudge.
He said during the last financial year, South Africa exported almost 12 300t of blueberries.
“This represents a 53,5% increase on the previous year’s 8 000t,” Mudge said.
According to SABPA, almost 70% of South Africa’s blueberries were destined for export markets. Export revenue had grown from about R133 million in 2013, to current levels in excess of R1 billion.
This had resulted in a significant “growth in employment opportunities”. SABPA said employment in the industry had quadrupled from roughly 1 000 jobs in 2014 to over 5 700 in 2018, with numbers further increasing to 8 000 during the past two years.
In 2019, SAPBA and the Western Cape agriculture department’s division for macro- and resource economics compiled a report titled, ‘The economic contribution of the South African blueberry industry’.
According to this report, the blueberry industry was one of the fastest growing horticultural industries in South Africa.
Researchers estimated that for every hectare under production, blueberry growers employed an average of 2,64 workers.
“This is the highest employment intensity among the major fruit [categories] grown in South Africa,” the report stated.
Next highest was the table grape industry at 2,2 jobs per hectare, followed by the flower industry at 2,1 jobs per hectare.
Crops such as nuts, sub-tropical fruit and certain citrus varieties had employment multipliers of about 0,5 jobs per hectare, followed by the wine grape industry at about 0,4 jobs per hectare.
It was estimated that an additional 0,22 jobs per hectare were created in the blueberry industry for those packing fruit or supervising/managing teams.
Further downstream and upstream linkages were also highlighted, such as inputs to the value of R570 million used by industry in 2018, and over R420 million invested in new orchards over the past year.
Mudge told Farmer’s Weekly that although South African blueberries were only due for harvesting much later in the year, it was critical to get the economy rebooted as quickly as possible within the constraints of the “new normal” set by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global pandemic.
He said the industry would hopefully still be on track to achieve further growth in the 2020/2021 season, with expectations for exports of between 15 000t and 17 000t.
He said approximately 70% of locally produced blueberries were exported as fresh produce, with about 10% sold fresh in the domestic market. The remaining 20% were used in processed products.