Grape producers' strong warning ahead of season

(Shutterstock)
(Shutterstock)
Cape Town - With the new table grape season at hand, interference in farm activities is not welcome, according to SA Tablegrapes (SAT), the representative body for the growers of table grapes.

The fruit industry in the Western Cape was hit by farm worker strikes and unrest last year and early this year. The unrest started in the table grape industry in De Doorns from where it spread.

"Entities with ulterior motives, that do not have farmworker interests at heart, are not welcome in our industry," SAT said in a statement issued on Friday.

"This is the case especially during this time when the table grape industry, its growers and farmworkers continue to strive towards sustainable harmony in the workplace."

The growers of table grapes fully commit themselves to the continued transformation of the industry and to compliance with SA's labour legislation, according to Johan van Niekerk, chairperson of SAT.

Van Niekerk said in a statement released on Friday that he and all the chairpersons representative associations in the various regions have committed themselves to this process.

"The progress made by the table grape and fruit sector to ensure independent ethical accreditation under the Sustainability Initiative of SA (Siza) platform is regarded as a sound basis for further development and continuous improvement in this sphere," said Van Niekerk.

According to independent audits under the Siza process, the table grape industry is on the right track in terms of progress towards improving the lives of many of its employees, said SAT.

Development

Through its operational arm, the South African Table Grape Industry (Sati), 20% of producer funded income of R22m is spent annually to support the development of emerging growers.

There are various programs, from vine planting schemes, mentor support, needs based training, visits to new markets and visits to successful enterprises.

The industry has developed standard accredited training materials for all levels of workers to promote increased skills levels and mobility of those employed on farms.

Producers' funding has also recently supported the improvement of education methods in crèches for children of farm workers, refurbishment of clinics for farm worker communities and literacy training.

Bursaries are made available to nurture young talent in the industry.

The SA fruit industry exports about half of its production each year.

Therefore, awareness is created in international markets to ensure that consumers are aware of emerging producers and worker-shareholders as viable sources of supply.

In addition, over the past four years, the industry association has assisted in attracting nearly R100m in funding fortransformation based initiatives from the government and from abroad.

The details and effectiveness of these initiatives are monitored and verified by the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) on an annual basis.

The Siza platform also provides for assistance and proposed corrective actions through which producers can embark on a process of continuous improvement with regard to worker welfare, working and living conditions.

Emerging farmers

Currently approximately 11% of the 14 000ha of land under table grape production is in the hands of emerging farmers.

Through a vine planting program table grape producers have supported the replacement of undesirable varieties and aging vines on land reform farms with more lucrative cultivars that the market demands.

This program helps emerging producers to access markets that otherwise would be unavailable to them.

In a joint venture program with the Western Cape department of agriculture an amount of nearly R20m has been spent on this initiative.

"Most participating enterprises have already seen improved profitability as a result of this initiative," said Van Niekerk.

In recent years the industry has been under severe economic pressure as its traditional markets of the UK and the European Union moved into deep recession.

This has brought the future sustainability of the industry under the spotlight and both the industry and government have expressed their concerns for the future of employment and employment creation.

"SAT believes that through the successes and lessons learnt under the various initiatives, the industry is in a position to make sound decisions and have sustainable development as it seeks to maintain its position as a premium source of some of the best tasting table grapes in the world," according to Van Niekerk.

"The board of SAT, together with the boards of its regional organisations, discourages and condemns any unfair labour practices that are outside the SA legal framework and the international ethical standards under which the industry operates."

- Fin24


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