Covid-19 Watch

More jobs created in the NC vineyard belt as grape production rises to greater heights

With the harvesting and drying of grapes season underway, South Africa is forecasting a crop of 78 000 tons of marketable grapes for the 2021/22 production season, of which a remarkable 90% is grown in the Northern Cape Province.

The past 2020/21 season saw a sharp decrease of 16% due to unfavourable weather conditions last year. 

More than 30 000 people work full time (permanent equivalent) in the South African Raisin industry, in the Orange River Valley Vineyard belt.

The MEC for Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform, Mase Manopole said that during the harvesting and drying of grapes, in the ZF Mgcawu and Namakwa districts, season employment peak at 30 000 – 35 000 seasonal workers.

“If one considers an average household size of 5 individuals, then the total reach of the SA Raisin industry (indirectly) impact 150,000 individuals. The total economic output of the same is estimated at R2 billion annually, which also importantly earns foreign currency for the National economy as 90% of all produce is exported. These are important stat for a rural poor Province and perhaps the Raisin industry should be considered as a Provincial asset in many ways,” she said.

The MEC has recently embarked on an oversight excursion, to assess the Provincial Government funded vineyards projects which are mainly found on the Orange River banks.

The projects, the Richtersveld CPA, the Pella Irrigation Project, Onseepkans Irrigation Development Project, Voordekop, Bloecosso and Eksteenskuil, to mention just a few, have received more R500 million (combined) in government support over the years.

“My oversight visit to some of these projects which are mainly using the Orange River as a source of water, was to go and ascertain if the money that the government has invested has been put into good use.

“Yes, there are challenges there and there, which we are aware of… and off course through the assistance of our district managers and extension officers we are able to overcome those challenges. We need to embark on a vigorous and intensified program of skills development, so that when the time comes for government to exit the projects, as strategic investors, we leave behind a well-oiled machinery that will take the projects to greater height,” said MEC Manopole.

MEC Manopole said she is happy with some of the projects which have shown a significant growth over the years.   

“For example, the Department, in partnership with Raisins South Africa, launched a 200-hectare raisin development in Eksteenskuil in 2013/14. This has seen significant volume growth of previous production levels of 800 tonnes to levels now exceed 2 000 tonnes,” she said.

In monetary terms, the same community now annually earn an approximate R45m, compared to R15m in 2013/14.

Similar BEE initiatives have also seen growth of the black participants in the industry. Raisins South Africa Chief Executive Officer, Ferdie Botha said the South African raisin industry has doubled over the past eight years- thanks to the Orange River Valley vineyards belt contribution.

“With various private and public sector developments, volumes have grown from approximately 40 000 tonnes (2011/12) to 85 000 (2019/20) and is expected to reach levels of 100 000 tones as early as 2023/24. This is mainly attributed to improved profitability levels, driven by improved production levels,“ said Botha.

He said market access and development are key strategic priorities for the SA raisin industry to ensure markets are also grown as production expands in time.

“Currently Raisins SA is running five (5) market development campaigns, in the UK (x2), Germany, France and South Africa. There is a strong global drive for improved healthier lifestyles, with covid-19 further strengthening such drive. This global consumption trends provides an opportunity to grow global raisin consumption over the next decade. Raisins provide several options and a healthy snack option, it is a versatile product that can be used in a wide variety of food products as a natural sweetener, is an affordable product and is naturally preserved through drying of the fresh grapes,” said Botha.

The Orange River, have experienced high flows since January 2022 with above average rainfall experienced upstream in both the Vaal- and Orange catchment regions.

The recent high flow levels have negatively impacted 2% to 3% of the total hectares, with water levels that have decreased since January 2022.

“This being said, for such individual’s losses might be significant, although limited to the larger industry as a whole. Eksteenskuil in particular has suffered some losses. The OR region has also experienced some rainfall on the 30th  and 31st of January 2022.

“The crop has developed well until now, with minor damages suffered to the crop at the start of spring when some frost and hail occurred.  At the present moment, we’ve not yet seen the necessity to decrease the crop forecast. There is still a long harvest and drying period that is ahead of us, as final product delivery to processors usually concludes towards the end of April,“ he said.

Internationally, the supply and demand situation of raisins remains in balance at levels of 1.3million tons. Turkey is the largest producer of raisins, producing approximately 300 000 tons annually. The US was previously the dominant player, but has since the early 2000’s reduces production output from levels of 350 000 tons to levels of 200 000 tons. SA currently produces 7% of world production, but plays a more prominent role in terms of global exports as 90% of SA’s production is destined for international markets, with the EU representing 51% market share of exports.

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