Securing the future of the SA fruit industry
This building block support is mostly done behind the scenes and it does not have the visibility or marketing kudos of other conservation projects, such as iconic species. It is, however, critical for the development of the sustainability roadmap required for all sectors of South African society, including agriculture – from food security and the export market to water conservation and climate change.
One example of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust’s foundational funding programmes is the WWF Sustainable Fruit Initiative, which it cofunded at its outset – from 2011 to 2014 - together with the Dutch Ministry of European Affaris and International Cooperation. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the South African National Biodiversity Initiative, are now funding it to 2018.
4500 export fruit growers
South Africa currently has approximately 4500 export fruit growers and 95 export agents. The key export markets are the United Kingdom, the European Union, the Middle East, Asia and the United States. In addition to the export market, South Africa has approximately 400 fruit growers that supply the local market.
‘Since 2011 the WWF Sustainable Fruit Initiative has collaborated with the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA) through Fruit South Africa (the umbrella body of all the fruit industry associations) to bring together South Africa’s export fruit growers under one body, based on internationally benchmarked social, ethical and environmental principles,’ says the manager of the WWF Fruit and Wine Programme, Shelly Fuller.
The benchmarks are the main, credible local and international standards, including the Global Social Compliance Programme,Tesco Nuture, LEAF, Global Gap, Woolworths Farming for the Future, and the Sustainable Agricultural Inititative.
Achieving climate-resilient fruit production
Over the past six years the initiative has also focused on the environmental challenges of achieving climate-resilient fruit production in the Western Cape amongst all fruit growers, and on extending the landowner biodiversity stewardship programme amongst fruit growers in the globally important Cape Floral Kingdom of the Western Cape.
This is where the majority of South Africa’s fruit and wine producers are situated, with farms spanning critical biodiversity areas and priority freshwater catchments. They are increasingly practising environmental and water conservation initiatives at the individual farm level and as part of a community-wide initiative at the catchment level.
Funding large water projects
Nedbank and the WWF Nedbank Green Trust is significantly invested in funding large water sustainability projects in the Western Cape and throughout South Africa through the WWF Water Stewardship Programme.
‘Water availability has been identified as an enormous risk in South Africa, exacerbated by the prolonged drought. The Western Cape had 300 mm less rainfall in 2016 than its average winter rainfall, and most dams are at worryingly low levels,’ says Fuller.
Unseasonal, intense summer rains
‘The Western Cape is also experiencing unseasonal summer rain that is falling too intensely over short periods, instead of the characteristic soaking winter rains over longer periods,’ adds Fuller.
In the Ceres area, for example, increasing vulnerability to water risks (physical scarcity or water quality concerns) are being carefully monitored and a coalition of growers are working closely on collective catchment wide action to manage and address these challenges.
Another example of climate-related negative impact on yield is in the stone fruit sector (peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines) of the Little Karoo (from Worcester to Robertson to Oudtshoorn) where growers are experiencing frequent extreme hail and wind events during harvest time. Many farmers are investing heavily in shade netting to protect their crops from wind and hail.
2015/16 drought – worst in 30 years
‘The lack of rain, the type of rain or the ability to predict when and how it is going to fall is a major area of concern that is not going away,’ says Fuller. ‘The drought of 2015/16 - the worst on record for the past 30 years – is a case in point that caused major setbacks for many of the producers in the fruit and wine industry. Farms that have been managing their water use efficiently, controlling their invasive alien trees and enhancing the soil health, demonstrated a much higher coping capacity during this time.’
Fuller offers the example of the Palmiet River catchment area of the Elgin/Grabouw region where wine and fruit farmers typically export 60% to 70% of their produce. Many producers already have high standards of alien plant clearing, restoration of riverbanks and good water management on their farms.
Municipal water and waster systems
However, she adds, much of their hard work comes to nothing if the municipal water and waste systems are not well managed, with poor quality water threatening exports as it is used throughout the production process (for irrigation, packaging and bottling).
‘Wine and fruit exporters have to comply with the stringent international food safety certifications, all of which include strictly monitored food health and safety, social and environmental regulations,’ she explains.
‘If these certifiers carry out tests in an area and find E. coli in the water because sewerage hasn’t been properly managed or because raw sewage is flowing into the rivers, it directly threatens the farmers’ export market. At the same time it threatens the health of the people living in this region and it threatens the sustainability of the water supply.’
Social and ethical standards
To improve and standardise the social and ethical side of the South African fruit industry, which is also a requirement of the international certifiers, SIZA has been working with the fruit industry and retailers for several years.
‘Our goal is to entrench a standard for the South African fruit industry that is locally and internationally recognised, and which includes all the requirements of the Global Social Compliance Programme,’ explains SIZA programme coordinator, Retha Louw.
‘These range from fair working conditions and hours and payment of minimum wages for farm labourers to the prohibition of child labour on farms and good working relationships with the unions and all partners in the value chain.’
SIZA opened registration for South African fruit growers, retailers and exporters at the beginning of 2013 and it already has over 1200 active members.
SIZA and the WWF Sustainable Fruit Initiative are working hard to show measured improvements against key social and environmental indictors. This will enhance the performance and sustainability of the local fruit industry while at the same time satisfying the requirements of international retailers.’