Variety Innovation (EU) wants South Africa to become a net kiwi exporter

First commercial Soreli kiwi harvests from South Africa

The first commercial crops of the yellow-fleshed Soreli kiwi will soon start to come in from trial blocks around South Africa. Currently the vast majority of kiwi fruit consumed in South Africa is imported from New Zealand and Europe (Italy, France and Greece).

Variety Innovation (VI) is pleased with the progress that has been made in South Africa by its appointed agent, South Africa Kiwi Pollen.

“We want South Africa to be renowned for its kiwis in the same way as we’re renowned for apples or table grapes. Kiwifruit has the ability to perform in that bracket. We’re quite excited about the opportunity offered by the Chinensis kiwi species which has much better internal quality than the green varieties,” says Peter Turner, a director of Variety Innovation, previously BGIP.

A South African Soreli kiwi crop would be able to fill a gap in the Northern Hemisphere before New Zealand kiwis are ready. “If you look at the latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, both Chile, which has about 10,000ha of kiwis, and New Zealand with 12,000ha lie much more south than South Africa. We therefore get more sunlight hours which enables us to supply a sweeter fruit. Coupled with a shorter shipping time to traditional markets in the Northern Hemisphere, and it puts us in a really favourable position.”

South Africa would start picking the Soreli kiwi at the end of February or beginning of March, to be marketed locally, in Africa as well as to the EU and the Far East where the first Soreli volumes from Chile, which is one to two years ahead of South Africa in Soreli commercialisation, have met with good trade response. Its shelf life is roughly half that of the Hayward kiwi. The Soreli variety was bred by the University of Udine in Italy.

There are plans to set up a grower club for the cultivar. “We’re looking to combine volumes under a single brand and we’re in discussions with the licensed growers to finalise the details of the group,” says Turner. “At the moment there are 22 licensed growers, not all of whom have planted the cultivar yet.” Plant material comes from licensed nurseries operating in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

Trials are running throughout the country in microclimates suitable for the cultivar which appears to have a chilling requirement towards the lower end among varieties in the Actinidia chinensis range. Not all sites are proving to be equally promising, Turner admits, necessitating overhead cooling and frost protection in some more marginal areas, but these evaluations – which include other yellow and green varieties – are proving to be very valuable.

“Our philosophy is that a grower should really evaluate a variety before investing in it. We have evaluation agreements with some of our growers and we’d like to reward growers for their efforts in evaluating these new varieties.”

Mpumalanga Kiwi Orchards
Another string in the company’s bow is Mpumalanga Kiwi Orchards. This interesting project comprises the renaissance of established kiwi orchards at Boschfontein outside Lydenburg, Mpumalanga Province, that had fallen into disrepair since being acquired by a platinum mining company. In a very unusual turn of events, the land is no longer focused on mining but again put to agricultural use, in partnership with the Bakoni Ba Phetla community.

The parlous state of the South African mining industry in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre of 2012 and falling commodity prices has led to staggering unemployment rates in former mining areas. “We consider Mpumalanga Kiwi Orchards a fantastic opportunity for job creation and specifically, work for women in picking and packing pollen in an area where unemployment is high and most farming is extensive cattle husbandry. Women in general have more attention to detail, and they are often the household providers. We’re reviving the local community school, appropriately called Kiwi Primary School and we've created the Kiwi Academy. It’s just a great example of land returned to productive use after mining,” he continues.

Because of the presence of old Hayward kiwi orchards, these are still in production at Mpumalanga Kiwi Orchards, but newer green and yellow varieties have been introduced to evaluate ripening times, yield, chilling requirements and so forth to enable a wider offering of kiwi products.

Pollen production
A major enterprise at Mpumalanga Kiwi Orchards is the production of pollen, because intensive kiwi production requires artificial pollination to supplement pollination by bees. Pollen from cultivars like Chieftain and Tomuri, used for Hayward pollination, is harvested here, frozen and exported to markets in the EU and the Far East. “Our long term aim is to supply pollen for both A. deliciosa (green) females and A. chinensis (yellow) females. Our pollen export enterprise has started with good results.”

“We see much greater investment in kiwi plantings in future and our ambition is to become a net exporter of kiwis, within which there is opportunity for BEE [black economic empowerment] partnerships.”

VI has recently been rebranded from BGIP b.v. to Variety Innovation B.V. VI (EU). “This development links the European IP management company with an Asian-based IP platform called Variety Innovation Asia (VIA) and gives us a wider reach on the implementation and acquisition of new intellectual property rights in kiwi and other fruit categories,” Turner concludes.

For more information:
Peter Turner
Variety Innovation (EU)
Tel: +27 82 894 5938

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