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Superfoods to supercharge an ailing economy

Photo report PMA Fresh Connections, South Africa

“We can grow the economy very rapidly if we start focusing on superfoods,” Tommy van Zyl, CEO of tomato producer ZZ2, and vice-chair of the PMA global board of directors, told delegates at last week’s PMA Fresh Connections conference. "We have to focus on the crops that in the global context have an almost unlimited market."

“What is not known to enough people, is that South Africa is a global low cost producer. I’d like to emphasise the strengths we have, given our strategic position in the globe. South Africa is very well-positioned towards new growing markets in the East, like South East Asia, India, not forgetting Africa. The food we produce makes us internationally very competitive, specifically vegetable and horticultural crops, which include the superfoods and vegetables.”

Click here for the photo report of the event

He made specific reference to the blueberry industry, of which ZZ2 (which produces over 230,000 tonnes of produce annually, mostly tomatoes but also apples, cherries, almonds and Medjool dates) is not a part. “Currently we have around 1,000ha but if you talk to pundits, the common agreement is that we need at least 7,000ha of blueberries to meet existing demand and if you make those figures, it’s a significant contribution to the country’s GDP.”

Tommy van Zyl (Helenus Kruger/AB Events)

“The future is more important than the past”
He emphasised the need to build ecosystems and a climate to create the ability to leapfrog present difficulties. “We’re in an era where a precondition to success is to accept that we live in an open society and what that implies, to me, is that the future is more important than the past. We don’t have to forget the past, especially the wrongs of the past, but if you get stuck with that, without thinking creatively and innovatively, how can you build the future?”

“If each of us starts increasing the size of the cake, redistribution becomes irrelevant, and it is possible if you build an ecosystem and if you pay attention to efficiencies. In our company we have tried to create value for a broad group of stakeholders to create a sustainable future, looking at the customer first. The government plays an important role in our life but even the government will be inspired if you have in your system a compelling argument to grow a society which creates wealth for all of its people.”

As for the matter of land expropriation without compensation, he noted that cool heads would have to prevail. “It’s a challenge that we have to meet and we have to come up with rational answers. If we don’t find rational answers, it will be like it was prior to 1994 and none of us wants that.”

Fresh produce sector larger economic driver than other agricultural sectors
Thabi Nkosi, the executive director: research, business development and investments at AFGRI group holdings, noted in her presentation that the country has been underperforming in terms of its own National Development Plan targets, which aims to increase the economy threefold from 2012 to 2030. To reach that ambitious target, average growth of 5.4% is needed, “but six years into the plan we’ve barely touched 1% GDP growth.” 

Lindie Stroebel, general manager of the PMA in Southern Africa, in conversation with Thabi Nkosi and Tommy van Zyl (Helenus Kruger/AB Events)

Click here for the photo report of the event

“Over the last quarter, given the broader economy and what we’ve seen policy-wise, we’ve started to see agribusiness confidence decreasing significantly. That means investment is affected, fewer orchards are being established and fewer agroprocessors are being set up.”

She continued that what was perhaps even more concerning, was the drop in foreign direct investment in agriculture.

However, agriculture is the most labour-intensive sector of the economy, which presents an opportunity for economic growth. “Horticulture and the fresh produce sector are able to absorb large numbers of unskilled labour and they’re therefore drivers of employment. Economic growth is not going to come from poultry or beef production.”

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