It will be up to digital data-sharing, high-tech breeding programmes and new sorting technologies to ensure South Africa remains competitive.
Opening an exhibition on the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) at parliament recently, science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane stressed that plans to use the 4IR opportunities to deal with poverty, unemployment and inequality - but also that the country needs new skills for the industries and markets that will emerge. A point in case is the fruit sector which, as a high-value and labour-intensive industry with high export potential, is central to agriculture’s contribution to economic growth.
Adopting and adapting to technological changes associated with the 4IR can have huge implications for the industry’s global position. While the country is an established world player in specific fruits, it lags behind competitors such as Mexico, Peru and Chile. SA is also yet to maximise the substantial opportunities for export growth in high-value and in-demand fruits such as berries and avocados.
Research by the Centre for Competition Regulation and Economic Development (CCRED) at the University of Johannesburg shows that harnessing technological change is necessary for producers to keep up with escalating standards; to comply with the many, and complex, plant health requirements; and to adapt to climate change and environmental constraints.
Research shows that key technologies in the global fresh-fruit industry that must be leveraged by local producers to remain relevant include electronic digital platforms and internet of things, biotechnology, and sorting and cold storage equipment. Collectively, these offer technological solutions to SA’s key challenges in the fruit industry.
While mainly large players are adopting these technologies, an industry-wide scaling can benefit participation and market access for black farmers.