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"Zebediela citrus farm, pride of Limpopo"

Limpopo’s biggest citrus farm situated in Zebediela, just outside Polokwane, is said to be one of the main producers of citrus in the province, supplying its produce throughout the country. Zebediela citrus estate is a community owned enterprise.

Lesetja Tlalane, Chairperson of the Bjatladi Communal Property Association, told SAnews during a visit at the farm that the farm is doing very well. “Since we started working on the farm, we have been doing well even though we are experiencing challenges,” Tlalane said.

According to Tlalane, the main challenge they are experiencing on the farm is water and electricity. Tlalane said to get water they need electricity which at times becomes too expensive. “We are surviving because of the good relationship we are having with the provincial Department of Agriculture. From time to time they visit us to see how we are doing,” he said.

Tlalane said most of the employees employed on the farm are local communities. He said among the employees, there are those who studied agriculture while others have good knowledge about farming. To date, the farm has employed more than 77 people from the local communities. Koos Zietsman, senior manager at the farm, echoed the same sentiments about water challenges. “Without water it is difficult to have good produce,” he said.

Zietsman said they are also looking at revamping the buildings on the farm. “This is a long term investment.” Zebediela Citrus Estates was at some stage the largest citrus plantation in the Southern Hemisphere, with more than 3 000 hectares of planted citrus.

Over the years, the estate has been managed by various entities under the ownership of Bjatladi CPA with various degrees of success and limited reinvestment in orchards and infrastructure. Limited investment during the previous three decades resulted in more than 80% of the orchards on the estate being older than 30 years. The packhouse on the estate dates back 50 years and utilizes a rope and roller sorting system with manual classification. 

In 2016/17, the I-DARD started engagements with Bjatladi CPA to establish a framework within which the estate can be revitalised to a profitable and sustainable citrus producer that can provide economic and employment opportunities for the communities as owners of the estate.

The main focus of the revitalisation program is centred around the upgrading of water source and irrigation infrastructure, re-establishment of the orchards, a modern technology packhouse and upgrading of electricity reticulation infrastructure. The revitalisation is expected to increase the yields from 30 to more than 66 tons per hectare. Although the total hectares planted will reduce slightly to give way for macadamia nuts development for diversification purposes, the tonnage produced will be more than double.

Export cartons will increase from just over 700 000 to more than 2 million. Revenue will grow with 13% per annum and profit per hectare will grow by 35% per annum between 2021 and 2034. It is estimated that an additional 500 jobs would be created.

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