Blueberry Exports From Africa, A Growing Proposition

Blueberry Exports From Africa, A Growing Proposition

North American natives, blueberries have taken root in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province with plans under way to develop 740 acres of blueberry farmland in an area of high unemployment and export the produce, according to a report in All Africa.

Considered nutrition powerhouses packed with antioxidants, the highbush variety of blueberries are being grown in a controlled environment in Amathole. Plants are kept in greenhouses for maximum yield, the report says.

Gxulu Berries, located in picturesque Keiskammahoek, runs the farm thanks to a program initiated by Amathole Economic Development Agency. The program created temporary jobs for 53 villagers with 17 permanent employees retained who received specialist on-the-job training.

Gxulu is owned by the community of Upper Gxulu and consists of 22 acres of blueberry orchards, the report says. The farm started in 2009, establishing market connections with some of South Africa’s biggest retailers including Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths. It has also broken through to overseas markets in the U.K., and is looking to tap the Chinese and Indian markets, according to the All Africa report.

In its last harvest, the farm produced 110 pounds of berries. “The plants are still fairly young, but we want to (produce 1,100 pounds) this season,” said Martin Flanegan, project manager for Gxulu Berries.

In addition to Gxulu Berries, the Amathole Berries Outgrowers Program has other berry-growing projects in the works: Construction is alomst complete on a 12-acre orchard begun in 2012 for Sinqumeni Berries. The project created 25 temporary jobs for villagers and four permanent posts.

The 10-acre Iqunube Berries project is in the pipeline at the Fort Cox College of Agriculture and Forestry.

Funding for Gxulu came from the government-owned Industrial Development Corporation, the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and the Eastern Cape Development Corporation.

Because commercial blueberry growing is still a small industry in South Africa, many natural pests and diseases of the blueberry plant and fruit are not yet present, making crop protection easier and less costly than traditional blueberry growing areas, according to a report in Orchman.com.