It’s always good to hear about our local agriculture sector that is thriving, despite the devastating drought. As with every crisis, it seems that the Western Cape is able to adapt and find opportunity. Enter the blueberry. This water-wise, labour intensive crop is causing a fair bit of excitement among agriculture officials. And with good reason. Blueberries, hailed for their health benefits and anti-oxidant properties, have soared in popularity around the world in recent years. And in the Western Cape, production and exports of this berry have increased drastically.
Our MEC of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde is very optimistic about the growth of this crop. His Department believes this tiny berry holds the potential to add significant value to the economy and create additional jobs.
The global market for blueberries is valued at about R33 billion, with indications that the market is still growing to meet the demand that is still much higher than supply. According to data from Hortgro and the South African Berry Association, 68% of all South Africa’s berries are grown in the Western Cape. About 70% of all South African blueberries are exported, 16% are sold as fresh in the local market and the remainder enter the agri-processing chain. Blueberry exports from South Africa have shown annual average growth of about 44%.
Currently, South Africa and the Western Cape’s biggest export market for its blueberries is the United Kingdom, with import values for 2016 reaching R228 million. The Netherlands is the second biggest market, but data shows there are a number of markets that have strong potential for development and growth including Ireland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany and Belgium. Asian markets in Singapore, Malaysia and China also hold real potential.
There are also opportunities to compete with other Southern Hemisphere blueberry producers, like Chile and Peru, who are some of the largest exporters of blueberries in the world. Peru in particular has shown massive growth in blueberry exports since 2011- with an annual average growth rate of over 300%.
So the appetite for blueberries seems endless, and Winde is determined that we benefit from this. So even though you might lament the fact that blueberries are incredibly expensive to purchase locally, just think about all the millions of rand we can pump into our local farming economy.