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Southern Africa's grape sector booms

Investment and the arrival of new varieties is driving impressive growth in Namibia and South Africa

Southern Africa's grape sector booms

Andre Vermaak, Silverlands

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Southern Africa’s table grape crop is likely to exceed 66m cartons this season, boosted by high anticipated volumes in South Africa’s Orange River region and in Namibia, which is preparing to export more than 6m cartons – around 18 per cent more than it did last year.

Buoyed by that sign of long-term growth, table grape growers in Namibia’s Aussenkehr region started packing their new grape crop this week and the first shipments will leave the port of Cape Town this weekend.

Silverlands Namibia (SVL), a production and export venture established in the past year by UK-based SilverStreet Private Equity Strategies, is at the forefront of this new wave of development and, with the backing of institutional investors mainly in the US and EU, is putting a significant amount into new vineyards.

Its managing director, former Capespan man Andre Vermaak, says the country’s prospects are very good at this stage of the season.

“We held our vineyard block completion last week which was attended by a number of customers and they were very happy with what they say in the vineyards,” he comments, adding that new varieties were leading the charge when it came to growth this season.

“We saw excellent grapes from the Arra varieties this weekend, and the IFG varieties such as Sweet Celebration, an early red seedless grape, are doing extremely well under conditions here.”

Vermaak says significant investment will be undertaken in the next five years, a move which will result in jobs creation and skills transfer to local Namibian people.

“The intention is to grow table grape production in the Aussenkehr region and to help increase total combined exports from this area to around 10m cartons. This will be a boost for job creation while at the same time developing infra-structure in the country.”

Record crop

In the Orange River, one of South Africa’s early growing regions, expectations are high for an export volume that should exceed 20m cartons for the first time.

Growing conditions have reportedly been good, with most of South Africa’s internal areas experiencing very dry conditions. Orange River growers are expected to start harvesting and packing in earnest in week 47.

Grower Anton Viljoen of AS Viljoen Farms, which produces table grapes in the Orange River, West Coast and Hex River Valley regions, says it has been some time since the industry had such good crop expectations at this time of the season.

In the Orange River especially, he explains, much of that momentum is down to the arrival of the next generation of varieties. “This will strengthen South Africa’s offer of white seedless, red seedless and black seedless grapes.”

He also says a decline in the value of the South African rand in recent years has generally been a big boost for the industry. “Without that we would have been battling,” he admits.

Sources say that it is unlikely the currency will strengthen significantly soon, mainly because the outlook for economic growth in the South African economy remain poor.

In total, South Africa is expected to ship more than 60m cartons of table grapes this season. With Namibia adding another 10 per cent, Southern Africa looks set to be a strong player on world markets over the coming months.

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