Fhumulani Ratshitanga has been appointed permanently as new chief executive of Fruit South Africa, succeeding Dr Konanani Liphadzi, who served a six-year tenure as the organisation's first CEO.
Ratshitanga understands that she is heading the organisation at a most challenging time. “Indeed, nothing will be the same again. We recognise that disruptions to the supply chain may mean that lower fruit volumes are exported, and that demand may decrease as economies struggle to recover,” she said.
“With this, industry earnings are likely to decrease, affecting operations and investments of all role-players in the future. Therefore, we will have to continuously look for alternative ways of doing business."
At the same time, the present situation also provides an opportunity for Fruit SA to demonstrate and sell the potential role of the fruit industry in the recovery of the South African economy, Ratshitanga explained, as well as aggressively promoting the benefits of fruit in boosting the immune system.
“There is also a possibility for the world’s population to move to healthier lifestyles and diets and we are well positioned to support this,” she confirmed.
Life at the offices of Fruit South Africa is clearly now very different. “We have had to forego our annual participation in some of the big trade events such as Asia Fruit Logistica and Fruit Attraction and abandoned our market access visits to priority countries," Ratshitanga continues. "We will have to seek alternative ways of promoting our industry – this could be through increasing our visibility in the digital space. In terms of engagements, we have had to rely on virtual platforms, which have their own limitations.
“Being new in this role, these challenging times means that I have to constantly figure out ways to adjust to the new way of doing business. There are so many unknowns and things are changing rapidly. An opportunity is that I am part of the solution to support the industry in adapting to changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
While Ratshitanga has been at Fruit SA for a relatively short time, she has had a good schooling in the fruit sector.
After being born in the small village of Ha-Mashau in Limpopo Province, she started her career as a fruit inspector with PPECB in Nelspruit.
During a three year stint there she also did relief duty in Stellenbosch and Paarl during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, working with avocados, citrus, plums, apples, pears and table grapes, while also inspecting juice concentrate, dried mangoes, fern leaves and macadamia nuts.
“I learnt that we produce good quality fruit in our country and that ours are among the best in the world,” she said.
Fruit SA plans to continue engaging with the government and other stakeholders to ensure that all processes required to get the country’s fruit to the world’s markets proceed with as minimal disruption as possible.
“Having a consistent supply of South African fruit in the market is important for us,” she concluded.