The SIZA platform is helping the industry to stay at the forefront of ethical and environmentally sustainable trade

The South African stonefruit industry is looking to cement its place as the global leader in sustainable production with an extensive range of activities to support producers and provide a gold standard in product compliance.

Stonefruit harvesting Western Cape landscape farm

At the heart of the country’s work is the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA), a platform for the country’s farming industry to ensure ethical and environmentally sustainable trade.

It works directly with farmers and agri-businesses to provide a wide range of support activities from training programmes to guidance material, videos, toolkits and technological support.

SIZA has been working to constantly update and benchmark best practice to ensure exporters have access to new and existing markets around the world.

In recent times it has been expanding capacity, creating new technologies and developing training modules to support producers in their compliance and sustainability journey.

SIZA – which has partnerships with international assurance schemes GlobalG.A.P and Sedex and is recognised in 340 markets – has more than 3,500 primary members, including farms, packhouses and processing facilities representing over 40 different agricultural commodities.

It also supports more than 350 buyers, consultants, auditors and other secondary members by providing a world-class platform for compliance, and works to save producers time and cost by reducing the audit burden.

A priority for SIZA is making it simple for farmers and growers to implement the various requirements and recommendations, and nowhere is that better illustrated than with the establishment of its Digital Recordkeeping Programme.

This sees 12-month data on inputs such as water use, chemical and biological control, fuel, energy use and waste sent to the Confronting Climate Change (CCC) initiative.

The CCC is an independent greenhouse gas emissions project, which takes that data and then calculates the producer’s carbon footprint, simplifying the process for producers and offering detailed reports and benchmarking against comparable farms.

Initially developed by the South African fruit and wine industry in 2008 and managed by Blue North Sustainability since 2011, the CCC has been independently audited by the Carbon Trust and has previously received funding from bodies including the UK’s Department for International Development.

It represents a proactive and strategic response to the challenges of climate change, helping identify carbon hotspots and propose solutions to reduce emissions.

“All of this work enhances the competitive position of the South African stonefruit industry on global markets,” said Jacques du Preez, general manager of trade and market at industry body Hortgro.

“The industry is constantly finding new ways to improve and protect both the natural environment and the people working on it, while producing the best-tasting, highest-quality fruit.”

One of the key focus areas for growers has been around water management, which is one of several components of the SIZA environmental standard.

The organisation helps producers calculate their water use though the Digital Recordkeeping Programme and has also published guidance on water-use efficiency to help growers monitor, calculate and understand issues around water, wastewater, and soil contamination.

A further innovation supporting farmers in the stonefruit heartland of the Western Cape is FruitLook, a user-friendly remote-sensing service that provides weekly near-real-time, satellite-derived data on plant growth, water use and mineral status.

The information helps producers improve their decision making and risk identification, as well as optimise their use of resources.

Since 2016, SIZA has carried out a total of 4,234 social audits and 181 environmental audits, and addressing any issues that arise is a high priority for farms.

In the last year, out of 8,113 non-compliance issues flagged up, 91 per cent were successfully resolved by the producer, with 9 per cent in the process of being corrected.

Reflecting the high standards achieved across the industry, some 61 per cent of audits carried out over the past year achieved platinum status, with 25 per cent achieving gold.

“Producers are showcasing their commitment to continuous improvement, and this is evaluated and proven by the third-party audit outcomes,” Du Preez added.

“Buyers and consumers can be assured that South African stonefruit is being produced with the utmost care by farmers keen to continually evolve their techniques according to the latest best practice.”