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Conference aims to provide networking opportunity

The Fresh Connections: Southern Africa Conference & Expo for 2016 will take place on 17 and 18 August at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.

The conference offers a unique opportunity to engage with local and global retailers and suppliers across the fresh produce and floral supply chain. About 500 growers, retailers, importers, exporters, wholesalers, input suppliers, food-service operators, processors, government officials, academics and tertiary training institutions are expected to attend the event.

According to Lindie Stroebel, the general manager of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) for southern Africa, says the PMA’s most important role is to create networking opportunities for its members.

“One of the important aims of the conference will be to create networking opportunities for our members. Networking will always be a very important PMA function, as we aim to create markets for our members to sell their produce. But another reason why this year’s conference is so important to us is that it will be used to build our expo towards a fully fledged regional or even Sub-Saharan African trade show, which we hope we will have achieved by next year.”

At this point South Africa exports most of its produce to the European Union, with about 4% of exports going to North America. Stroebel says China and the rest of Asia are seen as growth areas for the future.

Exports to the rest of Africa are also growing at an enormous speed.

“The market for apples and pears are big, but we are still learning to understand African consumers, especially the emerging consumers,” she says.

A very important requirement for an industry that wants to be a successful exporter is to supply high-quality goods with out any interruption in supply. The recent drought in South Africa had a big influence on farming in the country and prices of fresh produce.

Stroebel says she thinks the fresh-produce industry maintained itself well during and after the drought.

“It is not that we did not feel it at all, but I think grain and livestock farmers felt it more than we did. We do not have so many producers in the North West Province, where the drought was severe, and our members were in many instances able to use irrigation to save crops.

“The high temperatures certainly were a challenge and in some areas of the Western Cape farmers had to prioritise when deciding which trees they could irrigate. This will have an influence on crops in the future.

“But we knew the drought was coming and many farmers planned well and implemented measures to save water. By distributing produce to end-users carefully, the water inside the produce could also be maintained, keeping it fresh for longer.

“The drought did cause prices to increase, especially on high-end products, where it became more expensive to maintain quality, but it is not only the drought that can be blamed for the increase in prices. The exchange rate also played a big role,” she says.

Another focus area of the PMA is small and emerging farmers. These farmers often face many challenges and struggle to produce high-quality products on a continuous basis.

“In South Africa, it is very important for the whole economy that these farmers succeed. In our regulatory environment, supplier development and preferential procurement is very important and form part of the BEE scorecard that every business needs to adhere to.

“This topic is something that will be discussed at length at our conference. Many bigger businesses help these emerging farmers by supplying seeds and chemicals and commercial farmers often help by acting as mentors. Focussing on this industry and helping it succeed will become increasingly important in the future for the benefit of our entire economy.”

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