These are exciting times on the tomato market. Many countries are currently in the transition period between the import and export seasons. In the meantime, the spread of the ToBRFV virus is being monitored worldwide.

Opening an exhibition on the fourth industrial revolution at parliament recently, science & technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane stressed that SA plans to use its opportunities to deal with poverty, unemployment and inequality — but also that the country needs new skills for the new industries and markets that will emerge.

A case in point is the fruit sector which, as a high-value and labour-intensive industry with high export potential, is central to agriculture’s contribution to economic growth.

Adopting and adapting to technological changes associated with the fourth industrial revolution could have huge implications for the industry’s global position. While the country is an established world player in specific fruits, it lags behind competitors such as Mexico, Peru and Chile. SA is also yet to maximise the substantial opportunities for export growth in high-value and in-demand fruits such as berries and avocados.

Research by the Centre for Competition Regulation and Economic Development at the University of Johannesburg shows that harnessing technological change is necessary for producers to keep up with escalating standards; to comply with the many — and complex — plant health requirements; and to adapt to climate change and environmental constraints.

Our research shows that key technologies in the global fresh fruit industry that must be leveraged by local producers to remain relevant include electronic digital platforms and the internet of things, biotechnology, and sorting and cold storage equipment. Collectively, these offer technological solutions to SA’s key challenges in the fruit industry.

While mainly large players are adopting these technologies, an industry-wide scaling can benefit participation and market access for black farmers. The growing number of increasingly complex plant health requirements make it difficult for producers to comply and access export markets. The current paper-based and manual systems of export certification require technological solutions to cut down time wasted with frequent trips to the government offices to sign paperwork, and eliminate human errors associated with manual data capturing.

A promising local development has been an electronic data-sharing platform jointly developed by Fruit SA and the department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries. The platform, called Phytclean, captures data on orchards and growers’ phytosanitary records for the issuing of electronic certificates. After a pilot phase in the citrus industry, electronic certification will be implemented in June 2019 from SA to the Netherlands.

Another core challenge in exporting fresh fruit is the high levels of congestion and delays at SA’s main ports, which reduce shelf life drastically. The situation is particularly acute during peak seasons of major export products such as citrus. In 2011, the World Bank estimated that delays at the Durban port cost the local citrus industry $10.5m per season.

With delays at the main ports expected to increase as fruit export volumes grow, integrated digital platforms that link local producers’ in-house systems to ports, logistics companies and shipping lines are crucial to foster better planning and faster movement of fruits. Digital solutions that reduce the costs of logistics and ease the export process could increase the value of exports and help new players to enter export markets.



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