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Stephen Rabe apples in a time of Covid

An adapted world after COVID

By Kara van der Berg

According to Stephen Rabe, chairperson of HORTGRO Science Advisory Council, who recently returned from a three week trip to Europe to look at new apple varieties, the world is slowly but surely adapting to life post-pandemic.

“In Europe, my observation was that its business as usual. I think the new attitude is to accept and adapt to Covid, rather than eradicate it,” says Rabe who visited France, Belgium, and Italy during his trip. All three of these countries have apple breeding programs.

As the general manager of the International Pome Fruit Alliance, Rabe often travels for his job and visits Europe on an annual basis for what he refers to as the ‘apple business’. Due to the pandemic, he has not been able to travel since 2019.

“Obviously for me, the inability to travel had an impact on a part of my job which is tasting and looking at new varieties of apples. I couldn’t do it for almost two years.”

Rabe thus grabbed the first opportunity he could to return to Europe to see new apple varieties and products and talk to industry stakeholders.

In the horticulture and agriculture sectors, Rabe says international logistics was hit the hardest by the Coronavirus. “Things like shipping, containers, etc. were impacted. It’s not a South African issue, it’s an international issue. That’s the lag effect of Covid on our industry.”

South African apples are shipped all over the world. For this reason, Rabe says that he looks for a specific taste when considering new varieties.

“We are looking for an international apple. Certain parts of the world have a certain taste preference so we talk about the international apple and a European apple. International apple is more of a sweet apple, whereas Europeans prefer a tarty, acidic apple. Because of our grouping, which is international, we lean more towards an international apple. We are export-orientated in South Africa.”

Because of this, Rabe also considers how well an apple can be grown, stored, packed and how it handles the logistic chain to reach the customer.

“What is great about our trips is we see what the rest of the world is doing, how they are dealing with challenges.”

While various Covid protocols are still in place, Rabe says that it feels like Europe has developed a new normal. “The streets, shops, restaurants, and public transport are all fully functional. I think Europe now looks at it like we have to accept Covid is now part of the new normal

Rabe is fully vaccinated, which he says made travelling much easier. As soon as he entered the EU he applied for an EU health pass, which was then available on his phone. It indicates that one is fully vaccinated and has a unique barcode that is scanned at every public space one enters. The app also indicates the percentage of the population vaccinated in the country you are in.

The most difficult part of his trip was leaving and entering South Africa, at which point a negative Covid test (PCR) is required. “That was the most stressful part,” admits Rabe. “What happens if you test positive and have to go into quarantine? For that reason, I got extra insurance and would recommend people to do the same.”

He still had to spend two weeks in France before moving on to his other destinations. This way he did not have to have a Covid test done every time he crossed a border in the EU.

“You have to be aware of the different protocols every country has. For example, one might say you have to wear your mask outdoors, while others don’t require you to. Be aware and stick to the regulations, this ensures hassle-free travel.”

Picture caption: Markus Bradlwarter( SK Variety Innovation) and Stephen Rabe (International Pome Fruit Alliance) with an exciting IPA variety.

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