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Larry Whitfield, Liza Ambraal, Kobus Koegelenberg

Transformation is not for “sissies”

“When we started, we had nothing. But we did have a good attitude and a willingness to work!”

Liza Ambraal, representing Dwarsberg Farming, spoke about their transformation journey during the Fruit SA Transformation Showcase recently held in the Western Cape.

Ambraal said that if it were not for the mentorship of Larry Whitfield (Loxtonia) and Kobus Koegelenberg (Production Manager, Loxtonia), Dwarsberg would not have worked.  “Today, we proudly say that Dwarsberg Farming is 100% black-owned. Within a relatively short but challenging period, we are exporting fruit.”

Figuring out regulatory hurdles, rules and  legalese was daunting for Dwarsberg Farming.”Most of our farm workers didn’t know much about it. At a crucial time, Witzenberg PALS and Oast Farm, stepped up to guide us.”

Ambraal said transformation challenges, especially financial struggles, kept coming. “We were burdened by crippling debt, lacked essential equipment, and encountered significant hurdles in securing finance without surety. Again, it was only with support, and mentorship that we managed to keep going.”

Whitfield, who has been Ambraal’s mentor for decades, said it is a privilege to help. “Transformation success is only possible if you get the right people on board and commit for the long haul.”

According to Koegelenberg, the soil quality of Dwarsberg was poor. “It was just stones and soil lumps. But Dwarsberg Farming rolled up its sleeves and learned about soil health, irrigation, rootstocks, and how to clear river beds.”

Koegelenberg believes you can only be called a farmer if you put in the work. “Forget about driving a bakkie. You must walk the orchard at 40 degrees Celsius. Pick fruit, dig ditches and lay irrigation pipes. Producing fruit is expensive and challenging, there is no room for mistakes. More so, when you are accosted with transformation difficulties.”

According to Fruit SA,  it is not likely for transformation efforts to be taken seriously if they lack measurable targets and notable proof of economic development. In its second showcase, Fruit SA partnered with Hortgro (pome- and stone-fruit subsector) and SATI (table-grape subsector) to welcome invited government representatives and industry stakeholders to witness first-hand the progress made on Siyazama Klipland Farm and Roode Zand Farm Holdings in De Doorns, as well as Dwarsberg Farming in Ceres.

Fruit SA and the industry associations continue to pursue targets for sustainable transformation, guided by a shared vision. The industry goal is to have a fully transformed sector by 2038 with Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) growers contributing 30% of fruit production, 30% of exports, and constituting 15% of ownership across the value chain.

In 2021 the number of fruit farm hectares under black ownership increased from 24 435 to 32 521 in 2022, whilst the number of hectares under fruit production by black growers increased from 16 077 to 16 346 in 2022 (up 1.7%). As for production, a 55.2% increase was recorded in the volume of fruit produced by black growers, from 362 893 tonnes in 2021 to 563 384 in 2022.

Black growers also achieved a 25% increase in exports, from 183 526 tonnes in 2021 to 229 439 in 2022.

Caption: Larry Whitfield, Liza Ambraal, Kobus Koegelenberg.

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