It is that time of year when the citrus orchards of the Eastern Cape start showing off. The beautiful green branches and foliage across thousands of hectares of citrus orchards are proudly bursting with brightly coloured oranges, lemons, and mandarins ready for harvest.
The beginning of citrus harvest season is a pinnacle of excitement for farmers and the labour force alike, as they take stock of the fresh produce ready to be picked alongside the work opportunities this will create. Ncedisa plays a pivotal role in augmenting the farmer’s capacity in terms of labour resources to have a successful harvest season. The citrus harvest season that started in early April, and predicted to continue until the end of November, is a major job creator for seasonal and permanent farmworkers.
Farms in the Addo and Kirkwood areas, such as the globally renowned Habata, have welcomed the variety of services offered by Ncedisa to optimise strong, consistent, and superior produce production. Ncedisa has vetted, trained, and dispatched over 800 citrus pickers to farms who will handpick each citrus fruit with care while adhering to stringent criteria.
Every season, thousands of citrus fruits are individually handpicked and examined according to colour, size, and shape. The fruit gets inspected for blemishes or bruises, then weight tested because the heavier the fruit, the juicer and tastier it will be. Handpicking helps sustain the natural environment and nurtures the orchard to yield the best harvest year after year.
Habata alone farms roughly around 1200 hectares of citrus that includes but is not limited to seedless, Genoa and Eureka lemons, soft citrus, like the Nova, Tango, and Nadorcott mandarins, as well as the ever-popular Naval and Valencia oranges. Ncedisa farmworkers will play an indispensable role in picking around 13 000 crates, each weighing 400kg, adding up to an equivalent of an estimated 52 000 tonnes of citrus.
Ncedisa has implemented and refined a harvesting strategy called Pick 25 that has been proven successful in meeting the farmer’s objectives while considering the work environment, tasks, and remuneration for the farmworker. This system consists of a picking team made up of 25 well-trained and seasoned fruit pickers, sorters, and supervisors. The team may further get segmented into 6-8 members or incentive picking fruit into a crate.
Habata is one of the largest exporters in South Africa because of the high quality of citrus grown and the skilled harvesting techniques applied by Ncedisa pickers. About 95% of the harvest is categorised as high-grade Class 1 and 2 fresh produce destined for export markets, while the balance is for local consumption. Different ripening stages ensure the availability of delicious varieties throughout an extended season.
The amendment to the citrus export levy during 2020 is creating a wider global demand. The South African Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA) reported that South Africa exported 80-million cartons of oranges, 29.4-million cartons of lemons, 23.6-million cartons of soft citrus, and 15.6-million cartons of grapefruit. Barring any natural disaster, they also mention a projected increase of 300 000 tons of export over the next 3-years.
The citrus sector continues to show growth that then amplifies a platform for job creation. Ncedisa has noted a significant improvement year-on-year for the demand to provide a larger workforce to the agriculture industry. In just one year alone, from the 2020 citrus season to this year, there has already been an increase from 500 – 800 seasonal and permanent workers needed.
This increase indicates that through Ncedisa assisting, an additional 300 families have been empowered through having a financial income in their households to spend toward common household living expenses. Ncedisa will continue to implement strategies that optimise sustainable income for farmers while creating rewarding experiences for the workforce.