A €3-million loan to United Exports will help to support growth, exports and jobs in South Africa’s blueberry industry.

South Africa’s Western Cape Department of Agriculture estimates that the country’s blueberry sector employs 5 700 people. The fruit is an increasingly important product for South Africa, with production climbing to 18 000 t in 2019/20 from 11 000 t the year before, according to the South Africa Berry Producers Association.

The €3-million loan includes €1.5-million from World Bank Group member the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and a €1.5-million loan from the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank (FMO).

The financing will support United Exports’ ongoing capital expenditure projects and help maintain local farmers’ access to markets and employment.

United Exports produces, packages and ships blueberries under its proprietary OZblu brand within South Africa and exports about 90% of its output to markets outside Africa.

The company employs about 3 800 permanent and seasonal workers.

The IFC’s portion of the financing comes from its Covid-19 fast-track facility, a global fund announced in March 2020 to support industries vital to job creation and economic growth. Agriculture and agribusiness are important sources of jobs and export earnings in South Africa, which has been badly hit by the pandemic.

“Despite the difficulties, we have continued our growth trajectory during the Covid-19 pandemic. The additional liquidity from the lenders will help us to continue with our capex investments and continue to create jobs and ensure we continue to deliver on our product quality objectives,” says United Exports CEO Jon Salters.

The company intends to continue to expand the size of its orchards with its proprietary OZblu varieties in South Africa and, this year, the company plans to create up to 150 new permanent jobs and roughly 1 250 seasonal jobs at the peak picking season.

“With Covid-19 creating uncertainty across value chains and sectors, it’s now more critical than ever to support companies vital for job creation and growth, especially in the agribusiness sector,” says IFC country manager for South Africa Adamou Labara.

“The blueberry industry is one of South Africa’s fastest growing agricultural sectors. In berry growing regions, this superfood boosts job creation. With this Covid facility we will help United Exports maintain local berry farmers’ access to markets and employment,” FMO agriculture, food and water manager Hans Bogaard comments.

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