South African horticulture: opportunities and challenges for economic and social upgrading in value chains

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Horticulture value chains in South Africa are undergoing a process of rapid transformation. The sector is significant in the generation of agricultural GDP, employment and exports. European supermarkets have long been an important destination for fruit. Supermarkets source through coordinated value chains, with stringent requirements and have driven the rise of private standards. These improve quality but increase the commercial pressures and costs for growers. The expansion of South African supermarkets and of South-South trade in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East are providing new channels for fruit and vegetables. These markets also require standards that are generally less stringent than European supermarkets and are paying comparable prices (taking cost into account), mainly focusing on product quality. Social standards are largely demanded by European supermarkets alone. Growers now have a wider range of buyers, and European supermarkets can no longer be assured of automatic availability of quality produce. Employment in the fruit sector is segmented between regular and casual workers. Regular workers have seen improvements in working conditions. In parallel casualisation has increased. It reduces labour costs but workers have greater insecurity of employment, lower remuneration and rights. Growers and packhouses need better educated and skilled workers to manage complex quality requirements of different supermarkets and improve efficiency. Agricultural work has low esteem, and the sector faces a serious shortage of skilled labour despite rural unemployment. Current public and private provision of training is insufficiently resourced to generate an adequate pool of skilled labour. Growers and workers need better returns to ensure the resilience of quality horticulture value chains to supermarkets. Public and private policy needs to enhance the skills and empowerment of workers, and support social provision to increase the appeal of working in horticulture.